THEOSOPHY, Vol. 59, No. 6, April, 1971
(Pages 175-183; Size: 24K)
REINCARNATION AND CYCLES(1)
WESTERN investigators have for some centuries suspected that events move in cycles, and a few of the writers in the field of European literature have dealt with the subject, but all in a very incomplete fashion. This incompleteness and want of accurate knowledge have been due to the lack of belief in spiritual things and the desire to square everything with materialistic science. Nor do I pretend to give the cyclic law in full, for it is one that is not given out in detail by the Masters of Wisdom. But enough has been divulged, and enough was for a long time known to the Ancients to add considerably to our knowledge.
A cycle is a ring or turning, as the derivation of the word indicates -- not like a wedding ring, which runs into itself -- but more properly like a screw thread, which takes the form of a spiral and turns on itself. But what do we mean by a cycle in our own investigations of nature, or man, or civilization, or our own development, our origin, our destiny? We mean just what the Egyptians, the Hindus and the philosophers of the Middle Ages meant -- that there is a periodical return or circling back of something once more. That is why it is called cycle, inasmuch as it returns upon itself, seemingly; but in the ancient doctrines, it is always a little higher in the sense of perfection or progress.
A cycle does not begin on a day or year clear of any other cycle; they interblend, so that, although the wheel of one period is still turning, the initial point of another has already arrived. Cycles have no hard lines or points of departure or inception. They overlap and shade into one another, as day does into night; and it is only when the one has completely ended and the other has really begun by bringing out its blossoms, that we can say we are in a new cycle. It may be illustrated by comparing two adjacent cycles to two interlaced circles, where the circumference of one touches the center of the other, or by imagining a man as representing, in the act of walking, the progress of the cycles; his rate of advancement can only be obtained by taking the distance covered by his paces, the points at the middle of each pace, between the feet, being the beginning of cycles and their ending.
Both Karma and Reincarnation proceed under cyclic rule. Not only is man ruled by these laws, but every atom of matter as well, and the mass of matter is constantly undergoing a change at the same time with man.
The beginning of a cycle must be a moment, that added to other moments makes a day, and those added together constitute months, years, decades and centuries. Beyond this the West hardly goes. It recognizes the moon cycle and the great sidereal one, but looks at both and upon the others merely as periods of time. If we are to consider them as but lengths of time, there is no profit except to the dry student or to the astronomer. And in this way today they are regarded by European and American thinkers, who say cycles exist but have no very great bearing on human life and certainly no bearing on the actual recurrence of events or the reappearance on the stage of life of persons who once lived in the world. The theosophical theory is distinctly otherwise, as it must be if it carries out the doctrine of reincarnation. ... Not only are the cycles named actual physical facts in respect to time, but they and other periods have a very great effect on human life and the evolution of the globe with all the forms of life thereon.
H. T. Buckle, the great writer of the English school, says that cyclic law no doubt prevails in regard to nations, that they have come back apparently the same, only slightly improved or degraded, for there is also a downward cycle included within those that rise; but Buckle did not discover a law. He simply once more stated what the ancients had said over and over again. And it has always seemed to me that if Buckle and other people of that kind would pay a little more attention to the ancients, they would save themselves a great deal of trouble, for he obtained his law by much delving, much painstaking labor, whereas he might have gotten the law if he had consulted the ancients, who always taught that there were cycles, and that there always will be cycles.
There are great cosmic cycles that proceed slowly to our comprehension because they cover such stupendous periods, but they powerfully affect mankind and can only be faintly imagined by students.
The ancient Egyptian civilization illustrates the power of one of the greater cycles long since run down. That brilliant civilization rolled on through a vast stretch of years with no appearance of diminishing glory, but gradually the change took place. We can imagine the hopeless and frantic efforts of her sages to counteract the decay. But they were powerless, and Egypt gradually sank to the place where we find her blazing in the records so far discovered and yet then in her decline; and at last all that remains are sand heaps and degraded ignorant Copts. But the sweep of that mighty cycle merely moved on to other spheres, and when Earth again meets the same impulse the old civilization will return, the old force revive within a better body. To me the cyclic laws are full of hope and eminently just.
There is thus a period of activity followed by a period of repose, and this is followed by renewed activity. "The out-breathing and in-breathing of Brahm," involves every atom and every object, no less than every organism.
Certain animal forms now extinct and also certain human ones not known but sometimes suspected will return again in their own cycle; and certain human languages now known as dead will be in use once more at their appointed cyclic hour. Sanskrit will one day be again the language used by man upon this earth, first in science and in metaphysics, and later on in common life. This new language will be one which is scientific in all that makes a language, enriched by ages of study of metaphysics and the true science.
But man is also affected by astronomical cycles because he is an integral part of the whole, and these cycles mark the periods when mankind as a whole will undergo a change. In the sacred books of all nations these are often mentioned, and are in the Bible of the Christians, as, for instance, in the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale. This is an absurdity when read as history, but not so as an astronomical cycle.
During these progresses changes take place among men and on earth exactly signified by the constellations when those are read according to the right rules of symbology. It is not claimed that the conjunction causes the effect, but that ages ago the Masters of Wisdom worked out all the problems in respect to man and found in the heavens the means for knowing the exact dates when events are sure to recur, and then by imprinting in the minds of older nations the symbology of the Zodiac were able to preserve the record and the prophecy. Thus in the same way that a watchmaker can tell the hour by the arrival of the hands or the works of the watch at certain fixed points, the Sages can tell the hour for events by the Zodiacal clock. This is not, of course, believed today, but it will be well understood in future centuries, and as the nations of the earth have all similar symbols in general for the Zodiac, and as also the records of races long dead have the same, it is not likely that the vandal-spirit of the Western nineteenth century will be able to efface this valuable heritage of our evolution. In Egypt the Denderah Zodiac tells the same tale as that one left to us by the old civilization of the American continent, and all of these are from the same source; they are the work of the Sages who come at the beginning of the great human cycle and give to man when he begins his toilsome ascent up the road of development those great symbols and ideas of an astronomical character which will last through all the cycles.
The ancients had a great many large and important cycles. In their classification they had a Saros and a Naros, which are not understood today by us. They are known to some extent, but what they are exactly we do not know. The Egyptians taught that there was a great sidereal cycle, and that is recognized today -- the cycle of 25,000 years caused by the fact that the sun went through the signs of the Zodiac in that length of time. In order to make it clear, it will be better for me to state this just as it is. The sun goes through the signs of the Zodiac from day to day and from year to year, but at the same time, in going through the signs of the Zodiac, he goes back slowly, like the hands of a clock ticking on the time. In going through that period he comes back to the same point again, and retards himself, or goes back; that is called the precession of the equinoxes, and it is so many seconds in such a length of time. Those seconds in the sky turned into time show that the sun takes 25,000 odd years to come back to the place from which he started at any particular time: that is to say, if you imagine that on the first of April, this year, the sun was in such a degree of Aries, one of the signs of the Zodiac, he will not get back to that sign by the precession of the equinoxes until 25,000 years have passed away.
Now, the sun is the center of our solar system and the earth revolves around it, and as the earth revolves she turns upon her axis. The sun, it is known now by astronomers, as it was known by the ancients (who were ourselves in fact), revolves around a center. That is, while we are going around the sun, he is going around some other center, so that we describe in the sky not a circle around the sun, but a spiral, as we move with the sun around his enormous orbit. There is a star somewhere in the sky, we do not know where -- some think it is Alcyone, or some other star, some think it may be a star in the Pleiades, and some others think it is a star somewhere else -- but they know by deduction from the known to the unknown, that the sun is attracted by some unknown center, and that he turns around it in an enormous circle, and as he turns, of course he draws the earth with him.
In the course of 25,000 years in going around the signs of the Zodiac, he must take the earth into spaces where it has never yet been, for when he reaches this point in Aries, after 25,000 years, it is only apparently the same point. And so, when the sun gets back to the point in Aries, where he was on the first of April this year, he will not be in the exact position in the universe of space, but will be somewhere else, and in his journey of 25,000 years through billions upon billions of miles, he draws the earth into spaces where she never was before, and never will be as that earth again. He must draw her into cosmic spaces where things are different, and thus cause changes in the earth itself, for changes in cosmic matter in the atmosphere, in the space where the sun draws the earth, must affect the earth and all its inhabitants. The ancients investigated this subject, and declared long ago this 25,000 years cycle.
The Metonic cycle is that of the Moon. It is a period of about nineteen years, which being completed the new and the full moons return on the same days of the month. The cycle of the sun is a period of twenty-eight years, which having elapsed the Dominical or Sunday letters return to their former place and proceed in the former order according to the Julian calendar.
And along this road are the points when the small and large cycles of Avatars bring out for man's benefit the great characters who mould the race from time to time. The Cycle of Avatars includes several smaller ones. The greater are those marked by the appearance of Rama and Krishna among the Hindus, of Menes among the Egyptians, of Zoroaster among the Persians, and of Buddha to the Hindus and other nations of the East. Buddha is the last of the great Avatars and is in a larger cycle than is Jesus of the Jews, for the teachings of the latter are the same as those of Buddha and tinctured with what Buddha had taught to those who instructed Jesus.
Another great Avatar is yet to come, corresponding to Buddha and Krishna combined. Krishna and Rama were of the military, civil, religious and occult order. Buddha of the ethical, religious and mystical, in which he was followed by Jesus; Mohammed was a minor intermediate one for a certain part of the race, and was civil, military and religious. In these cycles we can include mixed characters who have had great influence on nations, such as King Arthur, Pharaoh, Moses, Charlemagne reincarnated as Napoleon Buonaparte, Clovis of France reborn as Emperor Frederick III of Germany, and Washington the first President of the United States of America where the root for the new race is being formed.
In a cycle where all is ascending and descending, the Adepts must wait until the time comes before they can aid the race to ascend. They cannot, and must not, interfere with Karmic law. Thus they begin to work actively again in the spiritual sense, when the cycle is known by them to be approaching its turning point.
The length of the individual reincarnation cycle for the general mass of men is fifteen hundred years, and this in its turn gives us a large historical cycle related closely to the progress of civilization. For as the masses of persons return from devachan, it must follow that the Roman, the Greek, the old Aryan and other Ages will be seen again and can to a very great extent be plainly traced.
At the intersection of the great cycles, dynamic effects follow and alter the surface of the planet by reason of the shifting of the poles of the globe or other convulsion. That there have been vast and awful disturbances in the strata of the world is admitted on every hand and now needs no proof.
Affecting man especially are the spiritual, psychic, and moral cycles, and out of these grow the national, racial and individual cycles. Race and national cycles are both historical. The individual cycles are of reincarnation, of sensation, and of impression. What do we mean by that? Your going into the street and seeing a brawl creates an impression. Your having a quarrel and denouncing a man and getting very angry, creates an impression in you. That impression is as much subject to cyclic law as the moon, and the stars, and the world. It is far more important in respect to your personal development or evolution than all these other great things, for they affect you in the mass, whereas these little ones affect you in detail.
This law of impressions can be illustrated in this way. If you look at one of these electric lights you will find the light makes an image on the retina, and when you shut your eye, this bright filament of light will be seen by you in your eye. If you keep your eye closed and watch intently, you will see the image come back a certain number of counts, it will stay a certain number of counts, it will go away in the same length of time and come back again, always changing in some respect, until at last the time comes when it disappears. After the first time, the color changes each time, and so it keeps coming back at regular intervals, showing that there is a cyclic return of impression in the retina. If that applies in one place, it applies in every place. When we look into our moral character we find the same thing, for as we have the tides in the ocean, so in man we have tides, which are called return of impressions. You do a thing once, there will be a tendency to repeat itself; you do it twice, and it doubles in its influence, a greater tendency to do that same thing again. And so on all through our character shows this constant return of cyclic impression.
Take another case. I have a friend who had periods of depression or despondency (and this will answer for everybody) that he could not explain. It was the return of old cyclic impressions, and what he should have done was to have started up something else, to have compelled himself to feel joyous, even against his own will, and if he could not have done that, then to have tried to feel the joy of others. By doing that, he would have implanted in himself another impression, that is of joy, so that when this thing returned once more, instead of being of the same quality and extension, it would have been changed by the impression of joy or elation, and the two things coming together would have counteracted each other. This applies to every person who has the blues. Some people say, I just sit down and let it go; that is to say, you sit there and create it once more. You cannot rub it out if it has been coming -- but when it comes, start up cheerfulness, be good to someone. Try to relieve some other person who is despondent, and you will have started another impression which will return at the same time. When the old cyclic impression returns, it will have dragged up the new one, because it is related to it by association.
Now this has the greatest possible bearing upon our evolution as particular individuals. An opportunity will arise for you to do something; you do not do it: you may not have it again for one hundred years. It is the return before you of some old thing that was good along the line of the cycles. You neglect it, as you may, and the same opportunity will return, mind you, but it may not return for many hundred years. It may not return until another life, but it will return under the same law.
Both Egyptians and Greeks had their cycles, but in our opinion derived them from the Indian Sages. The Chinese always were a nation of astronomers, and have recorded observations reaching far back of the Christian era, but as they belong to an old race which is doomed to extinction -- strange as the assertion may appear -- their conclusions will not be correct for the Aryan races.
The present cycle is known as the dark one; in Sanskrit, Kali Yuga, or the black age. [Its duration, according to the Brahmanical Table, is 432,000 "mortal years."] It is dark because spirituality is almost obscured by materiality and pure intellectualism. Revolving in the depths of material things and governed chiefly by the mind apart from spirit, its characteristic gain is physical and material progress, its distinguishing loss is in spirituality. In this sense it is the Kali Yuga. In all ages loss of spirituality has been regarded as equivalent to the state of death or darkness; and mere material progress in itself is not a sign of real advancement, but may have in it the elements for its own stoppage and destruction. Preëminently this age has all these characteristics in the Western civilizations. We have very great progress to note in conquests of nature, in mechanical arts, in the ability to pander to love of luxury, in immense advancements with wonderful precision and power in the weapons made for destroying life. But side by side with these we have wretchedness, squalor, discontent, and crime; very great wealth in the hands of the few, and very grinding poverty overcoming the many.
The first 5000 years of Kali Yuga will end between the years 1897 and 1898. This Yuga began about 3102 years before the Christian era, at the time of Krishna's death. Scientific men will have an opportunity of seeing whether the close of the five-thousand-year cycle will be preceded or followed by any convulsions of great changes political, scientific or physical, or all of these combined. Cyclic changes are now proceeding as year after year the souls from prior civilizations are being incarnated in this period when liberty of thought and action are not so restricted in the West as they have been in the past by dogmatic religious prejudice and bigotry. And at the present time we are in a cycle of transition, when, as a transition period should indicate, everything in philosophy, religion and society is changing. In a transition period the full and complete figures and rules respecting cycles are not given out to a generation which elevates money above all thoughts and scoffs at the spiritual view of man and nature.
If these old doctrines of karma, reincarnation, and cycles, are not taught to the race, you will have a revolution. Instead of making progress, in a steady, normal fashion, you will come up to better things through storm, trouble and sorrow. You will come up, of course, for even out of revolutions and blood there comes progress, but isn't it better to have progress without that? And that is what this philosophy is intended for. That is why the Mahatmas, directing their servant H. P. Blavatsky, as they have directed many before, came out at a time when materialism was fighting religion and was about getting the upper hand, and once more everything moved forward in its cyclic way and these old doctrines were revivified under the guidance of the theosophical movement. They are doctrines that explain all problems, and in the universal scheme give man a place as a potential god. There is a mysterious power in the doctrines of karma and reincarnation which at last forces them upon the belief of those who take them up for study. It is due to the fact that the ego is itself the experiencer of rebirth and karma and has within a clear recollection of both, and rejoices, as it were, when it finds the lower mind taking them up for study.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
So advantageous are all forms of mutual service that the question may be fairly asked, whether after all Co-operation and Sympathy -- at first instinctive, afterwards reasoned -- are not the greatest facts even in organic Nature?
REINCARNATION AND HEREDITY
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(1) NOTE.--This article is collated from the writings of William Q. Judge.
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