THEOSOPHY, Vol. 57, No. 10, August, 1969
(Pages 307-312; Size: 17K)

WHAT REINCARNATES?(1)

REINCARNATION is the absolute law of life, applying to worlds, races, nations and men, but as man is the most interesting object to himself, we will consider in detail its application to him.

Who or what is it that reincarnates? It is not the body, for that dies and disintegrates; and but few of us would like to be chained forever to such bodies as we now have, admitted to be infected with disease. But the body is only a part of man's nature, the physical outer covering through which he comes into contact with external nature. Man himself is to be regarded as something altogether different. He is a Soul, and as such stands among material things.

During the long ages that have passed since the present evolution began in this solar system, the Soul has constructed for its own use various sheaths, ranging from very fine ones, near to its own essential being, to those that are more remote, ending with the outer physical one, and that one the most illusionary of them all, although appearing from the outside to be the truly real. These sheaths are necessary if the Soul is to know or to act.

The number of sharply defined sheaths, according to the Wisdom Religion, is seven, but the sub-differentiations of each raises the apparent number very much higher. Roughly speaking, each one divides itself into seven.

The Christian teaching, supported by St. Paul, is that man is composed of body, soul, and spirit. This is the threefold constitution of man, believed by the theologians but kept in the background because its examination might result in the readoption of views once orthodox but now heretical. For when we thus place soul between spirit and body, we come very close to the necessity for looking into the question of the soul's responsibility -- since mere body can have no responsibility. And in order to make the soul responsible for the acts performed, we must assume that it has powers and functions. From this it is easy to take the position that the soul may be rational or irrational, as the Greeks sometimes thought, and then there is but a step to further propositions.

This threefold scheme of the nature of man contains, in fact, the teaching of his sevenfold constitution, because the four other divisions missing from the category can be found in the powers and functions of body and soul. The sevenfold division is better than the threefold because it enables us to analyse man's nature more fully. It must not be concluded, however, that the threefold division is an incorrect one, for it can be made to include the whole man; it is simply too general. In this division of body, soul, and spirit, there is no place for hypnotic and spiritualistic phenomena, for, strictly speaking, these have to do in most cases neither with the physical body nor with the soul, and furthermore no full explanation is afforded of after-death states. The sevenfold division shows man's relation to the other kingdoms of Nature and to the whole Universe. It is only by a consideration of this division that the facts of evolution can be accounted for, and only in this way is it possible to fully understand the distinctions existing between the different kingdoms of Nature. The sevenfold division allows for the progression from plane to plane, and links man to the whole of Nature.

Considering these constituents in another manner, we would say that the lower man is a composite being, but in his real nature is a unity, or immortal being, comprising a trinity of Spirit, Discernment, and Mind which requires four lower mortal instruments or vehicles through which to work in matter and obtain experience from Nature. This trinity is that called Atma-Buddhi-Manas in Sanscrit, difficult terms to render in English. Atma is Spirit, Buddhi is the highest power of intellection, that which discerns and judges, and Manas is Mind. This threefold collection is the real man; and beyond doubt the doctrine is the origin of the theological one of the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The four lower instruments or vehicles are shown in this table:

Atma,
Buddhi,
Manas,
---------------------
The Passions and Desires,
Life Principle,
Astral Body,
Physical Body.

These four lower material constituents are transitory and subject to disintegration in themselves as well as to separation from each other. When the hour arrives for their separation to begin, the combination can no longer be kept up, the physical body dies, the atoms of which each of the four is composed begin to separate from each other, and the whole collection being disjoined is no longer fit for use as an instrument for the real man. This is what is called "death" among us mortals, but it is not death for the real man because he is deathless, persistent, immortal. He is therefore called the Triad, or indestructible trinity, while they are known as the Quaternary or mortal four.

The inner Ego who reincarnates, taking on body after body, storing up the impressions of life after life, gaining experience and adding it to the divine Ego, suffering and enjoying through an immense period of years, is Manas, the Mind being, the Thinker. This is the permanent individuality which gives to every man the feeling of being himself and not some other; that which through all the changes of the days and nights from youth to the end of life makes us feel one identity through all the period; it bridges the gap made by sleep; in like manner it bridges the gap made by the sleep of death.

This permanent individuality in the present race has been through every sort of experience. We have all lived and taken part in civilization after civilization, race after race, on earth, and will so continue. At the same time it should be remembered that the matter of this globe and that connected with it has also been through every kind of form, with possibly some exceptions in very low planes of mineral formation. But in general all the matter visible, or held in space still unprecipitated, has been moulded at one time or another into forms of all varieties, many of these being such as we now have no idea of. The processes of evolution, therefore, in some departments, now go forward with greater rapidity than in former ages because both Manas and matter have acquired facility of action. Especially is this so in regard to man, who is the farthest ahead of all things or beings in this evolution. He is now incarnated and projected into life more quickly than in earlier periods when it consumed many years to obtain a "coat of skin."

This coming into life over and over again cannot be avoided by the ordinary man because Lower Manas is still bound by Desire, which is the preponderating principle at the present period. Being so influenced by Desire, Manas is continually deluded while in the body, and being thus deluded is unable to prevent the action upon it of the forces set up in the life time. These forces are generated by Manas; that is, by the thinking of the life time. Each thought makes a physical as well as mental link with the desire in which it is rooted. All life is filled with such thoughts, and when the period of rest after death is ended Manas is bound by innumerable electrical magnetic threads to earth by reason of the thoughts of the last life, and therefore by desire, for it was desire that caused so many thoughts and ignorance of the true nature of things. An understanding of this doctrine of man being really a thinker and made of thought will make clear all the rest in relation to incarnation and reincarnation. The body of the inner man is made of thought, and this being so it must follow that if the thoughts have more affinity for earth-life than for life elsewhere a return to life here is inevitable.

Manas, or the Thinker, then, is the reincarnating being, the immortal who carries the results and values of all the different lives lived on earth or elsewhere. Its nature becomes dual as soon as it is attached to a body. For the human brain is a superior organism and Manas uses it to reason from premises to conclusions. This also differentiates man from animal, for the animal acts from automatic and so-called instinctual impulses, whereas the man can use reason. This is the lower aspect of the Thinker, and not, as some have supposed, the highest and best gift belonging to man. Its other, and higher aspect, is the intuitional, which knows, and does not depend on reason. The lower, and purely intellectual, is nearest to the principle of Desire, and is thus distinguished from its other side which has affinity for the spiritual principles above. If the Thinker, then, becomes wholly intellectual, the entire nature begins to tend downward; for intellect alone is cold, heartless, selfish, because it is not lighted by the two other principles of Buddhi and Atma.

In ourselves we find these two natures, or as the Christian St. Paul says, the natural and spiritual man are always together warring against each other, so that what we would do we cannot, and what we desire not to be guilty of, the darker half of man compels us to do. The God within begins with Manas or mind, and it is the struggle between this God and the brute below which the philosophy speaks of and warns about. We cannot rise unless self first asserts itself in the desire to do better. By the use of such desire all the higher qualities are brought to at last so refine and elevate our desires that they may be continually placed upon truth and spirit.

In Manas the thoughts of all lives are stored. That is to say: in any one life, the sum total of thoughts underlying all the acts of the lifetime will be of one character in general, but may be placed in one or more classes. That is, the business man of today is a single type; his entire life thoughts represent but one single thread of thought. The artist is another. The man who has engaged in business, but also thought much upon fame and power which he never attained, is still another. The great mass of self-sacrificing, courageous, and strong poor people who have but little time to think, constitute another distinct class. In all these the total quantity of life thoughts makes up the stream or thread of a life's meditation -- "that upon which the heart was set" -- and is stored in Manas, to be brought out again at any time in whatever life the brain and bodily environments are similar to those used in engendering that class of thoughts.

Although reincarnation is the law of nature, the complete trinity of Atma-Buddhi-Manas does not yet fully incarnate in this race. They use and occupy the body by means of the entrance of Manas, the lowest of the three, and the other two shine upon it from above, constituting the God in Heaven. This was symbolized in the old Jewish teaching about the Heavenly Man who stands with his head in heaven and his feet in hell. That is, the head, Atma and Buddhi, are in heaven, and the feet, Manas, walk in hell, which is the body and physical life. For that reason man is not yet fully conscious, and reincarnations are needed to at last complete the incarnation of the whole trinity in the body. When that has been accomplished the race will have become as gods, and the godlike trinity being in full possession the entire mass of matter will be perfected and raised up for the next step. This is the real meaning of "the word made flesh." It was so grand a thing in the case of any single person, such as Jesus or Buddha, as to be looked upon as a divine incarnation. And out of this, too, comes the idea of the crucifixion, for Manas is thus crucified for the purpose of raising up the thief to paradise.

It is because the trinity is not yet incarnate in the race that life has so many mysteries, some of which are showing themselves from day to day in all the various experiments made on and in man.

The physician knows not what life is nor why the body moves as it does, because the spiritual portion is yet enshrouded in the clouds of heaven; the scientist is wandering in the dark, confounded and confused by all that hypnotism and other strange things bring before him, because the conscious man is out of sight on the very top of the divine mountain, thus compelling the learned to speak of the "subconscious mind," the "latent personality," and the like; and the priest can give us no light at all because he denies man's godlike nature, reduces all to the level of original sin, and puts upon our conception of God the black mark of inability to control or manage the creation without invention of expedients to cure supposed errors. But this old truth solves the riddle and paints God and Nature in harmonious colors.

When the body has died, the Higher Triad -- Manas, Buddhi, and Atma -- who are the real man, immediately go into another state, and when that state, which is called Devachan, or heaven, is over, they are attracted back to earth for reincarnation. They are the immortal part of us; they, in fact, and no other are we. This should be firmly grasped by the mind, for upon its clear understanding depends the comprehension of the entire doctrine.


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:

GROWTH OF SOUL

Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau: "Improved means to an unimproved end." This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual "lag" must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril, if there is not a proportionate growth of the soul. When the "without" of man's nature subjugates the "within," dark storm clouds begin to form in the world. 


--MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

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(1) NOTE.--This article is a collation from the writings of William Q. Judge.
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