THEOSOPHY, Vol. 43, No. 10, August, 1955
(Pages 456-461; Size: 56K)
[Part 25 of a 29-part series]
SINCE previous exploration of the meaning of metempsychosis in this series was, to say the least, incomplete [Note: This refers to the 22nd of the 29 articles in it.--Compiler.], and since some readers of THEOSOPHY have called attention to the likelihood that the emphasis of this "Word Puzzles" was somewhat one-sided in favor of the terms' constant applicability, we now continue the discussion under the heading of Reincarnation -- the R's appearing, in this case conveniently, after the M's.
An article by H. P. Blavatsky, "Thoughts on Karma and Reincarnation" (earlier reprinted in THEOSOPHY 30:532, and reproduced again in this issue), throws considerable further light on both words -- especially in terms of the transition in usage which took place in Theosophical circles from 1875 to 1890. There H.P.B. speaks of the uninformed person who "talks reincarnation before he has even learnt the difference between metempsychosis, which is the transmigration of a human Soul into an animal form, and Reincarnation, or the rebirth of the same Ego in successive human bodies. Ignorant of the true meaning of the Greek word, he does not even suspect how absurd, in philosophy, is this purely exoteric doctrine of transmigrations into animals." [Note: For those who would like to read "Thoughts on Karma and Reincarnation", either now or once you have finished reading this article, and since I didn't find a link to it on the internet, I scanned and proofread it and placed a full copy of it on this page at the end of this article.--Compiler.]
Elsewhere, in an article titled "Transmigration of Life Atoms," H.P.B. also treats of metempsychosis according to its then prevailing usage -- identified with what she calls "the lowest exoteric form of transmigration":He who severs his personal Ego from the Atman ... condemns by his own evil acts every atom of his lower principles to become attracted and drawn, in virtue of the magnetic affinity thus created by his passions, into the forming bodies of lower animals or brutes. This is the real meaning of the doctrine of Metempsychosis. It is not that such amalgamation of human particles with animal or even vegetable atoms can carry in it any idea of personal punishment per se, for of course it does not. But it is a cause created, the effects of which may manifest themselves throughout the next rebirths -- unless the personality is annihilated. Otherwise, from cause to effect, every effect becoming in its turn a cause, they will run along the cycle of rebirths, the once-given impulse expending itself only at the threshold of Pralaya. (THEOSOPHY 33:208-9.)That "metempsychosis," as transmigration, has been a philosophic as well as a "word" puzzle, is attested in the following paragraph -- of which the closing sentence indicates, whatever the terms chosen for the processes of metempsychosis, that one needs to engage in considerable careful thinking:Notwithstanding their esoteric meaning, even the words of the grandest and noblest of all the adepts, Gautama Buddha, are misunderstood, distorted and ridiculed in the same way. The Hina-yana, the lowest form of transmigration of the Buddhist, is as little comprehended as the Maha-yana, its highest form; and, because Sakya Muni is shown to have once remarked to his Bhikkus, while pointing out to them a broom, that "it had formerly been a novice who neglected to sweep out" the Council room, hence was reborn as a broom (!), therefore, the wisest of all of the world's sages stands accused of idiotic superstition. Why not try and find out, before accusing, the true meaning of the figurative statement? (Loc. cit.) [Note: For those who would like to read it, either now or once you have finished reading this article, I've placed a link to HPB's "Transmigration of the Life Atoms" article at the end of this one.--Compiler.]In another place (S.D. I, 85), H.P.B. uses metempsychosis in the sense of "transformation of species," and, in this context, states categorically that "the cycle of metempsychosis for the human monad is closed, for we are in the Fourth Round and the Fifth Root Race." This would seem to mean that until that time, lower monadic intelligence was still being "transformed" into human monads. This is a special use of metempsychosis, emphasizing that the door to the human realm of consciousness is closed beyond a certain point in earth evolution -- to be opened again in a new cycle.
It is quite evident that in this case, as in others, H.P.B. accepts the regrettable fact that many dabblers in Eastern philosophy had rather permanently confused metempsychosis with distorted speculations about the possible retrogression of the human soul into animal forms, more properly called transmigration. When she speaks of the "true meaning of the Greek word" she is, however, talking about metempsychosis, not reincarnation, and it is this true meaning of the Greek word which the former "Word Puzzles" [Note: Part 22 in this series.--Compiler.] was endeavoring to explore. (Reincarnation derives from a Latin root.) As intended in Isis Unveiled, and also in the second section of "Thoughts on Karma and Reincarnation," metempsychosis includes not only what most Theosophists consider "reincarnation," but also all monadic and egoic growth in general -- everything pertaining to the evolution of "gods, monads, and atoms." Because of extensive implications of "metempsychosis," and because subtle philosophical perception is needed to understand that human egos in this cycle do not suddenly leave their obligations of earth evolution and take up abode elsewhere as "gods," reincarnation became, perhaps, a more useful word for simple doctrinal dissemination. For reincarnation emphasizes return to earth in bodies similar to the ones we presently possess. Those who speculated, with inadequate preparation or background, upon metempsychosis, often, it appeared, became involved in weird imaginings -- doted upon animals supposed to become human, or favorite "occult teachers" thought ready soon to graduate entirely from the world of flesh.
With the background of "Thoughts on Karma and Reincarnation" in mind -- and noting that it was published in 1889, whereas Isis Unveiled had appeared in 1877 -- the puzzling sentence in H.P.B.'s definition in the Glossary clearly shows itself as open to additional interpretation to that suggested in THEOSOPHY'S May note concluding the "Word Puzzles" discussion. [Note: This refers to the 22nd article in this series, on "Metempsychosis".--Compiler.] Another and perhaps more accurate interpretation of the sentence, "metempsychosis should apply to animals alone," would be that metempsychosis (if considered as the radical alteration of the soul's habitat by reëmbodiment in an entirely different kind of form) should apply to animals alone. This possibility should have been discerned in the first place, for the very obvious reason that the Glossary discussion simply adds to the original discussions supplied in Isis Unveiled. Again, though, it is clear that disparagement of metempsychosis never involved "the true meaning of the Greek word," but only the term as "generally misunderstood by every class of European and American society, including many scientists." That H.P.B. did not, even in 1889, in any sense "write off" the philosophical value of metempsychosis, becomes especially apparent in her lengthy quotation from an Anglo-Indian daily newspaper (THEOSOPHY 30:539), where she approves the use of the word. [Note: This quotation takes up about 5 pages, running to the end of the 13-page "Thoughts on Karma and Reincarnation" article that is found below.--Compiler.] Also, in the same article, she remarks that Professor Francis Bowen uttered "a great truth" when he remarked that:The doctrine of metempsychosis may almost claim to be a natural or innate belief in the human mind, if we may judge from its wide diffusion among the nations of the Earth and its prevalence throughout the historical ages. (THEOSOPHY 30:536.)A reader of THEOSOPHY has called the Editors' attention to the fact that one of the words reprinted in the quotation from Isis Unveiled (used in May "Word Puzzles") [Note: Part 22 in this series.--Compiler.] was later listed by H.P.B. as among the many mistakes appearing in the original edition. In Lucifer, February, 1889, she wrote as follows:The word "planet" [page 351, volume I, of Isis] was a mistake, that "cycle" was meant, i.e., the "cycle of Devachanic rest." This mistake, due to one of the literary editors -- the writer knowing English more than imperfectly twelve years ago, and the editors being still more ignorant of Buddhism and Hinduism -- has led to great confusion and numberless accusations of contradictions between the statements in Isis and later theosophical teaching. The paragraph quoted meant to upset the theory of the French Reincarnationists who maintain that the same personality is reincarnated, often a few days after death, so that a grandfather can be reborn as his own grand-daughter. Hence the idea was combated, and it was said that neither Buddha nor any of the Hindu philosophers ever taught reincarnation in the same cycle, or of the same personality, but of the "triune man" ... who, when properly united, was "capable of running the race" forward to perfection.The sentence in Isis Unveiled read, in its original version, that "reincarnation, i.e., the appearance of the same individual, or rather his astral monad, twice on the same planet is not a rule in nature; it is an exception." Actually, this sentence seems correct enough, providing one takes into account the intended meaning as well as the literal one -- for the same "astral monad" and the "same individual" do not appear, according to the teachings of The Secret Doctrine, with exactly the same constitution, ever -- during this planetary cycle. As her corrections in Lucifer show, H.P.B. wished to make clear that the man who dies cannot return again "intact" -- with the same personality as well as the same egoic characteristics -- nor can the ego of any ordinary human being escape the necessity of a devachanic interlude before reincarnation. After "the cycle of devachan or rest," however, the returning ego -- in this case, higher manas -- picks up the skandhas of a past personality on the astral plane and incorporates them into the structure of a new personality. Here reference to samskara in the Glossary is useful, for it implies that higher manas brings back "the germs of propensities and impulses from previous births to be developed in this, or the coming reincarnations," when occasion is favorable. In a sense, then, the samskaras and some of the skandhas may be thought of as reunited with each incarnation, the skandhas providing channels of opportunity for future development of lower "propensities and impulses from previous births."
All in all, it would appear H.P.B. was perfectly willing to use the word metempsychosis when discussing the general philosophy of cyclic progression, but settled upon reincarnation as a doctrinal term to convey with minimum confusion some of the dimensions of Oriental thought on the subject of immortality. Reincarnation suffices to make clear the central idea of importance -- that is, the portion of metempsychosis philosophy which applies directly to man. However, simplification here, as in all other instances, exacts a price; thus, scholars and philosophers who show genuine interest in the idea of reincarnation also show a decided preference for avoiding that particular term. Metempsychosis, palingenesis, and rebirth are much more likely to be chosen, simply because such philosophers wish those who read their arguments to consider the theory itself, apart from sectarian overtones. Perhaps the same cycle initiated by H.P.B.'s Isis Unveiled -- i.e., a treating of the subject of rebirth from the most universal standpoint, by way of exploration of metempsychosis, may be "reincarnating," itself. Then, if the understanding of rebirth doctrines proves more complete than in the nineteenth century, through an increasing intensity of study of Eastern philosophy and religion, the doctrine of reincarnation may be seen to be something more than a "special belief" of Theosophists.
As before remarked, general usage equates reincarnation with both metempsychosis and transmigration, as is indicated by the following definition supplied by the Columbia Encyclopedia:Reincarnation (Latin, -- taking on flesh again), a term denoting the belief that the soul, either immediately upon the death of the body which it has occupied or after an interval spent in some region apart from the plane of the earth is reborn in another body, usually of the same species but sometimes in a lower or a higher scale of existence. In the latter case, the new form of life is determined by the record of the soul's behavior in its previous embodiment. This ethical point of view is found only among the races of higher development; but the belief in reincarnation has had a place in the speculations of primitive minds of all times, in the attempt to discover something of the soul's destiny. In various forms it appears among African tribes, among peoples of the Orient, and in almost all parts of the world. The words transmigration and metempsychosis sometimes have the same meaning as reincarnation, but they are also employed in a somewhat different sense.In other words, reincarnation is less likely to connote a variety of meanings than metempsychosis, and is thus "safer" for ordinary discussion. But this does not imply that the proper use of the Greek word must forever be dispensed with. The further into study of H.P.B.'s writings one goes, in fact, the more necessary it becomes to have another word to add to reincarnation, one conveying broader meaning. Referring again to H.P.B.'s phrasing of the Third Proposition in the S.D., we may reflect upon the meaning of the statement that "the pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no special gifts or privileges in man, save those won by his own Ego, through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations." It is sometimes thought that metempsychosis here refers to the transformations occurring before the "man-stage" is reached, but, if this is so, why the words "personal effort and merit"? Again, metempsychosis is truly a universal process applying to egoic evolution as well as to the transformations occurring in the lower orders of nature. As an indication that the word has a special significance after a certain degree of egoity has been reached, as well as before, one need only turn to H.P.B.'s description of "the four modes of birth" in her Glossary under the heading Chaturyoni: the fourth of these "modes" she designates as "by sudden self-transformation, as Bodhisattvas and Gods." This, we should think, is the highest and most important aspect of metempsychosis.
If one were seeking for a single "all-purpose" term around which to weave the whole intricate fabric of the Third Proposition of the S.D., no better word could be found than metempsychosis, for it applies in differing ways to the lower orders of nature, to transformations of consciousness between species, and, in the special and restricted sense of reincarnation, to present man.
Such a suggestion, however, is not intended to suggest a rephrasing of Theosophical literature, but only to indicate that the broader term metempsychosis represents a universal verity, and reincarnation the specific manner in which the universal principle applies to ourselves in this cycle.
In any case, it will also be of considerable importance to know that any term used to designate rebirth needs to be pondered when used, and not taken as sufficient explanation of itself. Many of those who have followed the discussions in this series will no doubt have discovered, along with the writers, that every "confusion" of word usage is, in this case, an opportunity for gaining further insight into the actual process of egoic growth through cyclic transformation.
Compiler's Note: Before going on to the next article in this series, the 26th, if you haven't already read it, and want to, here's a copy of the important article by H. P. Blavatsky, entitled "Thoughts on Karma and Reincarnation", that was quoted from by the Editors in the above article, and reprinted in full in the same issue of THEOSOPHY magazine (placed three articles before this 25th article in the "Word Puzzles" series), since it, as they said, "...throws considerable light on both words..." [referring to "Metempsychosis" and "Reincarnation"].
And in case you haven't already read this one, and want to, here's the link to HPB's article, entitled "Transmigration of the Life Atoms", that was also mentioned and quoted from in the above article by the Editors.--Compiler.
THEOSOPHY, Vol. 43, No. 10, August, 1955
THOUGHTS ON KARMA
AND REINCARNATION(1)In man there are arteries, thin as a hair split a 1,000 times, filled with fluids blue, red, green, yellow, etc. The tenuous involucrum (the base or ethereal frame of the astral body) is lodged in them, and the ideal residues of the experiences of the former embodiments (or incarnations) adhere to the said tenuous involucrum, and accompany it in its passage from body to body.""JUDGE of a man by his questions rather than by his answers," teaches the wily Voltaire. The advice stops half-way in our case. To become complete and cover the whole ground, we have to add, "ascertain the motive which prompts the questioner." A man may offer a query from a sincere impulse to learn and to know. Another person will ask eternal questions, with no better motive than a desire of cavilling and proving his adversary in the wrong.
Not a few among the "inquirers into Theosophy," as they introduce themselves, belong to this latter category. We have found in it Materialists and Spiritualists, Agnostics and Christians. Some of them, though rarely, are "open to conviction" -- as they say; others, thinking with Cicero that no liberal, truth-seeking man should ever impute a charge of unsteadiness to anyone for having changed his opinions -- become really converted and join our ranks. But there are those also -- and these form the majority -- who, while representing themselves as inquirers, are in truth carpers. Whether owing to narrowness of mind or foolhardiness they entrench themselves behind their own preconceived and not unseldom shallow beliefs and opinions, and will not budge from them. Such a "seeker" is hopeless, as his desire to investigate the truth is a pretext, not even a fearless mask, but simply a false nose. He has neither the open determination of an avowed materialist, nor the serene coolness of a "Sir Oracle." But--You may as wellTherefore, a "seeker after truth" of this kind had better be severely left alone. He is intractable, because he is either a skin-deep sciolist, a self-opinionated theorist or a fool. As a general rule, he talks reincarnation before he has even learnt the difference between metempsychosis, which is the transmigration of a human Soul into an animal form, and Reincarnation, or the rebirth of the same Ego in successive human bodies. Ignorant of the true meaning of the Greek word, he does not even suspect how absurd, in philosophy, is this purely exoteric doctrine of transmigrations into animals. Useless to tell him that Nature, propelled by Karma, never recedes, but strives ever forward in her work on the physical plane; that she may lodge a human soul in the body of a man, morally ten times lower than any animal, but she will not reverse the order of her kingdoms; and while leading the irrational monad of a beast of a higher order into the human form at the first hour of a Manvantara, she will not guide that Ego, once it has become a man, even of the lowest kind, back into the animal species -- not during that cycle (or Kalpa) at any rate.(2)
Forbid the sea for to obey the moon,
As, or by oath remove, or counsel shake,
The fabric of his folly ....
The list of queer "investigators" is by no means exhausted with these amiable seekers. There are two other classes -- Christians and Spiritualists, the latter being in some respects more formidable than any. The former having been born and bred believers in the Bible and supernatural "miracles" on authority, or "thirty-seventh hand evidence," to use a popular proverb, are often forced to yield in the face of the first hand testimony of their own reason and senses; and then they are amenable to reason and conviction. They had formed à priori opinions and got crystallized in them as a fly in a piece of amber. But that amber has cracked, and, as one of the signs of the times, they have bethought themselves of a somewhat tardy still sincere search, to either justify their early opinions, or else part company with them for good. Having found out that their religion -- like that of the great majority of their fellow men -- had been founded on human not divine respect, they come to us as they would to surgical operators, believing that theosophists can remove all the old cobwebs from their bewildered brains. Sometimes it does so happen; once made to see the fallacy of first accepting and identifying themselves with any form of belief, and then only seeking, years later, for reasons to justify it, they very naturally try to avoid falling again into the same mistake. They had once to content themselves with such interpretations of their time-honoured dogmas as the fallacy and often the absurdity of the latter would afford; but now, they seek to learn and understand before they believe.
This is the right and purely theosophical state of mind, and is quite consistent with the precept of Lord Buddha, who taught never to believe merely on authority but to test the latter by means of our personal reason and highest intuition. It is only such seekers after the eternal truth who can profit by the lessons of old Eastern Wisdom.
It is our duty, therefore, to help them to defend their new ideals by furnishing them with the most adequate and far-reaching weapons. For they will have to encounter, not only Materialists and Spiritualists, but also to break a lance with their ex-coreligionists. These will bring to bear upon them the whole of their arsenal, composed of the pop-guns of biblical casuistry and interpretations based on the dead-letter texts and the disingenuous translation of pseudo revelation. They have to be prepared. They will be told, for instance, that there is not a word in the Bible which would warrant belief in reincarnation, or life, more than once, on this earth. Biologists and physiologists will laugh at such a theory, and assure them that it is opposed by the fact that no man has a glimpse of recollection of any past life. Shallow metaphysicians, and supporters of the easy-going Church ethics of this age, will gravely maintain the injustice there would be in a posterior punishment, in the present life, for deeds committed in a previous existence of which we know nothing. All such objections are disposed of and shown fallacious to anyone who studies seriously the esoteric sciences.
But what shall we say of our ferocious opponents, the Kardecists, or the reincarnationists of the French school, and the anti-reincarnationists, i.e., most of the Spiritualists of the old school. The fact, that the first believe in rebirth, but in their own crude, unphilosophical way, makes our task the more heavy. They have made up their minds that a man dies, and his "spirit," after a few visits of consultation to the mortals he left behind him, may reincarnate at his own sweet will, in whom and whenever he likes. The Devachanic period of no less than a 1,000, generally 1,500 years, is a vexation of mind and a snare in their sight. They will have nothing of this. No more will the Spiritualists. These object on the highly philosophical ground that "it is simply impossible." Why? Because it is so unpalatable to most of them, especially to those who know themselves to be the personal Avatar, or the reincarnation of some historically great hero or heroine who flourished within the last few centuries (rebirth from, or into, the slums of Whitechapel, being for them out of question). And "it is so cruel," you see, to tell fond parents that the fancy that a still-born child, a daughter of theirs, who, they imagine, having been reared in a nursery of Summerland, has now grown up and comes to visit them daily in the family séance-room, is an absurd belief, whether reincarnation be true or not. We must not hurt their feelings by insisting that every child who dies before the age of reason -- when only it becomes a responsible creature -- reincarnates immediately after its death -- since, having had no personal merit or demerit in any of its actions, it can have no claim upon Devachanic reward and bliss. Also that as it is irresponsible till the age of, say, seven, the full weight of the Karmic effects generated during its short life falls directly upon those who reared and guided it. They will hear of no such philosophical truths, based on eternal justice and Karmic action. "You hurt our best, our most devotional feelings. Avaunt!" they cry, "we will not accept your teachings."
E pur se muove! Such arguments remind one of the curious objections to, and denial of, the sphericity of the earth used by some clever Church Fathers of old. "How can the earth, forsooth, be round?" argued the saintly wiseacres -- the "venerable Bedes" and the Manichean Augustines. "Were it so the men below would have to walk with their heads downward, like flies on a ceiling. Worse than all, they could not see the Lord descending in his glory on the day of the second advent!" As these very logical arguments appeared irrefutable, in the early centuries of our era, to Christians, so the profoundly philosophical objections of our friends the Summerland theorists, appear as plausible in this century of Neo-Theosophy.
And what are your proofs that such series of lives ever take place, or that there is reincarnation at all? -- we are asked. We reply (1): the testimony of every seer, sage and prophet, throughout an endless succession of human cycles; (2) a mass of inferential evidence appealing even to the profane. True, this kind of evidence -- although not seldom men are hung on no better than such inferential testimony -- is not absolutely reliable. For, as Locke says: "To infer is nothing but by virtue of one proposition, laid down as true, to draw in another as true." Yet, all depends on the nature and strength of that first proposition. The Predestinarians may lay down as true their doctrine of Predestination; -- that pleasant belief that every human being is pre-assigned by the will of our "Merciful Father in Heaven," to either everlasting Hell-fire, or the "Golden Harp," on the pinion-playing principle. The proposition from which this curious belief is inferred and laid down as true, is based, in the present case, on no better foundation than one of the nightmares of Calvin, who had many. But the fact, that his followers count millions of men, does not entitle either the theory of total depravity, or that of predestination, to be called a universal belief. They are still limited to a small portion of mankind, and were never heard of before the day of the French Reformer.
These are pessimistic doctrines born of despair, beliefs artificially engrafted on human nature, and which, therefore, cannot hold good. But who taught mankind about soul transmigration? Belief in successive rebirths of the human Ego throughout the cycles of life in various bodies is a universal belief, a certainty innate in mankind. Even now, when theological dogmas of human origin have stifled and well-nigh destroyed this natural inborn idea from the Christian mind, even now hundreds of the most eminent Western philosophers, authors, artists, poets and deep thinkers still firmly believe in reincarnation. In the words of Georges Sand, we are:--Cast into this life, as it were into an alembic, where, after a previous existence which we have forgotten, we are condemned to be remade, renewed, tempered by suffering, by strife, by passion, by doubt, by disease, by death. All these evils we endure for our good, for our purification, and so to speak, to make us perfect. From age to age, from race to race, we accomplish a tardy progress, tardy but certain, an advance of which, in spite of all the sceptics say, the proofs are manifest. If all the imperfections of our being and all the woes of our estate drive at discouraging and terrifying us, on the other hand, all the more noble faculties, which have been bestowed on us that we might seek after perfection, do make for our salvation, and deliver us from fear, misery, and even death. Yet, a divine instinct that always grows in light and in strength helps us to comprehend that nothing in the whole world wholly dies, and that we only vanish from the things that lie about us in our earthly life, to reappear among conditions more favourable to our eternal growth in good.Writes Professor Francis Bowen, as quoted in "Reincarnation, a Study of Forgotten Truths"(3) -- uttering a great truth:--The doctrine of metempsychosis may almost claim to be a natural or innate belief in the human mind, if we may judge its wide diffusion among the nations of the Earth and its prevalence throughout the historical ages.The millions of India, Egypt, China, that have passed away, and the millions of those who believe in reincarnation to-day -- are almost countless. The Jews had the same doctrine; moreover, whether one prays to a personal, or worships in silence an impersonal deity or a Principle and a Law, it is far more reverential to believe in this doctrine than not. One belief makes us think of "God" or "Law" as a synonym of Justice, giving to poor little man more than one chance for righteous living and for the atoning of sins whether of omission or commission. Our disbelief credits the Unseen Power instead of equity with fiendish cruelty. It makes of it a kind of a sidereal Jack the Ripper or Nero doubled with a human monster. If a heathen doctrine honours the Deity and a Christian dishonours it, which should be accepted? And why should one who prefers the former be held as -- an infidel?
But the world moves on now as it has always moved, and along with it move the ideas in the heads of the fogies. The question is not whether a fact in nature fits, or not, some special hobby, but whether it is really a fact based on, at least, inferential evidence. We are told by those special hobbyists that it is not. We reply, study the questions you would reject, and try to understand our philosophy, before you dismiss our teachings à priori. Spiritualists complain, and with very good reasons, of men of science who, like Huxley, denounce wholesale their phenomena whilst knowing next to nothing of them. Why do they do likewise, with regard to propositions based on the psychological experiences of thousands of generations of seers and adepts? Do they know anything of the laws of Karma -- the great Law of Retribution, that mysterious, yet -- in its effects -- quite evident and palpable action in Nature, which, sooner or later, brings back every good or bad deed of ours to rebound on us, as the elastic ball, thrown against a wall, rebounds back on the one who throws it? They do not. They believe in a personal God, whom they endow with intelligence, and who rewards and punishes, in their ideas, every action of ours in life. They accept this hybrid deity (finite, because they endow it most unphilosophically with conditioned attributes, while insisting on calling it Infinite and Absolute), regardless of, and blind to, the thousand and one fallacies and contradictions in which the theological teachings concerning that deity involve us. But when offered a consistent, philosophical and quite logical substitute for such an imperfect God, a complete solution of most of the insoluble problems and mysteries in human life -- they turn away in idiotic horror. They remain indifferent or opposed to it, only because its name is KARMA instead of Jehovah; and that it is a tenet which emanates from Aryan philosophy -- the deepest and profoundest of all the world philosophies -- instead of from the Semitic cunning and intellectual jugglery, which has transformed an astronomical symbol into the "one living God of Gods." "We do not want an impersonal Deity," they tell us; "a negative symbol such as 'Non-Being' is incomprehensible to Being." Just so. "The light shineth in darkness; but the darkness comprehendeth it not." Therefore they will talk very glibly of their immortal spirits; and on the same principle that they call a personal God infinite and make of him a gigantic male, so they will address a human phantom as "Spirit" -- Colonel Cicero Treacle, or "Spirit" Mrs. Amanda Jellybag, with a vague idea that both are at least sempiternal.
It is useless, therefore, to try and convince such minds. If they are unable or unwilling to study even the broad general idea contained in the term Karma, how can they comprehend the fine distinctions involved in the doctrine of reincarnation, although, as shown by our venerable brother, P. Iyaloo Naidu of Hyderabad, Karma and Reincarnation are, "in reality the A B C of the Wisdom-Religion." It is very clearly expressed in the January Theosophist, "Karma is the sum total of our acts, both in the present life and in the preceding births." After stating that Karma is of three kinds, he continues:--Sanchita Karma includes human merits and demerits accumulated in the preceding births. That portion of the Sanchita Karma destined to influence human life ... in the present incarnation is called Prarabdham. The third kind of Karma is the result of the merits or demerits of our present acts. Agami extends over all your words, thoughts, and deeds. What you think, what you speak, what you do, as well as whatever results your thoughts, words, and acts produce on yourself, and on those affected by them, fall under the category of the present Karma, which will be sure to sway the balance of your life for good or for evil in your future development (or reincarnation).
Karma thus is simply action, a concatenation of causes and effects. That which adjusts each effect to its direct cause; that which guides invisibly and as unerringly these effects to choose, as the field of their operation, the right person in the right place, is what we call Karmic law. What is it? Shall we call it the hand of Providence? We cannot do so, especially in Christian lands, because the term has been connected with, and interpreted theologically as, the foresight and personal design of a personal god; and because in the active laws of Karma -- absolute Equity -- based on the Universal Harmony, there is neither foresight nor desire; and because again, it is our own actions, thoughts, and deeds which guide that law, instead of being guided by it. "Whatever a man soweth, that shall he reap." It is only a very unphilosophical and illogical theology which can speak in one breath of free will, and grace or damnation being pre-ordained to every human from (?) eternity, as though eternity could have a beginning to start from! But this question would lead us too far into metaphysical disquisitions. Suffice it to say that Karma leads us to rebirth, and that rebirth generates new Karma while working off the old, Sanchita Karma. Both are indissolubly bound up, one in the other. Let us get rid of Karma, if we would get rid of the miseries of rebirths or -- Reincarnation.
To show how the belief in Reincarnation is gaining even among the un-intuitional Western writers, we quote the following extracts from an Anglo-Indian daily.
"Dissatisfaction with the results of missionary enterprise in India is the most prominent feature of cultivated Christian sentiment in these days, and it must force attention both to the mistake of assailing Hinduism with the mock-culture of cram ... and to the intellectual weakness of many of the benevolent persons entrusted with the operation. The mistake has already been painfully illustrated in the incidents of the Madras Christian College disturbance, and it is not difficult to find an illustration of the attendant misfortune. In a missionary production of some pretensions an attempt is seriously made to confute the theory of the 'Transmigration of Souls,' which betrays an incapacity for metaphysical presentments and an ignorance of psychology that are unfortunate in any person undertaking such a task. Yet this effusion finds admission into a recognized missionary organ, and will perhaps be regarded by young missionaries as a triumphant display of intellectual strength to be coveted for the present and, if possible, imitated afterwards. And people wonder in the face of this sort of thing that the subtle Hindu mind laughs at Christian assaults on its stronghold! The arguments put forward in the paper referred to are worth looking into one by one.
"The first is that metempsychosis 'disregards the evidence of memory.' Proof of this presumption is, of course, not attempted. It so happens that psychologists from Plato downward have called attention to the familiar mental phenomenon in which persons placed, for the first time in their lives, in peculiar circumstances, are suddenly invaded by the conviction that they have gone through the same experience before. Most big schoolboys remember the explanation that this phenomenon may be attributable to the reduplicative property of consciousness resulting from the double lobing of the brain. But even such boys can hardly forget that the phenomenon has also been regarded as evidence of a pre-existent state; and reflecting men must see that one hypothesis is as moral, as reasonable, and as scientific as the other. It may, indeed, be said that the latter hypothesis finds better corroboration than the former in the moral analogies of our nature. There is nothing inconsistent with the highest philosophical teaching, or with the moral lessons or the actual experience of Christ; in the occlusions of memory Christ himself, even in adult manhood, under the stress of physical entanglements, sometimes entirely forgot his pre-existent state, and, what is more to the point, some of its radically inseparable convictions, such as that He had 'seen the Father,' and 'dwelt in the bosom of the Father,' and held communion with Him 'before the foundation of the world,' and had 'come down from heaven,' and should 'lose nothing.' On any other supposition some of Christ's most forcible sayings, and especially some of his most earnest prayers, would be unmeaning. If Christ, then, because of his temporary incarnation in human nature, sometimes became so oblivious of His antecedent conditions -- of His inseparable oneness with God, with its ineradicable accompaniments and its predestined results -- as to be able earnestly to cry out 'My God, why hast thou forsaken me?' and 'If it be possible, let this cup pass from me': things which neither could be nor were truly desired by himself -- why may not any other human nature, not inlaid with an essential divinity, forget for longer or shorter periods its state of pre-existence, if it had one? Is it contended that such infirmity, unattainable by fallible man, was possible only to the infallible Son of God? Once admit the possibility of occlusion of memory, and the duration of the interval and even its character become matters of detail. Theologians may attribute to immaturity of intelligence that apparent unconsciousness of infants, which a keener insight may recognise as the inevitable hiatus between distinct conditions of a human consciousness. The babe being as perfectly human as any man -- and indeed being, according to Christ, in the highest natural moral condition of humanity -- the theory of a temporary occlusion of memory is not less philosophical, nor is it less moral, than the theory of undeveloped consciousness. No doubt the rank and file of religious teachers, perhaps because they have been so taught and fear to think for themselves, have decided on teaching differently. But this may only show that the rank and file of religious teachers are incapable of balancing philosophical equations and are not qualified for their great office. May it not also account for the melancholy fate of the religion taught by them in its conflict with Hinduism?
"It is gravely urged that 'spirit exists only as it acts or suffers in feeling, thinking, willing. Spirit in any other sense is a meaningless abstraction.' If this means that while spirit exists anywhere its experience must be registered somewhere, it is superfluous platitude. If it means either that temporary unconsciousness, in whole or in part, is an impossibility, or that every spirit must in every moment of its existence be fully conscious of all experiences registered in every other moment of its existence, it assumes what is contradicted in the daily experience of all human beings but idiots. Admit the possibility of a hiatus, and its width and depth are mere questions of degree.
"The second argument is that metempsychosis involves a 'libel on divine justice.' The alleged belief of the Hindus, that suffering in one state of being expiates sin in another, which is not essentially unjust, nor a whit less moral than the dogma of inherited or imported sin, may or may not be unfounded; but the first question is -- is the atonement of Christ incompatible with transmigration? If so, why? A single scripture text in support of this unwarranted assumption would be useful, for if transmigration is not inconsistent with the atonement of Christ, it is a waste of time trying to find out how or why it disagrees with any self-constituted religious teacher's ideas of divine justice. It is easy for omniscient sages to settle definitely what divine justice ought to be. ... For any unprepossessed mind there is certainly much in the Christian scriptures which is compatible with, and nothing that contradicts, the doctrine of a pre-existent state. In what conceivable way can the theory of a man's being a fallen spirit or a risen animal, or both, conflict with what Christ actually said? When, for instance, a group, who evidently believed in a former state of existence, actually asked him (John IX, 2 and 3) whether a particular man was 'born blind' because of his own sin or that of his parents, he answered, not that they were harbouring a mischievous delusion -- which was what he did in an unmistakable way when men in difficulty sincerely submitted real delusions to his scrutiny -- but that they were mistaken in their opinion in the particular case. His teaching here may be fairly claimed, not merely as not being antagonistic to, but as being in harmony with, and even lending colour to, the transmigration of souls. If religious teachers choose to decide that Christ knew less about 'divine justice' than they, the issue must be left to awakening Christendom.
"The third argument is that metempsychosis 'is contrary to all sound psychology.' Nine out of ten of the religious teachers who glibly dogmatise in this fashion are such indifferent psychologists that they have no intelligent conception even of the scripture teaching -- leave alone any more abstruse presentments -- on the differing spheres of body, soul and spirit in the three-fold nature of man,(4) and would be sorely puzzled to explain in what way many of the higher human responsibilities are adjusted between their own psychic and pneumatic natures; and also what becomes of the unity of individual responsibility in the face of this tri-partite allotment. And yet such persons are put up to grapple with pantheistic Brahmans on the mysteries of Vedantism! The first step in comparative psychology is to show in a reasonable way that Christian psychology (as taught by its former and immediate disciples, and not as excogitated by low-pitched ecclesiastical afterthought) is unfavorable to metempsychosis. This step has not been taken. The difficulty of taking it seems insuperable, and bland assumption of its ease can only be regarded as the audacity of ignorance.
"The fourth argument against transmigration is that it 'is opposed to sound ethics.' This is another of those almost comical assumptions cheerfully made by self-sufficient men, who begin by regarding themselves as the oracles of God and sole repositories of his mind, and naturally end by treating all they feel inclined to say as inspired; but for which, it is well to remember, there is no particle of authority in scripture, and no particle of proof anywhere else. All that any system of sound ethics can demand surely is that personal responsibility shall be attached to every intelligent exercise of individual will. How any conflict with this condition or any of its logical inferences can arise from the necessity for a future state of existence, it is obviously incumbent on those to point out who fling forth arbitrary assertions right and left. Every thinking man must be aware of a growth in his own moral consciousness by which a gulf has intervened between his present and his past: while his personality has survived to identify him, he is aware of distinct stages in his moral nature to which very different degrees of responsibility attach. How does this fact militate against sound ethics? Wherein, moreover, does the innocence of the ignorant child, who retains individual identity while sustaining differing burdens of responsibility, involve any danger to sound ethics? In what sense, in which such innocence does not also do so, can a pre-existent state, of all whose burdens of responsibility a human mind may not be uniformly or continuously conscious in that region of understanding in which impression and expression constantly re-act on each other, 'annihilate the distinction between virtue and vice, right and wrong'? Any mind not determined to retain foregone conclusions must perceive that the words quoted are solemn nonsense. It is hardly a whit more silly to maintain that any hypothesis of the evolution of the photosphere must 'annihilate time and space.' The difficulty of disproving either statement of course arises from the utter absence of any connexion between premise and conclusion.
"The fifth contention against metempsychosis is that 'it is not in accord with science.' Religious teachers are for the most part so imperfectly equipped in science that it is amusing to find any of them stepping out of the region of confused and confusing theology, in which detection is not always sure, into the domain of science, where exposure is certain, to lay down the law as from the 'unanswerable pulpit.' Only a generation ago Darwin tickled the scientific world and convulsed the religious by inventing 'natural selection,' by which animals passed on their types, so to speak, to the next of kin. No assumption of recent years partakes more of the character of metaphysical delusion; nor perhaps does any other scientific fad conflict more with Bible doctrine that every animal and every tree is self-contained, having 'its seed in itself.' Every true physiologist ought to understand this profound truth and its striking confirmation in scientific analogies which cannot be explained here. Nevertheless nearly all the prophets -- all but a thinking few -- employed what wit the theory of Darwin left them in reconciling their religious sense (it cannot be called a religious conscience) to the unproved hypothesis, apparently for no better reason than that it was greatly affected by clever infidels. But what is there in science that negatives the idea, if it can be sustained by evidence of a natural selection by which if there be any soul at all, the individual soul of a lower organism may pass by stages into higher organisms? Science, of course, refuses to accept anything unproved, and from this point of view a religious man's begetting another in the spiritual hope, or the spirit of God causing a man to be born from above, are out of the range of physical science equally with the incarnation of Christ. But if such a thing as a physical life independently of a body, or a spiritual life independently of a soul, can exist at all, it is not more unscientific to imagine the soul of a monkey passing at some time after death into some higher type of animal, than it is to imagine either a spiritual birth on the one hand or a mutation of species on the other."--(Allahabad Pioneer.)
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:
If "immortality" means "having unending existence in future time," then no self is immortal, for no self is in time. If, on the other hand, "immortality" means both "not ceasing to exist" and "appearing to exist throughout an endless future," then every self is immortal.
--G. LOWES DICKINSON
[Psychology. Western Psychology.
Lack of an Adequate System.
Because of Materialistic Dogmas.
Materialistic Bias of Science.
Paralyzing Influence of Dogmatic Religion.
Real Psychology is an Oriental Product Today.
William Q. Judge Spoke of These Things Late in the 19th Century.
Western Investigators Now Recognize These Things.
Contains Quotes from Some of Them.
Materialism of Psychology and Forgetting the Soul.
Emphasis Upon Phenomena and Function.
Many Confusions and Factionalisms.
Behaviorism Now Largely Discredited.
Psychology and the Science of the Soul.
Knowledge Pertaining to the Immortal Ego.
Science and Medicine Need True Psychology.]
[Part 26 of a 29-part series]
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FOUR (4) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(1) NOTE.--This article [by H. P. Blavatsky] first appeared in Lucifer for April, 1889, and was last reprinted in THEOSOPHY, Vol. 30.
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(2) Occult Science teaches that the same order of evolution for man and animals -- from the first to the seventh planet of a chain, and from the first to the end of the seventh round -- takes place on every chain of worlds in our Solar system from the inferior to the superior. Thus the highest as the lowest Ego, from the monads selected to people a new chain in a Manvantara, when passing from an inferior to a superior "chain" has, of course, to pass through every animal (and even vegetable) form. But once started on its cycle of births no human Ego will become that of an animal during any period of the seven rounds.--Vide SECRET DOCTRINE.
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(3) We advise every disbeliever in reincarnation, in search of proofs, to read this excellent volume by Mr. E. D. Walker. It is the most complete collection of proofs and evidences from all the ages that was ever published.
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(4) The Christian scripture really teaches a four-fold nature in man -- speaking of the natural body, the spiritual body, the soul, and the spirit. It is so far in close accordance with ancient Oriental ideas on the subject.
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