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The Ancient Wisdom

By A Besant

Reincarnation Continued

(Page 208) The ascending stages of consciousness through which the Thinker passes as he reincarnates during his long cycle of lives in the three lower worlds are clearly marked out, and the obvious necessity for many lives, in which to experience them, if he is to evolve at all, may carry to the more thoughtful minds the clearest conviction of the truth of reincarnation.

The first of the stages is that in which all the experiences are sensational, the only contribution made by the mind consisting of the recognition that contact with some object is followed by a sensation of pleasure, while contact with others is followed by a sensation of pain. These objects form mental pictures, and the pictures soon begin to act as a stimulus to seek the objects associated with pleasure, when those objects are not present, the germs of memory and of mental initiative thus making their appearance. This first rough division of the external world is followed by the more complex idea of the bearing of quantity on pleasure and pain, already referred to.

At this stage of evolution, memory is (Page 209) very short lived, or, in other words, mental images are very transitory. The idea of forecasting the future from the past, even to the most rudimentary extent, has not dawned on the infant Thinker, and his actions are guided from outside, by the impacts that reach him from the external world, or at furthest by the promptings of his appetites and passions, craving gratification. He will throw away anything for an immediate satisfaction, however necessary the thing may be for his future well being; the need of the moment overpowers every other consideration. Of human souls in this embryonic condition, numerous examples can be found in books of travel, and the necessity for many lives will be impressed on the mind of any one who studies the mental condition of the least evolved savages, and compares it with the mental condition of even average humanity among ourselves.

Needless to say that the moral capacity is no more evolved than the mental; the idea of good and evil has not yet been conceived. Not is it possible to convey to the quite undeveloped mind even elementary notion of either good or bad. Good and pleasant are to it interchangeable terms, as in the well-known case of the Australian savage mentioned by Charles Darwin. Pressed by hunger, the man speared the nearest living creature that could serve as food, and this happened to be his wife; a European remonstrated with him on the wickedness of his deed, but failed to make any impression; for from the reproach that to eat his wife was very, very bad he (Page 210) only deduced the inference that the stranger thought she had proved nasty of indigestible, and he put him right by smiling peacefully as he patted himself after his meal, and declaring in a satisfied way, “She is very good.” 

Measure in thought the moral distance between that man and St. Francis of Assisi, and it will be seen that there must either be evolution of souls as there is evolution of bodies, or else in the realm of the soul there must be constant miracle, dislocated creations.

There are two paths along either of which man may gradually emerge from this embryonic mental condition. He may be directly ruled and controlled by men far more evolved than himself, or he may be left slowly to grow unaided. The latter case would imply the passage of uncounted millennia, for, without example and without discipline, left to the changing impacts of external objects, and to friction with other men as undeveloped as himself, the inner energies could be but very slowly aroused.

As a matter of fact, man has evolved by the road of direct precept and example and of enforced discipline. We have already seen that when the bulk of the average humanity received the spark which brought the Thinker into being, there were some of the greater Sons if Mind who incarnated as Teachers, and that there was also a long succession of lesser Sons of Mind, at various stages of evolution, who came into incarnation as the crest-wave of the advancing tide of humanity. 

These ruled the less evolved, under the beneficent sway of the great Teachers, and the compelled (Page 211) obedience to elementary rules of right living – very elementary at first, in truth – much hastened the development of mental and moral faculties in the embryonic souls. Apart from all other records the gigantic remains of civilizations that have long since disappeared – evidencing great engineering skill, and intellectual conceptions far beyond anything possible by the mass of the then infant humanity – suffice to prove that there were present on earth men with minds that were capable of greatly planning and greatly executing.

Let us continue the early stage of the evolution of consciousness. Sensation was wholly lord of the mind, and the earliest mental efforts were stimulated by desire. This led the man, slowly and clumsily, to forecast, to plan. He began to recognise a definite association of certain mental images, and, when one appeared, to expect the appearance of the other that had invariably followed in its wake. He began to draw inferences, and even to initiate action on the faith of these inferences – a great advance. And he began also to hesitate now and again to follow the vehement promptings of desire, when he found, over and over again, that the gratification demanded was associated in his mind with the subsequent happening of suffering.

This action was much quickened by the pressure upon him of verbally expressed laws; he was forbidden to seize certain gratifications, and was told that suffering would follow disobedience. When he had seized the delight-giving object and found the suffering follow upon (Page 212) pleasure, the fulfilled declaration made a far stronger impression on his mind than would have been made by the unexpected – and therefore to him fortuitous – happening of the same thing un foretold. Thus conflict continually arose between memory and desire, and the mind grew more active by the conflict, and was stirred into livelier functioning. The conflict, in fact, marked the transition to the second great stage.

Here began to show itself the germ of will. Desire and will guide a man’s actions, and will has even been defined as the desire which emerges triumphant from the contest of desires. But this is a crude and superficial view, explaining nothing. Desire is the outgoing energy of the Thinker, determined in its direction by the attraction of external objects. Will is the outgoing energy of the Thinker, determined in its direction by the conclusions drawn by the reason, from past experiences, or by the direct intuition of the Thinker himself. Otherwise put: desire is guided from without – will from within. At the beginning of man’s evolution, desire has complete sovereignty, and hurries him hither and thither; in the middle of his evolution, desire and will are in continual conflict, and victory lies sometimes with the one, sometimes with the other; at the end of his evolution desire has died, and will rules with unopposed, unchallenged sway.

Until the Thinker, is sufficiently developed to see directly, will is guided by him through the reason; and as the reason can draw its conclusions only from its stock of mental (Page 213) images – its experiences – and that stock is limited, the will constantly commands mistaken actions. The suffering which flows from these mistaken actions increases the stock of mental images, and thus gives the reason an increased store from which to draw its conclusions. Thus progress is made and wisdom is born.

Desire often mixes itself up with will, so that what appears to be determined from within is really largely prompted by the cravings of the lower nature for objects which afford it gratification. Instead of an open conflict between the two, the lower subtly insinuates itself into the current of the higher and turns its course aside. Defeated in the open field, the desire of the personality thus conspire against their conqueror, and often win by guile what they failed to win by force. During the whole of this second great stage, in which the faculties of the lower mind are in full course of evolution, conflict is the normal condition, conflict between the rule of sensations and the rule of reason.

The problem to be solved in humanity is the putting an end to conflict while preserving the freedom of the will; to determine the will inevitably to the best, while yet leaving that best as a matter of choice. The best is to be chosen, but by a self-initiated volition, that shall come with all the certainty of a foreordained necessity. The certainty of a compelling law is to be obtained from countless wills, each one left free to determine its own course. The solution of that problem is simple when it is known, (Page 214) though the contradiction looks irreconcilable when first presented. Let man be left free to choose his own actions, but let every action bring about an inevitable result; let him run loose amid all objects of desire and seize whatever he will, but let him have all the results of his choice, be they delightful or grievous. Presently he will freely reject the objects whose possession ultimately causes him pain; he will no longer desire them when he has experienced to the full that their possession ends in sorrow.

Let him struggle to hold the pleasure and avoid the pain, he will none the less be ground between the stones of law, and the lesson will be repeated any number of times found necessary; reincarnation offers us many lives as are needed by the most sluggish learner. Slowly desire for an object that brings suffering in its train will die, and when the thing offers itself in all its attractive glamour it will be rejected, not by compulsion but by free choice.

It is no longer desirable, it has lost its power. Thus with thing after thing; choice more and more runs in harmony with law. “There are many roads of error; the road of truth is one”; when all the paths of error have been trodden, when all have been found to end in suffering, the choice to walk in the way of truth is unswerving, because based on knowledge. The lower kingdoms work harmoniously, compelled by law; man’s kingdom is a chaos of conflicting wills, fighting against, rebelling against law; presently there evolves from it a nobler unity, a harmonious choice of voluntary (Page 215) obedience, an obedience that, being voluntary, based on knowledge and on memory of the results of disobedience, is stable and can be drawn aside by no temptation. Ignorant, inexperienced, man would always have been in danger of falling; as a God, knowing good and evil by experience, his choice of the good is raised forever beyond possibility of change.

Will in the domain of morality is generally entitled conscience, and it is subject to the same difficulties in this domain as in its other activities. So long as actions are in question which have been done over and over again, of which the consequences are familiar either to the reason or to the Thinker himself, the conscience speaks quickly and firmly. But when unfamiliar problems arise as to the working out of which experience is silent, conscience cannot speak with certainty; it has but a hesitating answer from the reason, which can draw only a doubtful inference, and the Thinker cannot speak if his experience does not include the circumstances that have now arisen.

Hence conscience often decides wrongly; that is, the will, failing clear direction from either the reason or the intuition, guides action amiss. Nor can we leave out of consideration the influences which play upon the mind from without, from the thought-forms of others, of friends, of the family, of the community, of the nation. (Chapter 11, “The Astral Plane.”) These all surround and penetrate the mind with their own atmosphere, distorting the appearance of everything, and (Page 216) throwing all things our of proportion. Thus influenced, the reason often does not even judge calmly from its own experience, but draws false conclusions as it studies its materials through a distorting medium. 

The evolution of moral faculties is very largely stimulated by the affections, animal and selfish as these are during the infancy of the Thinker. The laws of morality are laid down by the enlightened reason, discerning the laws by which Nature moves, and bringing human conduct into consonance with the Divine Will. But the impulse to obey these laws, when no outer force compels, has its roots in love, in that hidden divinity in man which seeks to pour itself out to give itself to others. Morality begins in the infant Thinker when he is first moved by love to wife, to child, to friend, to do some action that serves the loved one without any thought of gain to himself thereby. It is the first conquest over the lower nature, the complete subjugation of which is the achievement of moral perfection.

Hence the importance of never killing out or striving to weaken, the affection, as is done in many of the lower kinds of occultism. However impure and gross the affections may be, they offer possibilities of moral evolution from which the cold-hearted and self-isolated have shut themselves out. It is an easier task to purify than to create love, and this is why “the sinners” have been said by great Teachers to be nearer to the kingdom of heaven than the Pharisees and Scribes. 

The third great stage of consciousness sees (Page 217) the development of the higher intellectual powers; the mind no longer dwells entirely on mental images obtained from sensations, no longer reasons on purely concrete objects, nor is concerned with the attributes which differentiate one from another. The Thinker having learned clearly to discriminate between objects by dwelling upon their unlikenesses, now begins to group them together by some attribute which appears in a number of objects otherwise dissimilar and makes a link between them.

He draws out, abstracts, his common attribute, and sets all objects that posses it, apart from the rest which are without it; and in this way he evolves the power of recognising identity amid diversity, a step toward the much later recognition of the One underlying the man, he thus classifies all that is around him, developing the synthetic faculty, and learning to construct as well as analyse. Presently he takes another step, and conceives of the common property as an idea, apart from all the objects in which it appears, and thus constructs a higher kind of mental image of a concrete object – the image of an idea that has no phenomenal existence in the worlds of form, but which exists on the higher levels of the mental plane, and affords material on which the Thinker himself can work.

The lower mind reaches the abstract idea by reason, and in thus doing accomplishes its loftiest flight, touching the threshold of the formless world, and dimly seeing that which lies beyond. The Thinker sees these ideas, and lives among them (Page 218) habitually, and when the power of abstract reasoning is developed and exercised the Thinker is becoming effective in his own world, and is beginning his life of active functioning in his own sphere.

Such men care little for the life of the senses, care little for external observation, or for mental application to images of external objects; their powers are indrawn, and no longer rush outwards in the search for satisfaction. They dwell calmly within themselves, engrossed with the problems of philosophy, with the deepest aspects of life and thought, seeking to understand causes rather than troubling themselves with effects, and approaching nearer and nearer to the recognition of the One that underlies all the diversities of external Nature.

In the fourth stage of consciousness that One is seen, and with the transcending the barrier set up by the intellect the consciousness spreads out to embrace the world, seeing all things in itself and as parts of itself, and seeing itself as a ray of the LOGOS, and therefore as one with Him. Where is then the Thinker? He has become Consciousness, and, while the spiritual Soul can at will use any of his lower vehicles, he is no longer limited to their use, nor needs them for this full and conscious life. Then is compulsory reincarnation over and the man has destroyed death; he has verily achieved immortality. Then has he become “a pillar in the temple of God and shall go out no more.” 

To complete this part of our study, we need to understand the successive quickenings of the vehicles of (Page 219) consciousness, the bringing them one by one into activity as the harmonious instruments of the human Soul. 

We have seen that from the very beginning of his separate life the Thinker has possessed coatings of mental, astral, etheric, and dense physical matter. These form the media by which his life vibrates outwards, the bridge of consciousness, as we may call it, along which all impulses from the Thinker may reach the dense physical body, all impacts from the outer world may reach him. 

But this general use of the successive bodies as parts of a connected whole is a very different thing from the quickening of each in turn to serve as a distinct vehicle of consciousness, independently of those below it, and it is this quickening of the vehicles that we have now to consider. The lowest vehicle, the dense physical body, is the first one to be brought into harmonious working order; the brain and the nervous system have to be elaborated and to be rendered delicately responsive to every thrill which is within their gamut of vibratory power. In the early stages, while the physical dense body is composed of the grosser kinds of matter, this gamut is extremely limited, and the physical organ of the mind can respond only to the slowest vibrations sent down.

It answers far more promptly, as is natural, to the impacts from the external world caused by objects similar in materials to itself. Its quickening as a vehicle of consciousness consists in its being made responsive to the vibrations (Page 220) that are initiated from within, and the rapidity of this quickening depends on the co-operation of the lower nature with the higher, its loyal subordination of itself in the service of its inner ruler.

When after many, many life-periods, it dawns upon the lower nature that it exists for the sake of the soul, that all its value depends on the help it can bring to the soul, that it can win immortality only by merging itself in the soul, then its evolution proceeds in giant strides. Before this, the evolution has been unconscious; at first, the gratification of the lower nature was the object of life, and, while this was a necessary preliminary for calling out the energies of the Thinker, it did nothing directly to render the body a vehicle of consciousness; the direct working upon it begins when the life of the man establishes its centre in the mental body, and when thought commences to dominate sensation. 

The exercise of the mental powers works on the brain and the nervous system, and the coarser materials are gradually expelled to make room for the finer, which can vibrate in unison with the thought-vibrations sent to them. The brain becomes finer in constitution, and increases by ever more complicated convolutions the amount of surface available for the coating of nervous matter adapted to respond to thought-vibrations. The nervous system becomes more delicately balanced, more sensitive, more alive to every thrill of mental activity. And when the recognition of its function as an instrument of the Soul, spoken of above, has come, then active co-operation in performing (Page 221) this function sets in. The personality begins deliberately to discipline itself, and to set the permanent interests of the immortal individual above its own transient gratifications.

It yields up the time that might be spent in the pursuit of lower pleasures to the evolution of mental powers; day by day time is set apart for serious study; the brain is gladly surrendered to receive impacts from within instead of from without, is trained to answer to consecutive thinking, and is taught to refrain from throwing up its own useless disjointed images, made by past impressions. It is taught to remain at rest when it is not wanted by its master; to answer, not to initiate vibrations. (One of the signs that it is being accomplished is the cessation of the confused jumble of fragmentary images which are set up during sleep by the independent activity of the physical brain. When the brain is coming under control this kind of dream is very seldom experienced.)

Further, some discretion and discrimination will be used as to the food-stuffs which supply physical materials to the brain. The use of the coarser kinds will be discontinued, such as animal flesh and blood and alcohol, and pure food will build up a pure body. Gradually the lower vibrations will find no materials capable of responding to them, and the physical body thus becomes more and more entirely a vehicle of consciousness, delicately responsive to all the thrills of thought and keenly sensitive to the vibrations sent outwards by the Thinker.

The etheric double so closely follows the constitution of the dense body that it is not (Page 222) necessary to study separately its purification and quickening; it does not normally serve as a separate vehicle of consciousness, but works synchronously with its dense partner, and when separated from it either by accident or by death, it responds very feebly to the vibrations initiated from within. It function in truth is not to serve as a vehicle of mental-consciousness, but as a vehicle of Pr?na, of specialised life-force, and its dislocation from the denser particles to which it conveys the life-currents is therefore disturbing and mischievous. 

The astral body is the second vehicle of consciousness to be vivified, and we have already seen the changes through which it passes as it becomes organised for the work. (see Chapter II, “The Astral Plane”.). When it is thoroughly organised, the consciousness which has hitherto worked within it, imprisoned by it, when in sleep it has left the physical body and is drifting about in the astral world, begins not only to receive the impressions through it of astral objects that form the so-called dreamconsciousness, but also to perceive astral objects by its senses – that is, begins to relate the impressions received to the objects which give rise to those impressions.

These perceptions are at first confused, just as are the perceptions at first made by the mind through a new physical baby-body, and they have to be corrected by experience in the one case as in the other. The Thinker has gradually to discover the new powers which he can use through this subtler vehicle, and by which he can control the (Page 223) astral elements and defend himself against astral dangers. He is not left alone to face this new world unaided, but is taught and helped and – until he can guard himself – protected by those who are more experienced than himself in the ways of the astral world. Gradually the new vehicle of consciousness comes completely under his control, and life on the astral plane is as natural and as familiar as life on the physical.

The third vehicle of consciousness, the mental body, is rarely, if ever, vivified for independent action without the direct instruction of a teacher, and its functioning belongs to the life of the disciple at the present stage of human evolution. (See Chapter XI, “Man’s Ascent”). As we have already seen, it is rearranged for separate functioning (See Chapter IV, “The Mental Plane”), on the mental plane, and here again experience and training are needed ere it comes fully under its owner’s control. A fact – common to all these three vehicles of consciousness, but more apt to mislead perhaps in the subtler than in the denser, because it is generally forgotten in their case, while it is so obvious that it is remembered in the denser – is that they are subject to evolution, and that with their higher evolution their powers to receive and to respond to vibrations increase. 

How many more shades of a colour are seen by a trained eye than by an untrained. How many overtones are heard by a trained ear, where the untrained hears only the single fundamental note. As the physical senses grow (Page 224) more keen the world becomes fuller and fuller, and where the peasant is conscious only his furrow and his plough, the cultured mind is conscious of hedgerow flower and quivering aspen, of rapturous melody down-dropping from the skylark and the whirring of tiny wings through the adjoining wood, of the scudding of rabbits under the curled fronds of the bracken, and the squirrels playing with each other through the branches of the beeches, of all the gracious movements of wild things, of all the fragrant odours of filed and woodland, of all the changing glories of the cloudflecked sky, and of all the chasing lights and shadows on the hills. Both the peasant and the cultured have eyes, both have brains, but of what differing powers of observation, of what differing powers to receive impressions.

Thus also in other worlds. As the as the astral and mental bodies begin to function as separate vehicles of consciousness, they are in, as it were, the peasant stage of receptivity, and only fragments of the astral and mental worlds, with their strange and elusive phenomena, make their way into consciousness; but they evolve rapidly, embracing more and more, and conveying to consciousness a more and more accurate reflection of its environment. Here, as everywhere else, we have to remember that our knowledge is not the limit of Nature’s powers, and that in the astral and mental worlds, as in the physical, we are still children, picking up a few shells cast up by the waves, while the treasures hid in the ocean are still unexplored. (Page 225)

The quickening of the causal body as a vehicle of consciousness follows in due course the quickening of the mental body, and opens up to a man a yet more marvelous state of consciousness, stretching backwards into an illimitable past, onwards into the reaches of the future. Then the Thinker not only possesses the memory of his own past and can trace his growth through the long succession of his incarnate and excarnate lives, but he can also roam at will through the storied past of the earth, and learn the weighty lessons of world-experience, studying the hidden laws that guide evolution and the deep secrets of life hidden in the bosom of Nature.

In that lofty vehicle of consciousness he can each the veiled Isis, and lift a corner of her down-dropped veil; for there he can face her eyes without being blinded by her lightening glances, and he can see in the radiance that flows from her the causes of the world’s sorrow and its ending, with heart pitiful and compassionate, but no longer wrung with helpless pain. Strength and calm and wisdom come to those who are using the causal body as a vehicle of consciousness, and who behold with opened eyes the glory of the Good law.

When the buddhic body is quickened as a vehicle of consciousness the man enters into the bliss of nonseparateness, and knows in full and vivid realisation his unity with all that is. As the predominant element of consciousness in the causal body is knowledge, and ultimately wisdom, so the predominant element of consciousness in the buddhic body is bliss and love. (Page 226) The serenity of wisdom chiefly marks the one, while the tenderest compassion streams forth inexhaustibly from the other; when to these is added the godlike and unruffled strength that marks the functioning of ?tma, then humanity is crowned with divinity, and the God-man is manifest in all the plenitude of his power, of his wisdom, of his love.  

The handing down to the lower vehicles of such part of the consciousness belonging to the higher as they are able to receive does not immediately follow on the successive quickening of the vehicles. In this matter individuals differ very widely, according to their circumstances and their work, for this quickening of the vehicles above the physical rarely occurs till probationary discipleship is reached, ( See Chapter XI, “Man’s Ascent”), and then the duties to be discharged depend on the needs of the time.

The disciple, and even the aspirant for discipleship, is taught to hold all his powers entirely for the service of the world, and the sharing of the lower consciousness in the knowledge of the higher is for the most part determined by the needs of the work in which the disciple is engaged. It is necessary that the disciple should have the full use of his vehicles of consciousness on the higher planes, as much of his work can be accomplished only in them; but the conveying of knowledge of that work to the physical vehicle, which is in no way concerned in it, is a matter of no importance and the conveyance or nonconveyance is generally determined by the effect that the one course or the other would have (Page 227) on the efficiency of his work on the physical plane.

The strain on the physical body when the higher consciousness compels it to vibrate responsively is very great, at the present stage of evolution, and unless the external circumstances are very favourable this strain is apt to cause nervous disturbance, hyper-sensitiveness with its attendant evils. Hence most of those who are in full possession of the quickened higher vehicles of consciousness, and whose most important work is done out of the body, remain apart from the busy haunts of men, if they desire to throw down into the physical consciousness the knowledge they use on the higher planes, thus preserving the sensitive physical vehicle from the rough usage and clamour of ordinary life.

The main preparation to be made for receiving in the physical vehicle the vibrations of the higher consciousness are: its purification from grosser materials by pure food and pure life; the entire subjugation of the passions, and the cultivation of an even, balanced temper and mind, unaffected by the turmoil and vicissitudes of external life ; the habit of quiet meditation on lofty topics, turning the mind away from the objects of the senses, and from the mental images arising from them, and fixing it on higher things ; the cessation of hurry, especially of that restless, excitable hurry of the mind, which keeps the brain continually at work and flying from one subject to another ; the genuine love for the things of the higher world, that makes them more attractive than the objects of the lower, so that the mind (Page 228) rests contentedly in their companionship as in that of a well-loved friend.

In fact, the preparations are much the same as those necessary for the conscious separation of “soul” from “body” and those were elsewhere stated by me as follows: 

The student – 

“Must begin by practising extreme temperance in all things, cultivating an equable and serene state of mind, his life must be clean and his thoughts pure, his body held in strict subjection to the soul, and his mind trained to occupy itself with noble and lofty themes; he must habitually practise compassion, sympathy, helpfulness to others, with indifference to troubles and pleasures affecting himself, and he must cultivate courage, steadfastness, and devotion.

In fact, he must live the religion and ethics that other people for the most part only talk. Having by persevering practice learned to control his mind to some extent so that he is able to keep it fixed on one line of thought for some little time, he must begin its more rigid training, by a daily practice of concentration on some difficult or abstract subject, or on some lofty object of devotion; this concentration means the firm fixing of the mind on one single point, without wandering, and without yielding to any distraction caused by external objects, by the activity of the senses, or by that of the mind itself.

It must be braced up to an unswerving steadiness and fixity, until gradually it will learn so to withdraw its attention form the outer world and from the body that the senses will remain quiet and still, while the mind is intensely alive with all its energies drawn inwards to be launched at a single point of thought, the highest to which it can attain.

When it is able to hold itself thus with comparative ease it is ready for a further step, and by a strong but calm effort of the will it can throw itself beyond the highest thought it can reach while working in the physical brain, and in the effort will rise and unite itself with the higher consciousness and find itself free of the body. When this is done there is no sense of sleep or dream nor any loss of consciousness; the man finds himself (Page 229) outside his body, but as though he merely slipped off a weighty encumbrance, nor as though he had lost any part of himself; he is not really “disembodied”, but had risen out of the gross body ‘in a body of light’ which obeys his slightest thought and serves as a beautiful and perfect instrument for carrying out his will. In this he is free of the subtle worlds, but will need to train his faculties long and carefully for reliable work under the new conditions.

“Freedom from the body may be obtained in other ways; by the rapt intensity of devotion or by special methods that may be imparted by a great teacher to his disciple. 

Whatever the way, the end is the same – the setting free of the soul in full consciousness, able to examine its new surroundings in regions beyond the treading of the flesh of the man of flesh. At will it can return to the body and re-enter it, and under these circumstances it can impress on the brain-mind, and thus retain while in the body, the memory of the experiences it has undergone.” [ Conditions of life after death" Nineteenth Century of Nov. 1896 ]

Those who have grasped the main ideas sketched in the foregoing pages will feel that these ideas are in themselves the strongest proof that reincarnation is a fact in nature. It is necessary in order that the vast evolution implied in the phrase, “ the evolution of the soul,” may be accomplished. The only alternative – putting aside for the moment the materialistic idea that the soul is only the aggregate of the vibrations of a particular kind of physical matter – is that each soul is a new creation, made when a babe is born, and stamped with virtuous or with vicious tendencies, endowed with ability or with stupidity, by the arbitrary whim of the creative power.

As the Muhammadan would say, his fate is hung round his (Page 230) neck at birth, for a man’s fate depends on his character and his surroundings, and a newly created soul flung into the world must be doomed to happiness or misery according to the circumstances environing him and the character stamped upon him. Predestination in its most offensive form is the alternative of reincarnation. Instead of looking on men as slowly evolving, so that the brutal savage of today will in time evolve the noblest qualities of saint and hero, and thus, seeing in the world a wisely planned and wisely directed process of growth, we shall be obliged to see in it a chaos of most unjustly treated sentient beings, awarded happiness or misery, knowledge or ignorance, virtue or vice, wealth or poverty, genius or idiocy, by an arbitrary external will, unguided by either justice or mercy – a veritable pandemonium, irrational and unmeaning.

And this chaos is supposed to be the higher part of the cosmos, in the lower regions of which are manifested all the orderly and beautiful workings of a law that ever evolves higher and more complex form from the lower and the simpler, that obviously “makes for righteousness,” for harmony and for beauty.

If it be admitted that the soul of the savage is destined to live and evolve, and that he is not doomed for eternity to his present infant state, but that his evolution will take place after death and in other worlds, then the principle of soul-evolution is conceded, and the question of the place of evolution alone remains. Were all souls on earth at the same stage of evolution, much might be said for the contention (Page 231) that further worlds are needed for the evolution of souls beyond the infant stage.

But we have around us souls that are far advanced, and that were born with noble mental and moral qualities. But parity of reasoning, we must suppose them to have been evolved in other worlds ere their one birth in this, and we cannot but wonder why an earth that offers varied conditions, fit for littledeveloped and also for advanced souls, should be paid only one flying visit by souls at every stage of development, all the rest of their evolution being carried on in worlds similar to this, equally able to afford all the conditions needed to evolve the souls of different stages of evolution, as we find them to be when they are born here.

The Ancient Wisdom teaches, indeed, that the soul progresses through many worlds, but it also teaches that he is born in each of these worlds over and over again, until he has completed the evolution possible in that world. The worlds themselves, according to its teaching, form an evolutionary chain, and each plays its own part as a field for certain stages of evolution. Our own world offers a field suitable for the evolution of the mineral, vegetable, animal and human kingdoms, and therefore collective or individual reincarnation goes on upon it in all these kingdoms. Truly, further evolution lies before us in other worlds, but in the divine order they are not open to us until we have learned and mastered the lessons of our own world has to teach.

There are many lines of thought that lead us to the (Page 232) same goal of reincarnation, as we study the world around us. The immense differences that separate man from man have already been noticed as implying an evolutionary past behind each soul; and attention has been drawn to these differentiating the individual reincarnation of men – all of whom belong to a single species – from the reincarnation of monadic group-souls in the lower kingdoms. The comparatively small differences that separate the physical bodies of men, all being externally recognisable as men, should be contrasted with the immense differences that separate the lowest savage and the noblest human type in mental and moral capacities. Savages are often splendid in physical development and with large cranial contents, but how different their minds from that of a philosopher or saint! 

If high mental and moral qualities are regarded as the accumulated results of civilised living, then we are confronted with the fact that the ablest men of the present are over-topped by the intellectual giants of the past, and that none of our own day reaches the moral altitude of some historical saints. Further, we have to consider that genius has neither parent nor child; that it appears suddenly and not as the apex of a gradually improving family, and is itself generally sterile, or, if a child be born to it, it is a child of the body, not of the mind.

Still more significantly, a musical genius is for the most part born in a musical family, because that form of genius needs for its manifestation a nervous (Page 233) organisation of a peculiar kind, and nervous organisation falls under the law of heredity. But how often in such a family its object seems over when it has provided a body for a genius, and it then flickers out and vanishes in a few generations into the obscurity of average humanity. Where are the descendants of Bach, of Beethoven, of Mozart, of Mendelssohn, equal to their sires? Truly genius does not descend from father to son, like the family types of the Stuart and the Bourbon.

On what ground, save that or reincarnation, can the “infant prodigy” be accounted for? Take as an instance the case of the child who became Dr. Young, the discoverer of the undulatory theory of light, a man whose greatness is scarcely yet sufficiently widely recognised. As a child of two he could read “with considerable fluency”, and before he was four he had read through the Bible twice; at seven he began arithmetic, and mastered Walkingham’s Tutor’s Assistant before he had reached the middle of it under his tutor, and a few years later we find him mastering, while at school, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, mathematics, book-keeping, French, Italian, turning and telescope-making and delighting in Oriental literature.

At fourteen he was to be placed under private tuition with a boy a year and a half younger, but, the tutor first engaged failing to arrive, Young taught the other boy. (Life of Dr. Thomas Young, by G. Peacock, D.D.). Sir William Rowan Hamilton showed power even more precocious. He began to learn Hebrew when he was barely three, (Page 234) and “at the age of seven he was pronounced by one of the Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin, to have shown a greater knowledge of the language than many candidates for a fellowship. At the age of thirteen he had acquired considerable knowledge of at least thirteen languages.

Among these, besides the classical and the modern European languages, were included Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Hindustani, and even Malay….. He wrote, at the age of fourteen, a complimentary letter to the Persian Ambassador, who happened to visit Dublin; and the latter said that he had not thought there was a man in Britain who could have written such a document in the Persian language. A relative of his says: “I remember him a little boy of six, when he would answer a difficult mathematical question, and run off gaily to his little cart. 

At twelve he engaged Colburn, the American ‘calculating boy,’ who was then being exhibited as a curiosity in Dublin, and he had not always the worst of the encounter.” When he was eighteen, Dr. Brinkley (Royal Astronomer of Ireland) said of him in 1823: “This young man, I do not say will be, but is, the first mathematician of his age.” “At college his career was perhaps unexampled. Among a number of competitors of more than ordinary merit, he was first in every subject, and at every examination. (North British Review, September 1866).

Let the thoughtful student compare these boys with a semi-idiot, or even with an average lad, note how, starting with these advantages, they become leaders (Page 235) of thought, and then ask himself whether such souls have no past behind them. Family likenesses are generally explained as being due to the “law of heredity,” but differences in mental and in moral character are continually found within a family circle, and these are left unexplained. Reincarnation explains the likenesses by the fact that a soul in taking birth is directed to a family which provides by its physical heredity a body suitable to express his characteristics; and it explains the unlikenesses by attaching the mental and moral character to the individual himself, while showing that ties set up in the past have led him to take birth in connection with some other individual of that family. (See Chapter IX, on “Karma”). 

A “matter of significance in connection with twins is that during infancy they will often be indistinguishable from each other, even to the keen eye of the mother and of nurse; whereas, later in life, when Manas has been working on his physical encasement, he will have so modified it that the physical likeness lessens and the differences of character stamp themselves on the mobile features.” [ Reincarnation by Annie Besant, Page 64] Physical likeness with mental and moral unlikeness seems to imply the meeting of two different lines of causation.

The striking dissimilarity found to exist between people of about equal intellectual power in assimilating particular kinds of knowledge is another “pointer” to reincarnation. A truth is recognised at once (Page 236) by one, while the other fails to grasp it even after long and careful observation. Yet the very opposite may be the case when another truth is presented to them, and it may be seen by the second and missed by the first. “Two students are attracted to Theosophy and begin to study it, at a year’s end one is familiar with its main conceptions and can apply them, while the other is struggling in a maze. To the one each principle seemed familiar on presentation ; to the other new, unintelligible, strange. 

The believer in reincarnation understands that the teaching is old to the one, and new to the other; one learns quickly because he remembers, he is but recovering past knowledge; the other learns slowly because his experience has not included these truths of nature, and he is acquiring them toil fully for the first time.[ Reincarnation by annie Besant, Page 67] ” So also ordinary intuition is “merely recognition of a fact familiar in a past life, though met with for the first time in the present,” another sign of the road along which the individual has traveled in the past.

The main difficulty with many people in the reception of the doctrine of reincarnation is their own absence of memory of their past. Yet they are every day familiar with the fact that they have forgotten very much even of their lives in their present bodies, and that the early years of childhood are blurred and those of infancy a blank. They must also know that events of the past which have entirely slipped out of their normal consciousness are yet (Page 237) hidden away in dark caves of memory and ban be brought out again vividly in some forms of disease or under the influence of mesmerism.

A dying man has been known to speak a language heard only in infancy, and unknown to him during a long life; in delirium, events long forgotten have presented themselves vividly to the consciousness. Nothing is really forgotten; but much is hidden out of sight of the limited vision of our waking consciousness, the most limited form of our consciousness, although the only consciousness recognised by the vast majority. Just as memory of some of the present life is in-drawn beyond the reach of this waking consciousness, and makes itself known again only when the brain is hypersensitive and thus able to respond to vibrations that usually beat against it unheeded, so is the memory of the past lives stored up our of reach of the physical consciousness. It is all with the Thinker, who alone persists from life to life; he has the whole book of memory within his reach, for he is the only “ I “ that has passed through all the experiences recorded therein. 

Moreover, he can impress his own memories of the past on his physical vehicle, as soon as it has been sufficiently purified to answer his swift and subtle vibrations, and then the man of flesh can share his knowledge of the storied past. The difficulty of memory does not lie in forgetfulness, for the lower vehicle, the physical body, has never passed through the previous lives of its owner; it lies in the absorption of the present body in its present environment, in its (Page 238) coarse unresponsiveness to the delicate thrills in which alone the soul can speak. Those who would remember the past must not have their interests centred in the present, and they must purify and refine the body till it is able to receive impressions from the subtler spheres.

Memory of their own past lives, however, is possessed by a considerable number of people who have achieved the necessary sensitiveness of the physical organism, and to these of course, reincarnation is no longer a theory, but has become a matter of personal knowledge. They have learned how much richer life becomes when memories of past lives pout into it, when the friends of this brief day are found to be the friends of the long-ago, and old remembrances strengthen the ties of the fleeting present. Life gains security and dignity when it is seen with a long vista behind it, and when the loves of old reappear in the loves of today. Death fades into its proper place as a mere incident in life, a change from one scene to another, like a journey that separates bodies but cannot sunder friend from friend. The links of the present are found to be part of a golden chain that stretches backwards, and the future can be faced with a glad security in the thought that these links will endure through days to come, and form part of that unbroken chain.

Now and then we find children who have brought over a memory of their immediate past, for the most part when they have died in childhood and are reborn almost immediately. In the West such cases (Page 239) are rarer than in the East, because in the West the first words of such a child would be met with disbelief, and he would quickly lose faith in his own memories. In the East, where belief in reincarnation is almost universal, the child’s remembrances are listened to, and where the opportunity serves they have been verified.

There is another important point with respect to memory that will repay consideration. The memory of past events remains, as we have seen, with the Thinker only, but the results of those events embodied in faculties are at the service of the lower man. If the whole of these past events were thrown down into the physical brain, a vast mass of experiences in no classified order, without arrangement, the man could not be guided by the out come of the past, nor utilise it for present help. Compelled to make a choice between two lines of action, he would have to pick, out of the un-arranged facts from his past, events similar in character, trace out their results, and after long and weary study arrive at some conclusion – a conclusion very likely to be vitiated by the overlooking of some important factor, and reached long after the need for decision had passed.

All the events, trivial and important, of some hundreds of lives would form a rather unwieldy and chaotic mass for reference in an emergency that demanded a swift action. The far more effective plan of Nature leaves to the Thinker the memory of the events, provides a long period of excarnate existence for the mental body, during which all events are tabulated and compared and their results are classified; then these results are embodied as faculties, and these faculties form the next mental body of the Thinker.

In this way, the enlarged and improved faculties are available for immediate use, and, the faculties of the past being in them, a decision can be come to, in accordance with those results and without any delay. The clear quick insight and prompt judgment are nothing else than the outcome of past experiences, moulded into an effective form for use; they are surely more useful instruments than would be a mass of unassimilated experiences, out of which the relevant ones would have to be selected and compared, and from which inferences would have to be drawn, on each separate occasion on which a choice arises. 

From all these lines of thought, however, the mind turns back to rest on the fundamental necessity for reincarnation if life is to be made intelligible, and if injustice and cruelty are not to mock the helplessness of man. With reincarnation man is a dignified, immortal being, evolving towards a divinely glorious end; without it, he is a tossing straw on the stream of chance circumstances , irresponsible for his character, for his actions, for his destiny.

With it, he may look forward with fearless hope, however low in the scale of evolution he may be today, for he is on the ladder to divinity, and the climbing to its summit is only a question of time; without it, he has no reasonable ground of assurance as to progress in the future, nor indeed any reasonable ground (Page 241) of assurance in a future at all. Why should a creature without a past look forward to a future? He may be a mere bubble on the ocean of time. Flung into the world from non-entity, with qualities of good or evil, attached to him without reason or desert, why should he strive to make the best of them? Will not his future, if he have one, be as isolated, as uncaused, as unrelated as his present? In dropping reincarnation from its beliefs, the modern world has deprived God of His justice and has bereft man of his security; he may be “lucky” or “unlucky” but the strength and dignity conferred by reliance on a changeless law are rent away from him, and he is left tossing helplessly on an un-navigable ocean of life. (Page 242) 




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