Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 9 : From Birth to Rebirth > Chapter 2 : Rebirth and Reincarnation

Rebirth and Reincarnation

The wheel of life does not stop for long--soon it will turn again and pass from the point of death to the point of life.

The thought of the body, of being identified with it, guarantees that a dying person will come back here again.

Nature has taken a long time to prepare him for this moment--longer than he knows--and used many different forms to do so.

Man eagerly seeks a fleshly tenement through reincarnation or is drawn into it by his desires--describe it as you wish.

Tied to the great wheel of birth and rebirth as they are by desires and longings, there is in them still no wish for release.

The old people who walk with melancholy face, feeling condemned to die relatively soon, will do better to recognize the inexorable fatality which makes death always follow birth, but which then makes rebirth follow death.

The mental wavelength on which we tune in helps to determine the kind of life we have, the kind of environment we get.

Both the things we desire and those we dread bring us into incarnation again.

Better than being born to wealthy parents is being born to wise ones, for then the child will not only be taught spiritual values but will see them demonstrated before his eyes.

To be born and brought up in an atmosphere of high thinking and wide searching--this is the chance which reincarnation gives.

A child is born into a family not by mere chance but as the resultant of forces set agoing in the previous births both by the newly born and by its parents.

Parents may do what they wish to encourage the good and discourage the evil in the characters of their offspring, but in bringing them into the world they took a chance. For the children brought their own characters with them from previous incarnations.

When a child is born or a man dies, the new world of his experience cannot be said to be either a ready-made one or an entirely personal one. The truth lies in a combination of both. The mystery of existence lies in the wonderful way in which such a combination is brought about.

None of us is thrown into this world against his will. All of us are here because we want to be here.

We reincarnate in part through the pressure of accumulated karma and in part through the pressure of habitual tendencies.

Some are eager to descend into a body again, but others are reluctant and are half-dragged down.

All men come back to bodily life again if they leave a residue of karma. All karma that is not brought to an end by bringing the mind's bondage to the ego-thought to an end, makes reincarnation inescapable.

The influence of past tendencies

The tendencies brought over from past births, the experiences and contacts made then as well as in the present one, explain his acting as he does, and his being what he is.

He excuses his weaknesses by complaining against nature, which has provided him with instincts and passions leading to them. But that which he calls nature is really the inheritance of his own tendencies from former lives.

At any given moment, a man thinks and acts according to, and as a result of, his whole mental and physical experience of life and his whole character and nature. These cannot be limited to the single short life on earth he now knows, for that will not explain many of his tendencies and traits. They must include all his previous lives.

All things contribute to the making of man--the history of his past and the climate of his land, the people among whom he is born, and his own particular tendencies. The most important is his karma.

The modern world is a crucible, into which is thrown all the ideas so far recovered from the past, together with those born in the present.

He finds himself within the frame of the tendencies he has brought over from earlier births, modified or corrected or supplemented by the conditions of his present birth.

Whether or not the advance of age and the accumulation of experience has caused new ideas to supersede his older ones, the unconscious mind keeps its own register of every occasion and situation.

The past puts itself into every thought, every act, every perception even.

The materialists stretch the tenet of heredity to an irrational degree. No man merely reproduces the characteristics of his parents or of his distant forefathers. The differences exist and are plain in most cases. On the contrary, there is always some variation which separates him from his ancestry, always something original to himself. And this is explicable only on a basis of reincarnation.

Theoretical acceptance of the doctrine of reincarnation leads us to cancel out part of the claim of the materialists that the influence of environment makes the whole of man. For as a spiritual being, the man's essential self is already there even from birth, and is really unfolding himself into a material environment. The latter provides him with conditions which enable him to express himself, or by failing to provide those conditions hinder that expression. But the environment cannot wholly change a man or cannot wholly eliminate his true character. What he really is will sooner or later come out and show itself, with or without the help of environment. It is true, however, that a part of him might be unable to express itself altogether owing to a completely adverse environment or set of conditions. Nevertheless, the unexpressed part would still remain latently existent within his character and even if it never expressed itself at all throughout the whole of his lifetime it would reappear and express itself in a later reincarnation.

We are as much the victims of our own tendencies as of our environment. They shape happenings, deeds, reactions, decisions, aspirations, and grovelings.

The belief is common in Europe and America that we start life as babes with a blank character or with one inherited partially or totally from parents and ancestors.

The complexes and tendencies pre-existing the present birth and hidden deep in his subconscious mind, must sooner or later come through to the surface mind.

In the final accounting it is less what a man receives from education than what he receives from former lives that matters most. His education may help to bring it out and round it out but his innate stock will largely be the measure of his assets.

Ancestry may bring a man's body: it does not bring his genius.

The traits and tendencies which a man receives from the preceding births constitute in their totality the personal self which he knows as "I."

What a man brings over from former births are the fixed ideas in his consciousness, the habitual direction of his feelings and the innate impulses of his will.

The habits of thought, feeling, and conduct which settle upon a man really constitute the man. For it is those which are brought over from the experiences of earlier births, which sprout up in his youth and ripen in his maturity, and thus express themselves through his particular personality.

What a man is, needs, or has done puts him just where he is.

That character is shaped by circumstance and environment only spiritual dreamers may deny, but that it is wholly shaped by them only materialist dreamers may affirm. A keen, subtle, and sensitive intelligence can trace by logic, imagination, or intuition the fact of its own previous existence and hence accept the necessity of its development through reincarnation.

The ego inherits the tendencies, the affinities, and the antagonisms which have shaped themselves in a long series of births behind the present one.

The innate tendencies of his mental life give rise to the natural compulsions of his active life. He cannot behave differently from the way he does--that is, if he is not on the quest and therefore not struggling to rise beyond himself. His own past--and it stretches back farther than he knows--created the thoughts, the acts, and the conditions of the present.

There is a definite relation between a man's character, capacity, and talent in combination and his fortunes, opportunities, and frustrations.

The future of any individual is partly foreseeable to the extent that his character, past history, and his capacities give a clue.

We are hit in the face by our own sins.

These thoughts have become, by constant repetition, long-standing and deep-rooted. That is to say, they have become inherent tendencies and governing complexes of the man's character. He himself seldom realizes how much and how often he is at their mercy.

There is a sagacity which comes from ripened experience and another which comes from deepened experience.

Men are not separated from each other by the yards between their bodies alone, but even more by the inequality of their characters and the discord between their attitudes. Men do not become neighbours merely because their bodies live near to each other, but because there is affinity between their characters and harmony between their attitudes. Two loving friends are near each other even though their bodies are in separate continents; two hating enemies are far from each other even though their bodies are in the same room.

The more I reflect about my global travels, observations, and studies, the more I hold firmly to this truth: "Character is fate."

The imperfections in our character measure accordingly the unpleasantnesses in our experience.

A complete knowledge of what men are ought to lead to a complete foreknowledge of how they will act. But actually there is always a margin of unpredictability.

It is true that the whole of what man experiences is not wholly of his own direct making and that only a part of it is so. But that is the largest part. It is true that his nation's life affects and is responsible for some of the colour which his own takes on. But why was he born in that particular nation during that particular period? The answer must again be that he is getting the recompense of his own past making. For his nation may lie defeated and wounded, or it may stride triumphant and prosperous.

We automatically try to repeat the old patterns of behaviour created in former lives whether they are beneficial or injurious to us. This happens because we can hardly help doing so.

The recurrence of these old situations will go on lifetime after lifetime until the lesson is learnt.

We are victims of our own past: it creates a groove of impetus and momentum along which we move. This leaves no room for the new, the creative, to enter in.

We may have forgotten the early and original source of a present belief, an inveterate attitude, or an intense feeling, but yet it may have a powerful hold upon us and exert a powerful influence on our acts.

An aspirant may resolve to drop the past from memory after he has absorbed its lessons, to let it go because it still belongs to the illusion of time. Nevertheless its consequences are still there. They are present in him in what he is now.

Tendencies, habits, and desires inherited from past lives may be worth following. But they may also be harmful, or negative and not easily dislodged.

It is neither feasible nor desirable to eliminate all traces of the past from his mind.

What we were in the past is not important. What we are now is important. What we intend to make of ourselves in the future is vitally important.

A man can respond to events or to prophets, to demands or to experiences, only on the level of his own capacity and mentality. We have no right to ask that he shall be better or wiser.

Character and culture are to be graded by the inner attributes which former lives have developed but which may not yet, in the present life, be fully unfolded.

The pathetic thoughts of what might have been torment him. But are they futile? If they show how actions could have been improved and decisions bettered, they sow seeds for the next birth.

This clinging to habits stands in the way of our health and even of our salvation.

We come into birth as distinct persons--even babies begin to show their individual differences with characters formed already in previous existences. This is one reason why some amount of tolerance, some acceptance of one another as we are, is necessary if we are to live peaceably together.

Wisdom happens. It may be found among the rich or respectable, or it may take a playful turn and dismay snobs by being born among the poor or pariahs. Only fools try to tie class, race, or nationalist labels onto the soul.

The essence of countless experiences and states through which he has passed is here and now with him as the degree of character, intelligence, and power which he possesses.

He who has taken many births has a great wealth of total experience behind him. This manifests itself naturally in wiser decisions and better self-control.

Memory is a spiritual faculty inasmuch as it gives us the chance and means to extract teaching wisdom and guidance from the past. It enables us to visualize past experience and make it either a guide or a warning in dealing with present problems.

That a truth which is so clear to their own minds could be so obscure to other minds, is easily explicable by the grading processes of reincarnation. Each man's present state and views are the outcome of his past experiences in past lives.

Some spend a whole lifetime trying to get enlightenment, others get it in a few years. The difference is accounted for by the difference in readiness, in growth, and in balance.

In reactions and desires, in needs and mental patterns, in tastes and interests we may search the planet's millions but find no two individuals absolutely alike. Difference and variety are imprinted upon the human race.

Wild animals are merciless but human animals are a mixed lot. Some are kindly, others cruel. The difference between the wild and human varieties is simply a difference in evolution. The distance between them is filled with births, experience, the resultant lessons absorbed leading to traits developed.

The same situation which leads to one man's development leads to another man's degradation. This is so because their capacities to draw right lessons from experience are unequal.

Just as each man has a separate identity, so all men have distinctive traits and marks, form and appearances. Nature does not indulge in the monotony of uniformity.

The man who finds his mind suddenly illuminated, but does not know why it came about, may find his answer in the doctrine of "tendencies"--prenatal and karmic--reappearing from former lives and held hitherto in the deeper mental levels.

Where experience of life is limited to a small area, knowledge may be just as small. The result really depends on what a man does with his mind, if we assume that he has had a lot of experience in previous incarnations, even though he may have had little in this present incarnation.

The notion that wisdom comes with age is ridiculed by the young people of today. They see senile fools or middle-aged failures or leaders whose people fall into newer and more numerous difficulties and conclude that they themselves not only know better but can do better. Yet the notion is not to be dismissed so lightly. There is a deep ground for its truth, too deep perhaps for common sight, and hence only for those of insight. The age which is grown into after many births, rather than many years, is mellow with wisdom quite naturally.

We ought not to ask men to express qualities of character and mind which neither experience nor birth enable them to express.

It is easy to despise as stupid those of obvious inferior intelligence, but it would be well to remember that we were once at the same level. The notion of rebirth teaches tolerance.

The advanced mystic reaches a point in his life where he finds it necessary to overcome the pull of those past periods, when he was able to live in a more congenial atmosphere than present-day civilization provides. Because of the world crisis which dominates every aspect of life, he knows it is necessary to look forward and not backward. And he knows, too, that this is why he feels immensely attracted to a particular place--Egypt and India are common examples.

We are all biased and blinded by the past. We need to force ourselves to face the present by the light of the future, as a man forces himself to bear the burden of prolonged hard work wherefrom he hopes to reap his high reward.

This incarnation will be worthwhile if only it is used to rectify some of the mistakes of earlier incarnations.

Whenever there is a choice to be made between the truth of the philosophic view and the falsity of the materialistic view, the man's spiritual age will reveal itself.

Men actually defend themselves against the Truth, so attached are they to their ancient thought-forms and beliefs.

Of what use is it to quote the need for following tradition and obeying authority or for joining in protest and rebellion? Men move into action of the one or the other kind as their tendencies dictate, in accordance with the pressures from their previous births. This is what Buddha saw when he penetrated and analysed human nature and why he insisted on the emancipation of oneself from oneself.

Why do some take to the True Doctrine at first glance whereas others--and they are the majority--spurn it? The answer is to be found in the internal age or prenatal experience or reincarnated tendencies.

When intuitive recognitions of truth, swift flashes of understanding, come on hearing or reading these inspired statements, this is a sign of having been engaged in its quest during former reincarnations.

We are in bondage to our own past. Who can deliver us, save ourselves?

Reincarnation and Mentalism

That men are at varying stages of mental capacity, different degrees of spiritual response, and unequal in character, manners, self-control, or reactions, is a matter of everyday observation. The theory of reincarnation in mentalism offers a logical explanation of these differences, and a deeper one than materialism's.

The truth about the universe cannot be had unless at the same time we get outside the limited views and emotional prejudices of the personal life. Nor can we get at the truth about ourselves so long as we think in terms of a single earthly lifetime. To do so leads to mental short-sightedness and gives an incorrect visual image of human life. All this shows why we need both the quest's discipline and philosophy's knowledge.

There is no direct and incontrovertible proof of reincarnation, but there is logical evidence for it. Why should there be certain abilities almost without previous training? Why should I be possessed at an early age of the mental abilities of a writer, or someone else of a musician? Heredity alone cannot account for it. But it is perfectly accounted for if we consider them to a subconscious memory. I am unwittingly remembering and using again my own capabilities from a former birth. This is possible only because I am mind. Mind alone can continue itself. Capacities in any field cannot appear out of nothing. The individual who shows them forth is repeating them out of his own deeper memory. There is the evidence of Nature. When I wake up in the morning, I pick up all that I had the day before. I remember my own individuality and use the same literary talents as before. Otherwise, I could never write again, or someone else could never sing. The basis of this reminiscence is not a physical occurrence, but a mental one.

It is necessary to know how men think in order to understand why they think as they do. The structure of the mind in human beings explains why they arrive at particular conclusions or accept certain beliefs in each particular case. But without the idea of rebirth this explanation remains incomplete.

The views which anyone holds intellectually are relative to his experience and status, his innate character and reincarnatory history.

Is it true that soon or late after death we emigrate to another physical body? Can such a doctrine be part of a reasonable man's views? The answer is yes. Nor need reason alone guide us in this matter, for the varied evidences have been collected and stated by a very few authors. Psychical sensitivity to invisible records of the past offers, for what it is worth, some confirmations.

The capacity to commune with the Overself exists in all men; it is a universal one. But it does not exist to an equal degree. For those who can accept the doctrine of rebirth, the explanation of this inequality lies there.

Whether we have lived on this earth before and shall live on it again is a matter susceptible only of metaphysical and not of physical proof.

The very nature of reincarnation prevents anyone from completely proving it. But there is no other theory that is so reasonable to help us understand our evolution, history, capacity, genius, character, and inequality; no other so useful to help us solve the great problem of why we are here on earth at all. This doctrine, that the ego repeatedly visits our plane in fresh physical forms, is demanded by reason, supplied by intuition, and verified by revelation.

Any man is free to use his memories and experiences either destructively or constructively: it is up to him which use he makes of them. That environment, circumstances, heredity, and other well-known factors may influence what he does with them is true enough; but what he is, what character and tendencies he expresses, were transmitted from former births, were present before he acquired the attributes mentioned.

All his experiences during the ages upon ages of his existence as a finite centre of life and consciousness have left their record in the mysterious and measureless seed-atom of his body.

Freud's postulate of the Unconscious mind as a structure of forgotten unrecoverable memories is a precursor of the rebirth theory. It prepares the way for scientific acceptance of the latter and should inevitably lead to it. In turn, it throws light on the doctrine of karma. For the ego which revives out of apparent nothingness is the conscious mind which reappears out of the unconscious. When the production of these idea-energies (that is, tendencies, samskaras) is brought to rest, then they can never again objectify into a physical environment, a fresh rebirth, and thus man becomes karma-free and enters Nirvana. As long as he believes that he is the body he must reincarnate in the body.

The reincarnations which precede the present one contribute to its characteristics and help to shape its happenings. But this does not mean they give all its characteristics and happenings. Some develop out of the outer facts and inner reactions of this present birth.

The strange feeling of having lived before and therefore of having been someone else may flash briefly through consciousness.

His conduct while alive will contribute to the kind of body and environment he gets next time, his thought and feelings too. We earn from life and pass up higher or go down lower like pupils in graded school.

Where is any man's biography which is more than fragmentary, opinionated, and biased? For without the background picture of earlier lives in other bodies the materials are thinner than the compiler believes them to be.

One who knows something of his past lives has something to throw light in some way on his present one.

The common complaint against the idea of a human re-embodiment is that we have no remembered knowledge of what happened and, therefore, of the causes of present troubles for which we are personally responsible. It is forgotten that such knowledge could only be had at the cost of re-suffering all the horrors and miseries of the past as well as its joys.

The benevolent shield of Nature protects us from the unhappy past; otherwise we would suffer futilely, as Taylor Caldwell, famed American novelist, suffered when she had recurrent nightmares of living in a dungeon during the Middle Ages.

If thousands of prenatal memories were to come crowding in together, the mind's life would be horrible, crazy. Worse, one's own personal identity would be lost, merged in all the others.

It is not at all necessary to learn how we lived in past lives in order to know how best to live in this one. Such knowledge might be useful but it also might be quite dangerous. It could lead to attempts to evade what is coming to us as a consequence of what we have done before. Such evasion could rob us of a chance to learn the lessons of that experience, while the attempts to gain this knowledge could itself lead to psychism. A sufficient practical guide can be found in Philosophy's moral wisdom, together with one's own conscience.

Speculations on former births can develop into hallucinations. It is wise to keep off these useless imaginations and attend to the here and now.

Whether a man's life be governed by a morality based upon religion or an ethics inculcated by breeding, or upon neither, there is a subconscious conscience always present which is a hidden underground factor in his outlook and decisions. It comes from former births.

One may experience a sense of loss if he has not recovered the degree of awareness achieved in previous incarnations.

What we know from past births does not have to be learned again from experiences of the same kind in the present birth, unless we do not know it or feel it strongly enough.

If he must seek to remember previous existences now lost to consciousness, let him seek only those wherein he rose to his spiritual best, wherein he came closer to God than in the others.

The unenjoyable lesson may be assimilated but the past has been recorded. Memory cannot change it, cannot remove its unpleasantness. So the blankness of the newly reincarnate blots out such morbid souvenirs.

This feeling that we have seen this place before, passed through that situation, comes from a former personality. The soul is the same, but the outer man is not.

Reincarnation. We tell our children strange tales that bring a yearning wonder into their eyes, for out of the far past their simple and unstained souls remember lands peopled with fairies and gods.

Is it so foolish a thought to say to oneself, "I sometimes identify with the Indians so closely, so sympathetically, that this belief that I was once one of them is quite acceptable"? When I first heard of it the idea of reincarnation seemed in harmony with Nature and needed no further argument in its favour.

There are some who feel a special affinity with the Orient, or rather with a particular Oriental country. This feeling has significance about their past pre-natal history, and should be valued for what it is. But to let the present lifetime be wholly overshadowed by the dead past is unwise.

If the physical memories of earlier lives are lost, the mental capacities and emotional trends persist.

A man may sit alone in his solitary room and stir but little from it, yet the wisdom of strange lands and stranger ages will float into his mind. Such a one has received a high inheritance down through the turnings of Time, a goodly power that is the testament to his strenuous efforts in search of knowledge in former lives. Some men are such natural mystics that they are born, as it were, with the thaumaturge's wand in their hands.

It is common enough to hear of people who want a place in the reincarnatory sun, compensating for their present obscurity by the discovery that they were formerly Cleopatra or Julius Caesar or the like in their previous reincarnation. We laugh at such weakness and vanity but we might ask such persons why should the presence of remembrance stop with the last birth. What about the birth before that? What about the dozens of births before that ultimate one? What about the births during the prehistoric period? Why pick on only the first and not on the hundredth birth from the present one?

The same forces which bring us into the experience of a new reincarnation also deprive us of the memory of previous reincarnations.

We may feel the pull or the repulsion generated by events or by persons met with in other lifetimes. The meaning of such meetings should be sought, although it may take some time and experience before it is found. If a place or a person seems strangely, even eerily, familiar, so that one enters into a relationship whether as friend or as enemy very quickly, this can often be taken as a strong confirmation of a pre-natal relationship.

What we learned in previous lives comes back again in the present one, but it may not come early, it may come later. Much depends on the environment as to when these old qualities can reappear. It also depends upon the events and the history of the individual.

Each new birth is neither a total replay of past ones nor totally different from them. The relation to each other is not only there, but also to the World-Idea, hence to the far goal.

The human being does not reach full physical development until the skeletal structure, particularly the wisdom teeth, reaches it. This happens between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. With the new body fully ready, recapitulation of the old one's experience soon ceases.

Just as in the playing of billiards the impact of a ball hitting a second one gives the latter an impetus and a direction, so the karma of one birth is brought over to the next birth. This is not the same as a particular entity, a thing called ego, being carried over.

His experiences in this life were largely decided for him in a previous life on earth.

The conditions which surround a man are no accident. They are there because he is what he is and his past is what it was. If anyone ignores the Law of Recompense and limits his past to the present known lifetime, ignoring previous appearances on this planet, those conditions will many times be inexplicable.

The feeling of familiarity with someone met for the first time, of vague indistinct recognition which we sometimes get, may have varying significances. But one of them is an echo of remembrance of previous contact in a past birth.

Imagine how much inconvenience would be caused if scenes and occurrences from previous lives kept on intruding into the affairs of the present one.

Some find it fascinating to speculate about whom they are the reincarnation of, but they ought to keep clear in mind that this is imagination given free play. In other cases, however, there is genuine remembrance, which may appear in either waking or dream states.

The saints were martyrs. They accepted all their suffering as coming from God and even embraced it. The Philosophic way is to realize that it is often karma, self-earned and brought upon oneself; hence one should analyse it and try to understand why it has come so that the lesson won't have to be repeated.

The Christian, Muhammedan, and Jewish religions must accept the doctrines of reincarnation and karma if they want to establish a reasonable place for suffering in the scheme of things.

There are people whom, at a single glance and in a single second, one feels one has known well before. With them one may drop the conventional preliminaries, the tedious circumlocutory play of more words and further meeting as being unnecessary.

Whatever he learned in the past years and births was a step--not always a forward one--to be regarded as a source of further instruction, experience, understanding, and practice.

When the balance is struck at the end of each re-embodiment, whatever he has achieved falls to the credit of his advancement: its value will show itself in his next births. But it is up to him to earn it, just as he is free to a limited extent to diminish what he had already. The Egyptian Book of the Dead refers to a "Day of Judgement." This is it.

Since it is not from the animal but from the human state that the Essence of Being can be realized (because the animal does not possess the necessary faculties), the processes of rebirth must fill the gap between lowest animal to highest human.

When the energies have run out, and the advance of years must be measured sadly; when a man knows at last what he ought to have done, it is too late. This is why another chance, another birth on earth is needed.

Something does get distilled from these repeated existences, however slowly. That men learn little or nothing from history seems true to many moralistic critics; they have a good case, but its truth is only on the surface of things.

Only when the desire for perpetuation of personal existence finally leaves him is a man really near the point where even a little effort produces large results on this quest. But getting tired of the wheel of rebirth's turnings does not come easily.

Why should that which is perfect need to be born again and again? The tenet of reincarnation is true only from the point of view of the ego and its senses. It is not true from the ultimate point of view. It explains all the inequities and some of the sufferings of life within the world-dream, but it is meaningless when we awake to the real world.

But who can count the number of times a living being must incarnate in the plant world before it is ready to enter the animal kingdom? Nearly a half of the average life is spent in recapitulating the previous incarnational development so that the work of a new incarnation does not really begin until then.

It would seem that the experience of a whole lifetime is wasted when people exist in such spiritual torpor, merely keeping their animal bodies alive. But of course it is not really so; for however slight and outwardly unrecognizable inward growth may be, it must be there, or Nature's process of reincarnation would be meaningless and useless mechanical repetition.

If a new birth is a new opportunity to gain spiritual experience, it is also a new opportunity to commit errors and acquire vices.

Looking at the monstrous wickedness and folly in the world today, it would seem a stupid and hopeless effort to believe that human character will become any better than it was and still is. But the fact of reincarnation, with its tremendous possibilities, restores this hope.

We change a little in appearance with each incarnation; we have to. But sometimes we change altogether.

We are incarnated to be educated. Experience provides the lessons, and necessity gives the disciplines.

His reappearance on earth would be justified by two results alone--that it gives a man a chance to start life anew and to mend character.

It would be absurd to regard every fresh rebirth as a fresh advance in wisdom and virtue. The human entity is not a mechanical entity. There are lapses, regressions, failures, and stagnations in its long journey.

Just as the impetus of one wave causes another to come into being, so the impetus of one human reincarnation causes another to follow it in succession. And just as the second wave may be similar to but not identical with the first one, so the later ego may be similar to, but is not identical with, the earlier one.

All the reincarnations which are necessary to the unfoldment of his character and capacities must be lived through.

The prospect of an endless existence, however cyclical and intermittent it may be, keeping on and on and on is not attractive to everyone and certainly not to those who have weighed well the measures of joy and suffering in earthly life. All desires are melting down into a single desire for non-existence, but they have done so only partially.

Living entities come here from less-evolved planets just as we go on to higher ones. But, in both cases, this must be accomplished within certain limited periods. After that the possibility of entry ceases.

The notion that we humans return to earth for a renewed life thrills some persons with pleasure but others with dismay. This reaction depends on the personal history, and on the physical-mental condition.

It is hard to understand why Adam and Eve needed angels with flaming swords to drive them out of the Garden of Eden. Surely the boredom of such a place was enough inducement for them to leave voluntarily, even eagerly? Men pass through heaven during the period between earthly embodiments, yet they do not remain there but must return to "this vale of misery." Why? Do they come to a time when unalloyed happiness, without a flaw and without an opposition, can be sustained no longer and a change from this Eden-like state, any change, seems more preferable?

There would be little advantage in gathering more experience only to repeat every mistake every time. Although this seems to happen quite often, it cannot be a permanent pattern.

Why do we have to learn these simple basic truths through so many reincarnations and at so high a cost? This is a complaint some people make.

In another body, born in another land, life`s persistence brings us here again. The old game intermittently recurs, bringing its joys and griefs.

The development of these faculties, the unfoldment of these capacities, and the expansion of this consciousness are also incipiently present even in the animal reincarnation of the entity.

Beliefs about reincarnation

Reincarnation accounts for the predisposing factors, the specific urges, the particular additions, and the natural qualities of each ego.

When he looks back upon the long series of earth lives which belongs to his past, he is struck afresh by the supreme wisdom of Nature and by the supreme necessity of this principle of recurring embodiment. If there had been only one single continuous earth life, his progress would have been brought to an end, he would have been cluttered up by his own past, and he could not have advanced in new directions. This past would have surrounded him like a circular wall. How unerring the wisdom and how infinite the mercy which, by breaking this circle of necessity, gives him the chance of a fresh start again and again, sets him free to make new beginnings! Without these breaks in his life-sequences, without the advantages of fresh surroundings, different circumstances, and new contacts, he could not have lifted himself to ever higher levels, but would only have stagnated or fallen to lower ones.

The law which pushes us into, or out of, physical bodies is a cosmic law. There is no blind chance about it.

(a) Not until the fourth century when one Christian party became successful enough to be armed with worldly power did the persecution of Gnostics begin.

(b) In the attempt to eliminate unpalatable tenets, no less than seven Councils were held in those early centuries. Here such tenets were branded as heresies and arrangements made to exterminate them thoroughly. Especially at the Council of Nicea (325 a.d.) and the great Council of Constantinople (381 a.d.), rebirth was pronounced a heresy, all the books teaching it were ferreted out and destroyed, and its advocates threatened with severe punishment.

(c) Yet not only had several Christian sects believed in reincarnation but some of the early Christian Fathers, too. The Fathers who held metempsychosis to be true included Origen, who flourished about 230 a.d., Justin Martyr, 140 a.d., Clement of Alexandria, 194 a.d., Tertullian of Carthage, 202 a.d. The sects who held it included Basilidians, the second-century Marcionites of Pontus, the Valentiniens of Egypt, also second century, and the Simonians. Moreover, all Gnostic sects held it and they were once more numerous than any other group of Christians. This is important, that most of the early Christians believed in this doctrine.

(d) The Manichaeans also taught rebirth and, together with the Gnostics and Samaneans, formed a considerable part of the early Christian world.

(e) Where the literature was not destroyed it was so adulterated or interpolated as to make it appear either quite ridiculous or utterly erroneous. The historians among the later Fathers even accused the Gnostics of eating children!

(f) The early Gnostics came closer to the truth, but the later cults which sprang up among them departed from it by intermixing it with nonsense and corrupting it with falsehoods.

(g) Philo, himself a Jew, explicitly states that the Essenes got their knowledge from Indian Brahmins. Everyone knows that rebirth was an essential feature of the Brahmins' faith, so it is fair to assume that it was taken up by the Essenes, too.

We are given one life, one day, one present time, one conscious space-time level to concentrate on so that Nature's business in us shall not be interfered with. Yet other lives, other days, other times, other levels of consciousness already exist just as much at this very moment, even though we do not apprehend them, and await our meeting and experience by a fated necessity.

I was not surprised when Jung told me that he could not accept the idea of reincarnation but could accept the idea of karma.

We repeat these appearances on earth in a constant process and a long cycle of time. But contrast it with the beginninglessness and endlessness of life itself. What is this but a fraction of a fraction of a moment?

Can the invisible inner being migrate at death, after a suitable interval, from one body to another?

Reincarnation is now one of the most romantic and abused of the Orient's commonplace ideas. It is like a servant strutting in the elegant clothes of a Countess.

If we believe that our personal life has no more significance than a ripple on the surface of the ocean, it is either because we are blinded by materialism or because we are blind to the ultimate secrets of human personality.

The belief in reincarnation is not so foolish as it seems to some people: there is reasonable foundation for it.

To descend into the body, to reincarnate in the flesh is itself a kind of crucifixion. Note that the head and trunk are right-angled by the right and left arms forming a cross. This is symbolic partly of the loss of higher consciousness which this descent entails and partly of the pains and miseries which appear intermittently during embodiment.

From my understanding of the teachings of the Buddha, the man who has annihilated the illusion of a personal self and who has brought his mind under complete control will not be reborn against his will, even though he should indulge in such non-Buddhistic practices as wearing leather shoes and eating cheese.

When a man has established himself in the Universal self, in the awareness of its oneness, the series of earthly reincarnations of his personal self comes to an end. For himself, they would serve no further purpose.

Bringing rebirth to an end has two esoteric meanings: (a) The Arhat is free from ignorance. (b) Even though he is reborn physically in order to help others, still, as he enjoys the awareness of Atman, which he knows to be deathless and unborn, he does not look at himself as being reborn.

It is well to realize that belief in reincarnation, or rebirth, is not the sole determining consideration of our activities, as it is among many institutionalized approaches to Truth in the Orient.

The Christian Church wanted to emphasize its doctrine that the newly disincarnated soul went straight to heaven or hell. This is one reason why the belief in rebirth was later stamped with the mark of heresy. Another is that it contradicted the teaching of the resurrection of the body.

I often wondered in the past why it is that the land of Britain which, nearly two thousand years earlier, accepted and valued the doctrine of reincarnation and therefore looked on death as an interval between two earth-lives, should have so far forgotten its former allegiance as to dwell in the dusk between the narrow limitations of single-embodiment belief and the hopeless outlook of agnosticism or atheism. It is pleasant to welcome the contemporary revival of interest, in many cases, and acceptance in others, where rebirth is discussed.

Somewhere in Shakespeare there is that phrase about our human "exits and entrances" which, with its reversal of the natural order of birth and death, I take to mean our reincarnation.

In 1938 Somerset Maugham wrote, in The Summing Up, a fair reference to the theory of reincarnation but ended it by saying he found it incredible. In 1944 he referred again to the same theory and found it "the only plausible explanation for the existence of evil," although beyond human verification.

If all those prominent persons who hold this belief in rebirth were to come forward and boldly proclaim it, and if all those Protestant ministers of religion and Catholic priests or bishops who hold it secretly were to confess, the world would be astonished.

We glibly use the term reincarnation when, under certain conditions, the term metamorphosis is more pertinent.

If a sharp intellect shuts the door on all authorities except one, it has only its own foolishness to thank when it shuts truth out with its action. So keen, witty, and logical a mind as Saint Augustine's brusquely rejected the doctrine of the human entity's successive reincarnations on earth. Yet, in the same book, The City of God, he unhesitatingly accepts the computation that the age of the human race is less than six thousand years. He bases his reckoning on nothing more than the petty tribal histories contained in the Old Testament. He rejects, too, the grand conception of the pagan thinkers who preceded him, that the world has passed through countless cycles and consists of an infinite number of worlds.

The doctrine of transmigration of souls into animal forms was given out for, and led to the same effects as, the doctrine of after-death punishment in hell. Timaeus Locrius, the teacher of Plato, said as much and observed that "if the mind will not be led by true reasoning, we restrain it by false." The Buddhist and Christian picture of the souls of murderers being burnt in the fires of the underworld serves the same warning and disciplinary purpose as the Hindu picture of those souls incarnating into the bodies of wild beasts. Transmigration of this kind is not to be taken literally. Brahmin priests who teach it publicly do not, if they are also initiates in philosophy, believe it privately. It is the exception, not the rule, and opposed to the evolutionary course of Nature.

Another result of a full comprehension of mentalism is that it makes possible a change of attitude towards the doctrine of reincarnation. Those who reject this doctrine because they are not interested in any past or future person who is not completely identical with their present person, do not perceive that this lack of interest arises out of their total self-identification with the physical body. They regard it to be the real "I." But this is utter materialism. For they do not see that the mental "I" is more really their self than the fleshly one. Mentalism can help greatly to rectify their error.

If the doctrine did nothing more in its practical effects than inspire its believers with a sense of life's continuity and impress them with a warning of personal responsibility for their fortunes, it would have done enough.

We may be surprised that so many intelligent people refuse to believe in reincarnation and karma, even though they cannot explain God's justice without them. The truth is that they are defective in intuition and dependent on intellect and emotion. But emotion and intellect alone are too limited as instruments for finding truth.

Whatever we constantly concentrate on provides one of the factors in reincarnation. If we love a race or an individual strongly enough, we shall sooner or later necessarily be drawn into their orbit when reincarnating. It is equally true, however, that if we hate a race or an individual strongly enough we shall have the same experience. Both love and hate are forms of concentrated thought. The nature of concentration, whether it be that of like or dislike, attraction or repulsion, does not alter its strength.

The transmigration of souls from human to animal bodies is a fiction. The individual consciousness which has one or more specifically human attributes, cannot be brought naturally into the brain and nervous system of any creature which has only animal attributes. That millions of people still believe in its possibility merely shows how widespread is superstition.

The popular Hindu theory of the transmigration of souls is not quite the same as the philosophic theory of the evolution of souls. According to the first, a man may once again become an animal or a tree; according to the second, this is not part of the ordinary processes of Nature. Many superstitions, however, hide some truth among their nonsense, and this is one of them. Just as every biologist knows that Nature sometimes produces freaks, and every physician knows that monstrosities are sometimes born into the human race, so there are cases where a deranged mind frantically thirsting for a physical body after the loss of its present one may succeed in driving out the inner being of an animal form and taking possession of it. If this mind is also very evil as well as deranged, it will utilize that form to terrorize a human community. But such happenings are breakaways from the ordinary processes of Nature and, therefore, uncommon. The penalty for such unnatural transmigration is insanity, which is the price which will have to be paid in the next human birth. The ego will then be tied to a body which it will be unable to use, yet unable to escape from.

Whatever the worldly and physical experiences of a man may be, however materialistic his mental attitude and personal feelings may become, his essence-being remains untouched and unpolluted. But his link with it is another matter. If he falls too low this link may be so thinned that he is thrown back into an animal body in his next birth, to make another attempt at normal progression into the human condition.

It is something rare, abnormal, and exceptional, but not impossible, for a human being to be put back in an animal body. Then it becomes an imprisonment for one lifetime, and as such a punishment.

Had the tenet of rebirth not been rejected from official Christian doctrine but incorporated into it, European and American history would have moved to a slower tempo and Western material achievement would have reached a lower height.

Several of the early Church Fathers taught the doctrine of reincarnation. Origen even calls it a "general opinion." Justin Martyr declares that the soul inhabits a human body more than once, and Clement of Alexandria asserts it was sanctioned by Paul in Romans 5:12, 14, and 19. Despite this, the Council of Nicea pronounced it a heresy in 325 a.d., the Council of Chalcedon condemned it in the same century, and finally in the reign of Justinian at the Council of Constantinople in 551-553 a.d., it was again repudiated and its supporters anathematized. There was no room for it along with the rest of Catholic theology and especially with the teachings on redemption and purgatory. There is no room for both the doctrine of reincarnation and the doctrine of everlasting torment in purgatory; one or the other must go. So the first was branded a heresy and its believers were excommunicated or persecuted. The second reason for opposing it was that, the doctrine of Atonement was brought in little by little until it displaced the doctrine of metempsychosis, as it was intended to do. These two also could not exist side by side, for one contradicted the truth of the other. The third reason was that in the contentions for supremacy among the various Christian sects, those which later arose in Greek and Roman peoples triumphed over those which existed earlier among Oriental ones who believed in reincarnation, as most Orientals do even today.

The common interpretation of the Biblical sentence, "Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return," was interpreted by the Jewish medieval Kabbalists and by initiated Rabbis of antiquity as referring to reincarnation.

Greeks who believed strongly in the idea of rebirth were not only the initiates of the Orphic Mysteries, but also among the most celebrated thinkers, especially Plato.

Some upper-rank members of the Catholic hierarchy who privately believed but publicly rejected the tenet of reincarnation gave me, as the principal objection among a few others, that it allowed too long a time for people either to work for salvation or receive punishment for sins.

There is something awesome in the thought that birth and death within the human species have been going on for millions and millions of years. Today we see the outcome of all this vast line of experience.

Buddha tried to get his followers to abandon the will to live, but he did not try to get them to commit suicide of the physical body--rather to kill out the cravings and desires which tied them to reincarnation and led to their return to that body.

If death is so much a feature of the divine arrangements in the universe, we must accept that the divine wisdom is not faulted here and that, like the phoenix, out of the death of every creature shall arise a new one, a new form, apparently a new life.

To carry the burdens of existence in one body after another through a long series may seem an unpleasant prospect to some minds, as it did to Gautama in India and Schopenhauer in Germany.

Certain religious beliefs have come quite close to the idea of rebirth but at the crucial point have gone off at a wide tangent and missed the truth altogether. One belief leads to the expectation of a physical resurrection of the dead; the other to the practice of a physical preservation of the dead, as in mummification.

To assert that time does not return on itself, that history does not repeat its story, is to show an ignorance of the fact of human re-embodiments.

It is not often worth all the troubles and pains of being born and enduring all its consequences, even allowing for the pleasant interludes. Buddha would certainly not agree with any optimist about this matter.

In the lengthy writings of the fathers of the early Christian Church, we can find approval of belief in the doctrine of reincarnation expressed by Saint Methodius, Origen, Synesius, and Pamphilius.

Each comes to the front of the stage, plays out his allotted role, and moves away. Shakespeare's picturesque statement of the human predicament comes to larger meaning when interpreted in terms of rebirth in series. All mankind become a company of actors, appearing in play after play, each story different, each part acted in a new body.

The periodic return to earth-life was a belief shared by poets like Goethe, Shelley, and Browning, by thinkers like Plato, Schopenhauer, and Swedenborg.

Has the celebrated thinker, the Very Rev. Dr. W. R. Inge, become an adherent of the Hindu doctrine of the reincarnation? This is the question asked following his confession in a London newspaper article in March, 1944, that he believes there is an "element of truth" in this theory of personality common to the Indian masses and mystics of all countries.

Declaring that the error of Western civilization in crisis lies in a wrong idea of the human personality, he says that the truth is expressed in the "most famous Indian poem" which says, "Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall never cease to be; birthless and changeless and deathless, the spirit abideth for ever; death cannot touch it at all, death though the house of it seems."

This means, he says, that immortality is not a string with only one end, which is difficult to believe. Within the time series, that which has no end can have had no beginning. "The Indians and Greeks, both convinced of survival and pre-existence, stand or fall together."

Dr. Inge considers the absence of memory no fatal objection for there may be unconscious memory. "Who taught the chicken to get out of its egg? I cannot tell, but there is no mystery about all this."

Defending himself against the criticism that a dignitary of the Anglican Church has no business to dabble in such "heathen beliefs," Dr. Inge declares that rebirth is not alien to Christian thought and asserts that it is implied in many texts.

Coming from one of the intellectual leaders of the English Church and a former Dean of Saint Paul's Cathedral, the foregoing admission is of outstanding historical importance. The doctrine must now be considered worth serious discussion by all Western educated persons and no longer left to a few queer dreamers as something bizarre and exotic. Its increasing acceptance will also be a triumph over materialism. Rebirth identifies a man more with his mind than with his body. It thus accords perfectly with mentalism.

Gurdjieff and his one-time disciple Ouspensky revived the doctrine of Eternal Recurrence and put it forward as a better alternative to the doctrine of Reincarnation. If we examine the historic Tibetan Buddhist symbol called "The Wheel of Life," we see pictures of human beings being moved through contrasting phases of experience as the wheel turns round. But after it comes full circle they are subjected to exactly the same conditions, the same phases as before. It is pertinent to remember that Gurdjieff learnt about Eternal Recurrence in a Buddhist monastery in Central Asia, where the same version of Buddhism prevails as in Tibet. It is also pertinent to remember the monotonous movement of life for the somewhat primitive inhabitants of that wild region for centuries until very lately. The pattern of their existence recurred again and again in the same way. What more fitting in their beliefs than that their rebirths would be similar too?

By different turns in the course of his mental existence he takes different bodies. Widespread in Asia from the earliest times, accepted by many of the thinkers in ancient Greece and Rome, by the Druid priests of Britain and the Dacian priests of the Balkans, the theory of reincarnation has been both known and favoured.

In the Buddhist symbolism the wheel of life rolls on, dragging man with each complete turn through another reincarnation. Again and again he goes through the same experiences until he gets worn out and tires of them and seeks release from being tied to the wheel, the release which is called Nirvana.

Reincarnation and the Overself

We have to become in actuality what we are in potentiality; all our rebirths are engaged in this process.

Whether we confront the mystery called death or the equal mystery called life, the revelation must come in one or the other state: there is a connection with HE WHO IS. For this are we born and our oscillation between the two happens at the Mind of the World's behest. As, so sleepily and unwittingly, we shape and light up these fragments of being that we are, quite simply the connection gets uncovered more and more.

Until he finds his Overself, no man can escape this coming back to the earthly life. And this remains true whether he loves the world or is disgusted by it.

The lotus-flower of the soul unfolds but slowly through many births, yet it is certain and sure. This is indeed better than the mere stuffing of the brain with learned lumber that has to be abandoned with each death.

We come back to this earth of ours and not to some other earth because it is here that we sow the seeds of thought, of feeling, and of action, and therefore it is here that we must reap their harvest. Nature is orderly and just, consistent and continuous.

Patience, little men, there is no possibility of your missing salvation. What if you have to wait through a number of reincarnations! You cannot lose this wide-stretched game, played all over the planet, for you cannot lose your innermost being. The Covenant with your Creator has been made and must be fulfilled in the end, however dubious the prospect seems today.

We need more lifetimes and plenty of them--even half a hundred would not be enough--to do the work upon self which has been assigned us as our highest duty. This is why reincarnation is a fact, and not a fable.

Hope comes to him from this benevolent source, evil departs from him as he draws on these higher energies for defense, and ethereal purpose surrounds his entire life like an aura. He knows that his history did not begin in the country where he was born. He knows that it will not end in the body in which he dies.

The passage from quest to conquest would be impossible for most humans if they had only one life to live, one body for the start and the finish.

There can be no Second Coming of Christ--the Consciousness--for it never went away. There can be a return of Jesus--the man embodying and reflecting that Consciousness--for the person may be born and reborn as God wills.

The Long Path idea of reincarnation is illusory. The Short Path idea of it is that it is an undulatory wave, a ripple, a movement upward onward and downward. Since there is no ego in reality, there can be no rebirth of it. But we do have the appearance of a rebirth. Note that this applies to both the mind and body part of ego: they are like a bubble floating on a stream and then vanishing or like a knot which is untied and then vanishes too. We have to accept the presence of this pseudo-entity, the ego--this mental thing born of many many earth-lives--so long as we have to dwell in that other mental thing, the body. But we do not have to accept its dominance; we do not have to perpetuate its rule, for all is in the Mind. Where then are the reincarnatory experiences? Appearances which were like cinema shows. They happened in a time and space which were in the mind. The individual who emerged lost the individuality and merged in the timelessness of eternity. This is the unchanging indestructible Consciousness, the Overself.

Are all the varied joys and sufferings undergone only to come to a complete end in death? Is all the vast intelligence of this universe which gave birth to our own minute fragment to be forever separated from us? No! We shall live again, die again, and return again unless and until we have fulfilled the divine purpose which brought us here.

If it had been possible to attain salvation in the non-physical worlds, we would not have been born in this one. We are here because nowhere else could we, in our present state of progress, find the right environment to ripen those qualities which will lead us further toward this ultimate goal.

The eventual trend of evolution is through and away from personality, as we now know it. We shall find ourselves afresh in a higher individuality, the soul. To achieve this, the lower characteristics have slowly to be shed. In this sense, we do die to the earthly self and are born again in the higher self. That is the only real death awaiting us.

The possession of moral values, metaphysical capacities, and spiritually intuitive qualities which distinguish more evolved from less evolved men takes time to acquire--so much time that reincarnation must be a continuous process.

If it were true that a bad man must always remain bad, where would the hope be for mankind? But in the perfect wisdom of the Infinite Mind, human lives are so arranged that the bad man will go on garnering the untoward results of his deeds until his mind, first subconsciously but later consciously, perceives the logical and causal connection between his act and his suffering and begins the attempt to control his evil tendencies. Both this education and this effort will continue through many births for a single one would be too short in time, too poor in opportunity, for such a total reformation to be achieved.

Even those who are well-intentioned and spiritually minded make many mistakes in life simply because they cannot see the unfortunate results to which their wrong decisions and actions must necessarily lead. Only experience can lead to their correction and only reincarnation can give enough experience.

What is happening to his characteristics, what he is learning from experience lies in more or less degree below the threshold of consciousness. Only time, with its repetitions, and thought, with its conclusions, will shift the lesson or ability into visible manifestation above the threshold.

Life in the flesh is a gift if we are using it rightly but it becomes a curse if we are not. Every incarnation should be used to help one get somewhat farther in doing this job of achieving an Overself-inspired existence.

The difference between savage and sage may be only two letters in spelled words but it may be two thousand incarnations in historic meaning.

Whatever mistakes the aspirant has committed in the past and whatever results from them he is suffering in the present, he should look to the future with some hope and never let it desert him, for even if that hope cannot be realized in the present incarnation it may be in the next. Time is passing, we come and we go, and in the end time is illusory, but we remain: the best in us remains, the rest will go.

The changes of personal identity under the process of reincarnation alone show that the little ego's immortality is a religious illusion. Only by finding its higher individuality is there any chance of preserving any identity at all, before Nature re-absorbs what it has spawned.

Plant, animal, and human bodies pass through this cycle of growth, maturity, decay and death. All this means being exposed to different forces, different experiences, resulting in the development of consciousness.

To become Man as evolution intends him to be, he must draw out all his latent resources, fill out a wide experience. This is why so many reincarnations on earth are needed. Until then, his realization as Man will be an incomplete one.

In the strictest meaning of the term, no man can give up himself, for no man can give up his innermost being. But what is really meant by the term and what every man could give up is the false sense of self which makes him think that he is only the ego or only the body.

There, in this necessity of developing, balancing, and coordinating all the parts of one's being, is a further argument for the necessity of reincarnation. A single lifetime is too short a period in which to fulfil such a task.

The ripe wisdom of a sage could not possibly be the fruit of a single lifetime, but only of many lifetimes.

The experiences of life will in the end overcome these inner resistances. The silent instruction multiplied during the re-embodiments will defeat the psychological defense mechanisms set up against unpalatable truths or new ideas. It is the repetition and deepening of all these lessons through the accumulating rebirths that enables wisdom to penetrate consciousness completely and effectively.