These articles first appeared in the series H. P. Blavatsky: The Mystery in The Theosophical Path in 1930.
Part I. Reincarnation and the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment
Pre-existence, Rebirth, Reimbodiment, Metemsomatosis, Metempsychosis Transmigration, Reincarnation explained. The Cosmic Adventures of Monad and life-atoms; what happens after death? The real meaning of metempsychosis. Seven sacred planets listed and monad's passage through them after death. The Sutratman or Thread-Self. Plato's teaching of anamnesis or recollection. Reincarnating Ego returning to incarnation picks up on each plane the life-atoms previously dropped. Man in essential respects the personality of his last life, the fruitage of the man that was. Buddhists right in saying man reincarnating is the same yet not the same.
Part II. Reincarnation and the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment (Continued)
Origen of Alexandria held belief in Reincarnation. Literary dishonesty of Rufinus quoting Origen. Origen's First Principles quoted. Origen initiated in Eleusinian Mysteries. Before 2nd century doctrine of Reincarnation among Christians was secret. Jerome quoted in Letter to Marcella re reincarnation. Essenes believed in metempsychosal reincarnation. Philo quoted "On Dreams Being Sent From God." General doctrine of Reincarnation once universal; held by Orphics, Pythagoreans, Platonists, Manichaeans, Cathari. Held by German philosophers, Goethe, Lessing, Bonnet, Herder, and others. Herodotus on Egyptian belief in reincarnation. Misunderstanding of teaching of reincarnation in Encyclopaedia Britannica article under Metempsychosis (11th ed.). H. P. Blavatsky did not invent the Theosophical teachings but was the Mouthpiece of others greater than herself; taught men a new meaning of Life.
The General Doctrine of Reimbodiment applies not solely to man, but to all centers of consciousness -- to all Monads whatsoever, wheresoever they may be on the evolutionary Ladder of Life, and whatsoever may be their particular developmental grade thereon. Every life-consciousness-center, every Monad or monadic essence, reincorporates itself repeatedly in various vehicles or 'bodies.' These bodies may be spiritual, or they may be physical, or they may be of a nature intermediate between these two: in other words, ethereal. This rule of Nature, which applies to all Monads without exception, takes place in all the different realms of the visible and invisible Universe, and on all its different planes, and in all its different worlds.
When a Monad is undergoing such a course of reimbodiment on our earth, in the present stage of human evolution, it takes place in human bodies, in bodies of flesh; and this is Reincarnation. But before this special phase of reimbodiment began, in far past ages of the earth's history, the reimbodiment of the human Monad was indeed the evolutionary course then followed, as it now is followed, but it did not then take place in bodies of human flesh. It is the Theosophical teaching that when the present passing phase -- for that is what it is -- of Reincarnation has reached its end, then Reimbodiment as an evolutionary method will continue, but in bodies then not of human flesh, but composed of ethereal substance; and at a still later time the Monad will clothe itself in veils or garments or sheaths of matter still more ethereal, which we may actually speak of as being spiritual.
The process of Reincarnation is not difficult to understand, and the student or reader who cares to pursue the subject no farther, may gain all the knowledge that he desires from an attentive perusal of our Theosophical works; but for those who desire to go more deeply into the rationale of the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment, the facts and observations which this and the following chapter will contain, may be of assistance.
There are seven words used in the Theosophical philosophy in connection with Reimbodiment, which are not all synonymous, although some have almost the same meaning:
Four only of these may be said to contain the four different basic ideas of the general Doctrine of Reimbodiment. These are Pre-existence, Reimbodiment, Metempsychosis, and Transmigration.
Pre-existence is the most easily explained. It simply means that the human soul-entity existed before birth. This is a doctrine by no means typically Theosophical, but belonged likewise to the early teachings of Christianity, as is evidenced in the writings that remain to us of Origen, the great Alexandrian Church-Father, and his School.
Reimbodiment in meaning goes much farther. It states not only that the soul-entity exists before birth, but also undergoes a series of reimbodiments before birth on earth, and during all its course of evolutionary progress through the invisible spheres.
Metempsychosis imbodies ideas still more profound and fundamental, and signifies that the monadic essence or the life-consciousness-center, or Monad, not merely is pre-existent to physical birth -- not merely that the soul-entity reimbodies itself -- but also that the Monad, during the course of its aeonic pilgrimage through the spheres, clothes itself with, or makes unto itself for its own self-expression, various ego-souls, which flow forth from it: that they have each one its characteristic and individual life, which, when its life-period is completed, is gathered back again into the bosom of the Monad for its period of rest, at the completion of it to reissue therefrom upon a new cyclical pilgrimage. This last series of ideas has already been briefly spoken of in preceding chapters, in connection with the Reincarnating Ego, one of these soul-egos, ego-souls.
Transmigration, the fourth of these words, is a much abused term. In European and American countries it is commonly supposed to be synonymous with Reincarnation, but with the added idea that the human soul-entity, if its karma after physical life be a heavy or evil one, then at death passes into the body of a beast. Let us say at once that this is not the Theosophical teaching. "Once a man always a man," is a very definite statement of the Ancient Wisdom, or Theosophy; and the references in Oriental and Greek and Latin literature to what is mistakenly called Transmigration and Metempsychosis, as signifying rebirth in bodies of beasts, contain an esoteric teaching concerning the life-atoms of the deceased entity. As construed by Europeans, these references are distorted into an entire misunderstanding of what the original significance and meaning of the Oriental and Greek and Latin doctrines were. Theosophy positively repudiates the idea that the human soul-entity ever, at any time, reincarnates in the body of a beast. This is against Nature's rigid laws, and never happens.
Transmigration technically means that the life-consciousness-center passes from one form of life to another form of life: migrates as it were, from one realm to another realm, but always pursuing its own upward course in evolution. Transmigration contains, in fact, the combined meanings of Evolution and Karma, in other words, karmic evolution, as signifying the path followed by the Monad in migrating from sphere to sphere, from spirit to matter, and back again to spirit, and in the course of this pilgrimage entering into vehicle or body after vehicle or body.
Here then briefly explained are the four main words of the seven above mentioned. Of these four the most important is Metempsychosis, perhaps, although the ideas contained in all four must be kept clearly in the mind, if the student wishes to have a definite outline of the nature of the pilgrimage followed by the monadic essence.
As regards the other three words of the list of seven given: Rebirth and Reimbodiment are very much the same, with the difference that Reimbodiment definitely sets forth the series or succession of bodies, and their nature, which the evolving entity takes unto itself, and in which it lives, and through which it works on this and other planes and in other worlds. Metensomatosis is practically the same as Reimbodiment. It is of course a Greek word, and its signification is perhaps somewhat more limited than is Reimbodiment and really means merely the taking up of successive physical bodies on earth. It is, therefore, practically identical with rebirth.
In no case is the word Reincarnation identical with any of the other six words, though of course it has grounds of strong similarity with Pre-existence, because obviously the entity preexists before it reincarnates; and on the same grounds it is similar to Rebirth, Reimbodiment, and Metensomatosis. Such differences of meaning as exist are in a closely reasoned exposition of the General Doctrine; but the shades of meaning are of no particular value to the average reader.
Undertaking now a brief sketch of the meaning of the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment: as before said, the evolving entity, or more accurately the monadic essence (except during its intervals of cosmic rest called pralayas), passes its entire existence in manifestation in a series of corporealizations succeeding one another regularly throughout any such cosmic period of manifestation. Each one of such corporealizations or imbodiments is a veil or garment or sheath partly evolved by the monadic essence from its own inner energies and substances, and partly built up of life-atoms drawn from the reservoir of the sphere in which it is, or from the world in which it is, during such particular corporealization or imbodiment.
These imbodiments range from the spiritual to the material within the confines or frontiers of any one Hierarchy. This is really but another way of saying that the general course of reimbodiment is the general course of Evolution, for each one such imbodiment is the evolutionary child or successor of the one which preceded it, and is of course therefore likewise the karmic parent of the one which follows it.
The doctrine is that in the beginning of any cosmic Period of Manifestation, the Monad or monadic essence reissues forth from the bosom of the Cosmic Hierarch or Cosmic Monad, and immediately clothes itself with garments of spiritual substance, which, for the sake of easy understanding, we may perhaps call garments of spiritual light -- light, in Theosophy, being ethereal or spiritual substance.
It passes a certain period of existence in these garments, beginning to weave the web of destiny according to the Karmic roots or seeds brought over by it from the preceding period of Cosmic Manifestation, and now beginning to become active.
The course of any such cosmic Period of Manifestation for the Universe involved, and for all the hosts of entities that it contains, passes from the divine or superspiritual through the spiritual into the ethereal, thence through the ethereal into the material, wherein the greatest degree of condensation of substance is reached.
Passing through these material phases of its evolutionary progression, the Universe as an entity begins the reascent towards the superspiritual origin from which it in the beginning had set forth, and just as it had passed through various and increasing degrees of materiality on the downward arc, so now does it reascend towards that spiritual source through various and differing degrees of gradually etherealizing substances.
In each and every one of the various worlds, planes, and spheres contained in these different degrees or stages of the Ladder of Life which the evolving Universe is, every Monadic essence of the countless hosts of Monads infilling that Universe evolves forth from itself bodies corresponding and appropriate to such various worlds and planes and spheres. These bodies which the monadic essence corporealizes itself in, are partly drawn from its own essence and partly made up from the life-atoms of the corresponding sphere or spheres. These life-atoms, however, are in no sense of the word foreign to the individual Monad or monadic essence, for they are in their turn living entities or evolving atoms, which the Monad in the previous period of Cosmic Manifestation had thrown forth from its own essence, and which, on the return of the Monad, rejoin it through what we may call psycho-magnetic attraction.
The reader will remember what we have set forth in preceding chapters, to the effect that every entity everywhere forms a part -- integral, inseparable in essence -- of some entity still greater and still more evolved from which it originally came. Just so do these life-atoms, which the Monad reincorporates into its various imbodiments or veils or bodies, return to it when its spiritual-psycho-magnetic influence is felt by these life-atoms upon the entrance into their respective spheres of such monadic essence during the course of its pilgrimage.
This really wonderful series of Cosmic Adventures, both of Monad and of life-atom, furnishes a subject of study of the most fascinating character for our hours of quiet thought. The general principles of the Doctrine of Reimbodiment thus briefly sketched lie in the background of all the great world-religions and world-philosophies of the past, and indeed actually furnish in those religions and philosophies the esoteric or secret side of their doctrines. These esoteric or secret sides of course were always taught "at low breath" and "with mouth to ear," as the sayings go. The Mysteries of Antiquity comprised an elucidation of these secret teachings given to the Epoptae or fully initiated ones; and we may say in passing that the main reason for the great secrecy which surrounded the Ancient Mysteries was originally and very largely based on the impossibility of making them understood by the ordinary run of men without due and adequate preparation, or, in other words, a course of intellectual and moral training lasting through many years. Not all men were found fit to be the depositaries of this sacred knowledge; and the penalties following unauthorized divulgation of these mystic secrets were very heavy indeed.
We have now set forth in parvo the main outline of the general Doctrine of Reimbodiment. However, in order to bring the matter more definitely to the mind's eye of the reader, let us turn for a while to the subject of Death, which is a dissolution, on one side, of bodies, and the preparation for a new state in the invisible realms, and trace the Adventures of a Spiritual Atom, in other words of a Monad, as it leaves human incarnation preparatory to embarking on one of its journeys through the spheres.
As we have already pointed out, Death is preceded by a period of preparatory phases initiated by the principles of man's inner constitution, which culminate in the dissolution of the Lower Triad, as outlined in the second of the schematic diagrams in Chapter XVI. What men call old age, senility, and physical decay, are the physical resultants of this preparatory withdrawal of the monadic essence from conscious participation in the affairs of earth-life, and may be with a great deal of truth compared to the period preceding the birth of a child.
The inner constitution -- which here means the Reincarnating Ego and to a certain extent the Human Ego and of course the uppermost Duad -- prepares itself for a new birth. At least the monadic essence does. And a portion of this preparation consists, as said, in the gradual withdrawal of the Reincarnating Ego and an accompanying dulling of the faculties of the mortal Human Ego, its Child.
The Lower Triad composed of the physical body, of its vital essence or electrical field (Prana), and of the model-body, compose an aggregate which is, as an aggregate, unconditionally mortal, and therefore falls to pieces with the rupture of the 'golden thread of connection' -- in other words when the stream of consciousness from the monadic essence is broken, or rather withdrawn. The life-atoms composing this pranic or 'electrical field' of vitality, as soon as the rupture of consciousness takes place, fly with the rapidity of lightning to their appropriate reservoirs of the planet. But these life-atoms, just like the life-atoms of all the principles of man's constitution, are living entities, evolving and learning things. They do not remain in a state of dormancy or in sleep until their parent monadic essence, after many ages, returns again to physical incarnation. Each one of them almost immediately begins a series of transmigrations into other bodies coming into physical existence, each such life-atom of this Lower Triad existing on these three planes: that is to say, the physical plane, the astral plane, and the pranic plane. They enter into such bodies either at birth or indeed before birth, or after birth, in the shape of food or drink, or with the air we breathe, or in other manners, such as occurs in endosmosis. They are attracted to the bodies of those entities which are most akin to their own state of psycho-magnetic evolution, and these life-atoms themselves act according to the strongest impression left upon the fabric of their being by the man, just deceased, whose body they composed.
This is the real meaning of the ancient and Oriental doctrine which pass under the much misunderstood term 'transmigration.'
The two Duads which remain of the constitution of the man who was, follow the course already briefly described, to wit: the intermediate Duad breaks up into two parts: the upper part or Reincarnating Ego is withdrawn into the bosom of its parent Monad, its inner God, where it remains in Devachanic bliss and peace until its next incarnation on earth.
The other or lower part of the intermediate Duad, which is the dregs of the Human Ego that was, remains in the astral spheres as the kama-rupa or spook, which gradually, if left alone and not attracted by earthly magnetisms, fades out, as did the physical body which it had previously informed. Its life-atoms follow precisely the same course, in a general way, as did the three classes of life-atoms of the Lower Triad. They transmigrate continuously from living entity to living entity, but remain on their own psycho-mental plane.
The Upper Duad has now become a Triad by the inclusion within its bosom of the Reincarnating Ego, and this, strictly speaking, is what is called in Theosophical terminology, the 'human Monad.' Really, however, the Monad is the Upper Duad alone, but the attributive adjective 'human' is now given to it on account of the Reincarnating Ego which it now contains within itself.
This portion of the doctrine we have no need to consider further -- that is to say, as concerns the human Monad -- for it will be sufficient to remember that the Reincarnating Ego sleeps in ineffable bliss and peace in its Devachanic state until the call to Reincarnation on earth comes again after a lapse of time which varies according to the spiritual or material characteristics of the man that was. If his nature had been highly evolved and spiritual, reincarnation does not take place before many centuries have passed. If his nature had been material, reincarnation takes place much sooner.
The Monad, which we may now look upon again as a Duad, follows its own path or pilgrimage; for, on its own lofty plane or in its own lofty state or condition, it is an evolving entity as much as is the humblest of the life-atoms previously existent in the lower substance-principles of the man that was.
It passes from sphere to sphere, from world to world, from plane to plane, passing a certain time in each; in each evolving forth new sheaths and garments appropriate to such world or plane or sphere. These sheaths and garments become the new intermediate portion or intermediate Duad of the child-entity now coming into conscious existence in such world or sphere; and these sheaths or garments are fit for these other worlds. This is the meaning of Metempsychosis.
The Monad ascends first through the three ascending spheres of our earth's Planetary Chain, in each of which it follows the same general course of action that it did on this our earth (the lowest sphere of our Planetary Chain), evolving forth therein imbodiments in which it manifests for a time. Reaching the highest or the last of these three ascending globes of our Earth-Chain, it goes next to one of the Seven Sacred Planets of the ancients, and therein passes through an evolutionary course similar to what it did on our Earth-Chain. Finishing with this Chain, it goes to the next of the Seven Sacred Planets, and on the Planetary Chain of this second, it follows the same general course. And thus, through all the seven planets, the seventh bringing it back nearest to earth where it again 'imbodies' itself in -- or rather overshadows -- the frame of a human child to be; and this is done through the attraction towards such imbodiment felt by the Reincarnating Ego within its bosom, which thus, so to say, attracts the Monadic pilgrim to such reincarnation.
The Seven Sacred Planets of the ancients are the following, given here not in the order of the monadic pilgrimage, but in the order in which they are usually set forth in the ancient writings: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. And it should be said in passing that the sun and the moon are here substitutes for two secret planets.
A very important point of this entire subject is the following: Every one of the various and many imbodiments or vehicles in which the monadic essence manifests itself during the highly varied and picturesque course of its pilgrimage through the spheres, is composed of life-atoms of degrees and kind and ethereality or materiality appropriate to the respective planes or worlds or spheres in which the monadic essence at any period of time may find itself.
The question then perhaps arises: Is there then no abiding center in man? Is he nothing, reduced to the last analysis, but an agglomerate or aggregate of life-atoms on each one of the planes of his inner constitution? Are his seven substance-principles then built up of nothing but life-atoms? If so, where is the life-consciousness-center spoken of? Where is the center of individuality?
These questions are extremely pertinent, but the answer to them is a very simple one indeed. Through all these various imbodiments there runs the stream of consciousness flowing forth from the monadic essence. Furthermore, in any one imbodiment, such as that of man on earth in any incarnation, this stream is colored by the child-stream of consciousness flowing forth from the Reincarnating Ego. Now this stream of consciousness, this golden thread of individuality, on which all the substance-principles of man's constitution are threaded like beads on a golden chain, is called the Sutratman, a Sanskrit word meaning 'Thread-Self,' which is the stream of consciousness-life running through all the various substance-principles of the human entity -- or indeed of any other entity.
It is this Sutratman, this Thread-Self, this stream of consciousness-life, which IS the fundamental Selfhood in all beings. It is that which, reflected in and through the several intermediate vehicles or veils or sheaths or garments of the invisible constitution of man, produces the egoic centers of self-conscious existence.
The Sutratman, therefore, is rooted in the Monad, the monadic essence, but its stream is colored by the individuality of the Reincarnating Ego hitherto sleeping in the bosom of the Monad, which now after Reincarnation is awakened into self-conscious activity. And this 'colored stream' working through the appropriate vehicles of man's inner constitution, in other words, through his mind and through his emotions, his aspirations, his intellect and so forth, produces the individual consciousness which man recognizes in himself.
One of the profoundest teachings of the great Greek philosopher Plato, outlined for instance in his Meno, his Phaedo, his Phaedrus, his Laws, and others of his remarkable Socratic dialogs, is that regarding the origin of human consciousness when reflected in its instinctive and intuitive operations. Plato taught, following the Pythagoreans, that this was due to previous reimbodiments of the egoic center which man is, and that, therefore, all consciousness in its various degrees of development, and consequently all knowledge and wisdom and faculty, are but reminiscences of former existences, which reminiscences each new life develops and increases and improves. The great Greek philosopher called this body of reminiscences by the one word Anamnesis, or re-collection, meaning the gathering together again into a coherent unity of all the energic consciousness-activities that the being in the preceding incarnation was. This in a sense is truly Recollection or rememorization of the past: not indeed of details, but of the psychological resultants.
Any human being who cares to analyze his own consciousness must have some realization of the truth of Plato's statement, that the faculties and powers of consciousness which man shows forth could hardly have been developed in any one life-time, for they are a quite complete body of conscious energies which in their aggregate form a man's personalized individuality. The old materialistic doctrine of our fathers and grandfathers, that man's consciousness is but the psychologically recognized reflection of chemical changes taking place in the body, and particularly in the brain, is as inept and foolish as it is entirely inadequate to explain what the 'explanation' so called attempted.
Quite outside of the fact that every molecule of the human body is completely changed some half-dozen or more times during an averagely long life; and quite outside of the fact that this constant flowing of the molecular constitution of man should, according to the molecular theory, make man's individuality change completely from day to day, there is the other still more conclusive argument, which every normal human being knows perfectly well, that his consciousness is the same from the first moments in childhood when the individual first is cognizant of it, to the day of his death. The egoic stream is not merely unchanged, but increases in volume, as the body develops into its mature age. How the older school of materialists worked their mental gymnastics in reconciling these irreconcilable contradictions, furnishes one of the most puzzling, if amusing, episodes in modern European philosophical thought.
The argument of course is childish. Plato was distinctly right. Not merely is consciousness reminiscence in the Platonic sense -- that is, the coming anew into self-conscious recognition of the energies precedently working -- but the recognition of his individuality by man grows stronger as the years pass, and as the innate faculties and powers of that individuality come more fully into actual manifestation. It is obvious that in any one lifetime no such individuality could possibly have been built up, with its wide fields of cognition and recognition and the functioning of consciousness varying so widely as they do in different human beings. How unconscious lifeless matter could give birth to self-conscious cognition of matter, offers a truly unsolvable problem.
All this shows that the stream of consciousness which man calls his egoic individuality, is something which preceded his birth. So strongly has this obvious fact appealed to the greatest minds and loftiest spiritual intellects of the East, that all of them, without exception, have recognized the truth of, and taught the doctrine of, the repeated reimbodiments of the human egoic center.
It should be therefore very clear indeed that man, considered as an entity, is but an aggregate of life-atoms existing in various vehicles, from the physical, through the intermediate or ethereal, up to the spiritual; and any individual human entity, therefore, is in himself a copy of the Macrocosm or Great World. As the latter is a cosmic Hierarchy, so is man the Microcosm, its copy. He is therefore a Little World, and includes in himself, that is to say in his entire constitution, both visible and invisible, hierarchies of the hosts of these life-atoms in all-various degrees of evolutionary development. Through it all, however, runs the stream of consciousness, which, adopting a word of the archaic Hindu philosophy, we have called the 'Thread-Self,' or Sutratman.
We have traced the pilgrimage of the monadic essence from the beginning of the cosmic Period of Manifestation down into the most material portions of its evolutionary journey in any one Universe, such as our own, and we have briefly sketched its peregrinations through this most material portion, and have pointed to its rising along the ascending arc towards the completion of its evolutionary journey back to the Divinity from which it sprang in the beginnings of the aeons of any such cosmic Period of Manifestation.
As Nature is repetitive in action throughout, as she works wholly after a cyclical manner or pattern; thus also is reincarnation, one of Nature's operations, in the small but a repetition of the general rule of the pilgrimage of the monadic essence in the Large or Great. Reincarnation takes place according to the same general scheme of action, in the case of man, that the imbodiments and reimbodiments of the Universe with its included Hierarchies of entities, take place in the Great. When, of course, the monadic essence, towards the close of such a cosmic Period of Manifestation, finally re-enters the Divinity from which it originally sprang, it does so as a fully self-conscious god or divinity, and it rests in what we may call its Paranirvana for long aeons of what human beings would call time (during the pralaya or dissolution of such a Universe) before it reissues forth for a new cosmic pilgrimage, but on planes and in worlds and in spheres superior to those in which such a monadic essence is now journeying.
As regards the matter of Reincarnation or the repeated reimbodiments in flesh of the Reincarnating Ego, it should again be emphasized that the Reincarnating Ego on any such return into earth-existence does not enter into fleshly vehicles which are wholly alien or foreign to it, or with which it had previously had no connection whatsoever. That notion is entirely contrary to the real meaning of the doctrine and suggests a process altogether different from what actually takes place. It would be impossible for the Reincarnating Ego to take unto itself new bodies, whether visible or invisible, formed of life-atoms with which it had previously had no possible connection, for there would be no psycho-magnetic links between the Reincarnating Ego on the one hand, and these life-atoms on the other hand. The truth is altogether contrary to this. All the life-atoms building up, composing, making, the various bodies of flesh, and the various interior substance-principles which the Reincarnating Ego reassumes in any return to rebirth on earth, are, as has already been plainly said, life-atoms which originally issued forth from the bosom of the Monadic Essence in which such Reincarnating Ego itself is a child -- one of such former life-atoms evolved into the stature of self-conscious humanhood.
As the Reincarnating Ego returns through the spheres earthwards, it takes up on each plane, on each world, or in each sphere, precisely those life-atoms which had builded the various vehicles both visible and invisible, inner and outer, which it had previously dropped as it ascended out of material existence, following the decease of its last physical body. It takes them up again, we say, and it can do no otherwise, for both these life-atoms are attracted to it as it passes through the respective spheres; and it, the Reincarnating Ego, is equivalently attracted to these spheres by the psycho-magnetic pull of these, its own former life-atoms awaiting it in such respective spheres.
These life-atoms, as we have already said, had, during the postmortem rest of the Reincarnating Ego in the bosom of its Monad, undergone or followed their own respective transmigrations into the bodies of other beings, wherein they passed times proportionate to the strength of their karmic attractions thither. The moment that the psycho-magnetic pull of the returning Reincarnating Ego is felt by them, these hosts of life-atoms which formerly composed the various substance-principles of the former human entity's constitution in the former life and lives, are drawn to the returning Reincarnating Ego. Thus they build up for the returning Ego a series of six substance-principles, and therefore a physical body also, and this combination is in all essential respects, the personality of the man that was in his last life.
The meaning of all this is that the returning Reincarnating Ego gathers again unto itself the identical life-atoms which it had formerly used in its last incarnation or incarnations. It may be truly said, therefore, that the new physical body, indeed, the entire constitution of the new human being, is exactly the man that formerly was at the moment of death, but rejuvenated and renewed, although of course the various adventures of the life-atoms of the different substance-principles have modified and changed them more or less.
But the Reincarnating Ego itself has grown stronger in a psycho-spiritual sense, the resultant of its long rest and recuperation in the bosom of its parent Monadic Essence. Just so is a man refreshed and recuperated after a long night's sleep, and awakens to find his consciousness alert, active, in the body that he had when he laid himself down to rest.
Yet we must be careful here. The new man is essentially the old man rejuvenated and renewed, because the life-atoms are the same that he formerly had, which life-atoms compose his entire constitution, but in another sense, and a very true one, a very profound one, these life-atoms, and therefore the new man, are the Karmic resultant or fruitage or consequence of the man that was.
We cannot say that he is exactly the same man that he was before, because things have moved and changed for the better. Not only does the stream of consciousness run more strongly and more clear, but the life-atoms themselves have undergone all-various modifications which are the resultants of their peregrinations through the realms of matter. It is somewhat like a tree which in its perennial life dies down in the autumn for a while and remains a skeleton of the bare trunk and branches; and yet when the warm rains come in the spring, under the sunshine it burgeons and shoots forth a new garment of leaf-life. Shall we say that the new verdure, the new leaves, covering the branches with the new glory of their appearance, are exactly the same old leaves that were? Hardly. And yet they are all derived from the same life-stock, and as our Theosophical philosophy tells us, even the life-atoms that compose the former leaves are reimbodied in the new leaves; and just so it is with man.
We dwell with some emphasis upon this matter because it is important. We cannot say, if we speak with precision and necessary exactness, that the new man is the identical man who was, because that statement is not quite true. On the other hand, we cannot say that the new man is a different man from the old man that was, for that statement is not quite true.
It is in this very wonderful thought that lies the esoteric meaning of the old Buddhist doctrine that the human soul is mortal and dies even as the physical body dies, and that the fruitage or karma or karmic consequence of the man that was is the new man that now is. The Buddhists are right in saying that the man is the same and yet not the same, because it is in all senses of the word the karmic consequence of the man that was, the life-atoms being the same, and as we Theosophists say, the stream of consciousness being the same; yet as all have changed from what they were before, we cannot say that the new man is exactly the man who was. And thank the immortal gods that this is so!
As we have pointed out in other chapters, were there a changeless consciousness remaining in crystallized immobility, which passes, according to the popular theory of the Occident, from earth to heaven, there would be no possibility whatsoever of the continuous and ever-enlarging evolutionary march towards a constantly expanding perfection, which is actually what takes place. There would be, at the best, nothing more following the postmortem state, than a wearisome repetition of the old memories and the old thoughts with a possible series of psychological modifications brought about by the exercise of will-power.
It may be interesting to the generality of Occidental readers brought up under the influence of Christian religious thought to show that in the earliest historic periods of Christianity, a certain form of reincarnational metempsychosis, or metempsychosal reincarnation, was believed in and taught by a very important and in places powerful faction of the Christian community.
The greatest of the Christian spokesmen of this early Christian school, whose works in this line, in translation or in original, still remain to us, was Origen of Alexandria, born about 185 of the Christian era and supposed to have died in 253. Most of the references to early Christian metempsychosal belief in Origen's writings are to be found in his work On First Principles. It is very unfortunate for the student of early Christian beliefs that we do not possess a full text of Origen's original Greek work, and our knowledge of what that great Church-Father wrote is mainly derived from a translation into Latin of Origen's First Principles, made in later times by Tyrannius Rufinus, of Aquileia, who was born about 345 of the Christian era and who died 410, and was therefore a contemporary of the Latin Father Jerome.
Rufinus took great liberties indeed with Origen's original Greek text, so much so that it is impossible to exculpate him from the charge of mutilation of Origen's text, and even possibly of forgery in the sense of including in his Latin translation, and ascribing to Origen, ideas which very probably came from Rufinus' own mind. This literary dishonesty of Rufinus, however, he was not alone in possessing, even in the case of Origen's work, because he himself tells us in his Prolog to the First Principles, that he merely acted as others did before him. His words are interesting, and therefore we quote them here:
In translation I tried to follow as far as I could the rule observed by my predecessors, and especially by the distinguished man whom I have already spoken of, who, after translating into Latin more than seventy of the writings of Origen, which are called Homilies, as well as a large number of his writings on the Apostles, in which a good many 'stumbling-blocks' are found in the original Greek, so smoothed and corrected them in his translations that a Latin reader would come upon nothing discordant with our Christian belief. His example therefore I follow to the best of my ability. If I have not an equal power of eloquence, yet at least I pursue the same strictness of rule in my work, taking great care not to translate those expressions occurring in the works of Origen, which are inconsistent with and opposed to each other.
One is inclined to think that Rufinus was somewhat of a humorist in excusing his mutilations of Origen's text as being of matters "inconsistent with and opposed to each father." Why Rufinus and these others he speaks of should have set themselves up as judges of Origen's Christianity, the reader may himself easily understand. There is little doubt therefore that had we the full and original Greek text of Origen's First Principles, we should probably find that the great Alexandrian Church-Father was far more open in his teachings of his particular kind of metempsychosal Reincarnation than appears in the texts that have reached us. This conclusion is immensely strengthened by the condemnation of Origen's writings at the two Constantinopolitan Councils held in the sixth century, the first under the Patriarch Mennas, and the second, the Fifth General or Oecumenical Council, both convened under imperial rescripts of the Emperor Justinian I.
So thoroughly, in times preceding the sixth century, had Origen's ideas penetrated into the fabric of Christian theological thought -- indeed of the entire Christian community -- that it is small wonder that the growing religious materialism of the times took alarm at the differences in doctrine which Origen's teachings then showed as compared with the then established dogmata of faith.
Even although this double condemnation of the Origenistic doctrines succeeded in finally killing the spirit of the great Alexandrian's teachings, it succeeded in doing so only after a great deal of quarreling and very bitter differences of opinion. As a matter of fact, a certain amount of the Origenistic thought survived until late ages in the Christian Church, as was evidenced by the opinions prevalent in eastern, central, and western European countries as late as the fourteenth century.
The various bodies forming the Cathari (a word meaning 'the Pure,' or as they were sometimes called, the Albigenses, and by other names in western lands) and the Bogomils in eastern Europe, as in Bulgaria and in Russia, sufficiently show, from what is at present imperfectly known of their doctrines, that they kept alive and taught ideas which were unquestionably widely prevalent in the Christian communities in the first centuries of the Christian era. It is popular among ecclesiastical writers to call these Cathari by the name of 'Manichaeans'; and doubtless there is some truth in this. But it is also equally true that even if certain doctrines of the Manichaeans can be shown to have existed in the beliefs of the Cathari between the tenth and the fourteenth centuries, some of the ideas of Origen were equally powerful among them.
Origen in his First Principles, Book III, chapter i -- and here we can quote from a remnant of the Greek text -- Section 21, speaks as follows:
So the one nature of every soul being in the hands of God, and, so to speak, there being but one collection of reasoning entities, certain causes of more ancient date led to some of these being made vessels unto honor, and others vessels unto dishonor.
We have underscored the phrase 'certain causes of more ancient date,' because this is a clear and distinct reference to the pre-existent life or lives of the soul-entities who later, following inherent karmic causes, became some 'vessels unto honor,' and others 'vessels (or human beings) unto dishonor.'
We quote again from the original Greek a little farther on in the text:
As, on the other hand, it is possible that he who, owing to causes more ancient than the present life, was here a vessel of dishonor, may after reformation become . . . etc.
Still more clearly does Origen speak in his First Principles, Book III, chapter iii, Section 5, as follows:
Those who maintain that everything in the world is under the rule of the divine foresight, as is also our own belief, can give no other reply, it seems to me, in order to show that no shadow of injustice can rest upon the divine government of the world than by holding that there were certain exact causes of prior existence by consequence of which all souls before their birth in the present body contracted a certain amount of guilt in their reasoning nature, or perhaps by the actions, on account of which they have been condemned by the divine providence to be placed in their present life.
And a little farther on he continues:
. . . Even in such a case we must admit that there sometimes existed certain causes preceding the present bodily birth.
These last two citations from Origen are taken from Rufinus' Latin translation, and the immortal gods only know how guilty Rufinus may have been here of mutilating or changing or softening the text of his great Alexandrian predecessor.
Again quoting from Rufinus' translation of Origen's First Principles, Book III, chapter v, Section 4, speaking of the pre-existence of souls, Origen, as Rufinus renders him, wrote as follows:
. . . Rational creatures had also a similar beginning. Indeed, if they had a beginning such as the end for which they hope, they must have unquestionably existed from the very beginning of the ages which are not seen. . . . If this be so, then of course there has been a descent from a higher to a lower condition not only by those souls who have deserved this change by the variety of their inner movements of consciousness, but also by those who in order to serve the world, came down from the higher and invisible spheres to these lower and visible ones.
The reader must obviously see in this last quotation much of the very same archaic doctrine which we have been attempting to set forth, however the phraseology used by Origen (or by Rufinus) obscures the underlying ideas.
Furthermore, it is interesting to state that Origen likewise taught the pre-existence and reimbodiment of worlds, which of course is another old doctrine of the archaic Wisdom-Religion. In Rufinus' Latin translation of the First Principles, Book III, Section 3, we find Origen saying this point:
We see that not then for the first time did Divinity begin its work when it made this visible world: but just as after the destruction of this visible world there will be another world, its product, so also we believe that other worlds existed before the present came into being.
It is plain enough from the quotations already made from Origen that not only did he teach a mere pre-existence in the spiritual worlds of souls or rational creatures, before their imbodiment on earth, but that he also taught an actual reincarnation or reimbodiment on earth of these soul-entities.
This is made very clear by what we find in Rufinus' Latin translation of the First Principles, Book IV, chapter i, Section 23:
Every one, therefore, of the souls descending to the earth, is strictly following his merits, or according to the position which he formerly occupied, is destined to be returned to this world in a different country or among a different nation, or in a different sphere of existence on earth, or afflicted with infirmities of another kind, or mayhap to be the children of religious parents or of parents who are not religious: so that of course it may sometimes happen that a Hebrew will be born among the Syrians, or an unfortunate Egyptian may be born in Judaea.
Here there is obviously a distinct teaching of the doctrine of Reincarnation, and it is quite futile to argue, should such an argument ever be attempted, that Origen's teaching embraces a bare and sheer pre-existence in the spiritual realms without any repetitive incarnations on earth in human bodies. His last words run directly in line with the doctrine of Reincarnation.
Origen, of course, like most of the philosophers of ancient times, and even of his own period (for he himself had obviously been initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries) does not teach transmigration of the souls of human beings into the bodies of beasts, and his opinion on this matter is clearly set forth in his First Principles, Book I, chapter viii, Section 3:
We think that those views are by no means to be accepted which some people most unnecessarily advance and support, to the effect that rational souls can reach such a pitch of abasement that they forget their rational nature and high dignity and sink into the bodies of irrational beasts, either large or small.
Origen again in his Treatise against Celsus, the Pagan philosopher, Book I, chapter xx, argues strongly against the misunderstood transmigration theory. He wrote as follows:
A view which is much worse than the mythical teaching of transmigration, according to which the rational soul tumbles down from the heavenly spheres and enters into the body of brute beasts, whether tame or savage.
And again in his Treatise against Celsus, Book III, chapter lxxv, Origen repeats his condemnation of transmigration as thus popularly misunderstood. In the same work, Book VII, chapter xxxii, he speaks as follows:
Our teaching as regards the resurrection is not derived from anything that we have heard about the doctrine of Metempsychosis, as Celsus thinks; but we believe that the rational soul, which is naturally immaterial, and therefore invisible in its nature, exists in no physical material place without having a body suited to the nature of that place. Accordingly at one time it puts off a body which it had found necessary but which is no longer adequate for its improved state, and exchanges it for another body; and at another time it takes up still another body in addition to the former, which other body is needed as a better clothing suited to the purer ethereal regions of heaven.
Here Origen of course voices again, in his vaguely Christian phraseology, other thoughts of the archaic Wisdom-Religion of the Ancients, which thoughts we have briefly outlined and spoken of as the peregrination of the Monadic Entity through the spheres.
In the same work, Against Celsus, Book VIII, chapter xxx, he speaks very cautiously, but yet from his standpoint quite correctly, during the course of an argument on whether it be right or wrong to eat flesh-food, as follows:
We do not believe that rational souls pass merely from one physical body to another physical body, nor that such rational souls may descend so low as to enter the bodies of beasts.
This teaching on the surface seems contrary to what Origen formerly said, and therefore opposed to Reincarnation or any form of reincarnational Metempsychosis, but such a conclusion is diametrically opposite to his meaning. He means exactly what the Ancient Wisdom meant as the ancient initiate philosophers taught it, and what Theosophy teaches: that Reincarnation is not the transference of the rational entity, or what we call the Reincarnating Ego, directly from one physical body to another physical body, with no intermediate stages of purgation or purification, and no intermediate principles between the physical body and the Reincarnating Ego. The Theosophist would deny such a distorted teaching as earnestly and as emphatically as does Origen -- the former Eleusinian initiate and later Christian doctrinaire.
From the extracts which precede, and also from our knowledge of the wide-spread and deeply-rooted reach which the Origenistic doctrines had in the Christian community even as late as the sixth century, we can see how large a part his teachings had in the beliefs of the Christian community of his time in the third century of the Christian era. When we recollect also that the Latin Father Jerome, already spoken of, tells us in his Letter to Marcella that there were in his (Jerome's) time in the fifth century, a number of Christian sects which taught some form of Metempsychosal Reincarnation, we can readily understand how strong was the appeal which this doctrine, even in its distorted Christian form, must have made to the Christian community, and how long it lasted in time.
It is a practical certainty, however, that from a time even before the second century, or Origen's period, the peculiar form which the general doctrine of Reimbodiment took among the Christians was distinctly esoteric and secret. This is not a supposition based merely upon the intrinsic evidence to be found in early Christian patristic literature, a supposition more or less depending upon the mental bias of interpretation of the modern scholar, but is actually vouched for by one of the most orthodox of the early Church-Fathers themselves. We mean the Latin Father Jerome, who makes a specific statement in his Letter to Marcella, that this doctrine was, so far as the early Christian sects of Egypt and of the Oriental parts of Hither Asia were concerned, an esoteric one; and from his words we can only judge that it was propagated more or less 'at low breath' and 'with mouth to ear.'
Jerome's words themselves are so interesting that no apology is needed for repeating them here, and we give the Latin in the footnote below, from which we make the following translation. He says:
This impious and filthy doctrine spread itself in former times in Egypt and in the eastern parts; and, at the present time, is secretly, as it were, in the holes of vipers, spreading among many, polluting the purity of those parts; and, like an hereditary disease, insinuates itself into the few in order that it may reach the majority.*
*"Haec impia et scelerata doctrina, olim in Aegypto et Orientis partibus versabatur; et nunc abscondite, quasi in foveis viperarum, apud pleros versatur, illarumque partium polluit puritatem; et quasi haereditario malo serpit in paucis ut perveniat ad plurimos."
It is of course also well known that in the early centuries of Christianity some of the different schools of Gnostics likewise taught a doctrine of metempsychosal Reincarnation, formulated after their own peculiar style; and for this statement of course the various encyclopaedias or historical works may be consulted. It is quite customary to ally some of these Gnostic sects with the early Christian bodies, as being 'heretical' divisions of the Christian community, although this opinion seems, in many cases, to be entirely arbitrary. However, if people insist upon it, the argument tells strongly for the position that we here take, because if they accepted some form of Reincarnation or reincarnational Metempsychosis, as indeed they actually did, and yet are and were claimed as Christians, the case needs no further argument, so far as they are concerned.
In the New Testament itself, there are a number of passages which, read as they stand, are more than merely 'dark sayings,' and make sheer nonsense unless the idea in the mind of the writers of these passages in the Christian New Testament was based upon some form of early Christian metempsychosal Reincarnation. The interview of Nicodemus with Jesus, and the questions of the former, and the replies thereto, are a sufficient case in point, and show the general belief of the time, whether we accept the actual existence of Nicodemus or not. The point is proved by the fact that whether Nicodemus did or did not exist, the belief was so common in Palestine that it was taken for granted that all would understand the allusions, and the question therefore came very naturally from Nicodemus' mouth.
It is also well known that the Essenes, a Jewish sect, were believers in some form of metempsychosal Reincarnation, and we have the authority of the eminent Jewish historian Josephus, himself a Pharisee, that the great Jewish sect of the Pharisees held also to a form of metempsychosal Reimbodiment, and openly taught it.
The reader who is interested in pursuing the matter further may find the following references useful: Josephus in his Antiquity of the Jews, Book XVIII, chapter i, section 3, speaks of the Pharisees as believers in Reincarnation (as they understood it); and also in his Jewish War, Book II, chapter vii, section 14, has several long passages dealing with the metempsychosal Reincarnation beliefs of both the Essenes and the Pharisees; and he refers to the same matter again in Book II, chapter viii. Again in his Jewish War, Book III, chapter viii, section 5, Josephus reproduces his own address to the body of men under his command during their fighting against the Roman troops under Vespasian; and remembering that Josephus himself was a Pharisee, the remarkably clear declarations in these passages of a belief in Reincarnation show that the men to whom he spoke must have been perfectly well acquainted with it and that it was a commonly accepted belief of the day.
The Jews furthermore, certainly from the time of Josephus and doubtless from an indefinite period preceding his time, in their secret or esoteric doctrines called the Qabbalah -- for the Qabbalah is the Theosophy of the Jews -- taught Reincarnation openly, as also, by the way, they taught two others of the doctrines of the Ancient Wisdom, to which we have before alluded. One is the pre-existence of worlds as well as of human souls, and reimbodiment; and they also taught, as did Plato, that the consciousness and knowledge of man in any one life are but reminiscences of the consciousness and the knowledge of former lives.
Philo, Judaeus, the great Platonizing Jewish philosopher, on a number of occasions speaks very strongly in favor of that particular form of metempsychosal Reincarnation which most appealed to him, and which actually had close links with the similar ideas held by Plato, his great Greek predecessor. For instance, in his tract, On Dreams Being Sent from God, Book I, section 22, he sets forth his belief in very clear words, and they are interesting outside of their corroborative value to our argument, in that they show the wide extent in which the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment, in one or another form, was held in his period.
It was during the first century of the Christian era, so called. Philo was an Alexandrian by birth, and of course was very largely affected by the syncretistic spirit of Alexandrian philosophy, which was so noticeable during his time. The entire purpose of his writings was to show the common grounds of mystical and theological thinking that, according to him, existed between the Platonic doctrines and the sacred books of the Jews. His argument of course is, more or less, that the Logos or Divine Spirit in humanity infused common ideas into human minds irrespective of race or time-period; and also he seems to argue in places that such great men as Plato, and, generally speaking, "the wisdom of the Greeks," derived what natural truth they possessed from inspiration having its origin in the Jewish scriptures. This idea is of course preposterous, but he argued it with undoubted sincerity, and actually succeeded in proving to any impartial and thoughtful mind that in all probability the Jews derived their wisdom from the other nations surrounding them, probably from the great philosophers of different periods, and from the Egyptians, and the peoples of the basin of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
In his tract before spoken of: On Dreams Being Sent from God, section 22, he speaks of the various kinds of souls, and of the celestial bodies as being animated entities, quite in common with the general teaching of antiquity, and remarks:
Now all these souls seem to descend upon the earth with a view to being bound up in mortal bodies, those namely which are most nearly connected with the earth, and which are lovers of bodily habitations. Others, however, soar upwards, and are distinguished from others of their class according to the times and characteristics which Nature has appointed unto them. All these souls, those which are influenced by desires for mortal existence and which have been previously familiarized with it, return to mortal life. But others, refusing bodily life as a great folly, and as a mere trifling, pronounce it a prison or a grave, and fleeing from it by the impulses of their nature as from a house of correction or a tomb, raise themselves on the light wings of their nature towards the aether where they devote all their life to speculations of a divine type, etc., etc.
It is really an amazing thing that so many people, some of them otherwise profound scholars in their respective lines, should be so blind to the evidences throughout the ancient literatures, coming from all parts of the world, proving that there did exist in ancient times a common and universally diffused Wisdom or body of doctrine concerning the nature and origin and destiny of the Universe, and therefore of man also, and that this body of doctrine was in all essential particulars -- in other words, in all fundamentals -- the same everywhere, whatever might have been the variations of form or of formulation which the body of doctrine referred to may have taken in different epochs of time and among different races of men.
Some form of metempsychosal belief or reincarnational Metempsychosis, is known by everybody to have existed in times preceding the Christian era all over the world, and such a belief also exists today over most of the world; and even in Occidental countries, although due to the long centuries of Christian belief it has been forgotten there, with the exception of sporadic instances of learned men who accepted it. It is today rapidly gaining many adherents through the efforts and teaching of the Theosophical Movement.
The time apparently is not far off when Reincarnation as a fact of Nature, and as taught by modern Theosophy, the true echo of the archaic Wisdom-Religion, will again be accepted by the majority of men. Already today it is a household word in every civilized country, and in European and American lands is a favorite subject of romance-writers, or dramatists, and of the movie producers.
We have spoken of the different formulations or methods of presenting the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment as taught by Theosophy, as formerly used or as now used in different parts of the world. The reason for these differences in form is one very easily understood. It is that the deeper or more esoteric teachings connected with this General Doctrine of Reimbodiment are by no means so easily understandable as are the general principles of it, and for that reason, these more recondite teachings were held as an esoteric collection of doctrines, which were given to men who had proved themselves worthy and fit to receive them, and who were sworn to the strictest silence regarding the knowledge imparted to them.
There were various grades of this knowledge existent in the ancient Mystery-Schools, and the manner of imparting, as well as the formulation of, the doctrines themselves, necessarily varied according to the time and the people in which or among whom such or another formulation of these more recondite teachings was given forth. But the clothes or garments in which a teaching is delivered are, after all, a very secondary matter. Nevertheless, and admitting this, the Theosophist feels that any truth of Nature, and therefore among them this General Doctrine of Reimbodiment, can be presented in a best way, and that this best way of presenting it is always to be preferred to any inferior method of setting any body of teachings forth.
The best way is that which most nearly represents to human minds the exact cyclical operations of Nature which fundamentally motivate the activities of those portions of man's constitution which undergo reimbodiment. The more photographically exact, so to speak, such a formulation is, the better it is. Therefore do we say that the Theosophical formulation is not only by far the most complete -- even those parts of it which are presented to the general public -- but is also the most skillfully prepared, and the most easily understood.
The reasons for this are that coming directly from the great Sages and Seers, who have been from immemorial time the Guardians and Custodians of the Archaic Wisdom, our teachings have not been subjected to the deforming or distorting influences of social or political circumstances, such as most of the Mystery-Schools of ancient times were involved in. For in ancient times often the formulation of the truths concerning the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment was so intermingled with the general and popular mythology of the various countries, that distortion of form was an inescapable consequence of the resultant teaching. No such distortion of outline has occurred in H. P. Blavatsky's presentation to the modern world. This, however, does not mean that the Great Theosophist gave out all the details of the Ancient Wisdom to the modern world, and that she withheld nothing of its more important parts or aspects.
The contrary of this is true. A great deal was of necessity withheld, but what was presented was presented with absolute fidelity to the natural truth of the thing, and with strict loyalty to the instructions that she had received in this connection from the Great Teachers who sent her forth.
The observation that we make upon this matter of her reticence with regard to this one teaching of the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment apply with equal force to others of the grand body of Theosophical doctrines, of which she gave to the world so masterly and wonderful an outline in her The Secret Doctrine. That book is filled with natural verities which do not appear on the surface of the words, and for which the earnest student must dig and delve in the words themselves, as it were, as well as behind the words, in order to arrive at the deeper meanings which lie enshrined therein. It is a veritable mine of ancient wisdom regarding Nature and its structure and powers and faculties and energies. The Great Theosophist said very truly that while this her noblest work would not be understood, except in small degree, in the century in which she wrote it yet the coming century, the twentieth, would, before it had run its course, see that her The Secret Doctrine contains many if not all of the most abstruse mysteries of the nature of the Universe and of man.
That the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment in one form or other was at one time universal over the earth, is an undeniable fact, which none but those ignorant of the case would think of denying, although of course in all ages and among all races of men, individuals and minor bodies have held beliefs more or less resembling modern materialism.
The Druids for instance, in ancient Gaul and the British Isles and elsewhere, as well as the ancient Germans and doubtless the Scandinavians, all held one or another form of Metempsychosal Reincarnation, or of Reincarnational Metempsychosis, while in the countries surrounding the Inland Sea of Europe, every scholar or student of the classics knows how widely one or another form of the General Doctrine existed.
In Greece, the Orphics and the Pythagoreans and the Platonists all held the doctrine, and of course the Latins, who followed their lead, held it likewise, as is well instanced in the case of Ennius, the Calabrian Poet. Vergil also makes especial point of it in his wonderful work, the Aeneid, in the sixth book thereof, verses 724 and following, and it persisted down to the latest times of the last philosophers, such as Plotinus, and indeed prevailed in the entire Neo-Platonic School. Gnostics throughout Asia Minor and the Greek and Latin countries also generally held it. We have spoken of its existence among the Jews, especially among the Essenes and the Pharisees, who openly taught it; and as the Pharisees composed the most numerous and influential of all the Jewish sects, we can readily understand how widely diffused it was among them. It is also found from the earliest times in the teachings of the Qabbalah, the Theosophy of the Jews. The Manichaeans of the Hither East also held it, and the Catbari continued even into the Middle Ages the Manichaean and Origenistic teachings.
About the time of the Renaissance in Europe, we find the doctrine still alive in the teachings of such men as Giordano Bruno, and in the seventeenth century it was written of and promulgated by the 'Theosophist' Jan Baptista van Helmont. Swedenborg also adopted it in an extremely modified form; while in the classical period of German literature, the doctrine of Metempsychosal Reincarnation furnished a very prolific field of thought for a number of the most prominent German philosophers and thinkers, such as Goethe, and Lessing who had probably taken the idea from Charles Bonnet. It was also spoken of and commented upon by Herder. The Scot, Hume, and the Austrian, Schopenhauer, mention it with profound respect.
Returning to times of antiquity, we may point out that, as is perfectly well known, the immense continent of Asia has always been practically unanimous in acceptance of the doctrine, not only in China, as among the followers of Lao-Tse and the various schools of Buddhism there prevalent, but also in Japan and Tibet; and it has flourished exceedingly in both ancient and modern India, as is instanced among the Brahmans, and the early Buddhists there. Although the references to a belief in some sort of metempsychosal Reincarnation are much less easily found as concerns the opinions of the peoples dwelling in Mesopotamia, there nevertheless remain sufficient proofs of its prevalence there, to say that there likewise the doctrine, under one or another of its formulations, was as widespread and commonly believed in as elsewhere.
It is customary among modern scholars to say that the ancient Egyptians did not believe in any form of Reincarnation, this opinion being based solely upon the fact that the studies of Egyptologists have been so largely devoted to monumental studies and manuscript documents found in the tombs, that, as the saying goes, they do not see the wood on account of the trees. In other words, the details of the splendid researches in Egyptology begun by Young and Champollion have so blinded the vision of Egyptologists to the more general view, that they do not see that it is necessary to presume its existence in order to account for what they do study. In this the Egyptologists are entirely wrong. We believe that time will prove this fully, to the confusion of some of the more dogmatic modern scholars among them. It had always been accepted among European scholars prior to Young and Champollion that the ancient Egyptians did hold a belief in the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment, under one of its forms of metempsychosal Reincarnation and this belief was very largely based upon the statement of the great Greek philosopher and historian Herodotus -- a man who at one time was called 'The Father of lies,' but who is now called 'The Father of History,' because modern research has shown how keen was his observation, and how accurate his descriptions.
We Theosophists prefer to believe in Herodotus, who spent a long time in Egypt, who knew the Egyptians well, and who had talked not only with the priests, but with the people, whether through interpreters or not is a matter of no consequence whatsoever. In a general way it may be said that the more we discover of ancient history the more does that knowledge prove the general, and often the particular, truth, of the statements in Herodotus' remarkable work.
The writers in The Encyclopaedia Britannica, on Herodotus, say of him on page 382 of the 11th Edition:
At all the more interesting sites he took up his abode for a time; he examined, he inquired, he made measurements, he accumulated materials. Having in his mind the scheme of his great work, he gave ample time to the elaboration of all its parts, and took care to obtain by personal observation a full knowledge of the various countries.
The italics of this citation are ours. Other writers, as for instance in the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, edited by the late Sir William Smith, D. C. L., LL. D., say only the truth of Herodotus when they write: "the accuracy of his observations and his descriptions still excites the astonishment of travelers in that country."
When we remember that this great Greek spent a long time in Egypt, and mixed not only familiarly with the people, but was given free entry, as his own work tells us, into the temples, and conversed upon esoteric and recondite matters with the learned priests themselves, we have reason to believe that when he tells us that the Egyptians accepted a form of metempsychosal Reincarnation, he knew better what he was talking about than do scholars of some twenty-four hundred years later, whose only argument against Herodotus' assertion is that they have not yet found what Herodotus said existed.
It would be an amazing thing if the Egyptians, so great and marvelous a people in scientific and literary and ethical and historic and religious and philosophical lines of thought and work, should have been ignorant of a doctrine which was not only universal, but as common sense and reflection show must have lain at the very basis of the psychological part of their own extremely mystical body of various religious dogmata.
The truth of the matter is that modern scholars do not understand the meaning of the ancient philosophies and religions, in most cases, unless that meaning be superficial and easily understood -- that is, unless it lie so clearly upon the surface and be so openly expressed, that only a dolt could misunderstand it.
As it may interest the reader to have Herodotus' words before him, we give them here, as translated from the original Greek, in his Book II, Euterpe, Section 123:
It was the Egyptians who first gave utterance to the following doctrine, to wit: that the soul [Herodotus here uses the word psyche] is immortal and that when the physical body decays, the soul enters into another living being which at the moment is ready for and appropriate to it. After it has passed through all the terrestrial and aqueous and aerial forms of life, it clothes itself anew with the body of a man then becoming ready for it. This wandering [or transmigration] it passes through in some three thousand years. There are a number of Hellenes also who follow this same doctrine, some of olden time and some of later days, giving it forth as their own. Although I know the names of these I do not here write them down.
And Herodotus was wise in not doing so, because, as an initiate of the Mysteries, he knew that after what he had just said concerning this belief of the Egyptians he could not designate who the Greek philosophers were, and what their particular forms of teaching were, without immediately giving the key to esoteric aspects which he had no right to give. That he was an initiate we know from his own words, and from several places where he speaks of the necessity of holding his tongue.
The belief which Herodotus here ascribes to the Egyptians, is not the teaching of Reincarnation, as is obvious from what has already been said in this book, nor is it the true teaching of Metempsychosis as the latter was taught in the Mysteries, although unquestionably the Egyptians knew both these true teachings as well as other ancient nations did. The particular and peculiar doctrine to which Herodotus here alludes, is the cyclical destiny of the psycho-vital parts of the human soul, in other words, of the lower half of the Intermediate Duad as this Duad is outlined in the second of the schematic diagrams given in a former chapter.
This is but another way of saying that this particular Egyptian belief refers solely to the transmigration of the life-atoms forming the psycho-vital part of man's intermediate nature, and which reassemble or re-collect or come together again in a succeeding Reincarnation of the evolving soul-entity.
This particular Egyptian doctrine lay at the back of the custom which the Egyptians had, in common with some other peoples both of the ancient and modern world, of mummifying their dead. The entire object of mummification, as the Egyptians practised it, was a rather pathetic attempt to restrain, as far as it was possible, the transmigration of the life-atoms of the human Intermediate Duad and the Lower Triad through the lower spheres of life, by preserving as long as was possible the physical body from decay.
H. P. Blavatsky alludes to this matter in her magazine, The Theosophist, in the course of a short article which she entitled: 'The Transmigration of the Life-atoms.' How such a belief could have taken such firm hold of the imagination and religious emotions of the Egyptian people is in itself an interesting and rather pathetic psychological study. Unquestionably the priests knew that the custom of mummification was but an imperfect preventive of what it was originally intended to do, but due to some reasons at present unknown, the custom became so firmly established as to be one of the marked characteristics of Egyptian civilization.
Another writer in The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, under the title Metempsychosis, shows the usual modern, most lamentable ignorance of the real meaning of this teaching, for he confuses sadly Metempsychosis with Transmigration, and these with Reincarnation. He opens his article by saying:
Metempsychosis, or Transmigration of the Soul, the doctrine that at death the soul passes into another living creature, man, animal, or even plant.
This is really amusing, and is a proof of the ignorance to which we have just pointed. In the first place, as we have already explained, Metempsychosis is not the same as Transmigration, although of course a Theosophist knows as well as anyone else that these words are wrongly considered by modern scholars to be interchangeable and synonymous in meaning. Secondly, Metempsychosis does not mean that the human soul passes into an animal or a plant, and we have set forth the reason why, as well as the true meaning of Metempsychosis, in preceding paragraphs; likewise that of Transmigration.
This writer further continues:
Till full investigation of Egyptian records put us in possession of the facts, it was supposed that the Egyptians believed in Metempsychosis, and Herodotus explicitly credits them with it. We now know that he was wrong.
We now know nothing of the sort. All that we do know is that modern scholars have not found references to this doctrine sculptured on the monuments or painted on the papyri, and therefore say that it did not prevail in ancient Egypt, although they have the testimony of Herodotus, one of the greatest of the ancient Greeks, who tells us explicitly and precisely to the contrary. Herodotus lived in the fifth century before the accepted Christian era.
The General Doctrine of Reimbodiment, as Theosophy teaches it, is in no sense of the word Predestination or Necessarianism, as these words have been understood by the fatalistic theologians of certain phases of Christianity, wherein indeed may rightly be laid the charge of Fatalism. If Fatalism means, as it does, that all things in Nature, men therefore included, are but the creatures of an over-ruling Power which creates souls only to predestine them either to eternal weal or to eternal woe, then the charge of Fatalism certainly does not lie in the case of the Theosophists, who positively and emphatically repudiate this horrible idea.
Lest our words be thought to be unfair, we quote here Article XVII of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Episcopal Church of England, as they were laid down in Convention assembled in 1562-3, to wit:
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor.
This seventeenth Article is mild in its tone and doctrine as compared with the Doctrine of Reprobation of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which also was formulated at Westminster by a Convocation of English Divines during the period 1643-1649. It should be remembered that Reprobation is a technical term in Christian theology, and means the doctrine that "God has predestined some to everlasting death." This Westminster Confession of Faith was largely drawn up by clergymen of the Anglican Communion having strong Calvinistic leanings, and in its Article III, 3, 4, we find the following:
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
If this be not Fatalism according to every meaning that the word holds in common and theological and philosophical language, it would be interesting to know just what it does mean. Nothing of this sort was ever taught in ancient times when the great Mysteries of antiquity prevailed, which taught men not merely how to live but also taught them the secrets of universal Nature, and therefore of man's interior constitution and being. Nor is Fatalism, in any sense of the word, or on any grounds whatsoever, or in any possible construction, taught in Theosophy or endorsed by Theosophists.
We do not use the language we have here employed with any desire to cast unkind slurs upon the beliefs of other men. We venture to point out only the truth, that while our teaching of Karma, as expressed for instance in the workings of the general operation of Reimbodiment, means indeed an endless chain of causation, this chain of causation is one which lies in the nature of the evolving entity himself or itself, and for which that entity is solely responsible.
This is merely common sense, and it is sufficient to turn to the emphatic teaching of free will or of the free and unimpeded will in the flow of the stream of consciousness arising from the fountain-head in man's Inner God, to show how vastly different and more merciful, as well as how truly religious and philosophical, the Theosophical teaching is.
Such then is the real meaning of the General Doctrine of Reimbodiment; and it remains with the reader or student of our mystical Theosophical philosophy to draw the necessary conclusions, which doubtless he is quite capable of doing, for the principles upon which our teachings rest are in all cases easily understood.
How it could ever be argued, as has in a certain case been argued by superficial critics of an atrabilious turn of mind, that H. P. Blavatsky either invented her teachings, or plagiarized them from the books treating of ancient religions and philosophies, is another notion which passes comprehension. Any competent student should readily see that while all our Theosophical doctrines may be found here and there in the various ancient literatures, not one of these literatures contains a completely systematic formulation of Theosophy as H. P. Blavatsky gave it to the world, and it is precisely in this systematic formulation that we see the marvelous strength of her intellect and the penetrating power of her spiritual intuition. Indeed, we see far more than these movements of her soul: we see the effect of the teachings received from others greater than she, of whom she was the Mouthpiece and Messenger to the modern world.
And so we come to an end of this true story of a great psychological mystery, the biography of a soul rather than the outline of the life of a mere human personality. And in doing so, inevitably we have also presented a sketch of the essential teachings H. P. Blavatsky brought. In the greatest of her works, The Secret Doctrine, all that has been heretofore outlined in this present book is there contained, either in brief or in much fuller form than the compass of this volume permits. The true Theosophist loves his great first Teacher, with a love that is based on sound reasons and in no wise is dependent upon a merely personal predilection for one whose mental capacities and whose instincts of the heart provoked admiration. Not only did H. P. Blavatsky teach men how to know themselves, whence they came, what they are, and whither they are going, but she gave them new hopes in life, for she taught them a new meaning of Life, in elucidating the marvelous Wisdom-Religion of the archaic ages.
What work can be more sublime than giving back to man man's soul? And this in brief is precisely what the Great Theosophist, H. P. Blavatsky, did.
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