Reincarnation, like the teachings of karma, cycles, and hierarchies, is not an article of faith which one must believe in order to be saved. Truth does not rest on any authority; it rests on spiritual nature, the universe of lives as they are in essence.
Not one of us remembers a beginning to his individual existence; few of us take seriously the idea of an end. In one lifetime we occupy the body of an infant, a child, an adolescent, an adult, and an aged person, while the cells of our body are constantly being eliminated and replaced so that every seven years our body is renewed in wholeness; yet its features are preserved and our consciousness persists. Each body seems to be custom-made to the soul which inhabits it -- be that soul a ballet dancer, a woodsman, musician, athlete, or teacher. The tool seems right for the job that needs doing; as long as we are healthy we are seldom conscious of the body except as a spontaneous and willing instrument. The danger is that we so identify ourselves with it we are apt to think it is we.
One who learns to regard nature with an awakening spiritual eye begins to realize that the universe exists for the experience, education, and advancement of all lives. It is simple justice to assume that in the school of life, he who is more advanced intellectually and spiritually has been going to this school longer and won for himself a higher grade. Nature can reveal something of her inner processes by a study of the elaborate procedure by which a human being is brought to birth.
In the relatively short term of prenatal development it is as though an unseen architect were retracing the soul's ancient past through mineral, plant, and various basic animal forms. Why should the fetus follow along those lines unless it were repeating in a rapid summing up and recasting of the molds the archaic life history unique to the soul now incarnating? We can trace the fertilized cell through its cleavage and division into a ball of many cells. The ball becomes two-layered, then three-layered, and from each of these layers -- predictably -- are derived all the tissues and organs which will form the new infant body. Who or what lays down the plan of this tiny universe which, when born, will carry on many of its functions automatically? For other functions it will obey the will of its indwelling soul.
Plato, an initiate into the Greek Mysteries and the traditions of Hermes and Orpheus, explained that there are two beings in man: the spiritual and the physical, each of a distinct nature. Spiritual man is eternal and incorruptible; it consists of an essential spark of divinity and of its veil or soul, which is the channel of spiritual illumination by which the mind is raised. Physical man is not only the body, but also the model or shadow body, while the vitality or life-force, a third principle, enlivens these two. The fourth principle is desire, the center of animal man. What we call "man" is what Plato called a "separate mortal kind of soul" which the ancient Hindus called manas (mind), from which our word man is derived. The line that separates the mortal from the immortal entity is the mind/desire nature which must constantly choose between virtue and self-indulgence.
We were never meant to measure our destiny by one lifetime. Yet, even one life can in small measure portray what evolution is all about. We begin as an infant in trust and innocence, as our first steps are given direction. We are not devious or scheming; we are not proud of home or dress or appearance. At a certain stage we can accept schooling and mental discipline. Old seeds of our nature come again and sprout, fed by the events of our lives. At adulthood we leave our protected environment and take on responsibility. If we are fortunate, we will ripen and mellow and find the peace that comes in the maturity of age.
Remember how the faithful Job was sorely tested just before the Lord revealed himself and spoke: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding," Spiritual innocence requires that each monadic life -- of all the multitudes brought into manifestation -- pass through the entire circle of existence. The innocent spark must work its way down to the hard encasement of the mineral and, with the very rudiments of intelligence, work its way up, up every rung of the ladder of life, through one kingdom after another -- through the human -- to divinity. To the Corinthians Paul wrote: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16). No one could say plainer that a spark of divine light shines and abides in each one of us, and will remain with us until that distant day when we reunite with the godhead of our being.
It is comforting to realize that the universe is truly our home because we have a vital link with every part of it. No longer need we feel a sense of separateness as we look upon sun and moon and the starry hosts -- nor does it end as we look beyond the Milky Way. Though we can see but dimly a few rungs up the ladder we know we must climb, we are conscious of the greater virtue, the compassion, the rootage in the divine fields of those ahead of us who yet are sympathetic to our needs. Just as they inspire us, so we must share all the light that has meaning for us with those around us.
(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1985. Copyright © 1985 by Theosophical University Press)