PICKING UP FROM WHERE WE LEFT OFF?
Have we been here before? Various spiritual traditions propose that this life is not the first one we have lived on this earth, but one of many. We could say that with each new life we are in fact picking up from where we left off.
Our individual lives form part of a greater cycle. We can relate to this proposal because, on a minor scale, every day we have a period of activity followed by a period of rest and assimilation. Each new day can be seen as a fresh start with new opportunities for growth.
Let us now consider several views explaining the human condition. Each has implications for the degree of control that we have over our lives.
1. One explanation often given by religion is that we each have a soul which is a creation by God. This suggests that our destinies are controlled or guided by a will or force beyond our control.
2. Materialistic science proposes that human differences are due to the combined influence of heredity and environment. This implies considerable powerlessness on our part, suggesting that we are the result of inherited and environmental factors over which we have only limited control.
3. A third explanation, already briefly mentioned, involves reincarnation or a succession of rebirths. When reincarnation is considered in conjunction with the law of cause and effect, that is, action and reaction, our present condition can be viewed as the consequence of our own past actions. This implies that we can have considerable control over our current and future lives, and that we can influence our own destiny by our present thoughts, feelings and actions.
In the first explanation above, that we are a special creation by God, we have no individual past but we seem to have an endless future. Our characters are specially created by God and imposed upon us without any choice on our part.
In the second heredity/environment explanation, evolution becomes significant. However, there is difficulty in accounting for qualities such as saintliness or genius.
In the third explanation, reincarnation and evolution are essential aspects, but with added features not yet recognised by science. Reincarnation allows for intellectual and spiritual evolution, as well as our physical evolution which is greatly influenced by hereditary and environmental factors.
Reincarnation, along with Karma, the law of cause and effect, provides for choice and restores balance. Consider the idea that we each have a spiritual soul which begins a pilgrimage by entering a cycle of incarnations. We learn from our experiences, pleasant and painful, and the results of these experiences help to develop our mental and moral faculties.
The character with which we are born at the beginning of each new life would therefore be self-made and mark the stage we have reached in our long evolutionary journey. It is suggested that the heredity and environment we encounter in each life are not accidental, but are the consequences of our thoughts, emotions and actions in previous lives. According to this view our mental and moral qualities are also the result of past effort. Our total nature is therefore the outcome of the choices we have made during our many incarnations and those choices become more thoughtful and deliberate as we evolve.
Some further thoughts on a theosophical view of reincarnation, based on timeless Wisdom teachings, are presented here for your consideration.
MEMORY OF PREVIOUS LIVES
When reincarnation is mentioned, a question often asked is: "If I have been here before, why do I not remember my past lives?" Surely we would agree that we forget more of our present life than we remember. Many people cannot remember learning to read, yet the fact that they can read proves that they did. Incidents of childhood and youth fade from memory, yet they leave traces on our character.
If we are greatly affected by experiences encountered in the present body, how much more would we reflect the results of numerous past experiences encountered in former lives? As our present body and brain have had no share in such far-off happenings, how could we remember any of them? However, the memory of these past-life events does not disappear altogether. It is suggested that these events leave a permanent record which will eventually become accessible during the course of our evolution. It is the soul that truly remembers.
When we feel we know a stranger on first meeting, the soul may recognise a friend from the past. When we react negatively to a stranger, it could be the soul's recognition of an old enemy. These affinities, or warnings, come from deep within. We remember but, as the body and brain are new, we are not able to recall the details.
Consideration of what reincarnates will help answer the problem of memory. The theosophical view is that the human being has a number of aspects or 'bodies'. On the one hand, we consist of temporary aspects - the physical body, emotions and the factual mind - which make up our personality. On the other hand, there is a deeper spiritual and more permanent part of ourselves which contains the accumulated results of experiences gained over many lives. The various aspects of our makeup are not separate but are said to interpenetrate each other.
Our more permanent self, said to remain with us throughout the whole cycle of reincarnation, is often called the soul. At death, the temporary aspects fall away and return to their elements before we come into incarnation again. New mental, emotional and physical matter is moulded for a new incarnation or birth. An accountant closing a year's accounts and opening new ones does not enter in the new all the items of the old, but only its balances. In a similar way, the soul hands on to the new bodies the qualities, tendencies and capacities which are the result of past life experiences. Our conscience, our instinctive response to emotional and intellectual appeals, our recognition of the force of a logical argument, our assent to fundamental principles of right and wrong, these are the results of past experiences.
GROWTH OF CAPACITY
Evolutionary development is an important and integral aspect of reincarnation. The emphasis is on continual growth toward human perfection and we understand that this is only achieved by personal effort. According to theosophical teachings we do not regress, i.e. reincarnate as an animal or plant. On the contrary, there is a natural impulse to take a human form again in order to gradually develop our full human potential in all areas. This process takes many lives but may be hastened if we apply ourselves unselfishly. When a philosophy or a science is quickly grasped and applied, when an art is mastered easily, these could be the result of accomplishments gained in past lives although the facts of the experience have been forgotten.
Memory of past lives can be recovered, but this faculty is related to spiritual growth. It is important that the restless mind be controlled and stilled. Only when we are capable of hearing the quiet voice of the soul may the story of the past be unrolled and the lessons it contains be fully learned.
Pain follows mistakes, but this can be constructive once we learn not to make the same mistakes again. Strength is developed by effort. We learn from every experience the inevitable consequences: happiness grows out of doing what is right, sorrow out of error.
In every case, the past explains the present and the present influences the future. If we accept the notion of spiritual growth through many lives, we can become more responsible for building our own future. Our lives will then become increasingly fulfilled, until we reach the goal of the human journey and return to our Source. Along the way we are able to make an increasingly effective contribution toward humanity's progress.
BOOKS SUGGESTED FOR FURTHER READING:
THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY by H.P. Blavatsky Ed. J. Mills
REINCARNATION EXPLORED by Dr. John Algeo
REINCARNATION: FACT OR FALLACY? by Geoffrey Hodson
EXPERIENCING REINCARNATION by James S. Perkins
REINCARNATION IN CHRISTIANITY by Geddes MacGregor
REINCARNATION: THE PHOENIX FIRE MYSTERY by Joseph Head and S.L. Cranston
TWENTY CASES SUGGESTIVE OF REINCARNATION by Dr. Ian Stevenson
KARMA AND REBIRTH by Christmas Humphreys