THEOSOPHY, Vol. 51, No. 3, January, 1963
(Pages 55-58; Size: 29K)


[Article number (3) in this Department]

NOT alone Theosophists but many other "reincarnationists" wonder why the philosophy of rebirth does not count a majority instead of a minority of adherents. Schopenhauer has been quoted to the effect that reincarnation "presents itself as a natural conviction of a man whenever he reflects at all in an unprejudiced manner." But what are the sources of those prejudices which so often prevent the teaching of rebirth from finding "natural" acceptance?

Attempts to answer this question by reference to the history of religions are interesting and informative, but insufficient -- and this is particularly true today when, throughout every branch of Christendom, people are increasingly inclined to believe what they choose and to give only lip service to the orthodox formulations of their theological denominations. It also must be noted that in the Eastern world, while the doctrine of rebirth has never been "damned," as was the case with the anathemas proclaimed against the early Christian Father, Origen, the conceptions of rebirth characteristic of exoteric Hinduism and Buddhism are less than Theosophical. Those Buddhists whose wish to attain Buddhahood or arhatship is usually mixed with desire for a kind of sublime extinction in Nirvana are the parallel of the Christians who wish to end the agonies of living and learning by ascension to heaven. It should be clear, then, that there is a deep-seated psychological tendency in human beings of whatever cult to escape the implications of "endless evolution" as portrayed in formulation of reincarnation as eternal.

As H.P.B. suggests in The Key to Theosophy, the essential clue to the rejection of Theosophical philosophy of rebirth lies in failure to distinguish between individuality and personality -- and in a manifest unwillingness to "let go" of attachment to the present personality, save, possibly, by a miraculous transcendence of all limitations. True reincarnation is a kind of "gradualism" of soul evolution, and demands that one forego the wishful thinking which either falsely exalts virtues of the present personality or looks to a sudden release into perfection by way of Nirvana or Heaven. The mechanist is more obviously unable to separate his conception of egoity from the bundle of idiosyncrasies which constitute present personality.

H. P. Blavatsky, in the section of the Key titled "Individuality and Personality," remarks that "the real Individuality is held responsible for all the sins committed through, and in, every new body or personality -- the evanescent masks which hide the true Individual through the long series of rebirths." Madame Blavatsky then quotes approvingly a passage from Col. Olcott's Buddhist Catechism -- a book wherein Olcott, assisted by H.P.B.'s teachings, endeavored to demonstrate that the "secret doctrine" of the Buddha had been buried by religious oversimplification and needed rediscovery. The crux, Olcott saw, is the recognition of a true, continuing, and distinct individuality -- not to be confused with the present personality or any conceivable succession of personalities. Col. Olcott wrote:

The successive appearances upon the earth, or "descents into generation," of the tanhaically coherent parts (Skandhas) of a certain being, are a succession of personalities. In each birth the PERSONALITY differs from that of a previous or next succeeding birth. Karma, the DEUS EX MACHINA, masks (or shall we say reflects?) itself now in the personality of a sage, again as an artisan, and so on throughout the string of births. But though personalities ever shift, the one line of life along which they are strung, like beads, runs unbroken; it is ever that particular line, never any other. It is therefore individual, an individual vital undulation, which began in Nirvana, or the subjective side of nature, as the light or heat undulation through æther began at its dynamic source; is careering through the objective side of nature under the impulse of Karma and the creative direction of Tanha (the unsatisfied desire for existence); and leads through many cyclic changes....
Acceptance of the idea of reincarnation becomes philosophically mature only when a clear distinction is drawn between individuality and personality -- not simply in theory but by psychological realization as well. Yet it is precisely this voluntary separation of one's self from cherished illusions and prejudices which is so hard to achieve -- and this, too, is the reason why Arjuna, in the colloquy called The Bhagavad-Gita, is the symbol of every man. It is also the reason why there was an inevitable clash between the Spiritualists of the nineteenth century and the students of the "secret doctrine" of H. P. Blavatsky. The Spiritualists, who were ready enough to believe in "another world" where some kind of further development could take place, demanded that the present personality be preserved intact. In Spiritualist theory, one did not have to die to be reborn, did not have to face the work of creative striving again and again in successive lives, but could feel permanently secure within the confines of the present persona.

H.P.B.'s many references to the "secret doctrine" of Buddhism intimates that a complete and correct philosophy of reincarnation lies behind the great Buddhist tradition. Among intuitive travelers and writers who have sensed the presence of this teaching correctly is Lafcadio Hearn. In a chapter of Gleanings in Buddha Fields, titled "Nirvana," Hearn develops the distinction between individuality and personality. After correcting the erroneous impression "that Nirvana signifies, to Buddhist minds, neither more nor less than absolute nothingness, -- complete annihilation," Hearn explains: "It is erroneous only because it contains half of a truth. This half of a truth has no value or interest, or even intelligibility, unless joined with the other half. And of the other half no suspicion yet exists in the average Western mind." Hearn then penetrates the obscurantism usually surrounding definitions of individuality, as compound by minds of typically religious bent:

Nirvana, indeed, signifies an extinction. But if by this extinction of individual being we understand soul-death, our conception of Nirvana is wrong. Or if we take Nirvana to mean such reabsorption of the finite into the infinite as that predicted by Indian pantheism, again our idea is foreign to Buddhism.

Nevertheless, if we declare that Nirvana means the extinction of individual sensation, emotion, thought, -- the final disintegration of conscious personality, -- the annihilation of everything that can be included under the term "I," -- then we rightly express one side of the Buddhist teaching. ... We find a doctrine of rebirth; but the existence of a soul is denied. We are told that the misfortunes of this life are punishments of faults committed in a previous life; yet personal transmigration does not take place. We find the statement that beings are reindividualized; yet both individuality and personality are called illusions. I doubt whether anybody not acquainted with the deeper forms of Buddhist belief could possibly understand....

The establishment of a valid distinction between individuality and personality is today being assisted by a growing number of psychologists and philosophers -- both "Eastern" and "Western" (cf. Lookout for August, 1962, p. 472-7). [Note: A copy of these 6 pages follow this article.--Compiler.] In this area of inquiry, the most lucid separation of the persona from the true Ego is provided by C. J. Ducasse's distinguished work, Nature, Mind, and Death. In the concluding chapter of that volume, while treating of "Some Possible Forms of Survival," Dr. Ducasse first indicates the necessity for reasoning closely as to what it is that may survive the death of the physical organism. He writes:
In what a human being is at a given time we may distinguish two parts, one deeper and more permanent, and an other more superficial and transient. The latter consists of everything he has acquired since birth: habits, skills, memories, and so on. This is his personality. The other part, which, somewhat arbitrarily for lack of a better name we may here agree to call his individuality, comprises the aptitudes and dispositions which are native in him.
Dr. Ducasse continues:
There can be no doubt that each of us, on the basis of his same individuality -- that is, of his same stock of innate latent capacities and incapacities -- would have developed a more or less different empirical mind and personality if, for instance, he had been put at birth in a different family, or had later been thrust by some external accident into a radically different sort of environment, or had had a different kind of education, or had met and married a very different type of person, and so on. Reflection on this fact should cause one to take his present personality with a large grain of salt, viewing it no longer humorlessly as his absolute self, but rather, in imaginative perspective, as but one of the various personalities which his individuality was equally capable of generating had it happened to enter phenomenal history through birth in a different environment. Thus, to the question: What is it that could be supposed to be reborn? an intelligible answer may be returned by saying that it might be the core of positive and negative aptitudes and tendencies which we have called a man's individuality, as distinguished from his personality. And the fact might further be that, perhaps as a result of persistent striving to acquire a skill or trait he desires, but for which he now has but little gift, aptitude for it in future births would be generated and incorporated into his individuality.
It is a tendency innately egotistic which wishes to deny the possibility that much of our present personality is caused by our bodily contacts with the environment into which we were born and by our mental contacts with those persons whom we meet and the literature to which we are exposed. It is the nature of the personality, as Krishna tells Arjuna, to refuse to give an inch, so to speak, and the humility which breaks through this part of the egocentric predicament is the necessary and truly philosophical humility. It seems to be demonstrable that young children have little difficulty in conceiving the philosophical doctrine of rebirth. May this not be because their "personalities" have not yet been formed, so that the higher mind has not been enmeshed in false identification?

Compiler's note: Before going on to the next article in this Department, here's a copy of the 53/4 page section of the particular 9-page "On the Lookout" Department of THEOSOPHY magazine that was pointed to in the above article:

THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 10, August, 1962
(Pages 472-477)



The first English printing of Karl Jasper's The Great Philosophers (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962) adds to the chain of evidence presently indicating that a new vitality and perceptiveness have entered the realm of what is usually called "professional" philosophy. Among the significant paragraphs of Dr. Jaspers' Preface are these:

Over the last half century philosophy seems to have succumbed to irresponsibility, while at the same time casting off the chains of academicism. In our struggle to secure the substance of our own day amid the storm of arbitrary, fortuitous, anarchic thinking, we shall be helped if the historic substance can be made to break through the crusts of philosophical convention and if we learn to hear its message.

A total view of the history of philosophy is impossible. We are in it. We see it from within, not from some point outside it. Yet, though we cannot survey the history of philosophy, we can look into it.

We hope to enter into the world of the great philosophers, to make ourselves at home in it, because it is in their company, the best there is, that we can attain to what we ourselves are capable of being. Admittance is open to all. The dwellers in that land are glad to answer provided that we know how to inquire. They show us what they were. They encourage us and make us humble. A great philosopher wants no disciples, but men who are themselves. With all our veneration, we can come closer to them only if we ourselves philosophize.


From the Theosophical outlook, as H. P. Blavatsky so often implied, philosophy and psychology cannot justifiably be separated -- not without considerable danger. Dr. Jaspers continues:

We cannot survey the great philosophers from above but must consider it a privilege to look up to them. We do not classify them in order to put them in their place, but strive to understand them in order that they may teach us and lead us to ourselves. They tell us as much as our questioning deserves, and the way they speak to us depends on the way in which we consult them. Our attitude must be to let them illuminate the area in which we ourselves come into our reality.

Today it is important for us to know clearly what part of our intellectual baggage embodies the eternal orders and archetypes and is therefore worth carrying along with us. Whether philosophy, if it reached into the peoples, might help to ward off the catastrophe, or whether it can only enable individuals to suffer lucidly and stand up to events in the dignity of freedom grounded in transcendence, we do not know. We know only that for thousands of years the road to the ultimate insight has been traveled by philosophers, and that we should like to travel it with them.


Jaspers' The Great Philosophers has a foundation in forty years of teaching -- spanning many transitions of "fad" among professional arguers in the field. Then, too, the impact of science upon philosophy, as well as upon psychology, has certainly been far-reaching, and of this the author is fully aware. But science may allow itself to be concerned almost exclusively with a categorization of "facts" in unrelated departments. The ideal contribution of science to philosophy is by insistence on the sort of logic which will never betray itself by rationalization in behalf of a predetermined "truth." Finally, as Jasper says, "true philosophy is bound by and yet transcends science. ... It is reason that makes philosophy 'more than science.' Reason is the source of philosophical thinking, which in its turn unfolds and develops it. Whoever knows how to think philosophically increases the power of reason in the world."

Dr. Jasper concludes the Foreword to his American edition with these sentences:

Expressed in the form of philosophic truth, eternity may be seen in an identification of Being with the world in which Being unfolds; or, on the contrary, the world may be considered as mere appearance, a transition which rises out of, and again vanishes into, Being. It may take the form of an intensification of man's individual, unique, irreplaceable selfhood; or, on the contrary, of the submergence of all individuality in the encompassing Being in which the self loses all importance....

Readers of Isis Unveiled will also appreciate Dr. Jaspers' treatment of Plato -- with Buddha regarded by him as one of the "paradigmatic" heroes of human thought. Of "Plato's Significance," Dr. Jasper writes:

Plato for the first time saw man in the situation of total disaster that arises through his thinking if it is false and fails to understand itself. Accordingly Plato sets the task of a radical turning of the mind. Since, with the great Sophist movement, thinking had started on the way of enlightenment, since all traditional beliefs had been shattered by Sophist criticism, since thought by its very nature and the conditions of men's life together seemed to lead to chaos -- in view of all this it was necessary to seek the right way through thinking itself, with the instruments of the very same thought that was leading to such disaster. In Plato we see the first great movement of thought against the dangers and falsifications of enlightenment, but by way of increased enlightenment, by way of the reason that transcends the perversions of the understanding.

This recurrent conflict takes its first historic form in the Platonic antithesis between Socrates and the Sophists. It is the conflict between philosophy and unphilosophy, between earnestness in bond with the source and the arbitrary thinking that knows no bond. The anti-philosopher who comes into being along with philosophical thinking, and like a Proteus in a thousand guises has accompanied it throughout history down to our own day, is for the first time consciously challenged by Plato. In this struggle with its adversary philosophy comes for the first time to itself. Plato became the source of philosophy in the crisis that never ceases even though it may be denied or talked away.


Isis Unveiled begins with an emphasis on Platonic philosophy as a natural link between East and West. In "Before the Veil," discussion of Plato continues throughout. One paragraph (p. xi) familiar to many students of H.P.B. is appropriate in relation to Dr. Jaspers:

It is the Platonic philosophy, the most elaborate compend of the abstruse systems of old India that can alone afford us middle ground. Although twenty-two and a quarter centuries have elapsed since the death of Plato, the great minds of the world are still occupied with his writings. He was, in the fullest sense of the word, the world's interpreter. And the greatest philosopher of the pre-Christian era mirrored faithfully in his works the spiritualism of the Vedic philosophers who lived thousands of years before himself, and its metaphysical expression. Vyasa, Djeminy, Kapila, Vrihaspati, Sumati, and so many others, will be found to have transmitted their indelible imprint through the intervening centuries upon Plato and his school. Thus is warranted the inference that to Plato and the ancient Hindu sages was alike revealed the same wisdom. So surviving the shock of time, what can this wisdom be but divine and eternal?

Psychologia, described as "An International Journal of Psychology in the Orient," is now in its fourth volume. This publication will be of some interest to Theosophical students, in that it more than occasionally brings together representatives of non-materialistic psychology in the West with the disciples of Indian and Zen thought -- and evidences, occasionally, the emergence of some of the perspectives of "Theosophia." The September, 1961, issue of Psychologia, for instance, is devoted almost entirely to examination of the concept of Egoity, and while this magazine is published at Kyoto, chief center of Japanese Zen Buddhism, several articles are contributed by Europeans and Americans -- and names which are found frequently in the weekly journal Manas are used as reference points in some of the discussions. In describing the content of this "special issue," the editor of Psychologia, Koji Sato, begins:

The central theme is the "Self." The self has become one of the most important problems in Western psychology in these twenty years, but in the Oriental teachings on human nature the self has been one of the most cardinal problems for more than two thousand years. In the East the fundamental self has been often identified with the Supreme Being or Buddha, and therefore it has a broader area than that in the West.
For such psychologists as Erich Fromm, Viktor Frankl, Carl Rogers, and A. H. Maslow, the central problem of importance is indeed that of the nature of "The Self." In studying the works of any of these men, one senses the incipient presence of a para-cultural fraternity whose representatives explore the meaning of egoity as something beyond what might be called the physical aspects of mind.


Following the editorial, this issue of Psychologia contains a treatment -- chiefly by Japanese scholars steeped in the Zen tradition -- of Western psychological points of contact with Zen. There is a discussion between Dr. Carl Rogers, who recently visited Kyoto, and one Dr. Hisamatsu. The latter identifies mind with self: "Even though we say mind, however, it is not such a mind as can be viewed objectively outside of ourselves. That is, it must be such that that Mind is Myself and that I am that Mind. This Mind is not the Mind which is seen, but is, on the contrary, the Mind which sees." The other Zen scholars agreed; one, by saying that "the True Self is this Mind," and another with the words, "the True Self is at the same time the Mind and the Buddha."

If "Mind" is simply an efflorescence of the physical organism, the proper use of this mind obviously lies in convenient manipulations of one's environment, but if the true Mind is primary, instead of secondary, it is the realization of the nature of that self -- also the Self of All -- which constitutes fundamental knowledge.


It is not difficult to understand why Zen psychologists have all been interested in the works of the author of Modern Man in Search of a Soul. (Theosophical publications, also, have been aware of touches of Theosophical psychology in Dr. Jung's writings.) In the Psychologia discussion, one is also able to note, however, a Zen perspective on Jung which suggests an incompleteness in Jungian psychology, perhaps paralleling Theosophical criticism of Jung's apparent failure to get beyond a kind of eclecticism. Prof. Masao Abe puts it this way:

Jung's idea of the collective unconscious is interesting from the Zen point of view, but there is an essential difference between the self in Jungian psychology and that of Zen. The self in Jungian psychology, I understand, consists of the conscious which is called "I" and the unconscious. Now, when Western psychologists, including Jung, discuss the unconscious, they do so from the standpoint of consciousness, namely standing on the side of the conscious and looking at the unconscious. However deep and basic the unconscious may be taken, it is understood as relative to consciousness from the side of consciousness. Jung's so-called "self" is the whole of such unconsciousness and consciousness which seems to me to have a kind of framework. It is quite different in Zen. Zen does not discuss the unconscious or so-called no-mind from the side of consciousness, nor does it stay in the unconscious in Jung's sense. It is the way of Zen to go deep into the unconscious and break through its bottom through sitting and struggling with koan. Zen asks us to break through the framework of self.

The most valuable paper in the September Psychologia, though, is supplied by Robert Schwitzgebel of Brandeis University, who represents the "self-actualization" school of A. H. Maslow. The perspective is indicated by these two brief paragraphs:

There is one "confession" that almost anyone will make to even the most casual sympathetic listener. It is this: That somehow what he has been taught is far removed from what he needs to know, that what he is able to express is inadequate in dealing with what he feels. The separation of our so-called factual, scientific, precise, acceptable knowledge from our day-to-day feelings, hopes, pains, urges is a common observation.

The individual's emphasis on one side or the other of this dialectic is in part a function of cultural influence. The West has tended to favor technical elaboration while the East has traditionally favored transformation of consciousness. It may be that developments in the broad field of psychology and related disciplines within the last decade or so make possible for the first time a realistic hope of synthesis.


Schwitzgebel endeavors to show that Maslow's conception of "self-actualization" does not leave out of account dimensions beyond any selfhood that a man can realize consciously and fully define. Maslow, for instance, recognizes that when one breaks through the many areas of the "not self," there is still the call to a further expansion beyond the usual conception of individuality. Dr. Schwitzgebel continues:

The self -- even the actualized self -- is not all there is. From what we understand, the world was before man was. It is customary for individuals to assume that something will continue after they themselves no longer exist. Death makes the final nonsense out of power dedicated to the self.

The ability to focus or to merge with a larger whole does not require a purposeful negation of the self. Quite to the contrary. The greater mystery, the greater pleasure, the truer perception is beyond (not before) the actualized self. These new experiences are the intrinsic reward of growth. The mechanisms of healthy development are thus not something that has to be "put in" after something else is "taken out." However we define psychological maturity, it is likely to parallel physiological maturity in the earlier years of the organism, and physiologically we know that there will be no adult (or a crippled adult) if we kill or maim the child. John Dewey nicely analyzed the reluctance of some persons to accept a Self-actualization point-of-view when he pointed to the fallacy of "transforming the (truistic) fact of acting as a self into the fiction of acting always for self."

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(February 1963)
[Article number (4) in this Department]

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