THEOSOPHY, Vol. 48, No. 12, October, 1960
(Pages 553-555; Size: 24K)


[Article number (2) in this Department]

IN THEOSOPHY I:319 we find the following definition of character: "The character with which we were born was actually a sort of spiritual memory of past experiences." It is also said that "only the efflorescence of the highest thought and aspiration adheres to the Reincarnating Ego." These ideas "make sense" to us; they underlie our appreciation when we say, "That man has character." How then would we define "bad character"? Is it a thing-in-itself or merely the absence of "good character," or spiritual memory?

But in Chapter 10 of The Ocean of Theosophy Mr. Judge speaks of "cases where heredity is set at nought by a wholly bad or deficient Ego," and in Chapter 11 he defines the ego as "thinker and actor" -- which would seem to imply that "bad character" also has something to do with egoic memory of past experiences. [Note: I have provided a copy of the 5-page article that is quoted from in the first paragraph of the above question, and placed it at the end of this article. It is entitled "The Vocation of Life".--Compiler]

The essential morality implied by Theosophical philosophy revolves around the affirmation of each man's responsibility for both the personality and circumstances in which he finds himself. We should say that Mr. Judge, in speaking of a "bad or deficient ego," and therefore of "bad character," is actually referring to characteristics, rather than to the essential Spiritual Self. The Reincarnating Ego, as we know him, represents the entire range of consciousness between nearly-blind sensuality and spiritual vision.

During earth life, many spiritual memories may be obscured, unable to manifest while the focus of consciousness provides no connective. Generally speaking, when we refer to bad character we mean unfortunate traits of personality. The personality, though continually undergoing various changes, usually manifests similar characteristics throughout a lifetime. So the "character" we admire or despise or attempt to evaluate is only that aspect of the ego which is able to manifest under existing conditions. Whether we speak of another as ruthless, frivolous, superficial, or as saint or criminal, these gradations must be recognized as but reflections of the Higher Ego's capacity to manifest.

According to H. P. Blavatsky, in The Key to Theosophy, it is true enough that "only the efflorescence of the highest thought and aspiration adheres to the Reincarnating Ego" -- in its disembodied state; yet, quite literally, everything adheres to the Ego -- the imprint of every experience in human relationships, every motivation, good or bad, here in waking life. At the time of a new birth the impressions from a former life attract us to them, because they have already found residence in the aura of the body which two parents will create. Mr. Judge refers to this sort of recombining of Higher Manas with its lower reflection during a discussion of "bad Karma":

So this thinker and actor -- the Ego -- coming again to rebirth carries with him the picture [of past errors], and if the family to which he is attracted for birth has similar physical tendencies in its stream, the mental picture causes the newly-forming astral body to assume a deformed shape by electrical and magnetic osmosis through the mother of the child. And as all beings on earth are indissolubly joined together, the misshapen child is the karma of the parents also, an exact consequence for similar acts and thoughts on their part in other lives. Here is an exactitude of justice which no other theory will furnish. (Ocean, p. 92.)
In the Glossary, under the heading of Samskara, H.P.B. discusses the form of skandha which best fits the description provided in the original question -- spiritual memory of past experiences:
Samskara: Lit., from Sam and Kri, to improve, refine, impress. In Hindu philosophy the term is used to denote the impressions left upon the mind by individual actions or external circumstances, and capable of being developed on any favourable occasion -- even in a future birth. The Samskara denotes, therefore, the germs of propensities and impulses from previous births to be developed in this or the coming janmas or reincarnations.
Finally, we should realize that the word "spiritual" may be used in a variety of ways, precisely because no exact definition of spirit could possibly be made. Always the "spiritual" memory, thought, or experience is relative to other memories, thoughts, and experiences which are less "spiritual" -- while the spirit as Atma, the highest abstraction connected with the sevenfold man, is out of all relation to both experiences and moral values.

Finally, it often seems helpful to think of the distinction between "higher" and "lower" tendencies as describable by their respective potentialities for growth. A tamasic personality, to borrow from the Bhagavad-Gita, is involuntarily given to mere repetition of behavior -- patterns which require no creative effort. Essentially, the sensualist is always doing the same old things, because his motive for doing them is always the same -- and this must be why all sensualists, given enough time for every exploitation of the senses, become cynical: the character is "deficient." Now, in such an area of human experience, almost all that is distinctively human is left out, and, therefore, there can be no spiritual memory of consequence to carry forward. On the other hand, one who follows the admonitions of the Buddha -- or of Theosophy -- proceeds towards a greater sense of meaning and purpose. In this context, each experience can yield the material necessary to growth in character -- because there is something for "spiritual memory" to remember.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


We have, each one of us, a tendency, both conscious and unconscious, to imitate the words and deeds, and even the thoughts, of those with whom we associate. But we imitate, not only others, but ourselves also; and hence, by our voluntary acts, we are placing the fetters of habit on our future lives, and binding our future conduct by our present acts, and thus narrowing the area of the activity of our wills.

If our daily actions be true and strong and noble, and our thoughts are high and pure, we are rendering it day by day more difficult for us to do anything false, or weak, or base, or to nourish low or impure thoughts; but if our deeds and thoughts be low and bad, we are placing the possession of virtue and nobility further and further out of our reach, till at last it becomes a moral impossibility.

And if this be the momentous effect of imitation on ourselves, it follows that we are exerting a like influence on all around us. Every visible act, every expressed thought, forms a possible object of imitation to all within sight or hearing of us, and so on, in an ever widening circle. Every single act produces a moral wave like the wave created by the fall of a stone into water. 


Compiler's note: Before going on to the next article in this Department, here's a copy of the article that was quoted from in the question in the first paragraph of the above article:

THEOSOPHY, Vol. 1, No. 8, June, 1913
(Pages 315-319)


IF there is actually a plan, a vocation in human life it is surely worth our while to discover what it is. If nature is working onward toward some definite design in the affairs of men we could hardly employ our time to better purpose than in an effort to understand it. For in a matter of this kind we may as well face with courage whatever facts are visible. And the most visible of all facts is the disquieting certainty that human life, as we usually understand that term, is a matter of a few years at most, and that it may be terminated at any moment by one of those "accidents" that threaten us at every stage of our existence. And we may as well face the other and even more disturbing fact that we are devoting the whole of our energies and all the mental force of which we are capable to ministering to that part of ourselves, our bodies and our appetites, that cannot last for very long and that may flicker into darkness at any moment. The business expert wages incessant war against a misuse, a misdirection, or a waste, of energy, but to dissipate force in the moral world must be a far more serious matter.

It is of course open to any man to say that human life is no more than it seems to be -- a hideous and cruel chaos in which victory is always given to the sharpest teeth and the longest claws. Thoughts are free -- if such opinions can indeed be called thoughts at all. But this is a matter so grave that it would be rash to jump to hasty conclusions even in an effort to justify those of our actions that we know in our hearts to be wrong. For if nature is actually proceeding to some sort of a goal, if she is actually moving onward toward some sort of a destination and with a will to reach that goal and destination then we may reasonably suppose that her momentum is considerable and her force an irresistible one. A theory is a poor protection against an avalanche, and if nature's laws actually extend into the moral world we may suppose that they are just as inflexible as in her physical domain. They may work more slowly. It may be more difficult to perceive their operation. But if they do indeed exist it would be well to obey them, for there can be no immunity for their violation. Sooner or later a corresponding penalty must be exacted.

And would it not seem strange if there were no such thing as a natural law in the moral world seeing that there is law everywhere else? Would it not be strange if there were no orderly progression in human consciousness seeing that there is orderly progression everywhere else? However materialistic our science may be it has never yet failed to discover a regularity in evolution. It has never yet announced to us a discovery of chaos. From the grain of sand to the solar system there is nowhere a sign of accident or confusion. The elements of the chemist fall infallibly into their groups according to fixed arithmetical laws. The orbits of the planets around the sun are governed by rules of proportion. Wherever there is movement in nature there we find an unfailing periodicity and advance whose orderliness implies a plan, a model, a destination, and therefore a will. Even in human affairs we see something of the same regularity. History shows us that empire has followed empire and kingdom has succeeded kingdom. One after another they have risen, culminated, fallen. One after another they have been brought face to face with the great problems that confront us once more today. He must indeed be blind who persists in regarding the history of humanity as divided into water-tight compartments, or as unrelated by a common law that destroys in order that it may re-create, that decrees the calamity of national failure only that it may invite new aspirations and renewed efforts. Is it a superstition that would detect in this unfailing orderliness some plan, some intended destination? Is there anything unworthy in the effort to relate that plan to individual human life, and to detect in it a call to conduct that shall be consonant with it? Is it possible to do otherwise, or to believe that in the unfathomable spaces of nature it is only the human mind and heart that are excluded from the reign of law and intention, that a divine will governs all else save these? And may we not say that such an effort to discover the divine will is the most practical business to which any man can devote himself, that of all life's vocations it is the most useful, the most emergent? Since the whole universe is obviously moving and in an orderly and progressive way we may assume that it is also purposive, just as we should assume the presence of a purposive intelligence on a ship with all sails set that kept a straight and undeviating course. And we can hardly suppose that the universe, from grains of sand to solar systems, is orderly, progressive, and purposive, and that man alone is outside the range of law that is dominant everywhere else even to the outermost boundaries of space.

But let us be sure that we have at least an approximately correct idea of our own nature, in other words that we can discriminate between those parts of ourselves that are transitory and those parts that are permanent. We know that the body is transitory and that it is completely changed many times over before the final dispersion of its atoms at death. And in the fact that the body is changed over and over again we find the best possible proof that man himself is something other than the body, that he is in fact a permanent something that is making use of a transitory something for a definite purpose. For there must be some force in the body that caused its atoms to assemble in a particular shape and not in some other shape, or without a shape, some force that constantly renews those atoms, that compels them to cohere, to cooperate with each other, and that finally relaxes its hold and allows them to disperse. The materialistic theory that man is merely a piece of physical mechanism like a clock, and that, like a clock, it will work until it runs down will hardly pass muster unless we are to suppose some new kind of a clock that will change the atoms of which it is composed and do its own repairs without external aid. Man may therefore be described as a consciousness that inhabits a body, and since there are many analogies between the human body and all other aggregations and groupings of matter in the universe we may assume that there is a consciousness everywhere that causes these aggregations and groupings, that allows all bodies entirely to change their atomic composition over and over again while compelling them to maintain their shapes and their orderly movements. And when this has once been understood it becomes easy to take another step forward and to recognize that the one reality of the universe is consciousness, and that the eternal fluxes and changes of matter are actually caused by some orderly advance in the consciousness underlying matter. And so at last we understand that man himself is a part of the consciousness of the universe, that the matter of his body, however highly organized, is performing the same functions as all other matter in the universe; that all matter everywhere is aggregated, assembled, and dispersed, by consciousness, which thus passes from form to form on its way upward toward self-expression. Let us put the matter still more simply by saying that consciousness and matter are the two poles of manifested existence, that consciousness eternally reincarnates itself, and that this is the method of its advance toward its goal. And yet there are those who identify what they are fatuously pleased to call the "practical affairs of life" with an unceasing devotion to the momentary needs of a transient body and its usually illegitimate demands while they utterly neglect the demands of a consciousness which has existed from the beginning of time, which has inhabited a thousand bodies, and which can never be touched either by change or by death while time lasts. Children building sand castles on the shore are somewhat more attentive than this to the "practical affairs of life."

The vocation of life becomes then unmistakable. Those who have no recognition of the tremendous significance of living will continue, as before, to concentrate their energies upon the things that do not matter, and upon those violations of the moral law that alone are the cause of all the sorrows and disquietudes of the world. And violations of the moral law do not necessarily mean statutory crimes or even those other offenses of which human law takes no note. They mean every deviation from evolutionary intention, every departure from the natural plan of which a developed conscience gives us the outline and the indication. Just as a straight line is the shortest distance between two points so the human mind is either on the path, or off the path, to its destination. And as the activity of the mind is thought -- and there can be no action without a precedent thought -- it is by thought that we either conform ourselves with the moral law or defy it. Man is a thinking being. His actions are no more than the concretion of his thought. It is by thought that he becomes either a saint or a sinner, an angel or a demon.

The true vocation of life demands that we think aright, that we regulate our thoughts in accordance with philosophy and not in accordance with whim, or with the deceits suggested by the body and its hungers. Having discovered some kind of a law of life let us compel ourselves to obey it. Having recognized that nature intends to develop in us some kind of consciousness of which we now get only such glimpses as those furnished by genius and by the great teachers and saviors of the race let us regulate our lives to that end and to no other, no matter how loudly our inheritance from the lower kingdoms of nature may clamor for attention. Necessarily it is a hard task to drill our minds into new habits of thinking, seeing that the old habits have polarized them downward instead of upward. Those habits, persisted in during many earth lives, have at last produced an automatic action that must be overcome and a fresh automatism created. However difficult, it must be done. We can do it now of our own freewill, or we can wait until nature scourges us to the attempt, and every sorrow that has ever overtaken us, every grief, and every disappointment, were no more than nature's reminders that we were off the path.

Suppose we were henceforth to regard ourselves as immortal beings, spiritual consciousnesses, of which our human minds are reflections, and which can never die or even for a single instant become unconsciousness. Suppose we were to demand of every thought either that it conform itself to that conception or disappear. That would be one of the vocations of life, that would be the shaping of the course and the setting of the helm toward the destination.

Certainly it would produce something like a revolution in our lives. It would be a new standard of values for all our experiences. It would mean the disappearance of every petty ambition, the destruction of greeds and vanities, the death of fear. If our consciousness is a drop from the ocean of the world consciousness there must come, with such a realisation, an end to the love of self, for there could be no self interest that was not the interest of all. But a mere intellectual acceptance of such a philosophy is not enough. Even the devils in hell believe. It must be the kind of acceptance that translates itself into a habit of thought. Every thought and therefore every action must conform to it.

Suppose further that we were to look upon ourselves as evolving beings, whose progress in the past has been through countless physical forms, all those stages of progress, all those earth lives, being knit together by a chain of law, the law of cause and effect. It may be objected that we have no memory of those past lives, and the question of memory may be left for future consideration, while suggesting in passing that the character with which we were born was actually a sort of spiritual memory of past experiences. Now here we should have another aspect of the great vocation of life, for with such a realization we could never again think or act as we have been thinking and acting in the past. We should be facing a law that would give a new dignity to life, that would fill us with an infinite compassion -- and what is the power of compassion but nature's assertion of the unity of all life? -- and that would give us the patience and the equanimity that must always follow a recognition of absolute and unswerving justice. Then we should see plainly that we are indeed masters of our fate, that there is no power in nature to make us afraid, that the arbiters of fate and fortune are ourselves.

It was once said by a master of Theosophy that those who live the life shall know of the doctrine. None others. Only the mind attuned to the great law of nature can know its secrets or hear its voice. If our lives are eternal, then let us live as immortal beings, putting away from ourselves all those things that are transient, allowing no thought to enter the mind unless it can give the password of truth and purity. If all human beings are sparks from the same spiritual sun then let us see to it that we do not separate ourselves from others by selfish thoughts and deeds, for that would be to defy the law and to suffer. If there is eternal justice under an eternal rule of order, of regularity, of progress, of purpose, then let us see to it that we do not outrage that law by fear. And as we clarify our minds by thinking eternal thoughts so we shall hear ever more and more clearly the true vocation of life.

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(November 1960)
[Article number (3) in this Department]

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