THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 10, August, 1931
(Pages 463-467; Size: 16K)
(Number 6 of a 10-part series)




NEARLY all men will admit the logical justice of reincarnation as a means of profiting by experience otherwise useless; of developing inner talent known to exist but prevented from fructification in the sterile soil of commercialized living. But not all will admit that reincarnation as presented by Theosophy adequately fills that role. To many, profit by experience depends upon conscious detailed memory of that experience; and so to them an oblivious reincarnation -- as all reincarnations, save those of Adepts, are -- presents a meaningless aspect. That this is wholly unjustified may be shown very concisely. The more important parts of our memorial experience, those which govern daily habit, pass from the surface of the mind to unseen depths where they are not consciously present to the mind at all. But it is only after they are thus buried that they become truly useful. This fact may be traced through the human constitution by a series of steps illustrated by practical examples.

For instance, turning to the soldier, we find that every move of a maneuver has to be learned by him consciously, and at first is dependent upon precision of recollection. But at some undefined stage the conscious effort disappears and becomes automatic; an old soldier will be seen to obey the most complex orders without a thought, without even having recollected hearing them; talking animatedly, perhaps, from the side of his mouth to his comrade in the ranks about something which engrosses his whole intelligence. And it is not until this stage that he becomes infallible and fully efficient in his obedience. Exhausted soldiers have been known to march sound asleep for miles, obeying every order without difficulty, and collapsing only when the column stopped.

Going further, of course, we have the condition of the expert musician; but perhaps the most striking of all is that of a trained worker with figures. Given a sum such as 42 multiplied by 56, he does not say to himself "six times two is twelve, six times four is twenty-four," etc. He writes down the numbers to be multiplied, looks at the integers, and writes down from right to left, "two, five, two," etc., without any conscious effort whatever. Moreover, if he tried to think out the multiplication, he falters, stumbles, and sometimes finds himself quite nonplussed. Some carry this to such a degree that operations in complex higher mathematics can be carried out in the same way; and so on with every sort of mental effort which is carried out long and intensely enough.

Going to the moral field, we have examples of men originally without virtue, who have been fortunate enough to meet quick and hard Karma as the result of their iniquities; they have heeded, and deliberately, often with much difficulty, set themselves to remember their lessons in time of stress, and to act consciously in the proper direction. After a time the learning is forgotten, but the habit of rectitude remains. And the more the specific lessons are forgotten, the more dependable becomes the habit, the more unassailable the character. So with any fault which one cognizes, and sets his will to overcome. Thus character, which is habit, can be traced from its inception in experience, followed by memory, from the lowest physical principles to the highest spiritual.

The immense range and depth of thought, feeling, and consequent memory is beginning to be suspected by science. Dr. Albrecht Peiper, of the University of Greifswald, believes that the apparent inertness of the newborn baby is not due to lack of receptivity; but that it feels pain, etc., and is affected by it during its future life, even though at the time it has not learned the physical expression of it. He thus admits the priority of mind to the development of the bodily faculties, contradicting the doctrines of materialism, which state that mind is developed by the organs.(1) Dr. J. A. Hadfield, of London University, suggests that a child holds the memory of a scene in his mind until he is able to put it into words; and he knows of such cases reaching back to birth.(2) Dr. Edmond Jacobson, of the University of Chicago, shows that we "think with our bodies;" that in every shade of feeling there is a neuro-muscular discharge.(3) Must not there be, then, an action of all our principles for every thought and feeling, memories remaining in the principles to which they are affiliate, and merely leaving a track through other principles as they pass to their own place of permanent record?

As science knows with regard to the body, the material is constantly changing; Theosophy teaches that it changes more slowly with regard to the emotional and mental-emotional principles; it nevertheless changes there also -- completely before rebirth. What then is the carrier of those buried memories, which become habit, which become character, which become the physical-mental-spiritual makeup of the man reborn? Moreover, since some people choose to learn their lessons upside down and backwards, becoming steadily worse as a result of the same experiences that make others good, where is any necessity or certainty of progress from life to life? In point of cold fact, there is, above the lower kingdoms, no such necessity or certainty.

Yet in all men there is an Egoic influence, potent in some, operative to check the descent toward absolute evil in the very worst, and which is independent of the habits of physical life. Its operation may be partially sketched.

Theosophy teaches that the permanent Self, Atma-Buddhi-Manas, the Reincarnating Ego, sees twice in each life-cycle from a sort of cosmic divide. At death, the waters of the past life flow away to the rear, the whole of their currents seen in a flashing panorama. Turning slowly to the fore through the succeeding states, at birth there is a glimpse of the swirls, and pools of the floods of futurity; instantaneous but all-comprehensive. It is also said that, from the vantage-point of these views, there is an Egoic effort or influence tending to cause the man in his future life to profit even by those experiences from which as a person he had reaped nothing good; this influence is an integral part of whatever high aspiration he is born with. Unfortunately with most men it is dwarfed to correspond with the slight influence derived from sleep; a faint reminiscence of "things far-off and long ago," soon obliterated by the turmoil of greed and matter. Thus, all abiding lessons must be learned in the waking flesh; and if the flesh is let become all bad, and such tendencies are carried forward to next life, the Egoic flashes can do little.

Now in the Theosophic literature a very strange aspect of these glimpses appears, which seems not often to be noted. The Ocean of Theosophy and Key to Theosophy, for instance, state that at the moment of death the entire events of the past life are marshaled before the Ego. The Ocean further states that this occurs when the person is proclaimed dead, and indicates that it takes place in the brain, which is the last organ to die. Elsewhere it is said that the "dying brain" dislodges memory with a supreme effort, between the last heart-beat and the loss of the last spark of animal heat from the brain. And then we are told in a Mahatmic Letter that the Ego lives over its past life in detail at the moment of entry into Devachan, which occurs only after a sojourn -- sometimes prolonged into decades -- in the Kamaloka state!

Now to complete a triad of perplexities, the verifiable experience of mankind gives us something else still; the fact that physical disintegration need not even set in, in order for a man in the shadow of death to have an instantaneous review of past life. Men falling from high buildings have had it and remembered it on surviving; men unconscious from half-drowning, but still breathing have had it; men who only thought themselves drowning have had it. The latest account is that of a gentleman who fell off a dock at the seaport of Los Angeles; upon his account being doubted, he invited the skeptics to try it themselves if they thought him lying!

What is the answer? It is as simple as it is interesting and important. What kind of memories were experienced? The recollections of those who have escaped death seem to present simply a panorama of physical pictures without moral lessons or issue; the pictures of the dying present moral concatenations as well as physical events; and at the time of the entry to Devachan, while all is seen, only those experiences tinged with a spiritual aroma remain in the continued recollection of the Ego. Thus it appears that at each disintegration of consciousness there is an absorption or perception by the Ego of the experiences embedded in the departing principle or principles. The glimpse by a man in full strength seems to result from the anticipation of death which separates him from physical perception; it signalizes the separation of the physical body from its environment. Real death separates the astral body in turn from the physical encasement which is its environment; and separation of the Ego from the astral self, which signalizes the end of Kama Loka, ushers in Devachan. Roughly, then, it appears that at the imminence of death physical pictures are seen and recorded by the Ego; at actual death physical-emotional-mental-moral pictures; and at astral death physical-emotional-mental-spiritual visions. Each time the totality is recorded, to reappear as a totality only as the end of the evolutionary cycle at the threshold of Nirvana by the inner light of "samma-sambuddh." But only those visions are retained as raw material for the various states of consciousness which are affiliated with the development of the corresponding vehicles. Kamaloka results from the retention of painful and lustful memories; Devachan from the opposite, each working through appropriate vehicles. Only the vast root of the man's being, that which is above all states, retains the totality throughout eternity; the partial recollections, assimilated and become automatic in the various surviving principles, form the basis of the future character of the reborn man.

If retrovision be thus subdivided -- and there may be other subdivisions -- then must not also the ante-natal previsions be likewise subdivided? If successive complete visions signalize the doffing of successive sheaths of consciousness, must not successive complete visions of the future signalize the putting on of successive sheaths in reverse order? And should not this, for the intuitive, indicate something of the relation between the Ego and the direction of time?

Obviously the reason why a man who does not die has only physical memories of his vision is because those are all his brain can transmit. It would be most interesting to compare the exact recollections of such men with their characters --if that were possible. Some might have more of the moral tinge than others. Or to put it in another way -- each type of vision might mean the identical events seen through a different vehicle as instrument; so to say from points of view of varying spirituality. In cases where death is not sudden, there is no shock of expectation, and so no sudden panorama while physically whole. It is also a fact that many men meet imminent death without any such flash. The mental and spiritual idiosyncrasies behind this are obscure; but it is known that some men who have seen death more than once but a split-second away, without any visions other than a clear, calm perception of the whole situation of the moment, lived habitually reconciled to, and content with death whenever it might come.

We have seen in reference to the visions of the liberated Ego at the end of the Manvantara, that Nature here as everywhere follows out her eternal reproductions. But as the death-visions and the life-visions find replica there on a vast scale, so they find it on a smaller scale in sleep. The man who is engrossed in the activities of the day will, when silence and darkness cut him off from physical perception at night, tend to pass the day in review; and his dreams tend to deal with the events of that day. What is not so generally known is that prevision of the coming day -- many days -- takes place during the emergence of the Ego from sleep. A wild statement -- an overworked analogy? Anything but that. The fact has been discovered by men not Theosophists and contemptuous of everything "occult"; it has been verified by others; and to know it requires but a comparatively simple psychological trick and capacity which can be developed. Explain it? Not so; verily, men by taking thought of what little of the future they can now see, and acting according to that from self-interest, toss sufficiently into confusion their own fates and those of others.

There is only one true way in which to avail oneself of the Ego's perception of futurity. The prevision and the retrovision, whether in sleep, death, or Nirvana, depend upon the various "principles" becoming "lined up" with the Egoic vision, as the lenses of a telescope must be aligned. We all know, or should know, how to align our "principles" or vehicles with the Egoic nature. That nature is essentially divine and wholly altruist; it is the "Heavenly Man" who has need of naught and thought for nothing save the good of all. Who adopts the corresponding modulus of life and labors ever by that, nothing else, will come to that state where he will not be confined to momentary and unassimilable participations in Egoic wisdom, whether in sleep, or death, or Pralaya.

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(1) The Week's Science, May 5, 1930.
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(2) Science, August 3, 1928.
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(3) N.Y. Times, February 14, 1930.
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