THEOSOPHICAL HOME STUDY COURSE
Topic No. 1.
THE DOCTRINE OF REINCARNATION.
It is encouraging to students of Theosophy to realize that
there is hardly any- one in the Western world who has not heard
something of the doctrine of Reincarnation. It is equally heartening
to know that there is a growing number of people who have given
serious consideration to the idea, and have come to view it as
the only plausible explanation for the events of life. However,
along with this ready acceptance of the general idea, many serious
misconceptions and misapplications have crept in. Too few individuals
have had the opportunity to form for themselves a clear understanding
of the basic postulates of this very ancient and far reaching
law --- of what aspect of us it is that does the actual reincarnating
--- what part of us dies and is gone --- how this law of cyclic
return actually operates throughout the whole of life --- and
how it affects us in our daily living.
Madame H.P.Blavatsky, co-founder of the present Theosophical
Movement, which was established in New York in 1875, held Reincarnation
to be one of the "lost keys" of Christianity since
it had been a part of the early teaching. One of the many controversies
within the Christian community was over the anathema pronounced
by the Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D. against the doctrine
of the pre-existence of the soul --- hence against reincarnation.
It has been claimed that this act ushered in the downfall of
European culture and the beginning of the Dark Age.
On the positive side of the picture, H.P.B. gave such importance
to this prin- ciple that She stated that it is through the reviving
of the true teaching concerning this tenet, together with its
twin doctrine, Karma, that the tide of selfishness and misery
so prevalent in the world today will be abated. She named them
the doctrines of hope and responsibility.
WHAT PART OF OUR NATURE DOES REINCARNATE?
Due to the predominance of materialistic thinking in our schools,
and even in our churches, for the past one hundred years, too
many of us have identified with the body. We have easily taken
it for granted that we are actually these physical forms,
and that if reincarnation is a fact, then it is this personality
(persona, meaning mask) that will come back in a new incarnation.
Yet, when we think about it, we know that we cannot be
these bodies. They are the instruments that the real "WE"
uses during waking life. They are born and they die, and they
are finally re-cycled back into the reservoir of earthly matter,
to be used again by us or by some other entity.
And we must realize as well that we are not the ideas we hold
nor the feelings we experience at any particular time, for they
too are subject to change, change that we can "stand aside"
and evaluate. We, the consciousness that moves from life to life,
from experience to experience, must be something else, something
superior that has and uses these bodies, brains,
feelings, etc., but is always something "other than,"
something quite different from these vehicles or instruments.
Mr. Crosbie, the founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists
has stated: (Universal Theosophy, p. 24.)
Theosophy presents a larger view in showing...that there is
in man a permanency which is the identity throughout all kinds
of embodiments. There has been no change in our identity from
childhood up to the present day. The body has changed; the surroundings
have changed; but the identity remains the same and will not
change from now on through all changes of body or mind or circumstance.
That in us which is itself unchanging is the only real.
The real "I" or "Ego" is that which survives
death, living in and through countless embodiments or personalities,
all different but all important to its spiritual evolution. It
is the continuing identity, the self-consciousness that persists
and carries forward from life to life the essence of the experience
gained. It is the fruition of these many lifetimes of experience
that shows forth in talent, genius and character in general.
On the other hand it is the persistent belief that we are nothing
but the personality that shuts us off from that power, wisdom
and inspiration. The personality is what we inherit through Karma
from ourselves. The character is what we do or don't do with
WHAT, THEN, IS OUR WHOLE BEING?
Theosophy answers many of our perplexities as well as those
of Psychology and Religion by explaining that during incarnation
man is two-fold in nature, consisting of a higher Self which
is immortal and a lower self or personality which is the temporary
vehicle or instrument for the former, but which is, like all
forms, subject to death and disintegration.
The Higher Self is a trinity consisting of Spirit, Spiritual
Soul and Mind (Atma, Buddhi, Manas in Sanskrit). This three-fold
entity is the real man which incarnates from life to
life for the ever-widening unfoldment of its infinite knowledge
and powers. Atma is the indefinable and impersonal source of
all; no personal, finite "God," but a universal Divine
Presence. It is boundless, eternal and omnipotent --- the limitless
power to grow, to know and to become --- and each one of us is
Buddhi, according to Mr. Judge is "the highest power
of intellection, that which discerns and judges." It is
what we have been able to express of Universal Mind. It is our
acquired perception of Divinity, of Divine Intelligence. Mind
is a vehicle or instrument consisting of thought, will, feeling,
memory and imagination, and it can be in the service of our Buddhic
or higher nature or it can be the slave of our Kamic or lower
The lower or transitory "self" is a quaternary consisting
of the body, Astral body, Life Principle and the Principle of
Passions and Desires. In Sanskrit these four are named Rupa,
Linga Sarira, Prana and Kama. The body is a material envelope
made up of the matter of this plane. The Linga Sarira or Astral
Body is an electric and magnetic pattern body whose complex magnetic
fields hold the constantly chang- ing physical molecules in their
appropriate functions. It both precedes and survives the physical,
is the actual vehicle which contains the senses, and is in fact
the true physical body. Astral matter is physical matter of a
Prana is life energy, and according to the Ocean of Theosophy,
It is a universally pervasive principle. It is the ocean in
which the earth floats; it permeates the globe and every being
and object on it. It works unceasingly on and around us, pulsating
against and through us forever. When we occupy a body we merely
use a more specialized instrument than any other for dealing
with both Prana and Jiva.
Jiva is life in its universal aspect. Prana is the individualized
aspect that we are able to harness and use to keep us "alive"
Kama is the principle with which we are probably the most
familiar. It is the principle of passions and desires and has
been called the balance principle as it stands in the
center of the seven. Mr. Crosbie states that, "It is also
the principle which is the most developed and in use among men
in general, and forms the basis for their actions, and here again
it is the `balance' from which the ways go up or down."
On the subject of the Lower Self, Mr. Judge states in the
Ocean of Theosophy, p.32:
These four lower material constituents are transitory and
subject to disintegration in themselves as well as to separation
from each other. When the hour arrives for their separation to
begin, the combination can no longer be kept up, the physical
body dies, the atoms of which each of the four is composed begin
to separate from each other, and the whole collection being disjointed
is no longer fit for use as an instrument for the real man. This
is what is called "death" among us mortals, but is
not death for the real man because he is deathless, persistent,
Let us recapitulate.... The Real Man is the trinity
of Atma-Buddhi-Manas, or Spirit and Mind, and he uses
certain agents and instruments to get in touch with nature in
order to know himself. These instruments and agents are found
in the lower Four --- or the Quaternary --- each principle in
which category is of itself an instrument for the particular
experience belonging to its own field, the body being the lowest,
least important, and the most transitory of the whole series.
(Ocean p. 34)
WHY DO WE HAVE TO REINCARNATE?
Reincarnation is a most beneficent process. It gives man the
time and the opportunity to bring to fruition all the aspirations
that lie unfulfilled in his inner nature. It provides new starts
with new bodies, brains and circumstances. It allows for periods
of much needed rest and assimilation for the soul between incarnations.
And it offers new vehicles and environments wherein man may make
amends for acts in the past that he would like to rectify. And
it is through reincarnation that man can extend help to the many
conscious "lives" that make up Great Nature and that
depend upon him for their future evolution.
To further understand this interdependence and the need for
reincarnation, which is the cyclic renewing of association with
all of Nature, it is important to make clear in our minds the
fact that man in his inmost nature is one with Deity, the Divine
Presence that is at the root of all Life. This is why Theosophy
can make the statement that "Universal Brotherhood is a
fact in Nature."
Certainly few of us would like to be trapped in the same body
with the same brain, perceptions and feelings for all time. Life
around us teaches that as we progress we build new and better
buildings, instruments, societies, etc., and turn in the old
ones to be re-cycled. It is the same with these personalities
that we use to contact life on the various planes of Nature.
With every new life we have the opportunity of creating better
and better instruments giving us a broader range of perception
and greater effectiveness. And, of course, this can give a higher
impulse to those "lives" that make up those instruments.
With this universal perspective we can see that the only truly
practical way to live is to make all our thoughts and acts as
beneficial and helpful as possible.
WHAT CONSTITUTES PROGRESS THROUGH REINCARNATION?
Man is essentially a perceiver. At the root of his being he
is Spirit, or Atma --- the unlimited power to perceive,
to learn and to grow. This power is infinite, eternal and omnipotent.
It is the Real Self of every Human Being, giving the unlimited
horizon for knowledge and understanding. He is also Buddhi,
the summation or distillation of all past experience, which arms
him with a panoramic perspective, thus enabling him (when he
listens to it) to discern, to judge, and to
recognize truth. Buddhi is the source of intuition,
inspiration and conscience. And he is also Manas, or
Mind, the instrument he uses for operating on this plane ---
mind being the real plane of action. These are the three aspects
of the Perceiver, the Reincarnating Ego, and it is within this
trinity that all true and lasting progress is recorded. And true
progress consists of the ability to translate the wisdom of that
Inner Self into action on the physical plane
In Her article "Genius" (H.P.B. pamphlet Spiritual
Evolution) H.P.Blavatsky states:
No Ego differs from another Ego, in its primordial or original
essence and nature. That which makes one mortal a great man and
of another a vulgar, silly person is, as said, the quality and
make-up of the physical shell or casing, and the adequacy or
inadequacy of brain and body to transmit and give expression
to the light of the real, the Inner man; and this aptness
or inaptness is, in its turn, the result of Karma.
In the Answers to Questions on the Ocean of Theosophy,
Mr. Crosbie explains further:
The Perceiver has the power to perceive and to increase his
range of perceptions. His power to perceive is not changed by
reason of any perceptions gained; he can always continue to increase
his field of perceptions. As his perceptions increase in range,
he evolves a better instrument through which to give and receive
impressions. An ever increasing intelligence and a betterment
of form constitute the evolution.
We all have experienced the feeling that we know more than
we are able to express, that we have the ability to do better
than we are doing, that there is a potential within that is always
just under the surface. This is not merely wishful thinking.
There is a great truth in this feeling. It is the teaching of
Theosophy that all past experience and knowledge lie locked up
inside, yet within the reach of the personal man, and that it
can be uncovered and made available through the right kind of
effort. Real progress consists of regaining the use of that knowledge
by training, , perfecting or tuning the instruments of the lower
self so that they will reflect or transmit the wisdom of the
Inner Ego. A step in the right direction is to apply the best
we know to every task we try, no matter how small. But there
is much more to it than just this.
To create that instrument --- even in this life --- it is
necessary to adopt and establish a universally true
basis for our thinking and acting. Correct and effective thinking
has to be based upon fundamental ideas that are true at all times,
true in all circumstances and never contradictory to each other.
If the basis for our thinking is not true with the laws of life,
all our actions will be stamped with the same errors. What is
needed is a knowledge of those universal principles that will
lead to an understanding of man's whole nature, the
eternal and immutable laws of life in which man finds himself,
and his purpose and destiny in the universe. The Universal Law
of Reincarnation, applying to everything in manifestation, is
one of those fundamental laws that must form a part of the base
for our thinking and perceptions.
WHY DON'T WE HAVE THE USE OF ALL THIS INNER WISDOM?
For most, this storehouse of knowledge and power remains almost
entirely beyond our reach because of the fact that we persist
in identifying with the body and the brain. We have been raised
to think that physical existence is all there is to life, that
Soul and Spirit are something we think about when death is near,
but they have no practical application in daily life.
It is not too difficult to see that the vast majority of our
thinking is personal, somewhat selfish and having to do with
things of a physical nature. It follows that this practice throughout
our lives has trained the brain to respond only to impressions
and messages of this character. Mr. Crosbie states, "The
barrier for every man is not in the memory, but in the false
ideas of life according to which he acts." However, with
some determination and the help of the Great Teachers these inhibiting
ideas that we have been hanging on to can be replaced by those
that are more in sympathy with the world of our Inner Being.
The first and most important step that has to be taken, a
step without which all the rest is impossible, is to convince
ourselves that we are not the body, the brain, the personality,
but that we are the Reincarnating Ego, Atma, Buddhi and Manas,
the continuing identity that uses the various personalities for
experience and learning. We must, with regular thought and study,
awaken the inner memory of our true nature, that nature that
is fundamentally impersonal, unselfish and compassionate in nature.
Once we understand that in the long run the unselfish life is
the only practical life, our thoughts and actions will
be of that nature and our brains will become tuned to the dictates
of the Soul and will be open to inspiration from the Higher Self.
CAN WE REMEMBER OUR PAST LIVES?
The answer to this question has to be both "yes"
and "no" if we consider man in his dual nature, a Reincarnating
Ego and his personal and transitory vehicle. The question should
be restated to read: can this present personality and brain recall
the activities and thoughts of the personality that was the seat
of a former incarnation, and if not, is there another aspect
of memory that can bridge the gap between this and another incarnation?
In speaking of the physical or personal memory, H.P.B. presents
a very compelling argument against the possibility of our being
able to remember the events of our past life or lives. She states
in the Key to Theosophy, p.127:
Since these "principles" which we call physical...are
disintegrated after death with their constituent elements, memory
along with its brain, this vanished memory of a vanished personality,
can neither remember nor record anything in the subsequent reincarnation
of the Ego. Reincarnation means that this Ego will be furnished
with a new body, a new brain, and a new
memory. Therefore it would be...absurd to expect this memory
to remember that which it has never recorded.
On the other hand we learn that the memory of experiences
of all past lives is retained in man's inner nature, and that
those Masters and Adepts who have gained control over their lower
natures have reached a point in their Spiritual development
where such memory is an open book to them at any time. H.P.B.
goes on to say, "...the Spiritual Ego can act only when
the personal ego is paralyzed. The Spiritual `I' in man is omniscient
and has every knowledge innate in it; while the personal self
is the creature of its environment and the slave of the physical
memory." What has to be paralyzed is not the personal instrument,
(we could not learn without it) but the personal and selfish
bases on which it operates.
Yet the memories of the events of past lives are there nevertheless,
locked up in our Soul nature. And the essence of these
activities, that which is assimilated by the Soul at death, comes
through in the present life in various ways --- through our intuitions
and feelings for example. Who has not had the experience of "knowing"
someone he or she has never met before, or being familiar with
a place never before visited in this life? And what is talent,
or even genius, but the precipitation into one's present life
of lessons or skills learned in the past? One's attraction to
a particular family on incarnation or later to a particular business
partner, and even one's search for the truth and his ultimate
association with other students of Theosophy --- all these attractions
are but infiltrations from the Soul nature of memories of ancient
bonds established in other lives.
On every hand we are hearing of cases of memory of past lives.
It is possible that some of these are true. The Teachers indicate
that it is possible in exceptional cases under exceptional circumstances,
but these are rare and demand a deeper explanation. Many, on
the other hand, may be random readings of any one of the millions
of memory packets (of other individual's lives) resident in the
Astral Light, the memory bank of the Earth itself. And some,
of course, are pure fraud for the sake of profit.
There are, however, hundreds of genuine cases of clear memory
of a past life. These have been checked and recorded in several
volumes by Dr. Ian Stevenson. Many of them are of a different
nature needing a further explanation. These are cases of children
who have died at an early age and who have come back into incarnation
relatively quickly making their memories easy to check. The important
difference is, according to Theosophy, in these cases the Astral
Body was not disintegrated, was used again in the new birth,
and consequently retained the memory of the few years spent in
the former body.
DO WE INCARNATE WITH LOVED ONES?
The doctrine of Reincarnation teaches us that everything
reincarnates. It is a universal law, and consequently it must
include our associations and our relationships. As a result of
causes mutually produced, as well as situations left unresolved,
we come back in each new life in the company of those with whom
we lived and worked in the past. This includes those we loved
and who loved us as well as those with whom our associations
in the past left much to be desired, leaving situations that
must be worked out and resolved. It would be pleasant to have
only loved ones around us in any lifetime, but justice demands
that we cannot and should not walk away from discordant situations
--- and reincarnation affords us the opportunity of transmuting
unfriendliness and discord in the past into harmony and cooperation
in the present.
In his article, "Friends or Enemies in the Future,"
Mr. Judge writes:
Our future friends or enemies, then, are those who are with
us and to be with us in the present. If they are those who now
seem inimical, we make a grave mistake and only put off the day
of reconciliation three more lives if we allow ourselves today
to be deficient in charity for them....Could we but glance ahead
to next life, we would see these for whom we now have but scant
charity crossing the plain of that life with ourselves and ever
in our way, always hiding the light from us. But change our present
attitude, and that new life to come would show these bores and
partial enemies and obstructors helping us, aiding our every
This is probably why St. Paul reminds us of Jesus' admonition
to "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," (Eph.
WHAT HAPPENS BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH?
Perhaps the first thing to bear in mind is that even at death
and through the after death states the consciousness is never
broken. The Ego is the Perceiver and never ceases to perceive
whether on one plane or on another. Second, it is important to
understand that at death we do not go any "place" like
Heaven or Hell, but merely change our "state" of consciousness.
But this does not happen all at once. At the time of death the
Ego has work to do extracting and retaining the significance
of the life just ending. Theosophy teaches that there are several
"deaths" as each sheath or vehicle gives up its store
Mr. Judge has this to say about the process: (Ocean,
When the frame is cold and eyes closed, all the forces of
the body and mind rush through the brain, and by a series of
pictures the whole life just ended is imprinted indelibly on
the inner man not only in a general outline but down to the smallest
detail of even the most minute and fleeting impression. At this
moment, though every indication leads the physician to pronounce
for death and though to all intents and purposes the person is
dead to this life, the real man is busy in the brain, and not
until this work there is ended is the person gone.
In another part of this Series the after death states will
be gone into in detail, but for the time being we can say that
the Ego is doing what the tree does in winter. The leaves fall
and the flowers die, but the essence of that year's growth is
drawn back and is preserved in the seed. This is a period when
the Ego reviews the life last lived and prepares the seed for
the life to come. It is a period that is necessary for the Soul,
necessary for its rest and for its understanding of the whole
pilgrimage and process.
Mr. Judge writes of what happens when the time has come for
the Ego to enter again into incarnation: (Ocean, p.116)
The whole period allotted by the soul's forces being ended
in devachan [one of the after death states], the magnetic
threads which bind it to earth begin to assert their power. The
Self wakes from the dream, it is born swiftly off to a new body,
and then, just before birth, it sees for a moment all the causes
that led it to devachan and back to the life it is about
to begin, and knowing it to be all just, to be the result of
its own past life, it repines not but takes up the cross again
--- and another soul has come back to earth.
QUESTIONS ON TOPIC NO.1
1. Some people think that reincarnation is unjust because
we suffer for wrongs committed by some other person in another
life. What do you think about this?
2. Can we, and do we choose our next incarnation? Please explain
your answer in a little detail.
3. Does reincarnation apply to things like ideas and beliefs?
How about races, civilizations or worlds? Give some reasons.
4. Will we incarnate into the same sex, race, color, nation?
Explain why you think as you do.
5. You may have heard that man can incarnate into animal or
insect forms because of certain actions. Is this possible or
6. Throughout the Secret Doctrine H.P.Blavatsky speaks
of the importance of using correspondence and analogy in the
study of occult philosophy. With the cycle of reincarnation in
mind can you see any correspondences or analogies in Nature or
in human nature? Please list whatever you can think of.
7. From what you have learned of the processes of reincarnation
would you say that the reincarnation of Great Teachers and Saviors
of history is any different from that of the average person?
Explain your answer.
8. With incarnation continuing and the population continuing
to grow, will the Earth be able to support humanity? Explain.
9. Why has reincarnation been called "one of the lost
keys of Christianity" and why did Mr. Judge say that reincarnation
and Karma are the "very key-notes of the higher evolution
of man?" Why is the knowledge of reincarnation so important
to this age?
One of the basic books that has been studied year after year
in the Study Class is The Ocean of Theosophy by
Wm. Q. Judge. And it is significant that in presenting this text
he considered the subject of Reincarnation important and basic
enough to devote three chapters to the doctrine. If you wish
additional reading on the subject we feel sure you will find
this small but fruitful book will be of great help.
Another text that offers many thought-provoking as well as
practical applications of this and other tenets of the Philosophy
is The Key to Theosophy by H.P.Blavatsky. Interesting
and practical applications of the doctrines that are not found
anywhere else in the Teachings.
And if in your study, you come up with a lot of questions
that need answering, we suggest that you go to Answers to
Questions on the Ocean of Theosophy by Robert Crosbie. It
answers many of the questions that come up in the Study class.