THEOSOPHY, Vol. 44, No. 3, January, 1956
(Pages 119-123; Size: 15K)


Of all the gifts the gods can give,
Not to be born is best of all!


THE mysteries of Life and Death have been fathomed but by the great master-minds of antiquity. If, however, the sages have preserved them in secrecy and silence through long ages, it is because these problems formed part of the sacred mysteries, and again, because they must have remained incomprehensible to the vast majority of men then, as they do now. Life is at best a heartless play, a stormy sea to cross, and a heavy burden often too difficult to bear. The greatest philosophers have tried in vain to fathom and find out its raison d'étre, and have all failed except the Eastern sages, who had the key to it.

This is the Kali Yuga, the black age, which reigns now supreme in India, and seems to coincide with that of the Western age. It is an age "black with horrors." In the esoteric philosophy of Northern Buddhism our Earth (Myalba), is called Hell for those who reincarnate into it for punishment. The same philosophy teaches the doctrine of the 12 great Causes of Misery (Nidanas) which bring the universes and each being periodically back into life. The 12 Nidanas are said to belong to the theory of the stream of catenated law which produced merit and demerit, and finally brings Karma into full sway. It is based on the great truth that reincarnation is to be dreaded, as existence in this world only entails upon man suffering, misery, and pain; Death itself being unable to deliver man from it, since death is merely the door through which he passes to another life on earth after a little rest on its threshold -- Devachan.

A conviction has been entertained by the hermetic philosophers of all periods that, at the beginning, and before the Fall, mankind communed freely with the now unseen universes. But since that time matter has become the formidable barrier between us and the world of spirits. The first races of men were spiritual, created with all the faculties of the Deity, and powers far transcending those of the angelic host, for they were the direct emanations of the Heavenly Man. Present humanity is several degrees removed from even the earthly "Adam," who was the microcosm, or "the little world." Only when every particle of matter, even the most sublimated, has been cast off from the last shape that forms the ultimate link of that chain of double evolution -- which, throughout millions of ages and successive transformations, has pushed the entity onward; and when it shall find itself reclothed in that primordial essence, identical with that of its Creator, then this once impalpable organic atom will have run its race, and the sons of God will once more "shout for joy" at the return of the pilgrim.

There would be no life possible without Death, nor regeneration and reconstruction without destruction. The Bhagavata speaks of a kind of destruction called Nitya Pralaya or constant dissolution, and explains it as the change which takes place imperceptibly in everything in this universe from the globe down to the atom -- without cessation. It is growth and decay -- life and death. "What, in truth," exclaims the poet, "is earth but one immense ruin, or heap of ruins, a land of death and desolation, a desert strewn with the fragments of an extinct past? If we contemplate external nature we find in its stupendous mountain chains, its gigantic volcanic peaks, shooting up aloof into the sky -- its abrupt masses of scarped rock and table-lands, its scattered, solitary, gigantic stones, far from their parent mountains; its tremendous clefts, and chasms, and valleys, the evidence and traces of immense convulsions in past ages. The whole earth appears a vast assemblage of sublime ruins. When we consult more closely the materials which form these ruins, we find with astonishment that they too are composed of other ruins; we find everywhere the marks of an extinct world. A gigantic vegetation of consummate beauty in its forms; broken fragments, too, of a creation of living creatures, colossal in size, wonderful in structure, and awful in power, surround us everywhere. The dead faces of extinct organizations look out on us from stone on every side with their sad, eternal beauty; and, as every fresh sun dawns upon the world of ruins, a mournful plaint is wailed forth from all past creations to greet his rising, which recalls to them their own former being!"

Yet life can arise only out of death. Plants would perish in eternal sunlight, and so would man, who would become an automaton without the exercise of his free will and aspirations after the sunlight, which would lose its being and value for him had he nothing but light. Good is infinite and eternal only in the eternally concealed from us, and this is why we imagine it eternal. On the manifested planes, one equilibrates the other -- good and evil, life and death. Man was intended from the first to be a being of both a progressive and retrogressive nature. Beginning at the apex of the divine cycle, he gradually began receding from the center of light, acquiring at every new and lower sphere of being a more solid form and losing a portion of his divine faculties. Even on this earth of material degradation -- in which the divine spark (Soul, a corruscation of the Spirit), was to begin its physical progression in a series of imprisonments from a stone up to a man's body -- if he but exercise his WILL and call his deity to his help, man can transcend the powers of the angel. But let us look at man himself as he appears today, long posterior to his "Fall." Is "life" to be found in his dwelling? From the cradle to the cemetery where his body is laid upon the pyre, is not his course one long cry of suffering, and sorrow, and terror -- one long reminiscence and foretaste not of divine life but of death?

"Oh tragic man! whence all this death in thy life? Is it because an inward moral death reigns throughout all, that it must have this outward manifestation also? The festivity of man is the signal of death to the humbler creatures of the earth: he rejoices, or weds, and they die as the materials of his joy, victims immolated to his household gods. Other creatures, on whose flesh he perhaps does not feed, he harasses to death by more protracted and painful means. The horse, that in his youth bore him in the day of battle or the more pompous ceremonial, is, when age advances, and his fire abates, consigned to the merciless Vaishya (trader). The dog, the honest friend of man and the hieroglyph of domestic life -- what becomes of him? Into what by-way of solitude, what hole and corner does he creep, led by a mournful instinct of nature to conceal the agony of yielding up the breath? How many tragedies of animal life daily take place not far from the dwelling of man he knows not of, or knowing, lays it not to heart, or laughs to scorn of sympathy for animal suffering!"

To the superficial observer, nature is no better than an immense slaughter house wherein butchers become victims, and victims executioners in their turn. But this is true only so far as regards external physical nature. The Occultists who regard physical nature as a bundle of the most varied illusions on the plane of deceptive perceptions; who recognize in every pain and suffering but the necessary pangs of incessant procreation, a series of stages toward an ever-growing perfectibility, which is visible in the silent influence of never-erring Karma, or abstract nature -- take a quite different view. Their motto is: "Woe to those who live without suffering. Stagnation and decay is the future of all that vegetates without a change." And how can there be any change for the better without proportionate suffering during the preceding stage? Is it not those, who have learnt the deceptive values of earthly hopes and the illusive allurements of external nature, who are destined to solve the great problems of life, pain, and death?

Disease haunts man from his birth. Go into the great city: in the street there passes you the funeral procession with its lugubrious flowers, its mournful rolling undulates. "In every house there is a cry of grief -- an old man expiring; a child struggling; a strong man agonized; a woman weeping. And, as if the terrible avenger Yama had not imposed on humanity a sufficient measure of suffering and death, man goes forth himself in gold and plumes and gay caparisons -- to crush out the limbs, and dash out the brains, and pierce the heart and bowels of his fellowmen. And on the battlefield are left horrible sights, terrible cries, and fearful smells of death." This is the fruit of the Kali Yuga erring mortals have brought upon themselves. Men's souls are dead when they are born: this life is an autopsy, and death is triumphant -- death, physical and moral. "The dead bring forth the dead; the dead bear the dead to the funeral pyre; the dead walk about the streets and greet each other, and bargain and buy and sell, and marry, and build -- and know not all the time that they are but ghosts and phantasms!"

The tiger and the donkey, the hawk and the dove, are each one as pure and as innocent as the other, because irresponsible. Each follows its instinct. Not so with man. In the Hindu scriptures, a soul when it quits its mortal frame, repairs to its abode in the lower regions (Kamaloka or Hades). Once there, the Recorder, or Karmic messenger reads out of his account from the Great Register, where during the life of the human being every deed and thought are indelibly impressed, and, according to the sentence pronounced, the "soul" either ascends to the abode of the Pitris (Devachan), descends to a "hell" (Kamaloka), or is reborn on earth in another human form. The student of esoteric philosophy will easily recognize the bearings of the allegories.

No deed, not even a sinful thought, will go unpunished, the latter even more severely than the former, as a thought is far more potential in creating evil results than even a deed. But crimes and sins committed on a plane of objectivity and in a world of matter, cannot receive punishment in a world of pure subjectivity. We believe in no hell or paradise as localities, in no objective hell-fires that never die. The only Hell is life on this Earth. Almost every individual life is, in its full development, a sorrow. Are we to believe that poor, helpless man, after being tossed about like a piece of rotten timber on the angry billows of life, is, if he proves too weak to resist them, to be punished by a sempiternity of damnation, or even a temporary punishment? Never. It is at the moment of rebirth, a rebirth selected and prepared by this mysterious, inexorable, infallible LAW, that the sins of the previous life of the Ego are punished. This is exactitude of justice, it is punishment enough. That to which the refreshed and renewed "soul" returns upon this Earth, in this age, is described by the writer of Vishnu Purana when foretelling some of the dark influences and sins of the Kali Yuga:

"There will be contemporary monarchs, reigning over the earth -- kings of churlish spirit, violent temper, and ever addicted to falsehood and wickedness. They will inflict death on women, children, and cows; they will seize upon the property of their subjects, and be intent upon the wives of others. They will be of unlimited power, their lives will be short, their desires insatiable ... People of various countries intermingling with them, will follow their example; and the barbarians being powerful (in India) in their patronage of the princes, while purer tribes are neglected, the people will perish.

"Wealth and piety will decrease until the world will be wholly depraved. Property will alone confer rank; wealth will be the only source of devotion; passion will be the sole bond of union between the sexes; falsehood will be the only means of success in litigation; and women will be objects merely of sensual gratification. ... External types will be the only distinction of the several orders of life; ... a man if rich will be reputed pure; dishonesty (anyana) will be the universal means of subsistence; weakness the cause of dependence; menace and presumption will be substituted for learning; liberality will be devotion; mutual assent, marriage; fine clothes, dignity. He who is the strongest will reign; the people, unable to bear the heavy burden, Khara Bhara (the load of taxes), will take refuge among the valleys. ... Thus, in the Kali age will decay constantly proceed, until the human race approaches its annihilation (pralaya) ...."

At which time, according to the The Secret Doctrine, at the end of the Kali Yuga, 427,000 years hence, will appear the tenth avatar of Vishnu, the Kalki-Avatar -- "for the final destruction of the wicked, the renovation of 'creation,' and the 'restoration of purity'."

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(1) NOTE.--Collated from Theosophical sources.
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