THEOSOPHY, Vol. 59, No. 3, January, 1971
(Pages 78-84; Size: 19K)


VERY little has been said on the question whether or not the theory of reincarnation applies to animals in the same way as to man. Doubtless if Brahmans well acquainted with Sanscrit works on the general subject were to publish their views, we should at least have a large mass of material for thought and find many clues to the matter in the Hindu theories and allegories. Even Hindu folk-lore would suggest much. Under all popular "superstitions" a large element of truth can be found hidden away when the vulgar notion is examined in the light of the Wisdom Religion. The folk-lore of such an ancient people as the Hindu deserves scrutiny with the object of discovering the buried truth. If they are possessed of certain notions regarding the fate of animals, careful analysis might give valuable suggestion.

A wide distinction exists between man and animals. Man reincarnates as man because he has got to the top of the present scale of evolution. He cannot go back, for Manas, or Mind, is too much developed. He has a Devachan or heaven because he is a conscious thinker. Animals cannot have Manas so much developed, and so cannot be self-conscious in the sense that man is. Besides all this, the animal kingdom, being lower, has the impulse still to rise to higher forms. But here we have the distinct statement by the Adepts that while possibly animals may rise higher in their own kingdom they cannot in this evolution rise to the human stage. On this point, in the second volume of The Secret Doctrine at page 196, there is a footnote as follows:

In calling the animal "Soulless" it is not depriving the beast, from the humblest to the highest species, of a "soul," but only of a conscious surviving Ego-soul, i.e., that principle which survives after a man, and reincarnates in a like man. The animal has an astral body, that survives the physical form for a short period; but its (animal) Monad does not re-incarnate in the same, but in a higher species, and has no "Devachan" of course. It has the seeds of all the human principles in itself; but they are latent.
Here the distinction above adverted to is made. It is due to the Ego-Soul, that is, to Manas with Buddhi and Atma. Those principles being latent in the animal, and the door to the human kingdom being closed for this evolutionary period, they may rise to a higher species but not to the man stage. Of course also it is not meant that no dog or other animal ever reincarnates as dog, but that the monad has the tendency to rise to a higher species, whatever that be, whenever it has passed beyond the necessity for further experience as "dog."

Is there any foundation for the doctrine of transmigration of souls which was once believed in and is now held by some classes of Hindus? Do we go into animals when we die?

From a careful examination of the Vedas and Upanishads it will be found that the ancient Hindus did not believe in this doctrine. But it also seems very clear that the later Brahmans, for the purpose of having a priestly hold on the people or for other purposes, taught them the doctrine that they and their parents might go after death into the bodies of animals, but I doubt if the theory is held to such an extent as to make it a national doctrine. Some missionaries and travellers have hastily concluded that it is the belief because they saw the Hindu and the Jain alike acting very carefully as to animals and insects, avoiding them in the path, carefully brushing insects out of the way at a great loss of time, so as to not step on them. This, said the missionary, is because they think that in these forms their dead friends or relatives may be living. The real reason for such care, however, is that they think they have no right to destroy life which it is not in their power to restore.

But how might such an idea of human beings reincarnating into animals arise out of the true doctrine? First, what is the fate of the astral body, and in what way and how much does that affect the next incarnation of the man? Second, what influence has man on the atoms, millions in number, which from year to year enter into the composition of his body, and how far is he -- the soul -- responsible for those effects and answerable for them in a subsequent life of joy or sorrow or opportunity or obscurity? These are important questions.

After death the astral soul either dies and dissipates at once, or remains wandering for a space in the sphere called Kama Loka, or purgatory. If the man was spiritual, or what is sometimes called "very good," then his astral soul dissipates soon; if he was wicked and material, then the astral part of him, being too gross to easily disintegrate, is condemned, as it were, to flit about in Kama Loka. Seers of modern times have declared that such eidolons or spooks assume the appearance of beasts or reptiles according to their dominant characteristic. The ancients sometimes taught that these gross astral forms, having a natural affinity for the lower types, such as the animal kingdom, gravitated gradually in that direction and were at last absorbed on the astral plane of animals, for which they furnished the sidereal particles needed by them as well as by man. But this in no sense meant that the man himself went into an animal, for before this result had eventuated the ego might have already re-entered life with a new physical and astral body.

The common people, however, could not make these distinctions, and so very easily held the doctrine as meaning that the man became an animal. After a time the priests and seers took up this form of the tenet and taught it outright. It can be found in the Desatir, where it is said that tigers and other ferocious animals are incarnations of wicked men, and so on. But it must be true that each man is responsible and accountable for the fate of his astral body left behind at death, since that fate results directly from the man's own acts and life.

Considering the question of the atoms in their march along the path of evolution, another cause for a belief wrongly held in transmigration into lower forms can be found. The initiates could teach and thoroughly understand how it is that each ego is responsible for the use he makes of the atoms in space, and how each may and does imprint a definite character and direction upon all the atoms used throughout life, but the uninitiated just as easily would misinterpret this also and think it referred to transmigration. Each man has a duty not only to himself but also to the atoms in use. He is the great, the highest educator of them. Being each instant in possession of some, and likewise ever throwing them off, he should so live that they gain a fresh impulse to the higher life of man as compared with the brute. This impress and impulse given by us either confer an affinity for human bodies and brains, or for that which, corresponding to brutal lives and base passions, belongs to the lower kingdoms. So the teachers inculcated this, and said that if the disciple lived a wicked life his atoms would be precipitated down instead of up in this relative scale. If he was dull and inattentive, the atoms similarly impressed travelled into sticks and stones. In each case they to some extent represented the man, just as our surroundings, furniture, and clothing generally represent us who collect and use them. So from both these true tenets the people might at last come to believe in transmigration as being a convenient and easy way of formulating the problem and of indicating a rule of conduct.



(An Allegory by Wm. Q. Judge)

Before the flashing diamond in the mysterious mountain behind the Temple began to lose its brilliance, many foreigners had visited the ancient Island of Innisfallen (Ireland). Among them were students who came from Persia. Coming that great distance they sought more knowledge, as in their own land the truth was already beginning to be forgotten. It was hidden under a thick crust of fanciful interpretations of the sayings of their sages which were fast turning into superstitious notions. And these young men thought that in the Island, the fame of which had spread over land and sea, they would find learning and wisdom and the way to power. But yet while in such a frame of mind, they regarded some things as settled even for sages. What they said did not have much influence on me until they began to quote some of the old writings from the prophets of their country, attempting to prove that men, though god-like and immortal, transmigrated sometimes backwards into beasts and birds and insects. As some old Buddhist monks had years before given out the same idea with hints of mystery underneath, the sayings of these visitors began to trouble me. They quoted these verses from the prophet the Great Abad:

Those who, in the season of prosperity, experience pain and grief, suffer them on account of their words or deeds in a former body, for which the Most Just now punisheth them.

Whosoever is an evil doer, on him He first inflicteth pain under the human form. ... The lion, the tiger, the leopard, the panther ... with all ravenous animals have once possessed authority; and everyone whom they kill hath been their aider or abetter.

The horse submits to be ridden on, and the ox, the camel, the mule, and the ass bear burdens. And these in a former life were men who imposed burdens on others unjustly.

Such persons as are foolish and evil doers, being enclosed in the body of vegetables, meet with the reward of their stupidity and misdeeds. And such as possess illaudable knowledge and do evil are enclosed in the body of minerals until their sins be purified; after which they are delivered from this suffering, and are once more united to a human body; and according as they act in it they again meet with retribution.

These young men made such good arguments on these texts, and dwelt so strongly upon the great attainments of Abad, who was beyond doubt a prophet of insight, that doubts arose in my mind. While the verses did not deny the old doctrine of man's reincarnation, they added a new view to the matter that had never suggested itself to me before. The students pointed out that there was a very wise and consistent doctrine in those verses wherein it was declared that murderers, tyrants, and such men would be condemned to inhabit the bodies of such murderous beasts as lions and tigers.

Not wishing to admit or accept these doctrines from strangers, I engaged in many arguments with them on the matter, until at last they left the Island to continue their pilgrimage.

So one day, being troubled in mind about these sayings of Abad, which, indeed, I heard from the students were accepted in many countries and given by several other prophets, I sought out the old man who so often before had solved problems for me. He was always kind, and ever ready to give me the help I needed provided I had tried myself in every way and failed to obtain it.

"Brother," I said, "do we go into animals when we die?"

"Who said that we do?" was his answer.

"It is declared by the old prophet Abad of the Worshippers of Fire that we thus fall down from our high estate gained with pain and difficulty."

"Do you believe it; have you reasoned it out or accepted the doctrine?"

"No," I said, "I have not accepted it. Much as I may reason on it, there are defects in my replies, for there seems to be consistency in the doctrine that the ferocious may go into the ferocious and vicious into the wild animals. Can you solve it?"

Turning on me the deep and searching gaze he used for those who asked when he would determine if curiosity alone moved them, he said, "I will show you the facts and the corrupted doctrine together, on the night of the next full moon."

At last the day came and I went to the old man. He was ready. Turning from the room he took me to a small cave near the foot of the Diamond Mountain. We went in by the short passage in front, and waited in silence for some time.

"Look quietly toward the opposite wall," said the old man, "and waver not in thought."

Fixing an unstrained gaze in the direction of the other side, it soon seemed to quiver, then an even vibration began across it until it looked like a tumbling mass of clouds. This soon settled into a grey flat surface like a painter's canvas, that was still as the clear sky and seemingly transparent. It gave us light and made no reflection.

"Think of your question, of your doubts, and of the young students who have raised them; think not of Abad, for he is but a name," whispered my guide.

Then, as I revolved the question, a cloud arose on the surface before me; it moved, it grew into shapes that were dim at first. They soon became those of human beings. They were the living pictures of my student friends. They were conversing, and I too was there but less plain than they. But instead of atmosphere being around them they were surrounded with ether, and streams of ether full of what I took to be corporeal atoms in a state of change continually rushed from one to the other. After I had accustomed my sight to this, the old man directed me to look at one of the students in particular. From him the stream of ether loaded with atoms, very dark in places and red in others, did not always run to his fellows, but seemed to be absorbed elsewhere. Then when I had fixed this in my mind all the other students faded from the space, their place taken by some ferocious beasts that prowled around the remaining student, though still appearing to be a long distance from him. And then I saw that the stream of atoms from him was absorbed by those dreadful beasts, at the same time that a mask fell off, as it were, from his face, showing me his real ferocious, murderous mind.

"He killed a man on the way, in secret. He is a murderer at heart," said my guide. "This is the truth that Abad meant to tell. Those atoms fly from all of us at every instant. They seek their appropriate centre; that which is similar to the character of him who evolves them. We absorb from our fellows whatever is like unto us. It is thus that man reincarnates in the lower kingdoms. He is the lord of nature, the key, the focus, the highest concentrator of nature's laboratory. And the atoms he condemns to fall thus to beasts will return to him in some future life for his detriment or his sorrow. But he, as immortal man, cannot fall. That which falls is the lower, the personal, the atomic. He is the brother and teacher of all below him. See that you do not hinder and delay all nature by your failure in virtue."

Then the ugly picture faded out and a holy man, named in the air in gold "Abad," took his place. From him the stream of atoms, full of his virtue, his hopes, aspirations, and the impression of his knowledge and power, flowed out to other Sages, to disciples, to the good in every land. They even fell upon the unjust and the ferocious, and then thoughts of virtue, of peace, of harmony grew up where those streams flowed. The picture faded, the cloudy screen vibrated and rolled away. We were again in the lonely cave. Faint footfalls echoed round the walls, and soft whispers as of peace and hope trembled through the air.


Reincarnation, then, does not mean that we go into animal forms after death. "Once a man always a man" is the saying in the Great Lodge. But it would not be too much punishment for some men were it possible to condemn them to rebirth in brute bodies; however, nature does not go by sentiment but by law, and we, not being able to see all, cannot say that the brutal man is brute all through his nature. And evolution having brought Manas the Thinker and Immortal Person on to this plane, cannot send him back to the brute which has not Manas. Once Manas the Thinker has arrived on the scene he does not return to baser forms; first, because he does not wish to, and second, because he cannot. For just as the blood in the body is prevented by valves from rushing back and engorging the heart, so in this greater system of universal circulation the door is shut behind the Thinker and prevents his retrocession.

But how much have we thought upon the effect of Karma upon the animals, the plants, the minerals, the elemental beings? Have we been so selfish as to suppose that they are not affected by us? It cannot be true. Man himself has the responsibility for the vast numbers of ferocious and noxious animals, for the deadly serpents and scorpions, the devastating lions and tigers, that make a howling wilderness of some corners of the earth and terrorize the people of India and elsewhere. As the Apostle of the Christians said, the whole of creation waits upon man and groans that he keeps back the enlightenment of all.

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(1) NOTE.--This article is collated from the writings of William Q. Judge.
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