THEOSOPHY, Vol. 34, No. 2, December, 1945
(Pages 70-72; Size: 10K )
(Number 9 of a 14-part series)



THOSE who object that "it is unjust to be punished for something we don't remember," overlook very important points.

(a) If we look at reincarnation as a creative process by which we are building ourselves toward greater heights, the pains of life become merely the pains of spiritual birth, by which the evil deeds of the past are transmuted by pain into spiritual good -- if we will to think and act accordingly.

(b) If we owe a man money, we do not accept a stroke of amnesia on his part as excuse for not paying it. In Nature the rule works both ways. We suffer for past evil deeds we have forgotten; we also reap reward for good deeds forgotten. There is no more reason in nature that we should reap unearned rewards than that we should reap unearned punishment.

(c) In law, a man who murders in drunken oblivion is held responsible, whether he remembers it or not. It is wrong living that kills our memory of the past. The past history of the race -- our own history -- has not been admirable; when one does wrong, the mere fact that the wrong in itself tends to kill memory does not absolve him from the result. There is a way to recover memory -- but to do it, selfish, sensual living and thought has to be sacrificed. Those who refuse to pay the price should not expect to get the goods. This is an honest Universe.

(d) Not remembering an experience is no evidence that we have not gone through it; few of our experiences are remembered. It has been remarked that "the experience of living through childhood could not possibly be forgotten even though details might." If we will set a landmark at the earliest experience we remember, we shall find behind it some years of complete oblivion, through which we nevertheless did exist. Certainly we can't remember our birth. How do we expect to remember, in the ordinary way, things that happened a few hundred years before that? Moreover, amnesiacs have frequently forgotten in their entirety large sections of their present lives -- but not the capacities acquired in those periods. Lack of memory is no evidence of non-existence of a past state -- but an acquired capacity certainly is evidence of its existence.

(e) We forget that we are dealing with an impersonal Nature; a burned child will bear a scar as the result of falling against a stove, whether or not he remembers the burn. The experience, however, does remain in the form of a cautious attitude when he is near a stove. What difference would it make how many spiritual scars we gathered from our experiences in various lives, if they all tended finally toward a series of perfect lives? Even though the present one might seem a total loss, at least we are no worse off than before, and something has been achieved for the future, which future is wholly meaningless from the materialistic viewpoint. Suppose further that a relatively perfected mind and body thus acquired would involve memory of our present, which will then be the past?

Any habit of mind or body ingrained in this life will tend to perpetuate itself in future lives. An inauguration of the mode of life that leads finally to memory will not be lost; it will reappear strengthened in the next, and ultimately lead to the goal. Meantime it will bear many splendid fruits in this life.

(f) If under reincarnation "we are punished for something we don't remember," under any other idea we are punished for something we never did to start with. Very strange how the opponents of reincarnation overlook this obvious fact.

(g) No one either creates or punishes us. We evolve through the inherent laws of life, which pertain to all life. No one invented the scheme; no one is going to change it because he has other ideas.

(h) The question of memory as connected with justice is a purely attitudinal one. Among the millions of reincarnationists there are many to whom the lack of memory never occurred as an obstacle. In others it vanished as an obstacle, with better intellectual understanding of the meaning of the process. In still other cases, it vanished when the exaggerated popular view of the importance of the feelings of the limited personal self -- the prison of the real self -- was gotten rid of. What anyone "feels" about a thing has little to do with its truth; and the no-memory argument is purely a matter of feeling.

(i) Some think that reincarnation is merely a comforting theory for those who fail in life and hope to get another chance. The absurdity of this lies in the fact that many more people reject it for opposite reasons. They don't want to come back to "suffer again." The opponents mutually destroy one another's arguments. People don't like to believe that what happens to them is self-created; they prefer the feeling of martyrdom. They don't like to think that if they are not to be failures again next time, they will have to bestir themselves right here and now to build better capacities and character.

Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, and Napoleon Bonaparte could hardly be called "failures"; a wise man, who has realized in the practical world all his youthful dreams, is concerned much more about living righteously enough to incur equal good fortune in the future, than he is about "compensations."

(j) But where is the justice for "failures" under any other idea? Under materialism, the weaknesses of those who fail were created by blind forces over which they had no control. Under religion, their weaknesses were created by gods over whom they had no control. Only under reincarnation is man self-created. Materialism is worse than single-life religion in this respect; it gives no hope whatever for any future compensation for unavoidable failure. And under materialism any failure is predestined, unavoidable.

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:


An idea wakens the echo of past experience, and the result is remembrance. If by an effort of the will we recover the chain of experiences or emotions, it is re-collection. Memory, remembrance, and recollection are all phenomenal in character, that is, they are moving events occurring in time. The brain and its functions belong to the same category. Therefore, repetition is impossible, and recovery is never more than partial or approximate. All these belong to the physical side of memory. But memory has another side, viz., the noumenal. Experience once had can never be as though it had not been. It has wrought its effect, and if it is ever in any way recovered or recalled it is a reminiscence. Physical memory is to reminiscence what the elements of a mixture are to a compound. In one we have separate details, and an orderly sequence of relations. These belong to time. In the other we have the precipitate occurring in life's alembic, and this belongs to "eternity." The first is phenomenal; the second noumenal, upon which time has ceased to act, for it has become part of our very selves. Memory belongs to the personality of time and sense. Reminiscence belongs to the permanent individual. Memory is the field-notes in the realm of thought. Reminiscence is the permanent record in the realm of intuition, the title-deed of the permanent possessions of the soul (ego). 

The Path, December, 1889

Next article:
Arguments on Reincarnation
X: Actual Memories


COMPILER'S NOTE: I added this footnote; it was not in the article. If it doesn't paint an accurate enough picture, or is incorrect, I hope the Editors of THEOSOPHY magazine will spot it and point it out to me, so that I can make the necessary corrections.

(1) "Hiraj" is one of the many pen names used by William Q. Judge.
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