By the editors of Lucifer – the Netherlands
[This is a reprint from Lucifer – the Messenger of Light, an original publication of I.S.I.S. Foundation, i.e. International Study-centre for Independent Search for truth. The editor is grateful for the permission given to make this important paper available for all readers of Theosophy Forward.]
Reincarnation, the first Jewel of Wisdom, teaches us who we are, the origin of our eternal core and the origin of our temporary bodies. It teaches us to look behind the physical forms and recognize the fundamental Life that is working behind it, and to free ourselves from the ‘you-only-live-once’ way of life.
When we elaborate on the three propositions that were presented in the preceding article, we arrive at the first of the seven Jewels of Wisdom: reincarnation or re-embodiment. The term normally used is reincarnation or ‘re-becoming flesh.’ A broader and therefore better term is rei-embodiment. The movement of ceaseless manifestation and withdrawal, and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul through the Cycle of Incarnation calls forth a majestic picture of re-embodiment: life – consciousness – that always is, and which time and again manifests itself in the worlds of form in order to unfold its latent, unlimited possibilities for spiritual growth. Life that withdraws into the inner worlds after each period of experience, so that it can assimilate its experiences and embed the insights gained, that thus will become part of the active consciousness in the next embodiment.
This process applies to man as it does to a universe, a planet or a material atom. For this ‘mystery of life and death’ we can find innumerable direct clues. All nature is cyclic. From the day and night rhythm and the changing of the seasons to the rise and fall of civilizations — life renews itself in countless ways. We perceive periods of outer growth and decline, which in the long term show certain developments. But despite these clues, for many people still an important question remains. What in us exactly reincarnates? What consequences does this doctrine have for us? Which practical lessons and examples are available that reincarnation as a Jewel of Wisdom offers an enrichment of our lives?
The Omnipresent principle, the first fundamental proposition, never incarnates — IT just is. The spiritual essence of man is a spark of it and therefore will not incarnate. The spiritual essence of man always remains on its own spiritual plane, but it projects a ray from itself — a force. This force that flows forth from it, we call the soul. It is the soul that makes man a man. It is this element that reincarnates. This is the thinker. We differ from other natural kingdoms because of our ability to think. So, the total man is a composite being. This composite consciousness can be divided in spirit, soul and body.
The spirit stands for the immortal core, the god spark. This part in us is imperishable. Next there is the soul. The soul is the link between spirit and body, which is the carrier of the total consciousness.
The soul of man is his thinking capacity. As such, also the soul is composite. Its higher aspects have a proclivity to the ‘above’, so these are oriented on the spiritual. The lower aspects are focused on the body and are materially inclined. The soul is that part of man that recurrently reincarnates. It is the learning part of man and it enwraps itself in a material body again and again in order to learn its lessons.
Well now, we cannot consider the seven Jewels of Wisdom separately from each other — they are all elaborations of three basic propositions. Therefore the doctrine of reincarnation cannot be clearly understood if one does not involve the other Jewels, in particular the second Jewel, ‘karma.’ The re-embodiment of man is the reincarnation of an individual being, with a character that is formed by causes and effects – the law of karma – throughout a long series of lives.
In this article we focus specifically on reincarnation.
No more fear of death
If there is one reason why the doctrine of reincarnation has become of great value in one’s life, then it is the realization that death is not the end but merely a phase of rest in the cycle of life and death. The fear of death – the paralyzing image that people often carry with them – vanishes; reincarnation gives peace of mind. Our body may die eventually, but our essential core is immortal. And our soul will resume its development with vim and vigor in the next incarnation.
This inner peace and calmness also applies to the loved ones of someone going through the process of dying. For many who have a loved one who is going through the process of dying, true knowledge about death makes things easier for them to deal with. Then the process can take place in peace and harmony. The struggle for life and the considerable emotions that usually accompany the ‘you-only-live-once-philosophy’, make place for a quiet transition from one condition to another.
The doctrine of reincarnation also puts the issue of sickness in an entirely different perspective. What happens when we are ill? In fact, it is a process in which a person is confronted with the results of an imbalance in his composite consciousness that he has caused in the past. The illness – how unpleasantly it may be running its course – is an expression of the process of restoration. Of course here karma – the doctrine of cause and effect – plays a role as well. But it is still a fact that our wildly expensive healthcare system often is focused on the preservation of outer life even in situations where someone’s consciousness clearly is in the last phase of the process of dying. This is the direct result of a general view in society that does not consider reincarnation.
The process of dying is a natural phase in the cycle of appearing and disappearing that every being goes through countless times. The phase marks a transition to another state of consciousness. During the process of dying, the soul slowly withdraws from the body. The higher aspects of the soul, in particular the spirituality that the person has developed in the life now finished, will be embedded in the spiritual core. The lower aspects, just like the body, will disintegrate.
The withdrawal of the soul is a natural situation for an older person and therefore usually takes longer than just a few days. In fact, this process can take up several years. If this happens in a natural way, the soul, the learning part in us, can optimally assimilate the ‘harvest’ of the life just lived. And it can also prepare most effectively for the next incarnation. Karmically seen, we plant the seeds of our future by the choices we make now: every day, every year until our last moments. We ourselves determine how our future, our next life will look like. From the point of view of reincarnation the soul does not die. It is the body that dies, or better still, disintegrates. It disintegrates because life comes loose from it. A healthcare that keeps the body ‘alive’ unnaturally long by applying medical technology does not fit this image. At the same time we see that – for the same reasons – also active euthanasia does not fit this image either. In this last case not all lessons that life offers have been learned yet and precisely those last moments just before death – also when these are painful – enable us to learn the greatest lessons.
An extremely important process during the dying phase is ‘taking stock’: looking back and rendering account of our life. What kind of life did we live? What did we learn? What lessons can we draw from the life that is now coming to an end?
In fact, this ‘taking stock’ already starts several months or years before death sets in. People who are involved in care for the dying, either privately or professionally can help the elderly by talking with them about their life and asking them about it.
After the last heartbeat this process continues in a very illuminative way. The dying person then sees his whole life passing before his mind’s eye. He looks upon everything he experienced and everything he thought, starting from early childhood and ending just before physical death, but now from a higher perspective. The soul oversees the past life with exceptional clarity, understands the relations of the ‘how’ and ‘why’, sees the justice of all that has happened – and in a flash sees the opportunities of his future incarnation. This vision is very important for the assimilation of the insights gained in the life just lived. It usually takes place in the first hours after the last heartbeat. But a second panoramic vision follows after the other lower principles of the personality have disintegrated. Then the focus is already more on a slumbering future: what awaits us in our next life, seen from the spiritual capacities of the Reincarnating Ego?
This second vision is usually followed by a long period of res – long in terms of human time – after which the Reincarnating Ego, just before his next incarnation, again experiences a short panoramic vision. In this third vision he oversees the possibilities of what is to come.
For our daily life, knowledge about the processes of dying and incarnating again is of great importance. In a way the rhythm of waking and sleeping is dying a little everyday: sleep is an incomplete death and death is a complete sleep. But furthermore, these processes are identical. This is why we are advised to consciously evaluate every day: to look back and reflect on ourselves with honesty. What went well, what was not so good, what are our conclusions? In the morning we can recapitulate the mini-vision of last night so that we can have a focused start of the day. In the same way that we can draw our spiritual conclusions from the life that has passed, we can draw conclusions from the experiences we had in one day, if we develop this habit to review what happened during the day before we go to sleep.
Some people wonder how they can prepare best for the process of dying. Well, evaluate the day before you go to sleep. Look at it as an observer without any emotional judgment. Draw your conclusions. Ask yourself what you can do better, how you can live more spiritually. Meditate on your ideal of peace and compassion. After you wake up the next morning, make a preview of the day and imagine how you can contribute to peace and harmony in the world in a positive way.
A better preparation for death does not exist.
In the light of reincarnation, chronic diseases and congenital disabilities cannot be considered without karma. These diseases and disabilities are not punishment, nor are they some whim of fate; they are moments of learning evoked by ourselves. They offer us the opportunity to have experiences by which we can grow in consciousness and wisdom. We can learn to build up a harmonious balance between body, soul and spirit. Keep in mind: the real ma – the spiritual part – is never handicapped. It is the learning part that created the causes. The circumstances in which we are, are always learning situations: they give us the chance to develop more compassion.
Many students find the strength to accept all kinds of inconveniences in the Theosophy: a child or grandchild with a disability, a partner with a serious illness. A life is never meaningless. The consciousness grows, that of the disabled maybe even more. Everybody will become a Buddha eventually. Patience! After reading the article about progressive evolution it may become clearer what is meant by ‘patience.’
It is a very positive thought that a disability – and who doesn’t have some or another relative ‘handicap’ – can be a lesson of life. But also here this does not fit in the ‘you only live once’ society. We can only look at it in a positive way from the perspective of reincarnation. Otherwise we cannot see the use of it. Or – and this happens a lot – the disability gets a negative connotation as a result of degenerated religious interpretations. ‘It is the punishment of God, the punishment of Allah’, or it is ‘bad karma, you have done something wrong.’ This is a horrible ‘this is all your own fault’ idea which is in total contradiction with the Theosophical knowledge about reincarnation and karma. There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ karma: there is only cause and effect, and our difficulties often prove to be more valuable for our spiritual awakening, than things that go smoothly.
A child with a congenital disability has determined his specific vehicular capacities and limitations himself. He did not accidently get his handicap. There is no such thing as coincidence. His body and soul are shaped in concurrence with his development and character. Justice does exist. In this life he has very specific possibilities to restore an unbalance in his constitution. He can practice his will, however scarcely visible this may be for the outer world.
Helping in an impersonal way
How do you look upon the death of a small child from a Theosophical perspective? Especially in this kind of situations Theosophy is of great value. Birth and the process of dying get a totally different meaning when seen in the light of reincarnation. Especially when children and young people pass away. Then obviously, in a material sense, the incarnation was not very successful: this vehicle was not suitable enough to give expression to the Reincarnating Ego. In fact young children are not really dying. You can better consider it as a failed birth. A child that dies has hardly made his thinking mind active, it has not yet learned any spiritual lessons that he needs to process. The consciousness of the deceased child therefore will soon – a long period of rest is not necessary – find new and fitting possibilities to re-embody again.
By applying Theosophy in your life, your insights and vision increase and you can handle these problems better. If you look at your fellow men and everything that lives with compassion, your understanding expands. You see the unity of all that lives; you see that brotherhood is a fact in Nature.
If you take reincarnation as a starting point in life, this not only helps you to develop a clear and powerful vision in difficult times, but it also enables you to really help others, while ignoring your own situation. To live Theosophy is setting an example that truly helps others. You don’t let yourself be carried away by their personal suffering, but you show them the impersonal way in which a loss can be dealt with. How do we do that? This is an exercise in the Royal Way: to live for the benefit of the whole, to serve the ideal of brotherhood. The Path of Compassion that is described in numerous ways in the spiritual writings of the great religions and philosophies. Forget yourself, so that your Self can grow. Ignore the longings of your lower personality and focus on the growth of your spiritual capacities. Evaluate your days. Do well and don’t look back, don’t wish for results, live compassion. Impersonal helping is sustainable helping.
Old age in the light of reincarnation
And then, when we have tried hard to live a meaningful life, ‘suddenly’ we are seniors, old, often less capable to be vitally active in a physical way. Often we are caught by surprise about the speed with which life seems to pass by. How do we experience the phase of old age? That depends a lot on how we have looked at it in the years before. Did we see man as a pilgrim of eternity, who in the last stage of this specific life can offer the abilities he developed for the benefit of society? Or did we see man as a once-only individual, whose batteries in the end get pretty empty and who, being an ‘oldy’ should not interfere with society anymore? If we can answer the first question with ‘yes’, then we will be quite a different senior than someone who has to answer the second question affirmative. Yes, we are the directors of our live – taking into account the karmic circumstances that originated in former lives can cross our path.
We can learn a lot from growing older in the light of reincarnation. As young adults we can already recognize the cycles in our life: specific periods of learning, implementing ideas, gaining experience and applying our developed skills. Furthermore, if we are inspired by a philosophy of life, by an understanding that grows along with the experiences we have, then we can live consciously, be the director of our life consciously, and thus prevent profound regrets for missed opportunities later. Then, especially when we did keep up with the pace of life, we shall be able to inspire others with our experiences. The recipe to keep us spiritually ‘awake’ and vital is to keep thinking actively about life, society and our ideal.
But yet, the time will come that the soul longs for rest, longs to withdraw from outer life. In this stage of life many people need help. Relief workers – often volunteers – should be aware of the outer, practical aspects, but also of the inner thoughts of the elderly person.
Many people fear dementia at an older age. But if you keep an open mind during your life, and think more of others than of yourself, dementia is not a necessary phase. However, there can be karmic causes from former lives that cause someone to lose his mental capacities.
It is a good advice to think about the final period of our incarnation, before that time comes. It is possible to prevent that ad hoc decisions have to be made as a result of unexpected circumstances. It is advisable to contemplate the whole process of dementia in the last stage of live and to form an idea of the wisest way to handle it. This way we can prepare our own decisions for this last phase of his life. But above all, growing older should stimulate us – at whatever age we may be – to actively improve and expand our vision of live. To live in the light of reincarnation is to live in the continuous realization that ‘young’ or ‘old’ are extremely relative conceptions, and unimportant in the perspective of the immortality of life itself, that is, the immortality of the core of our consciousness. It is a thought of endless beauty to be able to live and work for the spiritual development of all mankind, in the realization that each one of us is in essence life itself and that life never comes to an end.
In the next issue of Theosophy Forward we explore how we can view the karmic consequences of living Theosophia in the practice of daily life.
To be continued