site logo

The Modern West

In the modern thought of the Western world, we find Reincarnation

attracting much attention. The Western philosophies for the past hundred

years have been approaching the subject with a new degree of attention

and consideration, and during the past twenty years there has been a

marvellous awakening of Western public interest in the doctrine. At the

present time the American and European magazines contain poems and

es based upon Reincarnation, and many novels have been written

around it, and plays even have been based upon the general doctrine, and

have received marked attention on the part of the public. The idea seems

to have caught the public fancy, and the people are eager to know more

of it.

This present revival of attention has been brought about largely by the

renewed interest on the part of the Western world toward the general

subject of occultism, mysticism, comparative religion, oriental

philosophy, etc., in their many phases and forms. The World's Parliament

of Religions, held at the World's Fair in Chicago, in 1893, did much to

attract the attention of the American public to the subject of the

Oriental Philosophies in which Reincarnation plays such a prominent

part. But, perhaps, the prime factor in this reawakened Western interest

in the subject is the work and teachings of the Theosophical Society,

founded by Madame Blavatsky some thirty years ago, and which has since

been continued by her followers and several successors. But, whatever

may be the cause, the idea of Reincarnation seems destined to play an

important part in the religious and philosophical thought of the West

for some time to come. Signs of it appear on every side--the subject

cannot be ignored by the modern student of religion and philosophy.

Whether accepted or not, it must be recognized and examined.

But the forms of the doctrine, or theory, regarding Reincarnation, vary

almost as much in the Modern West as in the various Eastern countries at

present, and in the past. We find all phases of the subject attracting

attention and drawing followers to its support. Here we find the

influence of the Hindu thought, principally through the medium or

channel of Theosophy, or of the Yogi Philosophy--and there we find the

influence of the Grecian or Egyptian philosophical conceptions

manifesting principally through the medium of a number of occult orders

and organizations, whose work is performed quietly and with little

recognition on the part of the general public, the policy being to

attract the "elect few" rather than the curious crowd--and again we find

quite a number of persons in America and Europe, believing in

Reincarnation because they are attracted by the philosophy of the

Neo-Platonists, or the Gnostics of the Early Christian Church, and

favoring Reincarnation as a proper part of the Christian Religion, and

who while remaining in the bosom of the Church interpret the teachings

by the light of the doctrine of Rebirth, as did many of the early

Christians, as we have seen.

The Theosophical conception and interpretation appeals to a great number

of the Western Reincarnationists, by reason of its wide circulation and

dissemination, as well as by the fact that it has formulated a detailed

theory and doctrine, and besides claims the benefit of authoritative

instruction on the doctrine from Adepts and Masters who have passed to a

higher plane of existence. We think it proper to give in some little

detail an account of the general teachings of Theosophy on this point,

the reader being referred to the general Theosophical literature for

more extended information regarding this special teaching.

Theosophy teaches that the human soul is a composite entity, consisting

of several principles, sheaths of vehicles, similar to those mentioned

by us in our account of Hindu Reincarnation. The Theosophical books

state these principles as follows: (1) The Body, or Rupa; (2) Vitality,

or Prana-Jiva; (3) Astral Body, or Linga-Sharira; (4) Animal Soul, or

Kama-Rupa; (5) Human Soul, Manas; (6) Spiritual Soul, or Buddhi; and (7)

Spirit, or Atma. Of these seven principles, the last or higher Three,

namely, the Atma, Buddhi, and Manas, compose the higher Trinity of the

Soul--the part of man which persists; while the lower Four principles,

namely, Rupa, Prana-Jiva, Linga-Sharira, and Kama-Rupa, respectively,

are the lower principles, which perish after the passing out of the

higher principles at death. At Death the higher principles, or Triad,

lives on, while the lower principles of Quarternary dissolve and

separate from each other and finally disintegrate, along the lines of a

process resembling chemical action.

Theosophy teaches that there is a great stream of Egos, or Monads, which

originally emanated from a Source of Being, and which are pursuing a

spiral journey around a chain of seven globes, including the earth,

called the Planetary Chain. The Life Wave of Monads reaches Globe A,

and goes through a series of evolutionary life on it, and then passes on

to Globe B, and so on until Globe G is reached, when after a continued

life there the Life Wave returns to Globe A, but not in a circle, but

rather in a spiral, that is, on a higher plane of activity, and the

round begins once more. There are seven Races to be lived through on

each globe, many incarnations in each--each Race having seven sub-races,

and each sub-race having seven branches. The progress of the Life Wave

is illustrated by the symbol of a seven-coil spiral, sweeping with a

wider curve at each coil, each coil, however, being divided into a minor

seven-coil spiral, and so on. It is taught that the human soul is now on

its fourth great round-visit to the Earth, and is in about the middle of

the fifth Race of that round. The total number of incarnations necessary

for each round is quite large, and the teaching is that none can escape

them except by special merit and development. Between each incarnation

there is a period of rest in the Heaven World, or Devachan, where the

soul reaps the experiences of the past life, and prepares for the next

step. The period of rest varies with the degree of attainment gained by

the soul, the higher the degree the longer the rest. The average time

between incarnations is estimated at about fifteen hundred years.

Devachan is thus a kind of temporary Heaven, from whence the soul must

again pass in time for a rebirth, according to its merits or demerits.

Thus, accordingly, each soul has lived in a variety of bodies, even

during the present round--having successively incarnated as a savage, a

barbarian, a semi-civilized man, a native of India, Egypt, Chaldea,

Rome, Greece, and many other lands, in different ages, filling all kinds

of positions and places in life, tasting of poverty and riches, of

pleasure and pain--all ever leading toward higher things. The doctrine

enunciated by Theosophy is complicated and intricate, and we can do no

more than to barely mention the same at this place.

Another Western form of the Oriental Teachings, known as the "Yogi

Philosophy," numbers quite a large number of earnest students in this

country and in Europe, and has a large circle of influence, although it

has never crystallized into an organization, the work being done quietly

and the teachings spread by the sale of popular books on the subject

issued at nominal prices. It is based on the Inner Teachings of the

Hindu Philosophy and is Eclectic in nature, deriving its inspiration

from the several great teachers, philosophies and schools, rather than

implicitly following any one of them. Briefly stated this Western school

of Yogi Philosophy teaches that the Universe is an emanation from, or

mental creation of, the Absolute whose Creative Will flows out in an

outpouring of mental energy, descending from a condition above Mind,

downward through Mind, Physical Energy, and Matter, in a grand

Involution or "infolding" of the divine energy into material forms and

states. This Involution is followed by an Evolution, or unfoldment, the

material forms advancing in the scale of evolution, accompanied by a

corresponding Spiritual Evolution, or Unfoldment of the Individual

Centres or Units of Being, created or emanated as above stated. The

course of Evolution, or rather, that phase of it with which the present

human race on earth is concerned, has now reached a point about midway

in the scale of Spiritual Evolution, and the future will lead the race

on, and on, to higher and still higher planes and states of being, on

this earth and on other spheres, until it reaches a point

incomprehensible to the mind of man of today, and then still on and on,

until finally the souls will pass into the plane of the Absolute, there

to exist in a state impossible of present comprehension, and

transcending not only the understanding but also the imagination of the

mind of man as we know him.

The Yogi Philosophy teaches that the soul will reincarnate on earth

until it is fitted to pass on to higher planes of being, and that many

people are now entering into a stage which will terminate the

unconscious reincarnation, and which enables them to incarnate

consciously in the future without loss of memory. It teaches that

instead of a retributive Karma, there is a Law of Spiritual Cause and

Effect, operating largely along the lines of Desire and what has been

called the "Law of Attraction," by which "like attracts like," in

persons, environments, conditions, etc. As we have stated, the Yogi

Philosophy follows closely the lines of certain phases of the Hindu

philosophies from which it is derived, it being, however, rather an

"eclectic" system rather than an exact reproduction of that branch of

philosophy favored by certain schools of Hindus and known by a similar

name, as mentioned in our chapter on "The Hindus"--that is to say,

instead of accepting the teachings of any particular Hindu school in

their entirety, the Western school of the Yogi Philosophy has adopted

the policy of "Eclecticism," that is, a system following the policy of

selection, choosing from several sources or systems, rather than a blind

following of some particular school, cult or teacher.

The Yogi Philosophy teaches that man is a seven-fold entity, consisting

of the following principles, or divisions: 1. The Physical Body. 2. The

Astral Body. 3. Prana, or Vital Force. 4. The Instinctive Mind. 5. The

Intellect. 6. The Spiritual Mind. 7. Spirit. Of these, the first four

principles belong to the lower part of the being, while the latter three

are the higher principles which persist and Reincarnate. Man, however,

is gradually evolving on to the plane of the Spiritual Mind, and will in

time pass beyond the plane of Intellect, which he will then class along

with Instinct as a lower form of mentality, he then using his Intuition

habitually and ordinarily, just as the intelligent man now uses his

Intellect, and the ignorant man his Instinct-Intellect, and the animal

its Instinct alone. In many points the Yogi Philosophy resembles the

Vedanta, and in others it agrees with Theosophy, although it departs

from the latter in some of the details of doctrine regarding the process

of Reincarnation, and particularly in its conception of the meaning and

operation of the Law of Karma.

There are many persons in the West who hold firmly to Reincarnation, to

whom the Hindu conceptions, even in the Western form of their

presentation, do not appeal, and who naturally incline toward the Greek

conception and form of the doctrine. A large number of these people are

generally classed among the "Spiritualists," although strictly speaking

they do not fit into that classification, for they hold that the

so-called "Spirit World" is not a place of permanent abode, but rather a

resting place between incarnations. These people prefer the name

"Spiritists," for they hold that man is essentially a spiritual

being--that the Spirit is the Real Man--and that that which we call Man

is but a temporary stage in the development and evolution of the

individual Spirit. The Spiritists hold that the individual Spirit

emanated from the Great Spirit of the Universe (called by one name or

another) at some distant period in the past, and has risen to its

present state of Man, through and by a series of repeated incarnations,

first in the form of the lowly forms of life, and then through the

higher forms of animal life, until now it has reached the stage of human

life, from whence it will pass on, and on, to higher and still higher

planes--to forms and states as much higher than the human state than man

is above the earthworm. The Spiritists hold that man will reincarnate in

earthly human bodies, only until the Spirit learns its lessons and

develops sufficiently to pass on to the next plane higher. They hold

that the planets and the countless fixed stars or suns, are but stages

of abode for the evolving Spirit, and that beyond the Universe as we

know it there are millions of others--in fact, that the number of

Universes is infinite. The keynote of this doctrine may be stated as

"Eternal Progression" toward the Divine Spirit. The Spirits do not

insist upon any particular theory regarding the constitution of the

soul--some of them speak merely of "soul and body," while others hold to

the seven-fold being--the general idea being that this is unimportant,

as the essential Spirit is after all the Real Self, and it matters

little about the number or names of its temporary garments or vehicles

of expression.

Still another class of Reincarnationists in the Western World incline

rather more toward the Grecian and Egyptian forms of the doctrine, than

the Hindu--the ideas of the Neo-Platonists which had such a powerful

effect upon the early Christian Church, or rather among the "elect few"

among the early Fathers of the Church, seeming to have sprung into

renewed activity among this class. These people, as we have said in the

beginning of this chapter, are rather inclined to group themselves into

small organizations or secret orders, rather than to form popular cults.

They follow the examples of the ancients in this respect, preferring the

"few elect" to the curious general public who merely wish to "taste or

nibble" at the Truth. Many of these organizations are not known to the

public, as they studiously avoid publicity or advertisement, and trust

to the Law of Attraction to "bring their own to them--and them to their

own." The teachings of this class vary in interpretation, and as many of

them maintain secrecy by pledges or oaths, it is not possible to give

their teachings in detail.

But, generally speaking, they base their doctrines on the general

principle that Man's present condition is due to the "Descent of

Spirit," in the nature of "The Fall of Man," occurring some time in the

far distant past. They hold that Man was originally "Spirit Pure and

Free," from which blissful state he was enticed by the glamour of

Material Life, and he accordingly fell from his higher state, lower and

lower until he was sunken deep into the mire of Matter. From this lowly

state he then began to work up, or evolve, having in the dim recesses of

his soul a glimmer of remembrance of his former state, which dim light

is constantly urging him on and on, toward his former estate, in spite

of his frequent stumbling into the mire in his attempts to rise above

it. This teaching holds to a theory and doctrine very similar to that of

the "Spiritists" just mentioned, except that while the latter, in common

with the majority of Reincarnationists, hold that the evolution of the

Soul is in the direction of advancement and greater expression, similar

to the growth of a child, these "secret order" people hold forcibly and

earnestly to the idea that the evolution is merely a "Returning of the

Prodigal" to his "Father's Mansion"--the parable of the Prodigal Son,

and that of the Expulsion from Eden, being held as veiled allegories of

their teaching.

In the above view, the present state of existence--this Earthly Life--is

one of a series of Hells, in the great Hell of Matter, from which Man is

creeping up slowly but surely. According to this idea, the Earth is but

midway in the scale, there being depths of Materiality almost impossible

of belief, and on the other hand, heights of heavenly bliss equally

incapable of understanding. This is about all that we can say regarding

this form of the doctrine, without violating certain confidences that

have been reposed in us. We fear that we have said too much as it is,

but inasmuch as one would have to be able to "read between the lines" to

understand fully, we trust that those who have favored us with these

confidences will pardon us.

There is still another class of believers in Reincarnation, of which

even the general public is not fully aware, for this class does not have

much to say regarding its beliefs. I allude to those in the ranks of the

orthodox Christian Church, who have outgrown the ordinary doctrines, and

who, while adhering firmly to the fundamental Christian Doctrines, and

while clinging closely to the Teachings of Jesus the Christ, still find

in the idea of Rebirth a doctrine that appeals to their souls and minds

as closer to their "highest conceptions of immortality" than the

ordinary teachings of "the resurrection of the body," or the vague

doctrines that are taking its place. These Christian Reincarnationists

find nothing in the doctrine of Reincarnation antagonistic to their

Faith, and nothing in their Faith antagonistic to the doctrine of

Reincarnation. They do not use the term Reincarnation usually, but

prefer the term "Rebirth" as more closely expressing their thought;

besides which the former term has a suggestion of "pagan and heathen"

origin which is distasteful to them. These people are inclined toward

Rebirth for the reason that it "gives the soul Another Chance to Redeem

Itself"--other chances to perfect itself to enter the Heavenly Realms.

They do not hold to an idea of endless reincarnation, or even of

continued earthly incarnation for all, their idea being that the soul

that is prepared to enter heaven passes on there at once, having learned

enough and earned enough merit in the few lives it has lived on

earth--while the unprepared, undeveloped, and unfit, are bound to come

back and back again until they have attained Perfection sufficient to

enable them to advance to the Heaven World.

A large number of the Christian Reincarnationists, if I may call them by

that name, hold that Heaven is a place or state of Eternal Progression,

rather than a fixed state or place--that there is no standing still in

Heaven or Earth--that "In my Father's House are Many Mansions." To the

majority, this idea of Progression in the Higher Planes seems to be a

natural accompaniment to the Spiritual Progression that leads to the

Higher Planes, or Heaven. At any rate, the two ideas seem always to have

run together in the human mind when the general subject has been under

consideration, whether in past time or present; whether among Christians

or "pagans and heathen." There seems to be an intuitive recognition of

the connection of the two ideas. And on the other hand, there seems to

be a close connection between the several views of "special creation" of

the soul before both--the single earth-life--and the eternity of reward

or punishment in a state or place lacking progression or change. Human

thought on the subject seems to divide itself into two distinct and

opposing groups.

There are quite a number of Christian preachers, and members of orthodox

churches, who are taking an earnest interest in this doctrine of

Rebirth, and Eternal Progression here and hereafter. It is being

considered by many whose church associates do not suspect them of being

other than strictly orthodox in their views. Some day there will be a

"breaking out" of this idea in the churches, when the believers in the

doctrine grow in numbers and influence. It will not surprise careful

observers to see the Church once more accepting the doctrine of Rebirth

and reinstating the doctrine of Pre-existence--returning to two of its

original truths, long since discarded by order of the Councils. Prof.

Bowen has said: "It seems to me that a firm and well-grounded faith in

the doctrine of Christian Metempsychosis might help to regenerate the

world. For it would be a faith not hedged round with many of the

difficulties and objections which beset other forms of doctrine, and it

offers distinct and pungent motives for trying to lead a more Christian

life, and for loving and helping our brother-man." And as James Freeman

Clarke has said: "It would be curious if we should find science and

philosophy taking up again the old theory of metempsychosis, remodelling

it to suit our present modes of religious and scientific thought, and

launching it again on the wide ocean of human belief. But stranger

things have happened in the history of human opinion."

So, as we have said, there is a great variety of shades of belief in the

Western world regarding Reincarnation today, and the student will have

no difficulty in finding just the shade of opinion best suited to his

taste, temperament and training or experience. Vary as they do in

detail, and theory, there is still the same fundamental and basic truth

of the One Source--the One Life--and Reincarnation, reaching ever toward

perfection and divinity. It seems impossible to disguise the doctrine so

as to change its basic qualities--it will always show its original

shape. And, so it is with the varying opinions of the Western thought

regarding it--the various cults advocating some form of its

doctrine--the original doctrine may be learned and understood in spite

of the fanciful dressings bestowed upon it. "The Truth is One--Men call

it by many names."

It may be of interest to Western readers to mention that some of the

teachers of Occultism and Reincarnation hold that the present revival

of interest on the subject in the Western world is due to the fact that

in Europe and America, more particularly the latter, there is occurring

a reincarnating of the souls of many persons who lived from fifteen

hundred to two thousand years ago, and who were then believers in the

doctrine. According to this view, those who are now attracted toward the

Hindu forms of the doctrine formerly lived as natives of India; those

who favor the Grecian idea, lived in Ancient Greece; others favor the

Egyptian idea, from similar reasons; while the revival of Neo-Platonism,

Gnosticism and general Mysticism, among the present-day Christians is

accounted for by the fact that the early Christians are now

reincarnating in the Western world, having been reborn as Christians

according to the Law of Karmic Attraction. In this manner the advocates

of the doctrine offer the present revival as another proof of their