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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
stories 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
teachings.





Next: Between And Beyond Incarnations

Previous: The Hindus



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