Reincarnation Essay, Research Paper
I suppose in the world, today, there are really three approaches to the idea of
reincarnation. A two-fold one in the West, where the idea itself is almost
non-existent, either a belief in the transmigration of souls – that you could be a
human being in one life and an animal in the next, and therefore that there is
great danger in swiping flies and treading on ants because it could be your
grandmother — or simply an interest in past lives. That is almost the sole interest
in the concept of rebirth in the West.
In the East, broadly speaking, people do believe in reincarnation and, correctly,
in relation to the Law of Karma. Unfortunately, even in the East, the Law of
Karma is seen from an erroneous point of view. Of course, here and there, both
in East and West, there is a correct interpretation and approach to the idea of
rebirth, and its close connection with the Law of Action and Reaction, Cause and
In the Orient, most people believing in the Law of Karma accept that they are
who and where they are because of their actions in a previous life, which is true;
but, unfortunately, they think they can do nothing about changing their particular
situation, which is not true. In the West, we tend to think that we are totally in
control of our destiny, which we are to some extent, but that there is no greater
law governing our destiny, which is not true.
The Westerner tends to reject the idea of a future life. It is an idea which is
only just beginning to engage people’s minds. If he thinks about it at all, he really
thinks about it in terms of: If I have a future life, I must have had a past life; and if
I had a past life it is interesting to know who I was. The popular literature in the
West about reincarnation is almost exclusively about previous existences.
There are now many techniques, authentic or otherwise, advertised and used to
take people back into an experience of their past lives: hypnosis, rebirthing, and
so on. Of course, there is also much serious research on the subject going on in
several countries. The work of Professor Ian Stevenson and others is adding
much evidence pointing to the likelihood of the fact of reincarnation.
The Danger of Knowing our Past Lives
Is it of value to know our past lives? After a certain point: yes. Before that point,
not only is it not of major value, it can actually be dangerous. There is a
little-known law that when we become truly aware of our past life we enter into
the karma of that time. Most of us have a heavy enough load of karma to deal
with in this life without an unnecessary load from some previous one, which
happily we are not yet called upon to resolve.
And it is irresponsible for so-called clairvoyants to tell people about their past
lives; even if they are correct. Particularly if they are correct! If they are wrong,
people will still create thoughtforms around that incorrect image of themselves.
That makes for glamour, illusion. If they are right, the people involved become
subject to the karma for which they may not yet be prepared. There are
occasions, in certain illnesses of a mental nature, which cannot be handled in any
other way, in which it may be useful to go back to a previous life. These are
relatively few, and the way is through hypnosis.
The whole subject is fraught with danger and complexity. When our past lives
enter spontaneously into our consciousness, they will do so under law. The more
important thing is to know that every moment we are making karma, we are
creating our next life right now.
Needless to say, you will always find clairvoyants, channels and sensitives who
are only too happy, for a price, to look into your past and to tell you about your
previous lives. But how do you know if they are right or wrong? In what possible
way can you verify what they may tell you? It is better for you to keep your
money. If you are told that in a previous life you were important and powerful (it is
usually some king, queen, priestess), a priestess in Egypt, say, how can you
prove this? And are you, today, at least the equivalent in importance, influence
and power in the world, contributing something original and creative to life?
Memories are Not Infallible
It is also the easiest thing in the world to be mistaken in our own memories. Let
me illustrate with an instance from my own experience which rose in my
consciousness during a profound meditation lasting about five hours. I saw myself
(it did not look like me now, but I recognized myself nevertheless) as a minister of
religion during religious persecutions somewhere in Europe around the 1650s.
My church looked on to a square. I stood on the steps outside the church
listening to the shrieks and cries of pain and terror. I knew what it meant: the
Protestants were being set upon by the soldiery and put to the sword. From a
road at one corner of the square the people came running, screaming, chased by
the soldiers. Diagonally across the square and into the church they ran, seeking
sanctuary. I stood in the church entrance, a very tall, broad figure in a long black
cassock, urging the terrified people into the church. The soldiers came up the
steps, stabbing and laying about them with their swords. I was not at all afraid,
but held my arms out sideways to block their passage. I said, “This is my holy
place.” To my surprise, they were not the least impressed, and one ran me
through with his sword. I can see it vividly now: this tall, broadly built man and the
sword through his chest. I fell and can still clearly feel the sensation of the hard,
cold stone on my cheek as I lay dying on the steps of my church.
For years I believed I had remembered in total clarity, like a film, my last
minutes of a previous life, and it was not until about ten years ago that I learned
from my Master that the experience was real, had happened, but not to me. It
was nothing to do with me; I had never lived near that town or been the minister
in the black cassock.
It was a clairvoyant experience of the death of someone closely related to me
on the soul plane. So how do you know what you are picking up? How can you be
Fatalism is Not the Correct Approach
Fatalistic Eastern people have a different point of view. They are not so worried
about who they were in their past life. They believe that if they are poor, hungry,
miserable, indebted to the landlord, with hardly enough to feed their family, they
were someone really terrible before. They believe it is the Law of Karma because
they were so bad, nasty, horrible, such low-grade human beings in their past life,
they deserve the misery they are in now.
They believe that; it is the teaching. And they believe, because it is the Law of
Karma, that there is nothing they can do about it. They accept it totally,
fatalistically, as their due according to the law. And they also believe that if they
accept their lot meekly and try to be good they will be rewarded with a life of
higher status next time around. If there is anything which has kept the Orient
down, in terms of its living standards, its social happiness, social democracy and
equality, it is the acceptance of the Law of Karma on that basis.
There is nothing to prevent the untouchables of India from transforming their
lives except the acceptance that their untouchability is due to their misdeeds in
former lives. So, some kind of balance has to be reached, both from the Eastern
and the Western viewpoints, in the approach to these two great laws: the Law of
Karma, Cause and Effect, and the Law of Rebirth, its corollary.
The Law of Cause and Effect, Karma
This is the basic law governing our existence in this solar system and is the
outcome of the action of the energy of the alter ego of our solar system, the
constellation Sirius. Just as our personalities are acting out, more or less well, the
intentions of ourselves as souls, so this solar system acts under the intentions of
Sirius as its soul. To put it more succinctly, the relationship between Sirius and
this solar system is the same as the relationship between our soul and its
reflection, the personality.
Every thought, every action that we have and make sets into motion a cause.
These causes have their effects. These effects make our lives, for good or ill. We
are now, have been, and will go on, making our lives from moment to moment.
Sooner or later, the causes set into motion by our thoughts and actions will
produce effects which will rebound on us; and we will experience that as good
karma or bad karma.
When it is uncomfortable we call it bad karma. And when it is good karma,
when life is comfortable, easy, we do not notice it. We take it as our right, our
due, because that is what we expect life to be like. People really only talk about
karma when they mean bad karma. It is important to realize and remember that
we have more good karma than bad karma.
Lords of Karma
Like all laws, the Law of Karma is under the control, the jurisdiction, of certain
entities — in this case, the Lords of Karma. The Lords of Karma are like cosmic
judges. They look at this action and reaction of causes and effects which we set
in motion, and they regulate this according to our needs as evolving souls. It is
always the soul which incarnates, in every entity, human or sub-human. Our souls
incarnate in a personality with a given structure of energies, rays, which relate to
the karma and the possibilities of that particular incarnation.
The souls cooperate with the Lords of Karma to decide what pain or pleasure
we will suffer in any particular life. That, of course, is precisely the wrong way to
describe what happens. The soul is not at all interested, nor are the Lords of
Karma, in our pleasure or our suffering. These are simply psychological reactions
What they are interested in is the working out of the Law, the cosmic Law of
Cause and Effect. Also, the soul has its own purposes for every given
incarnation. It provides itself with a vehicle, the personality, with mental,
emotional and physical bodies which will provide the possibility for its intentions
being achieved in that particular life. That purpose might not be achieved, but the
soul provides the possibility. The soul lives ever in hope!
The ultimate aim is to live life in such a way that we make no personal karma.
We can do that either by being perfect or being dead. Since being perfect is
much more interesting than being dead, most people accept the premise of trying,
more or less, to achieve the soul’s purpose and staying to the last possible
moment to do so. Thus, we work with this burden which we have ourselves
created in the present and in past lives.
We try, consciously or unconsciously, to become perfect. We have no control
over the events of life. The only thing we can control is our reaction to these
events. So the aim is to achieve such a measure of detachment from events that
we can control ourselves. In this way we cope with the burden of karma in any
given incarnation. This is not a case of sitting in a catatonic stupor, so that we do
nothing and therefore create no karma.
What we can do, in every event, in every situation, is distance ourselves from
that event — looking at the event as out there, and us here, and not react. In this
way we gradually create an impersonality in relation to life, a detachment in
relation to events, where we become indifferent to whether our karma is good or
Renunciation Leads to Self-Mastery
Correctly seen, evolutionary life is a gradual renunciation of the lower for the
sake of the higher. As a soul in incarnation, a high level of divinity has incarnated
at a lower level of divinity, and the journey to perfection, the evolutionary goal, is
the gradual renunciation of these lower levels, by embodying, at these lower
levels, the higher; becoming more and more what one essentially is as a soul.
The soul makes its journey into incarnation over aeons of time, and then back,
out of the need to incarnate at all. The path of return for the soul is the gradual
release of itself from the limitations of the physical, astral and mental planes. This
is done by infusing its vehicles — physical, emotional and mental — with its
energies and qualities. Two things are going on at the same time in this process.
One is the gradual spiritualizing of the vehicle by the soul. The other is the
burdening of the vehicle, intentionally, by the soul, to burn up ancient karma.
As the soul progresses in its incarnational experience, so its reflection, the man
or woman in incarnation, receives a heavier and heavier burden of karma until, in
the last incarnation of all, in which the person will be a fourth-degree initiate, the
burden is at its heaviest. It is for this reason that the fourth initiation is called, in
the West, the Crucifixion and, in the East, the Great Renunciation. In that
experience everything, all the lower aspects, are being renounced in favor of the
higher spiritual reality. That is why the life of the fourth-degree initiate is usually,
from the world’s point of view, painful, heavy indeed.
People imagine that, as a man or woman progresses in evolution, they should
become freer and freer of karma. The opposite is true. Not only that, but as a
man or woman becomes a disciple, becomes initiate, a world-server, they take
more and more of the weight of world karma. They are the upholders of the world.
Their shoulders are, and need to be, broad. Imagine a bridge over a river, and the
river is the world and its karma, and the disciples and initiates are the pillars of
the bridge, and the spaces between are the masses of people. Where there are
spaces, the water flows easily through. It is the pillars of the bridge that take the
force of the flood, of the water.
In a very real sense, the disciples and initiates of the world support the world.
That is one reason why the life of a disciple is, from the average man’s point of
view, a very difficult life to lead. But, of course, he is governed by the great Law
of Service. Under this law, disciples and initiates come very frequently into
incarnation to serve world need and to finish off this earth experience as quickly
as possible — not to get it over with, but to serve the better. The more advanced a
person is, the more he can serve, the more useful he can be to the world.
When a certain level is reached — that of the third-degree initiate — the
relationship to the Law of Cause and Effect changes. Gradually the law is
manipulated by the person himself. As a conscious divine soul, working in the
world, he becomes really the pilot of his own plane. He may have a co-pilot, his
Master, but he is the pilot. It is not an automatic thing, but gradually this point is
achieved. He takes an active part in his own evolution, consciously working with
the Law of Karma, under the control of his soul. Then it may come to pass that
his previous lives will open up before his inner eye. As this happens, also the
karma of that time becomes open to him on the physical plane, which, of course,
increases the burden of the initiate.
The aim is that by the time the person is ready to take the fifth initiation and
become a Master, all karma will have been resolved, burned up, taken back to
the source from which it came.
Service: The Best Method for Resolving Karma
How do you get rid of karma; how do you deal with it? Well, you cannot give it
away. It is too heavy, nobody wants it. There is no sale for excess karma;
everyone has enough of their own. So what do you do, how can you cope with
this burden that limits your activity, your joy and happiness? There is a very
simple method. It is called service. Service is the way par excellence for getting
rid of karma. Of course it does not get rid of it, but it burns it up.
The process is something like this: as you serve you draw to yourself energy.
By giving out energy, you get energy back; that is the law. Basically, it is the Law
of Love, which governs our nature, without which the universe would not exist. It
is, of course, in another sense, the Law of Cause and Effect itself. As you give
love, you set in motion a cause, the effect of which is the return of love. So the
law itself sets in motion its own fulfilment. As we serve, we demonstrate love. As
we demonstrate love, by law, we get love. That strengthens and potentizes the
individual in a way in which he can deal with his own karma.
As the person progresses in love, in service, he is automatically distancing
himself from the effect of events. The events take place, but they have less and
less effect on his psychology. In the East they say: well, it’s my karma. In France
they say: well, c’est la vie. Gradually, we have to develop an attitude of c’est la
vie. If it is good, easy: c’est la vie. If it is hard, if it is painful, makes us unhappy:
c’est la vie. We really have to live with that attitude.
Right Relationship Ends the Karmic Cycle
The Law of Karma is a great binding law, but it is benign. Nobody receives
more karma than their soul, and the Lords of Karma, know they can usefully
handle. Some lives for some people are very hard, very painful, very limited
indeed. From the point of view of the soul, this is probably intentional and useful,
productive. Because the soul knows that, by the burning in this way of a burden
of karma from the past, greater progress can be made. What holds us back, what
limits us, is our karma. The efforts made in dealing with the karma pave the way
for periods of growth. Our development proceeds thus in cycles.
The Law of Karma is not a mechanical law of punishment. If you hit somebody
on the head, it is not inevitable that you will be hit on the head. It is not a question
of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It is simply the energetic outcome of
previous causes set in motion by ourselves. All that we do will inevitably come
back in some way or other. However, we can do something about it. The
untouchables of India can change their lives. They are not bound by karma to be
untouchables. That is a social structure, a class system, which binds people to
particular stations in life. It is totally artificial and man-made. The poverty, the
squalor, the degradation and the misery of people in the Third World is not
necessary, it is not a result of karma, but of our greed. And we have the major
responsibility to help them change these conditions and enter true living.
People think of karma as always from the past life, but what about yesterday’s
karma, or the day before, last week’s, last month’s karma? It is this succession of
moments of action and reaction which today we are coping with, which tomorrow
and in our next life we will cope with. Until we come into right relationship with
each other and with the whole of which we are a part, we will go on making bad
karma. It is more important, more useful, to realize the benefit of right
relationship, thus handling the Laws of Karma and Rebirth correctly, than to know
our past lives.