While Reincarnation has been believed and taught in nearly every nation, and among all races, in former or present times, still we are justified in considering India as the natural Mother of the doctrine, inasmuch as it has found an especially favorable spiritual and mental environment in that land and among its people, the date of its birth there being lost in the cloudiness of ancient history, but the tree of the teaching being still in full flower and still bearing an abundance of fruit. As the Hindus proudly claim, while the present dominant race was still in the savage, cave-dwelling, stone-age stage of existence—and while even the ancient Jewish people were beginning to place the foundation stones of their religion, of which the present Christian religion is but an offshoot—the great Hindu religious teachers and philosophers had long since firmly established their philosophies and religions with the doctrine of Reincarnation and its accompanying teachings, which had been accepted as Truth by the great Aryan race in India. And, throughout forty centuries, or more, this race has held steadfastly to the original doctrine, until now the West is looking again to it for light on the great problems of human life and existence, and now, in the Twentieth Century, many careful thinkers consider that in the study and understanding of the great fundamental thoughts of the Vedas and the Upanishads, the West will find the only possible antidote to the virus of Materialism that is poisoning the veins of Western spiritual understanding.
The idea of reincarnation is to be found in nearly all of the philosophies and religions of the race, at least in some period in their history—among all peoples and races—yet, in India do we find the doctrine in the fullest flower, not only in the past but in the present. From the earliest ages of the race in India, Reincarnation in some of its various forms has been the accepted doctrine, and today it is accepted by the entire Hindu people, with their many divisions and sub-races, with the exception of the Hindu Mohammedans. The teeming millions of India live and die in the full belief in Reincarnation, and to them it is accepted without a question as the only rational doctrine concerning the past, present and future of the soul. Nowhere on this planet is there to be found such an adherence to the idea of “soul” life—the thinking Hindu always regarding himself as a soul occupying a body, rather than as a body “having a soul,” as so many of the Western people seem to regard themselves. And, to the Hindus, the present life is truly regarded as but one step on the stairway of life, and not as the only material life preceding an eternity of spiritual existence. To the Hindu mind, Eternity is here with us Now—we are in eternity as much this moment as we ever shall be—and the present life is but one of a number of fleeting moments in the eternal life.
The early Hindus did not possess the complicated forms of religion now existing among them, with their various creeds, ceremonials, rituals, cults, schools, and denominations. On the contrary, their original form of religion was an advanced form of what some have called “Nature-Worship,” but which was rather more than that which the Western mind usually means by the term. Their “Nature” was rather a “Spirit of Nature,” or One Life, of which all existing forms are but varying manifestations. Even in this early stage of their religious development they held to a belief in reincarnation of the soul, from one form to another. While to them everything was but a manifestation of One Life, still the soul was a differentiated unit, emanated from the One Life, and destined to work its way back to Unity and Oneness with the Divine Life through many and varied incarnations, until finally it would be again merged with the One. From this early beginning arose the many and varied forms of religious philosophy known to the India of today; but clinging to all these modern forms is to be found the fundamental basis idea of reincarnation and final absorption with the One.
Brahmanism came first, starting from the simple and working to the complex, a great priesthood gradually arising and surrounding the original simple religious philosophy with ceremonial, ritual and theological and metaphysical abstractions and speculation. Then arose Buddhism, which, in a measure, was a return to the primitive idea, but which in turn developed a new priesthood and religious organization. But the fundamental doctrine of Reincarnation permeated them all, and may be regarded as the great common centre of the Hindu religious thought and philosophy.
The Hindu religious books are filled with references to the doctrine of Reincarnation. The Laws of Manu, one of the oldest existing pieces of Sanscrit writing, contains many mentions of it, and the Upanishads and Vedas contain countless reference to it. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna: “Know thou, O Prince of Pandu, that there never was a time when I, nor thou, nor any of these princes of earth was not; nor shall there ever come a time, hereafter, when any of us shall cease to be. As the soul, wearing this material body, experienceth the stages of infancy, youth, manhood, and old age, even so shall it, in due time, pass on to another body, and in other incarnations shall it again live, and move and play its part. * * * These bodies, which act as enveloping coverings for the souls occupying them, are but finite things—things of the moment—and not the Real Man at all. They perish as all finite things perish—let them perish. He who in his ignorance thinketh: ‘I slay’ or ‘I am slain,’ babbleth like an infant lacking knowledge. Of a truth none can slay—none can be slain. Take unto thy inner mind this truth, O Prince! Verily, the Real Man—the Spirit of Man—is neither born, nor doth it die. Unborn, undying, ancient, perpetual and eternal, it hath endured, and will endure forever. The body may die; be slain; be destroyed completely—but he that hath occupied it remaineth unharmed. * * * As a man throweth away his old garments, replacing them with new and brighter ones, even so the Dweller of the body, having quitted its old mortal frame, entereth into others which are new and freshly prepared for it. * * * Many have been my births and rebirths, O Prince—and many also have been thine own. But between us lies this difference—I am conscious of all my many lives, but thou lackest remembrance of thine.”
In the Mahabarata is said: “Even as when he casteth off an old garment, man clothes himself in new raiment, even so the soul, casting off the wornout body, takes on a new body, avoids the fatal paths leading to hell, works for its salvation, and proceeds toward heaven.”
The Brhadaranyakopanishad, one of the old Hindu writings, contains the following: “As the caterpillar, getting to the end of the straw, takes itself away after finding a resting place in advance, so the soul leaving this body, and finding another place in advance, takes himself off from his original abode. As the goldsmith taking little by little of the gold expands it into a new form, so, indeed, does this soul, leaving this body, make a new and happy abode for himself.”
But to attempt to quote passages relating to incarnation from the Hindu books, would be akin to compiling a library of many volumes. The sacred writings of the East are filled with references to Reincarnation, and if the latter were eliminated it would be “like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet omitted.”
We cannot enter into a description of the various schools of Hindu religious thought and philosophy in this work, for to do so would be to expand this little volume in several of larger size, so extended is the subject. But underlying the many divisions and subdivisions of Hindu thought may be found the fundamental idea of an original emanation from, or manifestation of, One Divine Being, Power and Energy, into countless differentiated units, atoms, or egos, which units, embodying in matter, are unconscious of the spiritual nature, and take on a consciousness corresponding with the form in which they are embodied. Then follows a series of embodiments, or incarnations, from lower to higher, in which occurs an evolution or “unfoldment” of the nature of the soul, in which it rises to higher and higher planes of being, until finally, after æons of time, it enters in Union with the Divine Nirvana and Para-Nirvana—the state of Eternal Bliss.
The great difference between the Hindu thought and the Grecian is that while the Greeks considered repeated life with joy as a means of greater and greater expression of life, the Hindus, on the contrary, regard life as but a period of travail and sorrow, the only light to be perceived being the expectation and hope of eventually emerging from the region of materiality, and illusion, and regaining true existence in the Spirit. The Hindus nearly all agree that this material life is occasioned by “avidya” or ignorance on the part of the soul of its own real nature and being, whereby it fails to recognize that this material life is “maya” or illusion. They hold that Wisdom consists in the soul recognizing its real nature, and perceiving the illusion of material life and things, and striving to liberate itself from the bondage of materiality and ignorance.
The principal differences among the various Hindu schools of religion and philosophical thought arise from their differing views regarding the nature and constitution of the soul on the one hand, and the means of attaining liberation and freedom from material embodiment on the other. The doctrine of “Karma” of spiritual cause and effect, which we shall consider in another chapter, also runs along with all the varying Hindu conceptions, doctrines, and theories.
Without considering the matter of differences of opinion between the various schools, concerning the nature and constitution of the soul, we may say that all the schools practically agree that the constitution of Man is a complex thing, comprising a number of sheaths, bodies, coverings, or elements, from the grosser to the more spiritual, the various sheaths being discarded as the soul advances on its way toward perfection. There are disputes between the various schools regarding terminology and the precise arrangement of these “principles,” but the following classification will answer for the purpose of giving a general idea of the Hindu views on the subject, subject always to the conflicting claims of the various schools. The classification is as follows, passing from lower to higher:
1. Physical or material body, or Rupa. 2. Vitality of Vital Force, or Prana-Jiva. 3. Astral Body, Etheric Double, or Linga Sharira. 4. Animal Soul, or Kama Rupa. 5. Human Soul, or Manas. 6. Spiritual Soul, or Buddhi. 7. Divine Spirit, or Atma.
From the beginning, the tendency of the Hindu mind was in the direction of resolving the universe of forms, shapes, and change, back into some One Underlying Principle, from which all the phenomenal world emerged—some One Infinite Energy, from which all else emerged, emanated, or evolved. And the early Hindu mind busied itself actively with the solution of the problem of this One Being manifesting a Becoming into Many. Just as is the Western world of today actively engaged in solving many material problems, so was ancient India active in solving many spiritual problems—just as the modern West is straining every energy toward discovering the “How,” so was ancient India straining every effort to discovering the “Why.” And from that struggle of the mind of India there arose countless schools of religious and philosophical thought, many of which have passed away, but many of which persist today. The problem of the relationship of the human soul to the One Being, and the secondary problem of the life, present and future, of the individual soul, is a most vital one to all thinking Hindus today as in the forty centuries or more of its philosophical history. To the Hindu mind, all material research is of minor importance, the important Truth being to discover that “which when once known, all else is understood.” But, as we have said, in spite of the numerous religions, schools, and phases of teaching, among the Hindus, the one fundamental conception of Reincarnation is never lost sight of, nor is it ever doubted in any of the forms of the philosophies or religions.
Ignoring the subdivisions of Hindu philosophical thought, we may say that the Hindu philosophies may be divided into a few general classes, several of which we shall now hastily consider, that you may get a glimpse at the variety of Hindu speculative philosophy in its relation to the soul and its destiny. You will, of course, understand that we can do no more than mention the leading features of each class, as a careful consideration would require volumes for each particular school.
We will first consider the philosophy of Kanada, generally known as the Vaisheshika Teaching, which inclines toward an Atomic Theory, akin to that formulated by the old Greek philosopher Democritus. According to this teaching the substance of the universe is composed of an infinite number of atoms, which are eternal, and which were not created by God, but which are co-eternal with Him. These atoms, combining and forming shapes, forms, etc., are the basis of the material universe. It is held, however, that the power or energy whereby these atoms combine and thus form matter, comes from God. This teaching holds that God is a Personal Being, possessing Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence. It is also held that there are two substances, or principles, higher, that the material energies or substance, namely, Manas, or Mind, and Atman, or Spirit. Manas or Mind is held to be something like a Mind-Stuff, from which all individual minds are built up—and which Mind-Stuff is held to be eternal. Atman, or Spirit, is held to be an eternal principle, from which the Selves or Souls are differentiated. The Atman, or Spirit, or Self, is regarded as much higher than Mind, which is its tool and instrument of expression. This philosophy teaches that through progression, by Reincarnation, the soul advances from lower to higher states, on its road to freedom and perfection.
Another great school of Hindu philosophy is the philosophy of Kapila, generally known as the Sankhya system. This teaching opposes the Atomic Theory of the Vaisheshika system, and holds that the atoms are not indestructible nor eternal, but may be resolved back into a primal substance called Prakriti. Prakriti is held to be an universal, eternal energy or ethereal substance, something similar to certain Western scientific conceptions of an Universal Ether. From this eternal, universal energy, Kapila held that all the universe has been evolved—all material forms or manifestations of energy being but manifestations of Prakriti. But, the Sankhya system is not materialistic, as might be supposed at first glance, for side by side with Prakriti it offers the principle of Purusha, or Soul, or Spirit, of which all individual souls are atomic units—the Principle of Purusha being an Unity of Units, and not an Undivided One. The Purusha—that is, its units or Individual Souls—is regarded as eternal and immortal. Prakriti is devoid of mind, but is possessed of active vital energy, and is capable of producing forms and material manifestations by reason of its inherent energy, and laws, and thus produces what the Hindus call “Maya,” or material illusion, which they hold to be devoid of reality, inasmuch as the forms are constantly changing and have no permanence. This philosophy holds that Prakriti, by means of the glamour of its manifestations of Maya, entices the individual souls, or Purushas, which when once in the centre of attraction of the Maya are drawn into the vortex of material existence, losing a knowledge of their real nature. But the souls never lose entirely the glimmer of the Light of the Spirit, and, consequently, soon begin to feel that they have made a mistake, and consequently begin to strive to escape the bondage of Prakriti and its Maya—but such escape is possible only through a gradual rising up from the depths of Maya, step by step, cycle by cycle, by a series of purification and cleansing of themselves, just as a fly cleanses itself of the sticky substance into which it has fallen. This escape is accomplished by Spiritual Unfoldment or Evolution, by means of Reincarnation—this Evolution not being a “growth,” but rather an “unfoldment” or “unwrapping” of the soul from its confining sheaths, one by one.
Another great school of Hindu philosophy is the philosophy of Patanjali, generally known as the Yoga Philosophy, but which differs from the Yogi Philosophy of the West, which is eclectic in nature. The Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali bears some resemblance to the Sankhya school of Kapila, inasmuch as it recognizes the teachings regarding Prakriti, from which universal energy the material universe has been evolved; and inasmuch as it also recognizes the countless individual Purushas, or souls, which are eternal and immortal, and which are entrapped in the Maya of Prakriti. But it then takes a position widely divergent from the Sankhya school, inasmuch as Patanjali’s Yoga school holds that there also exists a Supreme Purusha, Spirit, Soul—or God—who is without form; infinite; eternal; and above all attributes and qualities common to man. In this respect, Patanjali differs from Kapila, and inclines rather toward agreement with Kanada, of the first mentioned school of the Vaisheshika system. All three philosophers, however, seem to generally agree in the main upon the Mind Principle, which they hold to be beneath Soul or Spirit, and to be in the nature of Mind-Stuff, which is of a semi-material nature—Kapila and Patanjali even going so far as to hold that it is a manifestation of Prakriti or the Universal Energy, rather than a distinct principle. They hold that the Purusha, or Spirit, not the Mind, is the Real Self, and the source of consciousness and the real intelligence. The practical teachings of the school of Patanjali is a system by which the Purusha may escape from and overcome the Prakriti, and thus gain emancipation, freedom, and a return to its natural and original purity and power. This school, of course, teaches Reincarnation, and Progression through Rebirth, in accordance with the principles mentioned above.
Another great school of Hindu philosophy is that known as the Vedanta Philosophy, which many consider the most advanced of all the Hindu systems, and which is rapidly growing in popularity among the educated Hindus, and also among many very intelligent students of philosophical thought in the Western world. Its followers claim that the Vedanta Philosophy has reached the very highest point of philosophical thought, speculation and analysis possible to the human mind of today, and many Western students have claimed that it contains the highest conceptions found in any and all of the great World Philosophies. Be this as it may, it certainly contains much that is the most subtle, refined and keen in the field of philosophical speculative thought of the world, and while, as some claim, it may lack the “appeal to the religious emotions” that some other forms of thought possess, still it proves very attractive to those in whom intellectual development and effort have superseded the “emotional” side of philosophy or religion.
The Vedanta System holds that the Ultimate Reality, or Actual Being, of the universe—the One Absolute Energy or Substance from which all the universe proceeds—is THAT which may be called The Absolute, which is eternal, infinite, indivisible, beyond attributes and qualities, and which is the source of intelligence. The Absolute is held to be One, not Many—Unique and Alone. It is identical with the Sanscrit “Brahman,” and is held to be THAT which has been called “The Unknowable”; the “Father”; the “Over-Soul”; the “Thing-in-Itself”—in short, it is THAT which men mean, and have always meant, when they wished to express the ABSOLUTE REALITY. The Vedantists hold that this Absolute Brahman is the essence of “Sat,” or Absolute Existence; “Chit,” or Absolute Intelligence; and “Ananda,” or Absolute Bliss. Without attempting to enter into an analysis, or close exposition, of the Vedanta Philosophy, or so far as concerns the soul, and its destiny, we may say that it holds that there do not exist the countless eternal, immortal souls or Purushas of the Sankhya philosophy, but instead that the individual souls are but the countless “images or reflections” of the Absolute Being, or Brahman, and have their existence only by reason of the Real Existence of the One Only Being. Consequently, the Spirit within the soul of Man, and which is “the soul of his soul,” is Divine. The Vedantists admit the existence of a “Logos,” or Ishwara, the Lord of the Universe, who is, however, but a manifestation of Brahman—a Great Soul, as it were, and who presides over the evolution of Universes from the Prakriti, and who plays the part of the Demiurge of the old Grecian and Gnostic philosophies. The Vedantists admit the existence (relative) of Prakriti, or Universal Energy, but hold that it is not eternal, or real-in-itself, but is practically identical with Maya, and may be regarded as a form of the Creative Energy of the Absolute, Brahman. This Maya (which while strictly speaking is illusion inasmuch as it has no real existence or eternal quality) is the source of time, space, and causation, and of the phenomenal universe, with its countless forms, shapes, and appearances. The Vedantists teach that the Evolution of the Soul is accomplished by its escaping the folds of Maya, or Materiality, one by one, by means of Rebirths, until it manifests more and more of its Divine Nature; and thus it goes on, and on, from higher to still higher, until at last it enters into the Divine Being and attains Union with God, and is “One with the Father.”
Another great Hindu philosophy is the philosophy of Gautama, the Buddha, which is generally known as the Buddhistic Philosophy, or as Buddhism. It is difficult to give a clear idea of Buddhism in a concise form, for there are so many schools, sects, and divisions among this general school of philosophy, differing upon the minor points and details of doctrine, that it requires a lengthy consideration in order to clear away the disputed points. Speaking generally, however, it may be said that the Buddhists start with the idea or conception of an Unknowable Reality, back of and under all forms and activity of the phenomenal universe. Buddha refused to discuss the nature of this Reality, practically holding it to be Unknowable, and in the nature of an Absolute Nothing, rather than an Absolute Something in the sense of “Thingness” as we understand the term; that is to say, it is a No-Thing, rather than a Thing—consequently it is beyond thought, understanding, or even imagination—all that can be said is that it IS. Buddha refused
to discuss or teach of the manner in which this Unknowable came to manifest upon the Relative Plane, for he held that Man’s proper study was of the World of Things, and how to escape therefrom. In a vague way, however, Buddhism holds that in some way this Unknowable, or a part thereof, becomes entangled in Maya or Illusion, through Avidya or Ignorance, Law, Necessity, or perhaps something in the nature of a Mistake. And arising from this mistaken activity, all the pain and sorrow of the universe arises, for the Buddhist holds that the Universe is a “world of woe,” from which the soul is trying to escape. Buddhism holds that the soul Reincarnates often, because of its desires and attractions, which if nursed and encouraged will lead it into lives without number. Consequently, to the Buddhist, Wisdom consists in acquiring a knowledge of the true state of affairs, just mentioned, and then upon that knowledge building up a new life in which desire and attraction for the material world shall be eliminated, to the end that the soul having “killed out desire” for material things—having cut off the dead branch of Illusion—is enabled to escape from Karma, and eventually be released from Rebirth, thence passing back into the great ocean of the Unknowable, or Nirvana, and ceasing to Be, so far as the phenomenal world is concerned, although of course it will exist in the Unknowable, which is Eternal. Many Western readers imagine the Buddhistic Nirvana to be an utter annihilation of existence and being, but the Hindu mind is far more subtle, and sees a vast difference between utter annihilation on the one hand, and extinction of personality on the other. That which appears Nothingness to the Western Mind, is seen as No-Thingness to the Oriental conception, and is considered more of a resumption of an original Real Existence, rather than an ending thereof.
There is a great difference between the two great schools of Buddhism, the Northern and Southern, respectively, regarding the nature of the soul. The Northern school considers the soul as an entity, differentiated from the Unknowable in some mysterious way not explained by Buddha, and yet different from the individual Purusha of the Sankhya school, before mentioned. On the contrary, the Southern school does not regard the soul as a differentiated or distinct entity, but rather as a centre of phenomenal activity saturated or charged with the results of its deeds, and that therefore the Karma, or the Essence of Deeds, may be considered as the soul itself, rather than as something pertaining to it. The Northern school holds that the soul, accompanied by its Karma, reincarnates along the same
lines as those taught by all the other Hindu schools of Reincarnation and Karma. But the Southern school, on the contrary, holds that it is not the soul-entity that re-incarnates (for there is no such entity), but that instead it is the Karma, or Essence of Deeds, that reincarnates from life to life, according to its attractions, desires, and merits or demerits. In the last mentioned view of the case, the rebirth is compared to the lighting of one lamp from the flame of another, rather than in the transferring of the oil from one lamp to another. But, really, these distinctions are quite metaphysical, and when refined by analysis become hair-splitting. It is said that the two schools of Buddhism are growing nearer together, and their differences reconciled. The orthodox Hindus claim that Buddhism is on the decline in India, being largely supplanted by the various forms of the Vedanta. On the other hand, Buddhism has spread to China, Japan and other countries, where it has taken on new forms, and has grown into a religion of ritualism, creeds, and ceremonialism, with an accompanying loss of the original philosophy and a corresponding increase of detail of teaching, doctrine and disciple and general “churchiness,” including a belief in several thousand different kind of hells. But even in the degenerated forms, Buddhism still holds to Reincarnation as a fundamental doctrine.
In this consideration of the philosophies of India, we do not consider it necessary to go into an explanation of the various forms of religions, or church divisions, among the Hindus. In India, Religion is an important matter, and there seems to be some form of religion adapted to each one of that country’s teeming millions. From the grossest form of religious superstition, and crudest form of ceremony and worship, up to the most refined idealism and beautiful symbolisms, runs the gamut of the Hindu Religions. Many people are unable to conceive of an abstract, ideal Universal Being, such as the Brahman of the Hindu Philosophy, and consequently that Being has been personified as an An thropomorphic Deity, and human attributes bestowed upon him to suit the popular fancy. In India, as in all other countries, the priesthood have given the people that which they asked for, and the result is that many forms of churchly ceremonialism, and forms of worship, maintain which are abhorrent and repulsive to Western ideas. But we of the West are not entirely free from this fault, as one may see if he examines some of the religious conceptions and ceremonies common among ignorant people in remote parts of our land. Certain conceptions, of an anthropomorphic Deity held by some of the more ignorant people of the Western world are but little advanced beyond the idea of the Devil; and the belief in a horned, cloven-hoofed, spiked-tail, red-colored, satyr-like, leering Devil, with his Hell of Eternal Fire and Brimstone, is not so uncommon as many imagine. It has not been so long since we were taught that “one of the chief pleasures of God and his angels, and the saved souls, will be the witnessing of the tortures of the damned in Hell, from the walls of Heaven.” And the ceremonies of an old-time Southern negro camp-meeting were not specially elevating or ideal.
Among the various forms of the religions of India we find some of the before mentioned forms of philosophy believed and taught among the educated people—often an eclectic policy of choosing and selecting being observed, a most liberal policy being observed, the liberty of choice and selection being freely accorded. But, there is always the belief in Reincarnation and Karma, no matter what the form of worship, or the name of the religion. There are two things that the Hindu mind always accepts as fundamental truth, needing no proof—axiomic, in fact. And these two are (1) The belief in a Soul that survives the death of the body—the Hindu mind seeming unable to differentiate between the consciousness of “I Am,” and “I always Have Been, and always Shall Be”—the knowledge of the present existence being accepted as a proof of past and future existence; and (2) the doctrine of Reincarnation and Karma, which are accepted as fundamental and axiomic truths beyond the need of proof, and beyond doubt—as a writer has said: “The idea of Reincarnation has become so firmly fixed and rooted in the Hindu mind as a part of belief that it amounts to the dignity and force of a moral conviction.” No matter what may be the theories regarding the nature of the universe—the character of the soul—or the conception concerning Deity or the Supreme Being—you will always find the differing sects, schools, and individuals accepting Reincarnation and Karma as they accept the fact that they themselves are existent, or that twice one makes two. Hindu Philosophy cannot be divorced from Reincarnation. To the Hindu the only escape from the doctrine of Reincarnation seems to be along the road of the Materialism of the West. From the above statement we may except the Hindu Mohammedans and the native Hindu Christians, partially, although careful observers say that even these do not escape entirely the current belief of the country, and secretly entertain a “mental reservation” in their heterodox creeds. So, you see, we are justified in considering India as the Mother Land of Reincarnation (Excerpts from “Reincarnation and Law of Karma”).