Rosicrucian Writings Online

Reincarnation and Old Age

By Dr. H. Spencer Lewis
[From The Mystic Triangle September 1928]
EVERY so often we receive letters from members expressing their views about the doctrine of reincarnation.  A great many new members who are more or less unfamiliar with the real principles of the doctrine of reincarnation, as presented by AMORC, state that they cannot accept the doctrine in its entirety, and wonder whether this will interfere with their progress through the studies. We always inform these members that the acceptance of the doctrine of reincarnation is not vital in the first year of our studies, and that we prefer not to have any member accept the doctrine purely on faith, or because we refer to it in our teachings. In fact, if the doctrine is set aside, it will not cause any delay in the progress of the student, for it is not vital to the understanding of the hundreds of other principles in our teachings, which are easily demonstrable and of practical value. In fact, I personally feel that if none of our members accept the doctrine of reincarnation until they become convinced of it eventually, it would make little difference so far as their progress through the grades is concerned, and their practical application of the many other principles.
Reincarnation is a law which is self-evident to the highly developed mystic and to the person who becomes attuned with other mystic laws and principles, and for this reason it is safe to recommend to our new members that if they have no conviction in regard to reincarnation, that they be not concerned about it nor accept it on faith, but wait for the time to come when they will become convinced one way or another about it, and in the meantime set it aside as something unimportant until it becomes of vital interest. As I have intimated above, it is fortunate that this great law of reincarnation does eventually become self-evident, and through certain experiences which every developed mystic is sure to have, the doctrine of reincarnation becomes a conviction, rather than a principle of faith. It is for this reason that the doctrine has become acceptable and understandable to millions of persons throughout the world in all ages.
I can understand, however, why a great many hesitate to accept the doctrine, as it is generally presented. There certainly has been more misconception or misrepresentation about reincarnation in popular books and popular writings than about almost any other mystical law. There are two explanations for this. In the first place, some Oriental nations or sections of nations given to idolatry or heathen forms of worship have built up a false doctrine of reincarnation built upon the ancient principles transmitted to them by tradition, without any serious thought or scientific investigation. For instance, we often find in foreign popular literature, references to the transmigration of souls, and to the belief that the soul of man may be born again in a lower animal such as a cat or a dog or some sacred beast of some country, or in the body of a wild and undeveloped tribesman. Some beliefs and ideas are far from the true principles of reincarnation, and are responsible for the ridicule that has been brought to this great law. We are not surprised, however, at such superstitions or heathenish ideas in the world today. When one stops to think that the beautiful teachings of Buddha have become perverted in the very Oriental lands where the true teachings of Buddha were established hundreds of years ago, and are still known to the enlightened ones, and that several million persons are practising a form of Buddhism today which consists of building great images of grotesque appearance supposed to represent Buddha, to which the peoples go or send their hired priestly representatives to merely burn incense and bow in ignorant worship; then we can understand how knowledge may become misinterpreted, and great facts misunderstood and an erroneous understanding built up in substitution of the correct one. Another reason for the misunderstanding of reincarnation is the fact that the popular books that have treated upon this subject in the Occidental world have been written by persons unacquainted with the real principles, and generally intended to serve as light reading without the intention to have the knowledge serve any practical purpose. Such books have brought criticism and ridicule from clergymen, scientists, and thinking persons, with the result that until recent years, one never spoke of the subject of reincarnation in public without apologetically explaining that it was merely an ancient belief which was indifferently accepted at the present time.
On the other hand, there are one or two other reasons for the general hesitation in accepting the doctrine of reincarnation by those who are well versed in Occidental religions and scientific knowledge. First of all, we have the school of spiritualists, who have succeeded in building up their theories and misconceptions in the Occidental world to a degree unknown and unaccepted in the Oriental world. According to these theories and principles, man continues to live for indefinite eons of time in the spiritual world after transition, retaining the same identity, tendencies, weaknesses, habits, and idiosyncrasies. The acceptance of such a belief would naturally preclude the acceptance of the doctrine of reincarnation. And since the spiritualists claim that their seance demonstrations, spirit messages, tambourine and trumpet manifestations, slate writing, photograph productions and other weird performances prove their theories, they have succeeded in convincing a host of persons into believing that their theories are correct. On the other hand, the strictly orthodox persons of the various Christian denominations seem to believe that the doctrine of immortality as presented in the churches, and seemingly verified by statements in the Bible, also preclude the possibility of rebirth on earth.
The fact of the matter is that the spiritualists have not succeeded in any way in proving that if communication between this earth plane and the spirit world is possible, and that those who have departed from this plane can communicate with those who are still here, the doctrine of reincarnation is not true. There is not necessarily any inconsistency between their theories and the doctrine of reincarnation, in so far as the theories which they are able to demonstrate under test conditions are concerned. Of course if we accept the very questionable demonstrations which occur in some seances, whereby the so-called medium can instantly, and without other reason than a mercenary or idle motive, call to earth from the spirit plane the spirit form of Columbus or Socrates, Benjamin Franklin or any other person who has passed from this earth plane at any time in its period of history, then we would have to admit that the doctrine of reincarnation is inconsistent with the spiritualistic pretensions. But the fact remains that all of the demonstrations made under absolutely test conditions, by the most eminent scientists, tend to show that these sort of demonstrations are not acceptable, and are even unworthy of scientific consideration. It is a notable fact that under scientific conditions the communications received and tentatively accepted by the scientists as worthy of further investigation, come from those persons who have been on the so-called spirit plane but a short time, and it seems to be almost impossible, if not precisely so, to get into communication with the so-called spirit of a person who passed from this earth plane many years ago.
However, we are not discussing the spiritualistic doctrines at the present time, but the doctrine of reincarnation. As for the orthodox teachings of Christianity, there are none set forth in the Bible which completely and convincingly preclude the acceptance of the doctrine of reincarnation; while on the other hand, there are many references, even by Jesus and his Disciples, which are understandable only from the basis of the actuality of reincarnation.
Typical of some of the letters received from our members is the following, and I think that our members will be glad to read this letter and note our answer thereto. The letter says:
"You did not answer all of my questions. Two I would like particularly answered. Are there any people on earth who have lived a very long time without transition, like Zanoni? I do not reject the doctrine of reincarnation, but it seems dreadful to me to be born again and go through babyhood and the long years of school; to have to do it over and over seems quite the worst punishment any devil could conceive, much less a just God. And then to die so many times, it is awful! Death is a dreadful thing! It should be abolished, but how? Not to know where we go after death, or where our loved ones are; why the mystery? It was in the hope of finding these things out that I joined the AMORC."
We must admit that this letter is unique in some of its statements, when we consider that it is from a person educated, cultured, and interested in mystical subjects. It is perhaps the first time in many years that any of our hundreds of thousands of letters coming from such a person has expressed the idea that death is a dreadful thing, and that to die a number of times is awful. But we will answer the question in this letter, and comment on the other statements, as follows:
First of all, wherein is the doctrine of reincarnation, with its transition, period of rest on the spirit plane, and plane rebirth again on earth, more dreadful than the doctrine that after one birth and one more or less short period of opportunities to learn, improve, develop and perfect one's self, transition suddenly comes, cutting short all usefulness and opportunities, and bringing in its wake an endless, eternal period of unconscious existence awaiting a final judgment day with the inevitable weighing of our weaknesses and faults and the consequences which follow?
The Sister who wrote the foregoing letter refers to the terrible thought of going to where we do not know our loved ones after death. Is there anything in the orthodox doctrines which relieves this anxiety, or convincingly shows that after transition we are conscious of our loved ones or even conscious of ourselves until the far distant judgment day? Spiritualism attempts to relieve this anxiety, but we cannot include the doctrines of spiritualism in the orthodox category. And why should transition be called a terrible thing? I know of thousands of persons today who have absolutely no fear of transition nor of the future state. Until one removes from one's consciousness all fear of death or transition, one does not truly live or understand the beauties of life. But to one who does fear death or transition, there is no doctrine known to us either in the orthodox principles of Christianity, in spiritualism, or in the Oriental religions which will afford comfort and peace in this regard. If we believe or know that transition is inevitable, and that so-called death of the body is one of the surest things, then most certainly the doctrine of reincarnation becomes the most acceptable, and most comforting, of all of the explanations of the law of immortality. But if one believes that transition is not inevitable, and that it is a result of violation of natural laws on our part and is a punishment for our misunderstanding of how to live, then not only does the doctrine of reincarnation become a false, terrifying idea, but all of the orthodox principles explaining the immortality of man and his inevitable entrance into the spiritual world become likewise intolerable and disconcerting.
This brings us at once to the other question in the letter given above. The Sister wants to know whether there are any people on earth who have lived a very long time without transition. A similar question is found in hundreds of letters received by us from persons who have read popular stories in mystical literature about eminent mystical characters who have lived almost endlessly, or eternally or for hundreds of years in one body without transition. In fact, this idea seems to be a popular understanding on the part of several hundred thousand persons in the Oriental world. We must admit that some teachers and some writers, some lecturers and some promulgators of elixirs and private courses of instruction have fostered this idea in order to aid them in their selfish motives. But we wish to call attention to this one outstanding fact: No one rises to present to us the living body of a person who has lived continuously in one body without transition for over 144 years. We say 144 years, and we might safely say 140 years. For fifteen years we have carefully searched every record submitted to us by persons in our organization and outside of it, living in the Occidental and Oriental worlds, and we have written to all of our foreign branches, have asked certain Bureaus of Statistics and Scientific Bureaus; we have written to institutes such as the Smithsonian Institute, the John Hopkins Hospital, and institutes in Europe and the Orient, and we have gone through ancient and modern records, encyclopedias, and books of queer facts, still we have not had presented to us any positive information showing, beyond any doubt, that any person is known to have lived in one body more than 144 years.
Now we know that there are references in the present versions of the Christian Bible to persons who lived hundreds of years, and we know that there are references in sacred writings of the Orient to persons who lived in the same body for hundreds of years. But none of the most learned of the interpreters and authorities of Christian or sacred literature are willing to say over their signature that they believe that the years referred to in such accounts are similar to the years that we understand according to our present calendar. And we know also that the Egyptians and many other Oriental nations were given to exaggerated statements in regard to old age, not for the purpose of wilfully deceiving but merely to emphasize the fact that some persons lived for an unusually long period. If one of their ancients lived for 130 years, it was considered so miraculous that in the traditional stories passed from one generation to another by word of mouth, it was stated that the character lived to be hundreds of years old, or perhaps a thousand years old. None of the excavations made in Egypt or in other lands where mummies have been found, or where the remains of bodies have been found in marked tombs, or with other signs to distinguish them, reveal any of the bodies of persons who lived any unusual length of time.
We also have the records of mystical writers who refer to the great Masters of Thibet or the Far East who are living today, and yet were born in the same body several hundred, or possibly a thousand years ago. These statements are based upon a misunderstanding, as can be verified by our own records from our branches in the Orient, and from the archives of the G. T. in Thibet.
Such Masters as are referred to in these writings are still living and were living many hundreds of years ago. But, they are not living today in the same body which they occupied in their early activities in the eighth, ninth, tenth or eleventh centuries. Each of them passed through a number of transitions and have been re-born again, but because of their high development, they have retained the same personality and are known to be the same person. It is the misunderstanding of this that has led popular writers of mystical literature to think that these persons have lived without transition.
Again we say, as we have said many times when conducting investigations on this subject, that we challenge any one to prove to us with documents that are indisputable that any person living today was born more than 144 years ago according to our present calendar. If those persons who believe that there are men and women living today who are more than 144 years old, and are ready to argue this point with us will first attempt to get the actual proof of their statements before insisting that we change our statements in this regard, they will soon find that the writers of the books, and the lecturers presenting such claims hesitate to bring forth the indisputable evidence and generally evade the issue.
One of the arguments often presented by some of our members against the doctrine of reincarnation is this: Since I have such a good memory, why is it that I cannot remember even the least bit about my past incarnations? In other words, the tendency on the part of these persons is to feel that because they have no distinct remembrance of any events in the past, they cannot believe that they ever lived before. The trouble with such a form of reasoning is this: Such persons forget that in any past life lived on this earth they had a different individuality, with a different name, belonging to a different nation, with different tongue, and different environment. Such a person, for instance, may be John Jones, a physician, in the present incarnation. He wonders why he cannot recall himself as John Jones with similar scientific knowledge, understanding, and comprehension, living in some other country, at some other time. He may occasionally have flashes of consciousness of a character different than himself, and may at times feel a certain familiarity with the life of soldiers, or the life of a farmer, or the life of a carpenter, or something of that kind, but he does not associate such characters with himself. Secondly, such persons forget that regardless of how good their present memory may be, they cannot recall the incidents of the early part of their childhood, except so vaguely that they are not even sure of them. How many of you who read this page can remember what occurred in your first and second years of life in this present incarnation? Can you remember yourself as a little boy or girl in the crib? Can you remember yourself being bathed as an infant by your mother? Can you remember the first steps you took in trying to walk? Can you remember the rooms in which you spent your infant days or the days of your early childhood? Some of you will recall some outstanding event of your life which occurred in the second, third or fourth year, but if you analyze it, you will see at once that you remember it so vaguely and in such a way that it seems to be an incident which you witnessed, and apart from yourself. If our memory of events in this incarnation is so vague, then why think it strange that our memory of events in a life several hundred years ago is also vague? Granting that the average member who reads this page is now about forty years of age, we would say that such average member passed away from this earth plane in transition when they were sixty years of age in the last incarnation. This would mean that in the average case the transition occurred in 1804, and that in trying to remember incidents of the past life, the average member would have to go back to the years 1744 to 1804. Certainly that is a long time ago, and whether the person lived in this country or in other countries, the thoughts of the people, the conditions of living, and the general mental development were such that the character of that time would be much unlike any character of the present time. And the personalities would be so dissimilar that it would be difficult for a person living today to recollect events of that time, and feel that they were associated with the present personality.
But there are thousands of instances where persons do recall events of the past life. I think that in our records we have the statements of several thousand Americans, who have gradually become conscious of events in their past lives through the awakening of their dormant memories, or the awakening of dormant chapters in the memory records. As we have said above, there generally comes a time to every well-developed mystic, or to every student of mysticism who bides his time and who gradually awakens the dormant inner self, when the doctrine of reincarnation becomes a conviction through various occurrences, and generally these occurrences are the result of the awakened memory.
And then there are many eminent incidents, on record, of children who have suddenly proved to be familiar with a past life. We do not have time or space in this magazine to present the great many recorded instances of such manifestations. A child of two or three years of age is very apt to be more familiar with the past incidents of a previous incarnation than an adult of thirty or forty years, whose present memory has become charged with more recent and more important facts. This accounts for the many peculiar statements and tendencies on the part of children, and it also explains the child's strong likes and dislikes which often have to be overcome in order that he may blend more completely with present environment, family associations and conditions.
There is, for instance, the one incident of the three-year old child who was to have an operation in a Canadian hospital. For several weeks, specialists were undecided whether the operation, which was of a very critical nature, should be performed or not. And it was generally held that the operation was unnecessary and merely experimental, and the parents protested as well as many relatives. During one of the clinical examinations of the child, for the purpose of determining whether an operation should be performed or not, the child was greatly annoyed by certain tests of an aggravating nature. Suddenly, the little child in a burst of violent passion protested against any further examination, by crying out in a language foreign to its birth and country, and claiming that it was not an infant, but had lived previously in a city as a certain character, and it had certain experiences and certain knowledge, and knew certain persons who would verify the statements made. Verification of every statement made by the child showed that it had lived where it said, had passed on through transition at the time it stated, and was unquestionably the reincarnation of the former character. It is interesting to note that after this fit of passionate protest and explanation had been made, the child was not able to again speak the language it had used in this protest, and could recall no other incidents of the past life. Something in the stressed circumstances, and the suffering she was passing through in the clinic, awakened the closed chapters of her memory momentarily. Other incidents of a similar nature have been recorded or reported from many parts of the world, and in most cases, when the closed chapters of the memory were awakened through some development or strenuous condition, they have remained open and accessible, and have revealed many interesting facts of the past life.
Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most recent of these incidents is one that is now being published in all the newspapers of the world, and featured in many special articles. The account we have was sent direct to us from a newspaper published in foreign lands, and is the original report given in a recent issue of the "Times", in India. A little girl known as Ramkali, the daughter of Pandit Ganga Vishnu, a Brahman, living in the little village of Shadinangar, suddenly claimed that she could recall some incidents of a previous life. When only three years of age, she had told her father of an earlier life, but was very indefinite about the many important points. As time passed, she became more conscious of the incidents of the past, and finally stated that she recalled having lived in a village named Maglebagh. She said that she recalled having had three sons, and that one of them had been born just before her transition. She said that the oldest one was named Siyaram, and the second one Ramswaroop, and that the third one had not been named at the time of her transition. She insisted upon wanting to go to the city where she had closed her life, to visit her three sons who were still living. So insistent did she become in this regard, and so clear in her statements to scientists and others who listened to her story, that eventually the father, accompanied by several specialists, took the daughter and his wife on a bullock cart to the little village of Maglabagh in a section of India where he and his wife had never visited and knew no one. While approaching the village, the child began to point out familiar scenes and described houses and places that they would pass or reach at certain points. She finally pointed out two houses in the distance in which she said she had lived during her previous life. They approached the one in which she said she had lived last, and the child walked up to two men who were inside the home and immediately recognized them as her sons, although they were now considerably older. The girl proceeded then to describe alterations and repairs that had been made in the house many years before, and answered questions put to her by the villagers in regard to incidents in the life of the people there, and finally described her own relationship and associations with many still living there; then proceeded to describe the hiding place of things in the home where she had put many of her personal belongings shortly before her transition. The sons living in the home verified all her statements regarding her illness and her transition, the birth of the youngest son, the names she used, and the many intimate matters that had occurred in their home life before their young mother had passed on. The account is verified by an eminent scientist named Ahmed Mirza, a graduate physician and a Bachelor of Sciences holding a degree in Edinburgh University and by many others who have investigated the case very carefully.
If we admit, as the scientists have who have investigated this story, that this little girl most certainly lived once before, in the time and place and under the circumstances she describes, then we have one case of reincarnation. And if we have but one case proved in any part of the world or in any part of the universe, we have the law or doctrine of reincarnation established. For we cannot conceive of exceptional cases, or only one case out of a million, or a mere unique event in the laws of this scheme of life. And as I intimated, this case is but one of a great many called to our attention by members, scientists, physicians, and by investigators, not only in this country but in many countries. And it takes more than mere argument to believe, or the skepticism of a doubting Thomas, to set such reports aside and make any sane or sensible person believe that they prove nothing and mean nothing.
But as we have said above, whether the doctrine of reincarnation is acceptable to you or not is immaterial so far as the other work and principles of the AMORC are concerned. Until you can become convinced of the doctrine itself, through your own experiences and your own knowledge, you may accept it or reject it, and find in the other principles and teachings of the organization sufficient to enable you to live a better, more happy, and more profitable life. Sooner or later, the reason for your present existence will dawn upon you, and with that realization will come a realization of your past as a link in the cycle of your existence.

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