Abbreviations: BCW H.P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, TPH, 1950-91 ET The Esoteric Tradition, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1940 FSO Fountain-Source of Occultism, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1974 HPBM H.P. Blavatsky: The Mystery, G. de Purucker, PLP, 1974 Key The Key to Theosophy, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1972 (1889) ML The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, A. Trevor Barker (comp.), TUP, 2nd ed., 1926 Ocean The Ocean of Theosophy, W.Q. Judge, TUP, 1973 (1893) OG Occult Glossary, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1996 SD The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1977 (1888) SOP Studies in Occult Philosophy, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1945 TGA The Gods Awake, Katherine Tingley, TUP, 2nd ed., 1992 WoS Wind of the Spirit, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1984
‘Reincarnation An anglicized word of Latin derivation, meaning “reinfleshment,” the coming again into a human body of an excarnate human soul. The repetitive reimbodiment of the reincarnating human ego in vehicles of human flesh – this being a special case of the general doctrine of reimbodiment. This general doctrine of reimbodiment applies not solely to man, but to all centers of consciousness whatsoever, or to all monads whatsoever – wheresoever they may be on the evolutionary ladder of life, and whatsoever may be their particular developmental grade thereon.
‘The meaning of this general doctrine is ... as follows: every life-consciousness-center, in other words, every monad or monadic essence, reincorporates itself repeatedly in various vehicles or bodies, to use the popular word. These bodies may be spiritual, or they may be physical, or they may be of a nature intermediate between the two, i.e., ethereal. This rule of nature, which applies to all monads without exception, takes place in all the different realms of the visible and invisible universe, and on all its different planes, and in all its different worlds.’ (OG 145-6)
‘Animals reincarnate or reimbody themselves just as all other “animate” entities do, humans included; for an animal has, or rather is, a ray from a reimbodying monad equally with any other individualized and reimbodying entity, such as a human being. ... [E]ven vegetation reimbodies itself; and so also do the atoms in their own particular sphere. But in none of the kingdoms below the human are the individual cases of reimbodiment the reincarnation of more or less developed ego-souls as is the case with individual human beings.’ (ET 699-700)
‘It would be utterly meaningless if we simply appeared on this earth for one short earth life and then vanished and no good came of it, or mayhap no retribution for our evil doings. ... We are here because we have been here before, because here we sowed seeds of destiny, and we come back on this earth to reap those seeds which we sowed. ... Our very being here ... is a proof of reincarnation. Otherwise we must say cosmic law put us here by chance. And who believes that? If fortuity governed this world we would see the stars in their courses and all the planets running helter skelter all over the cosmic spaces without law, without reason, without order, without intelligence, without system.’ (WoS 274-5)
‘The soul’s immortality – believed in by the mass of humanity – demands embodiment here or elsewhere, and to be embodied means reincarnation. If we come to this earth for but a few years and then go to some other, the soul must be embodied there as well as here, and if we have travelled from some other world we must have had there too our proper vesture. The powers of mind and the laws governing its motion, its attachment, and its detachment as given in theosophical philosophy show that its reimbodiment must be here, where it moved and worked, until such time as the mind is able to overcome the forces which chain it to this globe. To permit the involved entity to transfer itself to another scene of action before it had overcome all the causes drawing it here and without its having worked out its responsibilities to other entities in the same stream of evolution would be unjust and contrary to the powerful occult laws and forces which continually operate upon it. ...
‘The mere selfish desire of a person to escape the trials and discipline of life is not enough to set nature’s laws aside, so the soul must be reborn until it has ceased to set in motion the cause of rebirth, after having developed character up to its possible limit as indicated by all the varieties of human nature, when every experience has been passed through, and not until all of truth that can be known has been acquired. The vast disparity among men in respect to capacity compels us, if we wish to ascribe justice to nature or to God, to admit reincarnation and to trace the origin of the disparity back to the past lives of the Ego. ...
‘[I]n one life it is perfectly impossible to attain to the merest fraction of what nature evidently has in view. ... We come back to earth because on it and with the beings upon it our deeds were performed; because it is the only proper place where punishment and reward can be justly meted out; because here is the only natural spot in which to continue the struggle toward perfection, toward the development of the faculties we have and the destruction of the wickedness in us. ...
‘The persistence of savagery, the rise and decay of nations and civilizations, the total extinction of nations, all demand an explanation found nowhere but in reincarnation. ... Great civilizations like those of Egypt and Babylon have gone because the souls who made them have long ago reincarnated in the great conquering nations of Europe and the present American continents. ...
‘The appearance of geniuses and great minds in families destitute of these qualities, as well as the extinction from a family of the genius shown by some ancestor, can only be met by the law of re-birth.’ (Ocean 89-97)
‘The pivotal doctrine of the esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations.’ (SD 1:17)
‘If we have to believe in a divine principle at all, it must be in one which is as absolute harmony, logic, and justice, as it is absolute love, wisdom, and impartiality; and a God who would create every soul for the space of one brief span of life, regardless of the fact whether it has to animate the body of a wealthy, happy man, or that of a poor suffering wretch, hapless from birth to death though he has done nothing to deserve his cruel fate – would be rather a senseless fiend than a God.’ (Key 111)
‘[All beings are] subject to karma, and have to work it out through every cycle. For, as the doctrine teaches, there are no such privileged beings in the universe, whether in our or in other systems, in the outer or the inner worlds, as the angels of the Western religion and the Judean. A Dhyan Chohan has to become one; he cannot be born or appear suddenly on the plane of life as a full-blown angel. The Celestial Hierarchy of the present manvantara will find itself transferred in the next cycle of life into higher, superior worlds, and will make room for a new hierarchy, composed of the elect ones of our mankind. Being is an endless cycle within the one absolute eternity, wherein move numberless inner cycles finite and conditioned. Gods, created as such, would evince no personal merit in being gods. Such a class of beings, perfect only by virtue of the special immaculate nature inherent in them, in the face of suffering and struggling humanity, and even of the lower creation, would be the symbol of an eternal injustice quite Satanic in character, an ever present crime. It is an anomaly and an impossibility in Nature.’ (SD 1:221-2)
‘We distinguish between the simple fact of self-consciousness, the simple feeling that “I am I,” and the complex thought that “I am Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Brown.” Believing as we do in a series of births for the same Ego, or re-incarnation, this distinction is the fundamental pivot of the whole idea. You see “Mr. Smith” really means a long series of daily experiences strung together by the thread of memory, and forming what Mr. Smith calls “himself.” But none of these “experiences” are really the “I” or the Ego, nor do they give “Mr. Smith” the feeling that he is himself, for he forgets the greater part of his daily experiences, and they produce the feeling of Egoity in him only while they last. We Theosophists, therefore, distinguish between this bundle of “experiences,” which we call the false (because so finite and evanescent) personality, and that element in man to which the feeling of “I am I” is due. It is this “I am I” which we call the true individuality; and we say that this “Ego” or individuality plays, like an actor, many parts on the stage of life. Let us call every new life on earth of the same Ego a night on the stage of a theatre. One night the actor, or “Ego,” appears as “Macbeth,” the next as “Shylock,” the third as “Romeo,” the fourth as “Hamlet” or “King Lear,” and so on, until he has run through the whole cycle of incarnations. The Ego begins his life-pilgrimage as a sprite, an “Ariel,” or a “Puck”; he plays the part of a super, is a soldier, a servant, one of the chorus; rises then to “speaking parts,” plays leading roles, interspersed with insignificant parts, till he finally retires from the stage as “Prospero,” the magician.’ (Key 33-4)
‘Just as milliards of bright sparks dance on the waters of an ocean above which one and the same moon is shining, so our evanescent personalities – the illusive envelopes of the immortal MONAD-EGO – twinkle and dance on the waves of maya. They last and appear, as the thousands of sparks produced by the moon-beams, only so long as the Queen of the Night radiates her lustre on the running waters of life: the period of a manvantara; and then they disappear, the beams – symbols of our eternal spiritual egos – alone surviving, re-merged in, and being, as they were before, one with the Mother-Source.’ (SD 1:237)
‘In the Hindu sacred books it is said that that which undergoes periodical incarnation is the sutratma, which means literally the “thread soul.” It is a synonym of the reincarnating ego – manas conjoined with buddhi – which absorbs the manasic recollections of all our preceding lives. It is so called, because, like the pearls on a thread, so is the long series of human lives strung together on that one thread. In some Upanishad these recurrent re-births are likened to the life of a mortal which oscillates periodically between sleep and waking.’ (Key 163)
‘Manas is a “principle,” and yet it is an “entity” and individuality or ego. He is a “God,” and yet he is doomed to an endless cycle of incarnations, for each of which he is made responsible, and for each of which he has to suffer. ... [Here is the] genealogy of this ego in a few lines. ...
‘Try to imagine a “spirit,” a celestial being, whether we call it by one name or another, divine in its essential nature, yet not pure enough to be one with the ALL, and having, in order to achieve this, to so purify its nature as to finally gain that goal. It can do so only by passing individually and personally, i.e., spiritually and physically, through every experience and feeling that exists in the manifold or differentiated Universe. It has, therefore, after having gained such experience in the lower kingdoms, and having ascended higher and still higher with every rung on the ladder of being, to pass through every experience on the human planes. In its very essence it is THOUGHT, and is, therefore, called in its plurality manasa putra, “the sons of the (universal) mind.” This individualised “thought” is what we Theosophists call the real human EGO, the thinking entity imprisoned in a case of flesh and bones. This is surely a spiritual entity, not matter, and such entities are the incarnating EGOS that inform the bundle of animal matter called mankind, and whose names are manasa or “minds.” But once imprisoned, or incarnate, their essence becomes dual: that is to say, the rays of the eternal divine mind, considered as individual entities, assume a two-fold attribute which is (a) their essential inherent characteristic heaven-aspiring mind (higher manas), and (b) the human quality of thinking, or animal cogitation, rationalised owing to the superiority of the human brain, the kama-tending or lower manas. One gravitates toward buddhi, the other, tending downward, to the seat of passions and animal desires. The latter have no room in devachan, nor can they associate with the divine triad which ascends as ONE into mental bliss. Yet it is the ego, the manasic entity, which is held responsible for all the sins of the lower attributes, just as a parent is answerable for the transgressions of his child, so long as the latter remains irresponsible.
‘[This “child” is the “personality”.] When, therefore, it is stated that the “personality” dies with the body it does not state all. The body, which was only the objective symbol of Mr. A. or Mrs. B., fades away with all its material skandhas, which are the visible expressions thereof. But all that which constituted during life the spiritual bundle of experiences, the noblest aspirations, undying affections, and unselfish nature of Mr. A. or Mrs. B. clings for the time of the devachanic period to the EGO, which is identified with the spiritual portion of that terrestrial entity, now passed away out of sight. The ACTOR is imbued with the role just played by him that he dreams of it during the whole devachanic night, which vision continues till the hour strikes for him to return to the stage of life to enact another part.’ (Key 183-5)
‘After allowing the soul, escaped from the pangs of personal life, a sufficient, aye, a hundredfold compensation [in devachan], karma, with its army of skandhas, waits at the threshold of devachan, whence the ego re-emerges to assume a new incarnation. It is at this moment that the future destiny of the now-rested ego trembles in the scales of just retribution, as it now falls once again under the sway of active karmic law. It is in this rebirth which is ready for it, a rebirth selected and prepared by this mysterious, inexorable, but in the equity and wisdom of its decrees infallible LAW, that the sins of the previous life of the ego are punished. Only it is into no imaginary Hell, with theatrical flames and ridiculous tailed and horned devils, that the ego is cast, but verily on to this earth, the plane and region of his sins, where he will have to atone for every bad thought and deed. As he has sown, so will he reap. Reincarnation will gather around him all those other egos who have suffered, whether directly or indirectly, at the hands, or even through the unconscious instrumentality, of the past personality. ...
‘The new “personality” is no better than a fresh suit of clothes with its specific characteristics, colour, form and qualities; but the real man who wears it is the same culprit as of old. It is the individuality who suffers through his “personality.” And it is this, and this alone, that can account for the terrible, still only apparent, injustice in the distribution of lots in life to man.’ (Key 141-2)
‘Heredity in giving us a body in any family provides the appropriate environment for the ego. The ego only goes into the family which either completely answers to its whole nature, or which gives an opportunity for the working out of its evolution, and which is also connected with it by reason of past incarnations or causes mutually set up. ... The limitations imposed on the ego by any family heredity are exact consequences of that ego’s prior lives.’ (Ocean 82-3)
‘Reincarnation means that [the] ego will be furnished with a new body, a new brain, and a new memory. Therefore, it would be ... absurd to expect this memory to remember that which it has never recorded ... The personality with its skandhas is ever changing with every new birth. It is ... only the part played by the actor (the true ego) for one night. This is why we preserve no memory on the physical plane of our past lives, though the real “ego” has lived them over and knows them all.’ (Key 128, 131)
‘[W]e should be very miserable if the deeds and scenes of our former lives were not hidden from our view until by discipline we become able to bear a knowledge of them.’ (Ocean 86)
A.P. Sinnett: ‘Have you the power of looking back to the former lives of persons now living, and identifying them?’ Mahatma KH: ‘Unfortunately, some of us have. I, for one do not like to exercise it.’ (ML 145)
‘When death comes and the human ego passes into its devachan, all of the vehicles in which it was imbodied in its earth life break up, and the life-atoms of which these sheaths were built go to those environments and conditions to which they are psychomagnetically attracted. This is the gist of the doctrine of the transmigration of life-atoms which has been generally misunderstood to mean that the human soul descends at death into the bodies of animals. That idea is not true; it is not a natural fact. ... [W]hen the human body breaks up at death and the life-atoms composing it begin their transmigrations, they are attracted to those bodies or entities, be they human, beast, vegetable or mineral, to which their own rates of vibration at the time draw them. It is all a case of psychomagnetic attraction.’ (FSO 398-9)
‘No human being ever incarnates as a beast [for] there is absolutely a mental-psychical barrier preventing a human mind from entering a beast psycho-vital apparatus. ...
‘On the other hand, when a sorcerer, or a man of continuously evil life, through many, many incarnations on a steady downward grade, grows less and less human until the rupture with the spiritual and human monad takes place, [such] an abandoned vehicle is attracted to beast-bodies and even to plant-bodies ... Yet this is not ... the incarnation of a human being, because such a degenerated, disintegrated, semi-annihilated human quaternary is no longer really human. ... [S]uch cases of degenerate human quaternaries, while fairly numerous in actual fact, are nevertheless quite rare or infrequent when compared with the immense number of beings forming humanity.’ (SOP 683-4)
‘[An] objection brought up is that under the doctrine of reincarnation it is not possible to account for the increase of the world’s population. ... The statisticians of the day ... cannot say how many persons were incarnated on the earth at any prior date when the globe was full in all parts, hence the quantity of egos willing or waiting to be reborn is unknown to the men of today. ... [I]t must be borne in mind that each ego for itself varies the length of stay in the post-mortem states. They do not reincarnate at the same interval, but come out of the state after death at different rates ...’ (Ocean 86-8)
‘There is a law or rule in occultism, based entirely on the operations of nature, that the human being does not normally reincarnate under one hundred times the number of years that the said human being has last lived on Earth. ... Taking then the “average” of human life in the present age as being of fifteen years’ duration only, and multiplying this by one hundred, we see that the average period of time between death and the next rebirth on Earth is fifteen hundred years ... [T]his rule should not be applied in too rigid and iron-clad a manner.’ (ET 680, 686)
‘Certain human beings have made so small a link with their spiritual nature that when death comes nothing has been built up in the life just past to bring the devachanic state into existence. As a result, they sink into utter unconsciousness, in which they remain until the next incarnation which comes very quickly.
‘Several instances of almost immediate reimbodiment have been reported which, if genuine, would represent those rare and extraordinary cases of apparently normal human beings who, for one karmic reason or another, reincarnate possibly within a year or two after death. Compared with the great multitude of average individuals who undergo both kama-loka as well as devachan between incarnations, they are very few in number. Such are by no means evil or wicked, but are what one might call passive or neutral, spiritually, and, because during life they had not as yet awakened to that characteristically spiritual life which produces the devachanic experience, they pass a short time in the kama-loka and incarnate again.’ (FSO 593-4fn)
‘In the method of dividing the human principles into a trichotomy of an upper duad, an intermediate duad, and a lower triad – or ... spirit, soul, and body – the second or intermediate duad, manas-kama, or the intermediate nature, is the ordinary seat of human consciousness, and itself is composed of two qualitative parts: an upper or aspiring part, which is commonly called the reincarnating ego or the higher manas, and a lower part attracted to material things, which is the focus of what expresses itself in the average man as the human ego, his everyday ordinary seat of consciousness.
‘When death occurs, the mortal and material portions sink into oblivion; while the reincarnating ego carries the best and noblest parts of the spiritual memory of the man that was into the devachan or heaven world of postmortem rest and recuperation, where the ego remains in the bosom of the monad or of the monadic essence in a state of the most perfect and utter bliss and peace, constantly reviewing and improving upon in its own blissful imagination all the unfulfilled spiritual yearnings and longings of the life just closed that its naturally creative faculties automatically suggest to [it].
‘[T]he monad ... passes from sphere to sphere on its peregrinations from earth, carrying with it the reincarnating ego, or ... earth-child, in its bosom, ... until the time comes when, having passed through all the invisible realms connected by chains of causation with our own planet, it slowly “descends” again through these higher intermediate spheres earthwards. Coincidently does the reincarnating ego slowly begin to reawaken to self-conscious activity. Gradually it feels, at first unconsciously to itself, the attraction earthwards, arising out of the karmic seeds of thought and emotion and impulse sown in the preceding life on earth and now beginning to awaken; and as these attractions grow stronger, in other words as the reincarnating ego awakens more fully, it finds itself under the domination of a strong psychomagnetic attraction drawing it to the earth-sphere.
‘The time finally comes when it is drawn strongly to the family on earth whose karmic attractions or karmic status or conditions are the nearest to its own characteristics; and it then enters, or attaches itself to ... the human seed which will grow into the body of the human being to be. Thus reincarnation takes place, and the reincarnating ego reawakens to life on earth in the body of a little child.’ (OG 144-5)
‘[It is the] spiritual thinking ego [that reincarnates], the permanent principle in man, or that which is the seat of manas. It is not atma, or even atma- buddhi, regarded as the dual monad, which is the individual, or divine man, but manas: for atman is the universal ALL, and becomes the HIGHER-SELF of man only in conjunction with buddhi, its vehicle, which links IT to the individuality (or divine man). For it is the buddhi-manas which is called the causal body, (the united 5th and 6th principles) and which is consciousness, that connects it with every personality it inhabits on earth. Therefore, soul being a generic term, there are in men three aspects of soul – the terrestrial, or animal; the human soul; and the spiritual soul; these, strictly speaking, are one soul in its three aspects. Now of the first aspect, nothing remains after death; of the second (nous or manas) only its divine essence if left unsoiled survives, while the third in addition to being immortal becomes consciously divine, by the assimilation of the higher manas.’ (Key 121-2)
The individuality is the spiritual-intellectual part of us, the higher triad, deathless for the period of a solar manvantara. It works through the personality or lower quaternary. It is the individuality, through its ray or human astral-vital monad, which reincarnates time after time and thus clothes itself in one personality after another. (See OG 65-6, 126-7)
‘[T]he process of the reimbodiment of a human monad begins with the vitalizing of a life-atom, which grows into the human embryo, and is finally born ... It is not the higher triad which reincarnates, for it does not enter the body, although its influences are in the body, touch the heart and brain, and especially fire the brain with the divine flame of thought. While the upper triad is above the body, hovers over it, it is the lower part or the psycho-astral monad which actually reincarnates, that is, enters into the physical body. As the reincarnating ego descends through the spheres on its way to another incarnation on earth, it picks up in each different realm or world, through which it had previously ascended, the hosts of life-atoms that it left behind there. It re-forms these into the same outer veils of itself that it had had before, and thus builds up the human constitution before actual rebirth takes place – the same life-atoms on every plane and of every principle of the human constitution. Thus it is the personality which reincarnates, while the individuality merely “over-lightens” ... and fills that personality with its own divine fire – at least with as much as the personality can receive of it.
‘Just as our bodies are built of the very life-atoms that formed our physical body in our last incarnation, so is this the case not only with the linga-sharira and the psycho-kamic principles, but likewise with the manasic and buddhic principles. Every life-atom is stamped with its own predominant impulse, for which, however, we as humans are strictly responsible.’ (FSO 399-400)
‘[T]he reincarnating ego or higher manas [is] the storehouse of all the intellectual and spiritual experiences garnered by the human ego in each one of its incarnations. It is, therefore, the seat of the accumulated wisdom belonging to man’s humanly spiritual nature; and is in one sense both the goal of his future evolution and, at the same time, because of the karmic seeds of destiny which it contains, the producer of reimbodiments. ... [It] lasts for the duration of the planetary chain ...’ (FSO 98, 275)
‘When our earth chain shall have ended its manvantaric course, and its family of spiritual monads goes to the next planetary chain, the reimbodying ego native to that succeeding chain will then become dominant in influence on the spiritual monad, while the reimbodying ego native to our present chain will be recessive, i.e. in its manvantaric nirvana.’ (FSO 634-5)
‘The reach of the divine monad, which is essentially the atmic monad with its buddhic vehicle, is the galaxy; the range of the spiritual monad, the buddhi-manas, is the solar system; while the field of action of the reimbodying ego is the planetary chain; and finally, the range of the astral monad or lower quaternary ... is a single globe of a chain, our globe D for instance. In this connection, we must make a distinction, even if it be not a real difference, between the reimbodying ego which has its range over the planetary chain, and its ray, the reincarnating ego, which applies to an imbodied human being in his physical vehicle on this globe D.’ (FSO 564-5)
‘Many who have abandoned belief in a personal god and the other vanities and subtleties of sectarian metaphysics, and are thinking seriously ... of life and its many problems, have found in the teaching of reincarnation that which makes clear the meaning of it all. For here is explanation of the differences of human fortune, so that they cease to seem unjust and intolerable; and here man is revealed in the splendor of his native godhood, a traveler through eternity, moving from life to life, gaining by experience after experience that knowledge which will make of him at last the ideal, the perfect man. . . .
‘Life is not cruel. There is no injustice in it. In the light of reincarnation, the sufferings we considered unjust lose the sting of their supposed injustice and become easy to endure. We come to look on them as blessings because means of liberation and our chief incentives to growth. Experience and pain are our teachers. We are reminded constantly by the difficulties we have to overcome of the majestic mercy of the law. ...
‘We advance from age to age and from heights to greater heights forever. Understanding this, the old become young again in spirit and the young look out on the world with a new joy. The days are long and the path is wide: go forward, then, with farseeing hope and trust, towards the great ultimate. The gods await!’ (TGA 143, 147-8, 150)
Compiled by David Pratt.
Our after-death journey