convinced as I am that the right understanding of the doctrine variously known as Transmigration, Metempsychosis, Re-Birth, and Re-Incarnation is the very basis and ground-work of all spiritual philosophy, I beg to supplement, as briefly as is consistent with the subject, the short paper I have already contributed to Light. (2)
Dr. Wyld seems to find something absurd in the idea that man is a complex being. Yet this belief – I ought rather to say, this knowledge – is as ancient as the Mysteries themselves. Not to cite Eastern philosophy, which is full of illustrations and apologues to the point, let me refer him to the Homer of his schooldays, where, in the Odyssey XI., he will find this passage, part of the recital given by Odysseus of his descent into Hades, or the under-world, and of his discourse with the ghosts of the dead: “There also I descried the mighty Heracles – his phantom, I say, “for as for himself (namely, his true soul), he is enjoying himself at the table of the Immortal Gods. (...) And presently he – the phantom – recognised me, and on beholding me, spoke lamenting.” (3)
Let it be observed that in this passage the true soul of the Hero is represented as not being in the land of shadows at all. The “phantom” with which Odysseus converses, and whose discourse is reported in the lines immediately following, is but the outer Ego or exterior personality of Heracles. These phantoms, the poem tells us, love the earth, and are fain to return to it, and to manifest themselves to their living friends, the method by which they seek to materialise being precisely that recounted by Lady Hester Stanhope in her Travels, by Madame Blavatsky (Isis Unveiled), by Eliphas Levi, and, in short, familiar to all students of magic and the occult.
It is surely strange that, at this time of day, a Theosophist of Dr. Wyld’s understanding should need to be reminded of the witness of Paul and of all Christian writers who have had spiritual experiences, to the strife which continually rages in every human kingdom between the outer and the inner will, – between the old and the new Adam, – between the interior and the exterior self. The fleshly or earthly self is that Ruach, or Mind, which constitutes the mundane individual; the heavenly or spiritual self is that essential soul “whose name is known only to God.” It is in order that this essential and inner man may grow, expand, and finally become all in all, that progress and re-births are necessary. In its initiatory stages a tiny spark – to speak in metaphorical language – it grows and gathers strength by successive purifications, and at length returns to the bosom of God, a glorious and “consuming fire.”
The conflict between the two selves is a matter of personal experience; therefore of this doctrine, which is the very fundamental doctrine of all religion, whether Oriental or “Christian,” the witness is, chiefly, in oneself. Speaking personally, I am profoundly sensible of this conflict, and am daily reminded that I am a compound personality.
With regard to the dissolution of this compound personality at death, it appears to me no more surprising or difficult of belief than the phenomenon of skin or shell-casting common among certain animals; which phenomenon, being by the ancients regarded as a type of Re-Incarnation, caused these creatures to be venerated as religious symbols.
All that has been in its nature eternal and noumenal in any transient incarnation, all that has contributed to build up the true and interior spirit of the man, is absolute and permanent, and will survive all ephemeral constituents of past personalities. To appropriate a phrase from Mr. Noel’s work on Immortality: The conception of true personality consists in the “absolute unity and self-identity of the spirit in its innermost self, wherein all its phenomenal lives are known, understood, resumed, felt to be indeed one.” Thus the spirit, the true Ego of the man, on entering Nirvana, resumes in itself all that is lasting and noumenal of its past manifold existences. For only that which by nature is Divine can survive eternally. Thus there are two kinds of
memory, or consciousness; – that of the exterior, and that of the interior, Ego. The work of the saint is to centralise his consciousness, and to prevent it from becoming dissipated. As says the Bhagavad-Gita: “The Yogee who, labouring with all his might, is purified of his offences, and after many births made perfect, at length goeth to the supreme abode.”
It is no concern of mine to defend such holy personages as
Swedenborg’s voluminous writings we have unfolded a
series of pictures reaching from Hell to Heaven. At times the seer was carried aloft to the highest; at
others, he groped amid the manifold illusions of the astral and magnetic. Hence
many incongruities, obscurities, and contradictions are apparent in his works,
and are admitted even by his warmest admirers. Vistas of wondrous and
far-reaching spiritual interpretation are opened before the reader’s mind, to be
suddenly crossed and obliterated by grotesque images which alike bewilder and
repel. Swedenborg’s exterior manner of life was not,
in effect, such as to assure the constant level of his interior perspicacity.
Although abstemious and temperate, he did not, on principle, or invariably,
refrain from the eating of flesh, and thus exposed himself to dangers of which
no one who has not had similar experience can gauge either the nature or the
extent. For many reasons I exercise considerable caution when studying his
writings, as I do also when studying those of a modern seer who somewhat resembles him,
these visions the doctrine to which Dr. Wyld so emphatically objects is ever strenuously and forcibly insisted upon as the very basis of human philosophy, and of a right understanding of Divine justice, and of the progress and evolution of the soul. The person of whom I speak could not, without renouncing religion itself, and turning traitor alike to her whole past experience and to the Divine light whose guidance she follows, and from whose interior illumination all her knowledge is derived, reject as illusory teaching so attested and so conveyed; teaching, moreover, which alone is capable of interpreting satisfactorily to human reason and intelligence a natural system of apparent incongruities and injustices, utterly inexplicable on any other hypothesis.
Will Dr. Wyld, or any other champion of the “one-life” theory, explain, for instance, the problem of brute suffering and misery? Will he tell us why a good and wise God should have, by the exercise of His arbitrary power and will, produced such creatures as the snake, the wolf, or the tiger? Will he account on the theory of the “one-life,” which in the case of the lower animals involves no eternal evolution in the “spheres,” for the heartrending suffering of the dumb, intelligent, and loving dogs, horses, and other domestic creatures whom man has adopted as his friends and servants, and whose moral qualities often furnish him with an example or a rebuke? I will tell him frankly, that rather than adore a God who could deliberately have made these poor souls and endowed them with feeling and intelligence for no other end than to become the victims of the sportsman, the vivisector, or the cobra, or to wear out their lives in suffering and toil, with no prospect of the education and progress which toil and suffering bring to human spirits, – rather, I say, than adore or reverence such a Being as this, I would turn Agnostic or Atheist to-morrow, and cry “forward” to the disciples of a Monteil or of a Bradlaugh.
There is evidence in Dr. Wyld’s present article, and in a former paper published by him in these pages, that he has never rightly comprehended the doctrine he impugns, else he could not possibly maintain it to be “entirely antagonistic to the central doctrine of Christian Theosophy – i.e. that the Logos is in every man, and that there is no salvation save by it,” with more to the same purpose.
If I were to ask Dr. Wyld whether he considers, for instance, that this mystic Logos is as developed and as potent in the breast of a Billingsgate costermonger or of a Dahomey savage as in
that of a St Theresa or of a Swedenborg, he would answer: “No, but it will be developed after death, in other spheres, and under spiritual conditions more favourable to its growth.” I should then ask him how a soul which needs objective and material conditions for its evolution and training is to obtain them in a state from which they are excluded; and why a soul which, admittedly, has not detached itself from matter and from material attractions should be enabled miraculously to defy the universal law of Affinity, and gravitate, after physical dissolution, to ethereal and spiritual spheres, rather than return, as we should naturally expect it to do, to renew its progress and education in God’s great preparatory school, the material world?
In my view, and in that of those who think with me, life has a much vaster and lengthier scope than is afforded by the span of one human existence; and not until the soul has rid herself of all affinity for matter, and of all mundane affectional cares and desires, will she, by the operation of a natural and immutable law, be free to mount to the “higher spheres” and to enter on a course of evolution unconnected with material limitations. Until that time arrives, however, the same causes which have hitherto operated to detain the soul within the earth’s atmosphere will, undoubtedly, continue to operate. In such a view, at once scientific, reasonable, and just, I can see nothing either “repulsive” or “ludicrous.” But I am fain to confess that both these attributes appear to me to be exemplified by the description I have heard given by Dr. Wyld of the spiritual sphere upon which he supposes all souls to definitely enter after their one earth-life. He said that there, the man whose supremest earthly joy had been in his pot of ale at the tavern, would still continue the same delights in a spiritual existence; as doubtless also would the sportsman, the prize-fighter, or, shall I add, the vivisector? It did not appear to him a necessary truth that as the “spiritual sphere” represents rather a state than a place, no soul whose condition is incongruous and dissimilar with it can enter upon it. For Dr. Wyld’s idea of “Brahma’s bosom” is not that of a state of rest between one incarnation and another, but of a new progressive world into which the infant of a day old enters on definitely and with as perfect certainty of having done with earthly limitations as the veteran of a hundred years of struggle and experience.
Clearly, then, in the view of the “one-life” school, the education of objective Incarnation, and the lessons of the body, are not necessary to the soul, since myriads of souls, undergoing physical
dissolution at the very moment of birth, pass into the world of spiritual conditions and escape them.
Blessed, thrice blessed indeed, then, are still-born babes, and cruel and accursed is the hand of the physician who seeks to retain the departing soul within its earthly tenement! “How far better for my infant,” ought to be the cry of the mother, “that he should escape the bitter pains and experiences of earth and be brought up and trained by the angels!” For, according to “Tien-Sien-Tie”– one of the recently declared champions of non-Re-Incarnation (1) – this earth is the platform only for the acquirement of identity; and this object is as amply attained by an existence of a day or of a week as by one of a century.
As a last word, I would record my belief, expressed with all possible love and sympathy for those whose views differ from my own, that too much of the personal likes and aversions of the exterior Ego have been brought to bear on this question. On every side one hears the cry, “I can’t bear the idea of coming back to earth!” “This world is a beggarly place!” “The very notion of a re-birth is repulsive to me!” “I have had enough of the world!” Alas, all these cries are but signs of impatience and self-will, the voice of the unregenerate soul. It would be better to hear it said humbly and in self-abnegation: “Thy will, my God, be done! Though the way be long, and the path such as I would not, let it but bring me at last to Thee, and I am more than content. For I know that Thine order is more beautiful, and that Thy method is love; therefore, I pray that not my will, but Thine may be all in all!”
anna kingsford, M.D.
(191:1) Letter written by Anna Kingsford, and published in Light, 1882. p. 168. (See Life of A.K. Vol. II, pp. 57-58). – S.H.H.
(191:2) The reference is to her Article on “The Constitution of
(191:3) See letter written by “A.K. and E.M.” in Light, 1883. p. 475.
(192:1) This word “consuming” is used to denote the property of this immortal spirit, which is to convert impurity into purity, and to lick up and appropriate, as does a flame, the fuel supplied to it, transmuting into spirit that which was matter. – A.K.
(193:1) Anna Kingsford was a vegetarian. – S.H.H.
(196:1) See Light, 1882. pp. 103-105.