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From Birth to Rebirth

A time comes when the prudent person, feeling intuitively or knowing medically that he has entered the last months or years of his life, ought to prepare himself for death. Clearly an increasing withdrawal from worldly life is called for. Its activities, desires, attachments, and pleasures must give way more and more to repentance, worship, prayer, asceticism, and spiritual recollectedness. It is time to come home.

All humans pass through the portals of death but which of them pass through it knowingly, consciously, and calmly?

What sort of a death experience is he likely to have? What if he dies, as Ramana Maharshi died, as Ramakrishna died, as heroes of the Spirit--some anonymous and obscure, others famous--known to this author died, of that dreadful and contemporary malady, cancer? I can only tell what I have seen and heard when present during the last days as privileged co-sharer of the unbelievable atmosphere. To each there came a vision, a light seen, first far off, later all around; first a pinpoint, later a ray, then a wide shaft, lastly filling the whole room. And with the Light came peace; it came as an accompaniment to the cancer's pain, a compensation that as it grew made the peace grow and gave detachment, until to the amazement of doctors, nurses, family, the triumphant words were uttered before the final act, Spirit's victory over matter proclaimed. This is not to say that it makes no difference whether one dies quietly in sleep through nothing worse than age, or whether one dies through cancer, that peace and pain are equally acceptable to the emotions of an illumined man. I do not write here of the extreme fanatical ascetic. To him it may be a matter of indifference.

If there is any loss of consciousness during the change called death, it is only a brief one, as brief or briefer than a night's sleep. Many of the departed do not even know at the time what has really happened to them and still believe themselves to be physically alive. For they find themselves apparently able to see others and hear voices and touch things just as before. Yet all these experiences are entirely immaterial, and take place within a conscious mind that has no fleshly brain.

We think that birth is the beginning and death the end of all for us. Theologians and metaphysicians have argued and disputed over this as far back as the memory of man can go, so who are we to say "yea" or "nay" to them? But when the noise and din of their jarring voices fade into the distance, when the quieter hours of evening wrap us around, fold upon fold, then it is that a strange and sublime sense steals upon us, if we will but permit its coming, and says: "My child, what they think and what they say does not really matter. I am by your side and I shall never fail you. Smile at Death if you wish, or fear it--but I am with you always."

The dying man should cross his arms over his chest with interlaced fingers. He should withdraw the mind from everything earthly and raise it lovingly in the highest aspiration.

This is the way a man may best die--while resting on a chair or couch or sleeping in a bed, a peaceful expression on his face as if seeing or hearing something of unusual beauty, a pleased expression around the mouth.

What better death than to be drawn into the divine being, lost in its peace and radiance! What more miserable than to be wrenched away from earthly attachments while trying to clutch them!

It is a teaching in both India and China that by concentrating his thoughts during his dying moments on the name of his spiritual leader with full faith, undivided ardour, and sincere deep attention, a man saves himself some or all of the post-mortem purificatory torments that he would otherwise have to undergo. It is also written that if he prefers to concentrate on the kind of environment in which his next birth is to appear, he contributes toward its possible realization.

Our habitual trend of thinking on earth will necessarily be the habitual trend of thinking with which we shall start spirit-life although we shall not end that life with it.

If you want to know where you will go after you are dead, I shall tell you for I have been there. You go nowhere, no place. As awareness of this earth and the earthly body fade away, soon after dying, you will simply enter the condition of awareness to which your character entitles you.

It is said death levels all. This is true only on the visible side of it, for on the other side each goes to his own state of consciousness--what he has fitted himself for. Untied from the body, he enters the atmosphere to which he belongs.

One must develop wisdom and self-control in this life, for if he does not, he may suffer after death. He may be full of animal appetites but have no body with which to satisfy them. Wisdom and discipline will enable him to find a relatively easy adjustment.

The human mind is compelled by its own particular characteristics to create a picture of the outside world in a certain way and in no other way. The kind of world it experiences follows naturally from the kind of perceptions it exercises. Many different planes of existence would therefore be open to it were these characteristics to be altered abruptly in many different ways. We may be--indeed we are--living alongside of millions of other human minds of whom we are totally unaware merely because they do not come within the present restricted range of our perceptions. Life after death in another world is not merely a theological possibility but a scientific probability and a philosophic actuality.

Death is the entrance to a new kind of being, a renewed form of life, another period in which old experience is assimilated and the next phase (reincarnation) prepared for.

The first experience of death is not the last, for it is followed, after the due interval of appropriate experience in another condition of being, by a second death.

Cremation is a definite and emphatic challenge. If one really believes that the soul of man is his real self, or even if one believes that the thinking power of man is his real self, then there can be no objection to it, but, on the contrary, complete approval of it. The method of burying dead bodies is fit only for one who believes that this thinking power is a product of the body's brain, that is, for a materialist.

We need not always deplore the fact that we have to die. As Goethe remarked, "Nature is bound to give me another form of existence when the present one can no longer sustain my spirit." What we should deplore is dying without having known these best moments of living, these glimpses of the Overself.

For those who have made sufficient progress with the Quest, death is not a frightening experience. Once the exit from the body has been made, the rest is pleasant and peaceful.

The man who has lived quite selfishly and without care for the rights of others will suffer from strange visions in the after-death state. Those whom he has seriously wronged will appear before him repeatedly, reproaching him in some cases or denouncing him in others. This will continue until it becomes a kind of ghost-haunted torment, at first fatiguing him and later wearing him out to such an extent that he will fall into a sickly, wretched, fear-ridden state. At the lowest point of his misery, some other discarnate being will be sent to help him, to lead him to recognize his sinfulness and persuade him to repent. This entity may be a loving relative, an advanced mystic out of the body temporarily in sleep, or the man's own guardian angel. When this change of heart is effected, when the man confesses, repents, and resolves to mend his character, his persecution will stop.

The after-death condition of certain rare men like Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna is necessarily a rare one. They continue the beneficent work of urging and helping men to rise above their lower natures which was inaugurated when manifest in the flesh whilst on earth, albeit it must be understood that it will necessarily fail to achieve the same degree of sharp effectiveness which the use of a physical body would have given it. Nevertheless, what it loses in depth it gains in width, for although personal attainment is swift among their disciples during their lifetime, popular influence among the masses is able to spread like ripples only after their death. Only a materialistic outlook of the universe will fail to understand that such a man does not ever die and that his true existence continues, even when he is not in incarnation, and that his saving power is still made available for others even then. So long as men call earnestly upon their name or cherish their memory with reverence, so long will they continue their spirit-existence. They do not die, do not really disappear.

Heredity can answer for a man's face and form and nervous type but it cannot answer for his genius. Here it is necessary to bring in something quite different--the development of his talent through repeated earth lives.

There is no need for anyone to seek to know what his previous incarnations were. If the memories should come, they represent something abnormal. Nature does not desire that we should be hampered in the present by the memory of the past, when the past itself stretches away for such a long time. You need not trouble yourself therefore about previous incarnations, but concentrate fully on your present one so as to make it as worthy as you can.

We come back to this earth of ours and not to some other earth because it is here that we sow the seeds of thought, of feeling, and of action, and therefore it is here that we must reap their harvest. Nature is orderly and just, consistent and continuous.

There is no direct and incontrovertible proof of reincarnation, but there is logical evidence for it. Why should there be certain abilities almost without previous training? Why should I be possessed at an early age of the mental abilities of a writer, or someone else of a musician? Heredity alone cannot account for it. But it is perfectly accounted for if we consider them to a subconscious memory. I am unwittingly remembering and using again my own capabilities from a former birth. This is possible only because I am mind. Mind alone can continue itself. Capacities in any field cannot appear out of nothing. The individual who shows them forth is repeating them out of his own deeper memory. There is the evidence of Nature. When I wake up in the morning, I pick up all that I had the day before. I remember my own individuality and use the same literary talents as before. Otherwise, I could never write again, or someone else could never sing. The basis of this reminiscence is not a physical occurrence, but a mental one.

We travel from one body to another, with suitable and necessary rest-periods in between them. From each we gather experiences; in each we learn and unlearn, sin and suffer, act aright and benefit. In the end, amid advance and relapse, there is the fullness and satisfaction of ripened manhood, cleaned, leaving behind more animality.

Freud's postulate of the Unconscious mind as a structure of forgotten unrecoverable memories is a precursor of the rebirth theory. It prepares the way for scientific acceptance of the latter and should inevitably lead to it. In turn, it throws light on the doctrine of karma. For the ego which revives out of apparent nothingness is the conscious mind which reappears out of the unconscious. When the production of these idea-energies (that is, tendencies, samskaras) is brought to rest, then they can never again objectify into a physical environment, a fresh rebirth, and thus man becomes karma-free and enters Nirvana. As long as he believes that he is the body he must reincarnate in the body.

If the teaching of rebirths is false then the justice of God is false too. There is no other way in which tragic situations of human life can be equitably adjusted or reasonably explained in the human mind.

Each reincarnation unfolds its story largely prewritten though it may be and is weighted by the unseen past. Yet some fresh possibilities come with it also through the introduction of fresh environments, scenes, acts, and happenings.

We return to birth so long as the ego is still our master and we tenant a form that is good or bad, whole or maimed, healthy or sick, in conformity with our just deserts under the law of Recompense.

The official alliance of a single Christian group with the Roman Empire in the reign of Constantine was fatal first to the so-called Pagans and later to nearly all the other groups of Christendom. The latter were persecuted, imprisoned, or killed and their writings burnt. The Emperor Magnus Maximus even put the Bishop of Avila to death for his beliefs. The Emperor Theodosius made death the prescribed penalty for all believers in Manichean Christianity which taught reincarnation. The vigour with which the Emperor Justinian proscribed and destroyed heretical books and documents left little record for later generations to know what other Christians had taught and believed on this tenet of rebirth. Justinian slew more than a million heretics in the Near East alone. Several canons in the service of Orleans cathedral in France were, some centuries later, burnt alive for embracing these doctrines. The diffusion of this single idea in the Western lands is likely to start questioning and inquiry into its background, history, and doctrinal ramifications. This may lead in turn to startling discoveries about what really happened not only to this tenet but to others of Oriental derivation which were stamped out ruthlessly.

The ego's desires, habits, and ways of thought have been established through many earth lives.

When he looks back upon the long series of earth lives which belongs to his past, he is struck afresh by the supreme wisdom of Nature and by the supreme necessity of this principle of recurring embodiment. If there had been only one single continuous earth life, his progress would have been brought to an end, he would have been cluttered up by his own past, and he could not have advanced in new directions. This past would have surrounded him like a circular wall. How unerring the wisdom and how infinite the mercy which, by breaking this circle of necessity, gives him the chance of a fresh start again and again, sets him free to make new beginnings! Without these breaks in his life-sequences, without the advantages of fresh surroundings, different circumstances, and new contacts, he could not have lifted himself to ever higher levels, but would only have stagnated or fallen to lower ones.

We are given one life, one day, one present time, one conscious space-time level to concentrate on so that Nature's business in us shall not be interfered with. Yet other lives, other days, other times, other levels of consciousness already exist just as much at this very moment, even though we do not apprehend them, and await our meeting and experience by a fated necessity.

The personal development and mental discoveries which have been made in past incarnations do not have to be repeated afresh in the same way with each new one. What happens however is a swift recapitulation or distillation of the whole historic previous experience during the first half of the new incarnation.

The tendencies brought over from earlier births determine his character and conduct but the impact of his present surroundings upon his personality, the influence of his latest race, religion, education, and class upon his psyche, the suggestions absorbed from this historical period, newspaper reading, and artistic culture modify or colour both.

What we were in the past is not important. What we are now is important. What we intend to make of ourselves in the future is vitally important.

The unity between our character and our destiny is inseparable; the connection between our way of thinking and the course of events is unerring.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof say the apathetic, the sluggish, the inert, and they refuse to look forward. They experience the evil alright. If time is simultaneous and the future already exists, what is the use of making any effort? This despairing but plausible objection overlooks the parallel fact that the future is not fixed for all eternity; it is always fluctuating because it is always liable to modification by the intrusion of new factors, such as an intense effort to alter it or an intense interference by another person. The future exists, but the future changes at the same time.

The unexpected events which happen to us apparently without cause or connection in our conduct constitute fate. The tendencies by whose influences and the circumstances by whose compulsion we act the way we do, constitute necessity. The results of those actions constitute Karma (recompense).

What man really dominates his destiny? The great person may succeed in modifying it, but the psychological and physical factors with which the ordinary person starts the course of life are already in his genes and predicate both character and fortune. He is at the mercy of events until he learns this secret of modifying and influencing them.

Both the benign and the malefic are already concealed in destiny's decrees for the child at its birth. To the extent that outer fortunes are directly traceable to inner tendencies, to that extent they are controllable and alterable. How large or how small a part of its life is quite beyond its free choice and direction is itself a matter of fate.

There are cosmic compulsions which none escape and which permeate human destiny, for they are part of the World-Idea.

Those who are unaware of the penalties they incur by misuse of the power to think and the will to act are in urgent need of the teaching of karma.

Fate is what an outside will imposes upon us, irrespective of our merits or demerits. Karma is what unconsciously our own will has imposed upon us through the come-back of our actions.

What a higher power has decreed must come to pass. But what a man has made for himself he can modify or unmake. The first is fate, the second destiny. The one comes from outside his personal ego, the other from his own faults. The evolutionary will of his soul is part of the nature of things but the consequences of his own actions remain, however slightly, within his own control.

The Law of Karma makes each man responsible for his own life. The materialist who denies karma and places all the blame and burden upon the shoulders of environment and heredity denies responsibility. He begins and ends with an illusion.

Karma's will could not prevail in one special part of our life and not in any other parts, nor in one special event of our life and not in the others. It could not be here but not there, in the past but not now. Nor, going even farther still, could it confine itself only to major items and not to minor ones. It must be ever present or never present at all. If it puts more destiny into the happenings we experience than lets the Westerner feel comfortable, we must remember that other facet of truth, the creative and godlike intelligence in our deeper humanity and the measure of freedom which accompanies it.

Nobody succeeds in extinguishing karma merely because he intellectually denies its existence, as the votaries of some cults do. If, however, they first faced up to their karma, dealt with it and used it for self-cultivation and self-development, and then only recognized its illusoriness from the ultimate standpoint, their attitude would be a correct one. Indeed, their attempt to deny karma prematurely shows a disposition to rebel against the divine wisdom, a short-sighted and selfish seeking of momentary convenience at the cost of permanent neglect of the duty to grow spiritually.

Whereas fate (in the original and Greek sense of the word) is decreed by whatever Powers there be, karma is the result of our own doing.

The correct meaning of the word "karma" is willed action through body, speech, and mind. It does not include the results of this action, especially those which produce or influence rebirth. Such inclusion has come into popular concepts, but shows a loose use of the term. Karma is cause set going by the will, not effect at all. The phrase "Law of Recompense" is therefore not satisfactory and a better one is needed.

If he accepts this tenet of karma coupled with rebirth, then his awakening to a sense of responsibility for his life and the course it takes should lead in turn to a feeling of the need for self-discipline.

The law of recompense is not nullified nor proved untrue by the objector's proffered evidence of hard ruthless individuals who rose to influence and affluence over the crushed lives of other persons. The happiness or well-being of such individuals cannot be properly judged by their bank account alone or their social position alone. Look also into the condition of their physical health, of their mental health, of their conscience in the dream state, of their domestic and family relations. Look, too, into their next reincarnation. Then, and only then, can the law's presence or absence be rightly judged.

If philosophy accepted the doctrine of complete fatalism, it could hold out no hope to mankind. If it said that every event in the history of the world was predestined from the very beginning; that each event in a man's life was preordained from before his birth; that no thought, no word, and no deed could have been avoided, then its mystical teaching would have been unnecessary, its metaphysical teaching would have been falsified, and its moral teaching would have been in vain. But philosophy has never been shipwrecked upon the rocks of such foolish fatalism. It says that what happens inside you is intimately connected with what happens outside you, that thought, feeling, will, intuition, or character makes its secret contributions towards the events of your life, and that to the extent to which you begin to control yourself, you will begin to control your personal welfare.

If we look at men in the mass, we must believe in the doctrine of fatalism. It applies to them. They are compelled by their environments, they struggle like animals to survive precisely because they are not too far removed from the animal kingdom which was the field of their previous reincarnational activity. They react like automatons under a dead weight of karma, move like puppets out of the blind universal instincts of nature. But this is not the end of the story. It is indeed only its beginning. For here and there a man emerges from the herd who is becoming an individual, creatively making himself into a fully human being. For him each day is a fresh experience, each experience is unique, each tomorrow no longer the completely inevitable and quite forseeable inheritance of all its yesterdays. From being enslaved by animality and fatality, he is becoming free in full humanity and creativity. (9-3.112)

Many Orientals put all happenings under the iron rule of karma. There is no free will, no individual control over them. One has to accept them fatalistically and, if dismayed by their evil, turn to the Spiritual Source for the only real happiness. In mental attitude, in personal inward response to events, lies one's chief freedom of will.

It might, however, be questioned how far such freedom is illusory, since the response, the attitude, are themselves conditioned by the past and many other things. It is quite correct to state that the past inclines us to think and act in a certain way. But it is also admitted that we can grow, can improve our lives and change in the course of time. So this is an admission that we are free to choose to grow or to remain exactly as we were. A man who commits robbery with violence may say that he is fated to act violently. With each offense, he is arrested and suffers imprisonment. After this has happened several times he begins to change his course. Eventually he fears imprisonment so much so that he resists temptation and ceases to be a criminal. This change of mental attitude was an act of free will. His past inclined him to the old direction but it did not compel him.

One of my readers claims that "the decision he makes is the only one he can make at the time." But the real situation is that it is the only decision he was willing to make. A man may not be conscious at first of conflict between two impulses inside himself. It is the presence of the Overself behind the ego which sets up the conflict. At first it remains in the subconscious, then in a dim vague way it becomes conscious. He may dismiss the alternative choice, but it was there all the time. Jesus said: "What you sow, you shall reap." The criminal chooses not to believe it, because he does not want to believe it. Inclinations from the past do not compel a man, but he unconsciously uses them as an excuse and claims he can do nothing else. The will is being expressed even when the man thinks he is, and seems to be, compelled to act in a certain way. It is expressed in the mental attitude adopted towards the situations in which he finds himself. Whenever he accepts the ordinary materialistic, negative, egoistic view of a situation, he is actually choosing that view. He is choosing even though he believes the contrary is true.

"Where there is no choice, where circumstances make the decision, one must bow one's head to them. Fatalism is acceptable only in the sense of recognizing what is inevitable and what is not. But fatalism is unacceptable as a blind, unquestioning, helpless submission to every happening."

"We ought to exert our efforts in all (things) as though they were absolutely free, and God will do as he sees fit." --Maimonides

Karma compels us so long as we do not anticipate the direction of its course by intelligence, nor endeavour to divert its flow by self-determination.

It is tendencies and dislikes which among other things stand in the way of perceiving and receiving truth. It is being bound to these things at the deepest level of personal thought and feeling which keeps the aspirant ignorant. If instead of being held by them he would shift his position and simply hold them quite loosely, he would then be freer in himself for the truth. Because he is a person, an individual, he possesses certain colourings peculiar to himself. He is an ego functioning in the body and in the world. He has various possessions because he has to live among and use the various objects needed for his life in the world. The change which enlightenment brings is not necessarily to throw them out. He can not throw his body out, he can not throw the personal colouring out, but he can--and this is what enlightenment does--free himself from being bound to them. This is what nonattachment really signifies. Too often an aspirant misunderstands this point. If he lets himself be deceived by books, however ancient and authoritative, or by gurus, however knowledgeable, reputed, or esteemed, into pursuing inner freedom in the wrong way, he may end either in disappointment and frustration or in self-deception and deception of others. The conditions under which he lives have been dictated by karma in the largest possible meaning of the word. Those conditions can be modified and perhaps changed only to a limited extent, for there are limitations within himself and within the karma which prevent his going any farther. In understanding this and in accepting the actualities of life and self, he can claim and find the only true freedom that is findable. All else is clamour or illusion.

In the final chapter of A Search in Secret India, I provided some hints of the cyclic nature of life, writing of how "every life has its aphelion and perihelion" (paraphrase). Now the time has come to particularize this statement and cast some light on the great mystery of fate and fortune. The knowledge of this truth renders a man better able to meet all situations in life, both pleasant and unpleasant, in the right way. "With an understanding of the auspicious and inauspicious issues of events, the accomplishment of great Life-tasks becomes possible," taught a Chinese sage. According to the Chinese wisdom, Tao, in its secondary meaning, is the divinely fixed order of things; under this there are four cycles of history. The first two are "yang" and the last two are "yin." This law of periodicity refers to individual lives no less than to cosmic existence. Every human life is therefore subject to periodical changes of destiny whose inner significance needs to be comprehended before one can rightly act. Hence the method of grappling with destiny must necessarily vary in accord with the particular rhythm which has come into the calendar of one's life. Every situation in human existence must find its appropriate treatment, and the right treatment can only be consciously adopted by the sage who has established inner harmony with the law of periodicity.

The sage seeks to do the right thing at the right moment, for automatic adjustment to these varying fortunes. This is called, in the Chinese Mystery School teaching, "mounting the dragon at the proper time and driving through the sky." Hence I have written in The Quest of the Overself that the wise man knows when to resist fate and when to yield to it. Knowing the truth above of the ebb and flow of destiny, he acts always in conformity with this inner understanding. Sometimes he will be fiercely active, other times completely quiescent, sometimes fighting tragedy to the utmost, but at other times resigned and surrendered. Everything has its special time and he does not follow any course of action at the wrong time. He is a free agent, yes, but he must express that freedom rightly, because he must work, as all must work, within the framework of cosmic law. To initiate the correct change in his activities at the incorrect time and amid wrong environing circumstances would be rash and lead to failure; to start a new and necessary enterprise at the wrong moment and amid the wrong situation of life, would also lead to failure. The same changes, however, if begun at another time and amid other conditions, will lead to success. The sage consults his innermost prompting, which, being in harmony with truth, guides him to correct action in particular situations accordingly. We can neither dictate to him as to what he should do, nor prescribe principles for his guidance, nor even predict how he is going to respond to any set of circumstances.

The proper course of action which anyone should adopt depends ultimately upon his time and place both materially and spiritually. In short, human wisdom must always be related to the cosmic currents of destiny and the divine goal. Man must be adaptable to circumstances, flexible to destiny, if his life is to be both wise and content. Unfortunately, the ordinary man does not perceive this, and creates much of his own unhappiness, works much of his own ruin. It is only the sage who, having surrendered the personal Ego, can create his own harmony with Nature and fate and thus remain spiritually undisturbed and at peace. As Kung-Fu-Tze (Confucius, in Western parlance) pithily says: "The superior man can find himself in no situation in which he is not himself." The wise man defers action and waits if necessary for the opportune and auspicious moment; he will not indulge in senseless struggles or untimely efforts. He knows how and when to wait and by his waiting render success certain. No matter how talented he be, if his circumstances are unfavourable and the time inopportune to express them, he will resign himself for the while and devote his time to self-preparation and self-cultivation and thus be ready for the opportunity which he knows the turn of time's wheel must bring him. He puts himself into alignment with the hidden principle which runs through man and matter, striking effectively when the iron is hot, refraining cautiously when it is cold. He knows the proper limits of his activity even in success and does not go beyond them. He knows when to advance and when to retreat, when to be incessantly active and when to lie as still as a sleeping mouse. Thus he escapes from committing serious errors.

Whether he enters birth in penurious squalor or in palatial grandeur, he will come to his own SPIRITUAL level again in the end. Environment is admittedly powerful to help or hinder, but the Spirit's antecedents are still more powerful and finally INDEPENDENT OF IT.

One important use of an astrological horoscope is principally to detect the presence of new opportunity, and to warn against the presence of dangerous tests, snares, and pitfalls. It is often hard to make a decision, when an important crossroad presents itself, if one of the roads leads to disaster and the other to good fortune. At such a time a correct horoscope will be helpful in arriving at a right decision.

Astrology was given by the primeval sages as a revelation to early mankind. No human being on earth could have created out of his own head this mysterious science of astrology. It was given to help human beings who still were far from spiritual attainment, as a concession to their human nature. But when man has come by spiritual advancement, under the grace of God, directly, or through a teacher, it is not possible to construct a horoscope that will perfectly fit him because his testimony will always be liable to modification and alteration.

"Where there is no choice, where circumstances make the decision, one must bow one's head to them. Fatalism is acceptable only in the sense of recognizing what is inevitable and what is not. But fatalism is unacceptable as a blind, unquestioning, helpless submission to every happening."

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