Reincarnation - A Study in Human Evolution
by Th. Pascal
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"Were an Asiatic to ask me for a definition of Europe, I should be forced to answer him:—It is that part of the world which is haunted by the incredible delusion that man was created out of nothing, and that his present birth is his first entrance into life."—SCHOPENHAUER.

(Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. 2, Chap. 15)


The Theosophical Publishing Society



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Theophile Pascal was born on the 11th of May, 1860, at Villecroze, a village in the South of France. His childhood was spent amid the pleasant surroundings of a country life. Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, a relative of his, a Catholic priest ministering in Toulon, seeing that the youth showed considerable ability, sent for him and presided over his studies in this large maritime centre. Before many years elapsed, he entered the Naval Medical School of the town, which he left at the age of twenty-two, with first-class honours. In his professional capacity, he took several trips on vessels belonging to the Mediterranean squadron. Four years afterwards he married, resigned active naval service, and devoted himself to building up a practice on land, becoming a homoeopathic physician in the great seaport itself. It was about this time that the young doctor became interested in Theosophy, owing to the kindly services of a former patient, Commander Courmes. The closest friendship and sympathetic interest in theosophic thought thus began, and continued during their common labours subsequently in Paris, Dr. Pascal entered the Theosophical Society in 1891, and during the course of the following year wrote a series of articles for the Revue Theosophique Francaise. These were continued year after year, and dealt with the most varied subjects: Psychic Powers; The Fall of the Angels; Kama-Manasic Elementals; Thought Forms; Christianity, Prehistoric Races, and many others.

The young doctor had previously made a deep study of human magnetism, which proved a most fertile ground for the sowing of the seed of the Ancient Wisdom.

In 1898 attacks of serious nervous depression became frequent, forcing him to cease work of every kind. Mrs. Besant persuaded him to accompany her to India, where his general health was gradually restored, and he was enabled to return to France in the following year.

He decided to leave Toulon, where he had built up a considerable practice, and to settle in Paris, hoping to provide for the needs of himself and his family—his wife and only daughter—by the exercise of his profession, and at the same time to fight the good fight for Theosophy in the capital itself.

The French Section of the Theosophical Society was founded in 1900, and Dr. Pascal was elected General Secretary. Throughout the next two years a number of thoughtful articles and publications appeared from his pen. The incessant labour and attention, however, which he bestowed on the spreading of theosophic instruction began to have its effect on a naturally delicate constitution, and in July, 1902, when attending the meetings of the British Convention in London, he was prostrated by an attack of congestion of the brain. The most devoted care was lavished on him, both in London and in Paris, the result being that a rapid, though only temporary, recovery took place. Had he relaxed his efforts somewhat, the cure might have been a permanent one, but Dr. Pascal, with the penetrating vision of the mystic, saw how pressing were the needs of the age, and how few the pioneers of this new presentation of the Truth, so that, at whatever cost of personal sacrifice, he plunged once more into the midst of his arduous toil.

In 1903 a series of very fine articles on the Laws of Destiny appeared in the Revue Theosophique, to be followed immediately by publication in volume form. Two years afterwards appeared the present volume—REINCARNATION: A STUDY IN HUMAN EVOLUTION; a work considered the most complete of any that have so far appeared in France on this subject, and the most popular of Dr. Pascal's publications.

In 1906 some of the nerve centres controlling the organs of speech became affected, but not sufficiently to compel him to remain absent from the International Theosophical Congress held that year in Paris under the presidency of Colonel Olcott. It was on this occasion that Dr. Pascal received from the hands of the President-Founder the Subba Rao medal, awarded to members of the society whose literary labours in the promulgation of the truths of Theosophy have proved eminently useful.

Twelve months afterwards he attended the Congress at Munich, under the presidency of Mrs. Besant, but was obliged to leave before the termination of the meetings. This may be regarded as Dr. Pascal's last public appearance as an active theosophist, for his subsequent prolonged stay in the South of France effected no radical improvement in the state of his health.

Returning to Paris in March, 1908, and realising how impossible it was for him to fulfil the duties incumbent on a General Secretary, he decided to resign his post. His colleagues, however, insisted on his continuing as Honorary General Secretary. From this time onward his health became gradually worse, and his physical life terminated on the 18th of April, 1909, his body being cremated three days afterwards at the Cemetery of Pere Lachaise.

What was most striking about Dr. Pascal, in both public and private life, was his intense earnestness—the index of a well-grounded habit of concentration—and the calm strength of his convictions. It was impossible to be in his presence for any length of time without feeling the power that emanated from him, and recognising that here was a mighty soul struggling for expression.

Other characteristics were his extreme modesty, and his continual endeavour to accord praise and merit to those working for the cause so dear to his own heart. When questioned on many of the intricate points raised in a lecture or in conversation on some abstruse theosophical subject, he made no pretence at knowledge he did not possess; on such occasions his confession of ignorance would be charming, even touching in its naivete.

But the qualities he seemed to feel it his special object to awaken in the minds of others—as will be acknowledged, I think, by those who knew him best—may be inferred from his continual insistence on the double duty, incumbent on students of Theosophy, of practising on all occasions the utmost tolerance, refusing not only to condemn but even to judge harshly the opinions or actions of others, and of seizing every opportunity to help another because of the recognition of the One Life throughout the world, May we who read the following pages catch somewhat of the deep earnestness and enthusiastic spirit breathing through them, and may the joy of service dissipate all meaner, motives, taking as our watchword also the only key to true growth, the very heart of altruism, that exhortation he never wearied of repeating: Aidez! Aidez toujours!

F. R.


It will soon be: 1500 years since the decision of the Council of 543 A.D.[1] condemned to oblivion sublime teachings which ought to have been carefully preserved and handed down to future generations as a beacon amid social reefs; teachings that would have uprooted that frightful egoism which threatens to annihilate the world, and instilled patience into the hearts of such as were being crushed beneath the wheel of the cosmic law, by showing them the scales of Justice inclining to the side filled with their iniquities of bygone times; teachings which would have been welcomed by the masses, and the understanding of which would not have called for any lofty intellectual culture.

It was one of the greatest misfortunes that could have befallen the races of the West, more especially the European, that they were thus deprived for centuries of this indispensable knowledge. We look upon it as a duty, following on so many others, to offer it anew, this time in the clear, logical, illuminating form presented in theosophic teachings. The necessity thereof is all the more imperative when we consider the growth of scepticism and materialism amongst the more intellectual classes, whilst the mass of the people have forsaken their blind faith only to succumb to religious indifference.

To every awakened soul the question comes:

Why does evil exist?

So long as the enigma remains unsolved, Suffering remains a threatening sphinx, opposing God and ready to devour mankind.

The key to the secret lies in Evolution, which can be accomplished only by means of the continual return of souls to earth.

When once man learns that suffering is the necessary result of divine manifestation; that inequalities of conditions are due to the different stages which beings have reached and the changeable action of their will; that the painful phase lasts only a moment in Eternity, and that we have it in our power to hasten its disappearance; that though slaves of the past, we are masters of the future; that, finally, the same glorious goal awaits all beings—then, despair will be at an end; hatred, envy, and rebellion will have fled away, and peace will reign over a humanity made wise by knowledge.

Were this modest work to hasten forward this time by a few years, we should feel sufficiently rewarded.

The subject will be divided into four chapters:

(1) The Soul and the bodies.

(2) Reincarnation and the moral law.

(3) Reincarnation and science.

(4) Reincarnation and the religious and philosophical concensus of the ages.


[Footnote 1: This Council came to the following decision:—Whosoever shall teach the pre-existence of the soul and the strange opinion of its returns to earth, let him be anathema!]





In a book dealing with the resurrection of bodies and the reincarnations of the Soul, a chapter must be devoted to the fundamental elements of the question.

We will give the name of Soul to abstract Being, to the Unknown, that unmanifested Principle which cannot be defined, for it is above all definition.

It is the Absolute of Western philosophers, the Parabrahm of the Hindus, the Tao of the ancient sages of China, the causeless Cause of all that has been or ever will be manifested in concrete time and space.

Some feeble idea of it may perhaps be obtained by comparing it with electricity, which, though the cause of various phenomena: heat, movement, chemical action, light, is not, per se, any one of these phenomena, undergoes no modification from their existence, and survives them when the apparatus through which they manifest disappears.

We shall set up no distinction between this Soul, which may be called the universal Soul, and the individual soul, which has often been defined as a ray, a particle of the total Soul, for logically one cannot imply parts to the Absolute; it is illusion, limitation on our part, which shows us souls in the Soul.

Bodies are "aspects" of the Soul, results of its activity—if, indeed, the Infinite can be said to be either active or passive; words fail when we attempt to express the Inexpressible. These bodies, or, more precisely, the varied forms assumed by force-matter[2] are aspects of the Soul, just as light or chemical action are aspects of electricity, for one cannot suppose anything outside of infinite Being, nor can anything be imagined which is not a manifestation of the abstract Whole.

Let us also define Consciousness.

Taken absolutely, it is Being, the Soul, God; the uncaused Cause of all the states which, in beings, we call states of consciousness.

This limited consciousness may be defined as the faculty a "centre of life" possesses of receiving vibrations from its surroundings. When, in the course of evolution, a being is sufficiently developed to become conscious of a separation between its "I" and the object which sends it vibrations, consciousness becomes self-consciousness. This self-consciousness constitutes the human stage; it appears in the higher animals, but as it descends the scale of being, gradually disappears in non-individualised consciousness.

In a word, absolute Consciousness is one, though, as in the above example, it is manifested differently, according to the differences in the vehicles which express it in the concrete world in which we live.

The Soul, per se, is beyond the reach of beings who have not finished the pilgrimage of evolution. To know it, one must have attained to the eternal Centre, the unmanifested Logos. Up to that point, one can only, in proportion as one ascends, feel it in oneself, or acknowledge it by means of the logic which perceives it through all its manifestations as the universal Mover of forms, the Cause of all things, the Unity that produces diversity by means of the various vehicles which serve it as methods of expression.

Science says that intelligence, or, to be more generic, consciousness, results from the action of matter. This is a mistake.

Consciousness does not change in proportion as the cells of the body are renewed; rather it increases with physical unconsciousness, as in somnambulism.

Thought is not the fruit of the brain; it offers itself to the latter, ready made, so to speak; the loftiest intellectual or artistic inspirations are flashes which strike down into the awaiting brain, when maintaining that passive expectant attitude which is the condition in which a higher message may be received.

The senses are not the thinking-principle. They need to be controlled by consciousness; thus, people blind from birth, when suddenly made to see, cannot judge either distance or perspective; like animals and primitive men, they see nothing but colours on a surface.

Science says also: the organ is created for the function it has to perform; again a mistake. The eyes of the foetus are constructed in the darkness of the womb. The human germ, notwithstanding its unconsciousness and its simplicity of structure, develops a body that is complex and capable of a considerable degree of consciousness; though itself unintelligent, it produces prodigies of intelligence in this body; here, consequently, the effect would be greatly superior to the cause, which is absurd. Outside of the body and the germ is a supreme Intelligence which creates the models of forms and carries out their construction. This Intelligence is the Soul of the world.

If Consciousness per se, or the Soul, is above all direct proof at the present stage of human evolution, the vehicles through which it functions are more or less apparent to us provided they are capable of affecting the brain. At the present stage of human evolution, this is the case only with the astral body; the other bodies are too fine to manifest through the nervous system such characteristics as are calculated to furnish scientists with a proof of their existence; they can only be felt and proved in and by Yoga.[3]

It is not without importance, however, to set forth the proofs of the existence of a vehicle of consciousness immediately above the physical, for it affords us a wider horizon and throws far more light on the rest of the subject.


Certain normal and abnormal or morbid phenomena in man have proved the existence of this vehicle, which we will call the higher consciousness, for it is far greater than normal, waking consciousness, that of the brain. In the somewhat rare cases in which this consciousness is expressed in the physical world, it is forced to make use of the brain. Now, in the majority of men, the latter is still incapable of vibrating harmoniously with the matter which forms the astral vehicle; this is because the density of the atoms of the brain cells which preside over thought is incapable of reproducing the rapid vibrations of the finer matter belonging to the body immediately above it. By special training (the yoga of the Hindus), by a particular constitution of body (sensitiveness), by certain special methods (hypnotism), or in certain maladies (somnambulism), the brain may become receptive to these vibrations, and receive from them an impression, though always an imperfect one. The rarity of this impression, its imperfection, and especially the necessity for the vibration of the physical brain that it may be manifested in our environment; all these have made it very difficult to prove the existence of this higher vehicle; still, there are certain considerations which show that it exists, and that it alone is capable of explaining the most characteristic phenomena of the higher consciousness.

Let us first define these two states of consciousness rather more completely, and fix their limits.

Normal consciousness is that which functions during waking hours, when the brain is in full physiological activity, freely and completely related to the outer physical world. This consciousness is more or less developed according to the individual, but its component parts—sensation, emotion, sentiment, reason, intelligence, will, intuition—do not exceed known limits; for instance, we do not find clairvoyance, the prophetic faculty, and certain other abnormal faculties, which we shall class under the higher consciousness.

The higher consciousness works in the astral body, whether externalised or not; it seldom manifests itself, and then incompletely; it is accompanied by the more or less complete inhibition of the senses, and by a kind of sleep in which the relations of the subject with the physical world are wholly or partially suspended. The characteristics of this state are greater keenness of the normal faculties, and the appearance of new ones, which are often inexplicable and extraordinary and the more remarkable in proportion as sleep is more profound, the brain calmer, or the physiological state more abnormal.

How can we explain the paradox that faculties shown by a brain in a state of inactivity cover an extent of ground which the brain in a state of activity cannot approach? The reason is that the brain, in this case, is not an instrument moved directly by the cause of consciousness, the soul, but a simple recipient, which the soul, then centred in the astral body, impresses on returning to the physical body (if it has been far away) or impresses directly when, whilst acting in the finer vehicle, the latter has not left the body.[4]

In other words, the brain, by reason of its functional inactivity, vibrates little or not at all in its higher centres; it plays the part of a sounding-board at rest, capable of vibrating sympathetically under the influence of a similar board placed by its side.

The necessity of cerebral quiet, if the higher consciousness is to make an impression, is now easy to understand; the finer vibration of the astral body cannot be impressed upon the brain when the latter is already strongly vibrating under the action of normal consciousness. For this reason also, the deeper the sleep of the physical body the better the higher consciousness manifests itself.

In ordinary man, organic quiet is scarcely ever complete during sleep; the brain, as we shall see shortly, automatically repeats the vibrations which normal consciousness has called forth during the waking state; this, together with an habitual density of the nervous elements, too great to respond to the higher vibration, explains the rarity and the confused state of the impression of astral consciousness on the brain.

The facts relating to the higher consciousness are as numerous as they are varied. We shall not enter into full details, but choose only a few phenomena quoted in well-known works.


Normal dream. During normal sleep there exists a special consciousness which must not be confounded either with waking consciousness or with that of the astral body. It is due to the automatic, cerebral vibration which continues during sleep, and which the soul examines on its return to the body—when awake. This dream is generally an absurd one, and the reason the dreamer notices it only on awaking is that he is absent from the visible body during sleep.

The proof of the departure of the astral body during sleep has been ascertained by a certain number of seers, but the absurdity of the commonplace dream is a rational proof thereof, one which must here be mentioned. As another rational proof of the existence of a second vehicle of consciousness, we must also notice the regular registering of the commonplace dream, because it takes place in the brain, and the habitual non-registering of the true dream experience, because this latter takes place in the externalised astral body.

Why does the astral body leave the physical during sleep? This question is beyond our power to answer, though a few considerations on this point may be advanced.

Sleep is characterised by the transfer of consciousness from the physical to the astral body; this transfer seems to take place normally under the influence of bodily fatigue. After the day's activity, the senses no longer afford keen sensations, and as it is the energy of these sensations that keeps the consciousness "centred" in the brain[5]; this consciousness, when the senses are lulled to sleep, centres in the finer body, which then leaves the physical body with a slight shock.

It is, however, of the real dream—which is at times so intelligent that it has been called lucid, and at all events is reasonable, logical, and co-ordinate—that we wish to speak. In most cases this dream consists of a series of thoughts due to the soul in action in the astral body; it is sometimes the result of seeing mental pictures of the future[6] or else it represents quite another form of animistic activity, as circumstances and the degree of the dreamer's development permit.

It is in the lucid dream—whether belonging to normal or to abnormal sleep—that occur those numerous and well-known cases of visions past or future to be found in so many of the books dealing with this special subject.

To these same states of higher consciousness are due such productions as Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. The author, suffering from fever, wrote this work whilst in a kind of delirious condition; Ivanhoe was printed before the recovery of the author, who, on reading it at a later date, had not the slightest recollection that it was his own production. (Ribot's Maladies de la Memoire, p. 41.)

Walter Scott remembered nothing, because Ivanhoe was the fruit of the astral consciousness impressed upon a brain which fever had rendered temporarily receptive to the higher vibrations.

There are certain peculiarities of the real dream which prove almost mathematically the superior nature of the vehicle which gives expression to it. This dream, for instance, is never of a fatiguing nature, however long it may appear to last, because it is only an instantaneous impression made upon the brain by the astral body, when the latter returns to the physical body, on awaking. On the other hand, the cerebral ideation of the waking state is fatiguing if intense or prolonged, or if the nervous system of the thinker is deprived of its normal power of resistance (in neurasthenia); the commonplace (brain) dream is also fatiguing if prolonged or at all vivid.

Another peculiarity is that a dream—the real dream—which would require several years of life on earth for its realisation, can take place in a second. The dream of Maury (Le Sommeil et le Reve, p. 161), who in half a second lived through three years of the French Revolution, and many other dreams of the same nature, are instances of this. Now, Fechner has proved, in his Elemente der Psychophysik, first, that a fraction of a second is needed for the sensorial contact to cause the brain to vibrate—this prevents our perceiving the growth of a plant and enables us to see a circle of fire when a piece of glowing coal is rapidly whirled round; secondly, that another fraction of a second is needed for the cerebral vibration to be transformed into sensation. We might add that a third fraction of a second is needed for sensation to be transformed into ideation, proving that in these special dreams there can have been no more than an instantaneous, mass impression of all the elements of the dream upon the brain,[7] and that the dream itself has been produced by the imaginative action of the soul in the astral body, an extremely subtle one, whose vibratory power is such as to transform altogether our ordinary notions of time and space.

The death-bed dream. In dying people, the bodily senses gradually lose their vitality, and by degrees the soul concentrates itself within the finer vehicle. From that time signs of the higher consciousness appear, time is inordinately prolonged, visions present themselves, the prophetic faculty is sometimes manifested, and verified cases are related of removal to a distance, like that of the Alsatian woman dying on board ship. During the final coma she went to Rio de Janeiro and commended her child to the keeping of a fellow-countryman. (D'Assier's L'humanite posthume, p. 47) Similar instances are found in The Night Side of Nature, by C. Crowe, as well as in other works of the same kind.

The dream of intoxication. Under the influence of soporifics the same transfer of consciousness is produced, and we meet with more or less remarkable phenomena due to the higher consciousness. Opium smokers and eaters of hashish are able to form ideas with such rapidity that minutes seem to them to be years, and a few moments in dreamland delude them into the idea that they have lived through a whole life. (Hervey's Les reves et les moyens de les diriger.)

The dream of asphyxia. During asphyxia by submersion the higher consciousness enters into a minute study of the life now running to its close. In a few moments it sees the whole of it again in its smallest details. Carl du Prel (Philos. der Mystik) gives several instances of this; Haddock (Somnolism and Psychism, p. 213) quotes, among other cases, that of Admiral Beaufort. During two minutes' loss of consciousness in a drowning condition, he saw again every detail of his life, all his actions, including their causes, collateral circumstances, their effects, and the reflections of the victim on the good and evil that had resulted therefrom.

Perty's account (Die Mystischen Erscheinungen der Menschlichen Natur) of Catherine Emmerich, the somnambulist nun, who, when dying, saw again the whole of her past life, would incline one to think that this strange phenomenon, which traditional Catholicism appears to have called the "Private Judgment," and which theosophy defines with greater preciseness, is not limited to asphyxia by submersion, but is the regular accompaniment of life's ending.


A rather large number of people born blind have images in dreams, and can see with the higher consciousness, when placed in a state of somnambulism. This proves that the higher consciousness possesses the power of vision on its own plane, and can impress images thereof on the brain.

That this impression may be translated into the language of the physical plane,[8] it must evidently take place in one of the physical centres of vision which make possible three-dimensional sight; these centres may be intact even when the external visual apparatus does not exist or is incapable of functioning.

A deaf and dumb idiot became intelligent and spoke during spontaneous somnambulism (Steinbach's Der Dichter ein Seher). This is a case which appears to us difficult to explain fully; indeed, if the impression of the higher vibration on that portion of the brain which presides over intelligence and thought can be understood, it is not easy to see how tongue and lips could suddenly utter precise sounds which they had never produced before. Another factor must have intervened here, as was the case with the child prophets of the Camisards. (V. Figuier's Hist. du merveilleux, etc.)

Young Hebert, who had gone mad as the result of a wound, regained full consciousness, the higher consciousness, during somnambulism. (Puysegur's Journal du traitement du jeune Hebert.)

Dr. Teste (Manuel pratiq. du magnet. anim.) came across madmen who became sane just before death, i.e., when consciousness was passing into the astral body. He also mentions a servant girl, quite uneducated and of ordinary intelligence, who nevertheless became a veritable philosopher during mesmeric somnambulism and delivered learned discourses on lofty problems dealing with cosmogony.

This proves that the vibratory scale of the finer vehicle extends far beyond that of the physical, and that the soul cannot impress on this latter vehicle all that it knows when functioning in the former. By this we do not mean that it is omniscient as soon as it has left the visible body; this opinion, a current one, is contrary to the law of evolution, and will not bear examination.


The memory that is lost by the brain is preserved in its entirety by the finer vehicle.

A musician, a friend of Hervey's, once heard a remarkable piece of music; he remembered it on awaking, and wrote it down, regarding it as his own inspiration. Many years afterwards, he found it in an old parcel of music where he knew it had been long before; he had totally forgotten it in his normal consciousness. (Hervey's Dreams.)

Coleridge tells of a servant girl who, when in a state of delirium, would recite long passages of Hebrew which she had formerly heard from the lips of a priest in whose service she had been. In the same way, she would repeat passages from Latin and Greek theological books, which she had heard under the same circumstances; in her normal state, she had no recollection whatever of all this. (Dr. Carpenter's Mental Physiology, p. 437, 1881 edition.)

Ricard (Physiol. et Hygiene du Magnet., p. 183) relates the case of a young man, possessed of an ordinary memory, but who, in somnambulism, could repeat almost word for word a sermon he had heard or a book he had read.

Mayo, the physiologist, states that an ignorant young girl, in a state of somnambulism, wrote whole pages of a treatise on astronomy, including figures and calculations, which she had probably read in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, for the treatise was afterwards found in that work. (Truths in Popular Superstitions.)

Ladame (La Nevrose hypnotique, p. 105) mentions a woman who, having only on one occasion been to the theatre, was able, during somnambulism, to sing the whole of the second act of Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, an opera of which she knew nothing whatever in her waking state.

During experiments with the inhaling of protoxyde of azote, H. Davy said that normal consciousness disappeared, and was followed by a wonderful power of recalling past events. (Hibbert's Philosophy of Apparitions, p. 162.)


The "strata of memory" met with in many cases also prove the existence of the second vehicle of consciousness which we are trying to demonstrate.

Certain dreams continue night after night, beginning again just where they stopped the previous night; this is noticed in the case of those who talk in their sleep and in spontaneous or forced somnambulism.

The memory of one intoxicated, or in a state of fever delirium is lost when consciousness returns from the astral to the physical body; it comes back on the return of the delirium or the intoxication.

The same thing takes place in madness; at the termination of a crisis, the patients take up the past just where they left it. (Wienholt's Heilkraft.) Kerner relates that one of these unfortunate persons, after an illness lasting several years, remembered the last thing he did before the crisis happened, his first question being whether the tools with which he had been cutting up wood had been put away. During the whole of the interval he had been living in his higher consciousness.

Ribot (Maladies de la Memoire p. 63) has noted the fact that the same thing happens with those who fall into a state of coma after having received a hurt or wound.


The Soul functioning in the finer body sees the physical body in a state of coma. Dr. Abercrombie relates the case of a child aged four, who was trepanned as the result of fracture of the skull, and whilst in a stale of coma. He never knew what happened. At the age of fifteen, during an attack of fever, the higher consciousness impressed itself upon the brain, and he remembered every detail of the accident; he described to his mother where he had felt the pain, the operation, the people present, their number, functions, the clothes they wore, the instruments used, etc. (Kerner, Magikon, vol. 3, p. 364.)

The Soul, in the finer body, during somnambulism, is separated both from the physical body and from normal consciousness, it calmly foresees the illness or the death of the denser body on which it sometimes imposes serious operations. Such facts were numerous in the case of magnetisers in olden days.

Deleuze (Hist. crit. du magn. animal, vol. 2, p. 173) had a patient who, in a state of somnambulism, held moral, philosophical, and religious opinions quite contrary to those of his waking state.

Charpignon (Physiol., medecine et metaphys. du magnetisme, p. 341) tells of a patient who, when awake, wished to go to the theatre, but during somnambulism refused to do so, saying: "She wants to go, but I don't want." On Charpignon recommending that she should try to turn her aside from her purpose, she replied: "What can I do? She is mad!"

Deleuze (Inst. pratiq. s. le maget. anim., p. 121) says that many somnambulists look into their body when the latter is ill; that they are often indifferent to its sufferings, and sometimes are not even willing to prescribe remedies to cure it.

Chardel (Esquisse de la nat. humaine expliq. p. le magn. anim., p. 282) relates that many somnambulists are unwilling to be awakened so as not to return to a body which is a hindrance to them.

There are many madmen who speak of their body in the third person. (Ladame, La Nevrose, p. 43). They function in the non-externalised finer vehicle. Some explain their use of the third person as follows:—"It is the body; it is I who am the spirit."


In these strange phenomena, not only manifestations of the higher consciousness, analogous with or similar to those just cited, have been noted, but also a number of facts which prove, to some extent, the casual presence in a normal human body or in materialised abnormal forms, of beings other than that which constitutes the personality of the one possessed, or of the medium who conditions these materialisations. On this point, we would mention the well-known investigations of Sir W. Crookes (Katie King), those of Colonel de Rochas (Vincent, Un cas de changement de personnalite, Lotus Bleu 1896), and similar experiments of other savants.

"Incarnation mediums" have often lent their physical bodies to disincarnated human entities, whose account of what happened or whose identity it has been possible to verify. Here I will mention only one case amongst several others, I heard it from my friend, D. A. Courmes, a retired naval captain, a man who is well-informed in these matters, thoroughly sincere, and of unquestioned veracity.

In 1895, he happened to be off Algiers, on a training vessel. A boat had sunk in the harbour, and a man was drowned. His body had not been recovered. On the evening of the accident, my friend, accompanied by a doctor, a professor, and the vice-president of the Court of Algiers, attended a spiritualistic meeting in the town. One of these "incarnation mediums" happened to be present. M. Courmes suggested that the drowned man should be called up. The latter answered to the call, entered the medium, whose voice and attitude immediately changed. He gave the following account of what had taken place: "When the boat sank, I was on the ladder. I was hurled down, my right leg passed between two bars, occasioning fracture of the leg, and preventing me from releasing myself. My body will be found caught in the ladder when the boat is brought to the surface. It is useless to seek elsewhere."

This account was shortly afterwards confirmed.

These phenomena are more frequent than one would imagine; a sufficient number might be given to show that, judging from the theory of probabilities, serious consideration should be given to them.


A final group of phenomena to which I wish to call attention is the one which goes under the name of apparitions. A considerable number of these are to be found; we will confine ourselves, however, to referring the reader to a volume entitled Phantasms of the Living, due to the patient investigations of a distinguished body of foreign savants. Here we find, first of all, proof of the transmission of thought to a distance. An examination into the conditions under which most of these cases took place has convinced several students of the existence of the finer body which we are here endeavouring to demonstrate, as well as of the possibility of its instantaneous transference to a great distance. As the proofs afforded by apparitions are not mathematical, i.e., indisputable, and as they give room for a variety of opinions, we will make no attempt to detail them, preferring to pass on to a final proof—the least important, perhaps, from a general point of view, since it is limited to the individual possessing it; the only absolute and mathematical one, however, to the man who has obtained it:—the personal proof.

There are persons—few in number, true—who, under divers influences, have been able to leave the physical body and see it sleeping on a couch. They have freely moved in an environment—the astral world—similar to our physical one in some respects, though different in many others, and have returned again to the body, bringing back the memory of their wanderings. These accounts have been given by persons deserving of credence and not subject to hallucinations.

There are other individuals, though not so numerous—of whom we have the pleasure of knowing some personally—who are able to leave their physical bodies and return at will. They travel to great distances with the utmost rapidity and bring back a complete memory of their journeyings. D'Assier gives a typical case in his work. (L'Humanite posthume, p. 59.)

Such is the proof we look upon as irrefutable, as complete and perfect. The man who can thus travel freely in his finer body knows that the physical body is only a vehicle adapted to the physical world and necessary for life in this world; he knows that consciousness does not cease to function, and that the universe by no means provides the conditions for a state of nothingness, once this body of flesh is laid aside.

At this stage of his evolution man can, in addition, make use of his astral body at will, and obtain on the astral plane, first by reason and intuition, afterwards by personal experience, proof of another vehicle of consciousness—the mental body. At a further stage he obtains the certainty of possession of the causal body, then of higher bodies, and from that time he can no longer doubt the teachings of the Elder Brothers, those who have entered the higher evolution, the worlds that are divine. He knows, beyond all possibility of doubt, that what the ordinary man expresses in such childish language regarding these lofty problems, what he calls the Absolute and the Manifested, God and the Universe, the soul and the body, are more vitally true than he imagined; he sees that these words are dense veils that conceal the supreme, ineffable, infinite Being, of whom manifested beings are illusory "aspects," facets of the divine Jewel.[9]

With this introduction, we will plunge at once into the heart of the subject.


[Footnote 2: Which is nothing but an unknown "aspect" of abstract Divinity.]

[Footnote 3: Present-day man possesses four bodies of increasing fineness, the elements of which interpenetrate. Proceeding from the most dense, these are: The physical, the astral, the mental, and the causal body. In certain conditions they are capable of dissociation, and they last for a longer or a shorter time. The astral body, also called the body of desire, animal soul (Kamarupa, in Sanskrit) is the seat of sensation. Evolution has in store for us higher bodies stilt—the buddhic body, the atmic body, &c.... but these need only be mentioned at this point.

Yoga—Sanskrit, union—is a training of the different bodies of man by the will; its object is to make of those bodies complete and perfect instruments, capable of responding to the vibrations of the outer universe as well as to those of the individual soul. When this process is accomplished, man can receive, consciously and at will, in any one of his bodies, vibrations received by the soul primarily in one of the others; for instance, he may feel in the physical brain the direct action of his astral or higher bodies; he may also leave the physical, and feel directly in his astral body the action of the mental body, and so on.

Yoga can be practised only under the guidance of a Master, i.e., a highly developed being, capable of guiding the student safely through the dangers incidental to this training.]

[Footnote 4: When the astral body is externalised, the subject cannot speak; he must await its return; when only partially externalised or not at all, and consciousness is centred in it, the subject can speak and relate what he sees afar off, for astral vision is possible at enormous distances. Such cases as these are frequently met with.]

[Footnote 5: In 1876, in a Leipzic hospital, there was a patient possessed of neither sensibility nor muscular sense. He had only sight in the right eye and hearing in the left ear. If this eye and ear were closed, the patient immediately fell asleep. Neither by being touched nor shaken could he be awakened; to effect this, it was necessary to open his eye and unstop his ear. (Archiv. fuer die ges. Physiologie, vol. 15, p. 573).]

[Footnote 6: These pictures are often visible in the astral world; they explain the prophetic faculty of ordinary seers.]

[Footnote 7: In such cases, by association of ideas or any other influence, the soul dramatises the physical impression which calls forth the dream, and creates the long phantasmagoria of this dream in so short a time as to be scarcely appreciable. Between the sleeping physical body and the externalised astral body there is so close a degree of sympathy that the latter is conscious of everything that takes place in the former. This explains why the astral body returns so rapidly to the physical when a noise, light, or any other sensation impresses this latter.]

[Footnote 8: We say "language of the physical plane" because the soul, in the astral body, sees in four dimensions, i.e., all the parts of an object at once, as though these parts were spread out on a two-dimensional plane. Consequently, the higher vision needs interpretation in order to be expressed on the physical plane.]

[Footnote 9: There are other proofs of the existence of the causal body, the reincarnating vehicle; the principal one is given in the middle of Chapter 3. It is there shown that the physical germs explain only a very small portion of heredity, and that logic imperiously demands the existence of an invisible, durable body, capable of gathering up the germs which preserve the moral and intellectual qualities of man.]



The Goodness, justice, and Omnipotence of God are the guarantees of Providence.

It is absolutely impossible that the faintest breath of injustice should ever disturb the Universe. Every time the Law appears to be violated, every time Justice seems outraged, we may be certain that it is our ignorance alone that is at work, and that a deeper knowledge of the net-work of evolution and of the lines of action created by human free will, sooner or later, will dissipate our error.

For all that, the whole universe appears to be the very incarnation of injustice. The constellations as they come into manifestation shatter the heavens with their titanic combats; it is the vampirism of the greatest among them that creates the suns, thus inaugurating egoism from the very beginning. Everywhere on earth is heard the cry of pain, a never-ending struggle; sacrifice is everywhere, whether voluntary or forced, offered freely or taken unwillingly. The law of the strongest is the universal tyranny. The vegetable kingdom feeds upon the mineral, and in its turn forms nourishment for the animal; the giants of the forests spread ruin in every direction, beneath their destructive influence the spent, exhausted soil can nourish nothing but weeds and shrubs of no importance. In the animal kingdom a war to the death is ever being waged, a terrible destruction in which those best armed for the fray pitilessly devour the weak and defenceless. Man piles up every kind and method of destruction, cruelty and barbarity of every sort; he tears away gold from the bowels of the earth, mutilates the mighty forests, exhausts the soil by intensive culture, harasses and tortures animals when unable to utilise their muscular strength, and, in addition, kills them when their flesh is eatable; his most careful calculations are the auxiliaries of his insatiable egoism, and, by might or cunning, he crushes everything that hinders or inconveniences him. Finally, from time to time, the Elements mingle their awful voice in this concert of pain and despair, and we find hurricanes and floods, fires and earthquakes pile up colossal wreck and ruin in a few hours, on which scenes of destruction the morrow's calm and glorious sun sheds his impassive beams.

And so, before reaching individual evil and apparent injustice, there rises up before us at the very outset the threatening spectre of universal evil and injustice. This problem is so closely bound up with our subject that we are compelled to spend a short time in considering it.


To admit, as do certain ignorant fatalists, that the Universe was created by the stroke of some magic wand, and that each planet, kingdom, and being is condemned, so to speak, to a definite crystallisation in the state in which it has pleased God to fix it; to admit that the mineral will remain a mineral throughout eternity, that the vegetable will ever reproduce the same types, that the animal will definitely be confined to his instincts and impulses, without the hope, some day, of developing the superior mentality of his torturers in human form; to admit that man will never be anything but man, i.e., a being in whom the passions have full play whereas the virtues are scarcely born; to admit that there is no final goal—perfection, the divine state—to crown man's labour; all this is to refuse to recognise evolution, to deny the progress everywhere apparent, to set divine below human justice; blasphemy, in a word.

It has been said by unthinking Christians that evidently God created human suffering, so that those might gain Heaven who, but for this suffering, would have no right to it. To speak thus is to represent the Supreme Goodness in a very unworthy aspect and to attribute the most gratuitous cruelty to Divine Justice. When, too, we see that this absurd reasoning explains neither the sufferings of animals, which have no right to enjoy the felicity of heaven, they say, nor the fact[10] that "there are many called but few chosen," nor the saying that "outside the Church there is no salvation," although for ages past God has caused millions of men to be born in countries where the Gospel has not been preached, we shall not be astonished to find that those who arrogate to themselves a monopoly of Truth bring forward none but arguments of childish folly in support of their claims.

Generally, however, it is original sin that is advanced as the cause of suffering.

The absurdity of this doctrine is so apparent that it has lost all credence by enlightened members of the Christian faith. First of all, it does not explain the sufferings of animals, which have had no participation in this sin, nor does it account for the unequal distribution of pain amongst men themselves. This sin being the same for all at birth,[11] punishment ought to have been equally severe for all, and we ought not to see such frightful disproportions as are to be found in the condition of children who have not attained to the age of reason, i.e., of responsibility. Saint Augustine felt the weight of this consideration; he reflected long on this torturing problem:

"When I come to consider the sufferings of children," he says, "believe me, I am in a state of terrible perplexity. I have no wish whatever to speak only of the punishment inflicted on them after this life by eternal damnation to which they are of necessity condemned if they have left their bodies without receiving the sacrament of Christ, but of the pains they endure in this present life, under our very eyes. Did I wish to examine these sufferings, time would fail me rather than instances thereof; they languish in sickness, are torn by pain, tortured by hunger and thirst, weakened in their organs, deprived of their senses, and sometimes tormented by unclean beings. I should have to show how they can with justice be subjected to such things, at a time when they are yet without sin. It cannot be said that they suffer unknown to God or that God can do nothing against their tormentors, nor that He can create or allow unjust punishment. When men suffer, we say they are being punished for their crimes, but this can be applied only to adults. As children have in them no sin capable of meriting so terrible a punishment, tell me what answer can be given?"

The answer, indeed, cannot be made that original sin is capable of explaining this unequal retribution; but then, ought not the very absurdity of the consequences due to such sin to justify one in refusing to examine this argument? What soul could admit that the innocent should be punished for the guilty? Does human justice, in spite of its imperfection, punish the offspring of criminals? Can the millions of descendants of the mythical Adam have been chastised for a crime in which they have had no share? And would this chastisement, multiplied millions of times without the faintest reason, never have stirred the conscience of the Church? Saint Augustine could not make up his mind to accuse God of injustice; so, to avoid disputing the truth of the Christian teaching in which he wholly believed, he invented his famous theory of "generation," often called "translation."

Men suffer because of original sin, he says, but it would not be just of God to punish them for this, had they not shared therein[12]; this, indeed, they have done, for the soul of a man was not created directly, by God, at the moment of the birth of the body; it is a branch taken from the soul of his father, as the latter's comes from that of his parents; thus, ascending the genealogical chain, we see that all souls issue from that of the common father of mankind: Adam.[13]

So that Saint Augustine preferred to deny the creation of souls and to derive them from the soul of Adam, through a successive progeny of human vehicles, rather than to allow God to be charged with injustice. We are not called upon to demonstrate the falsity of his hypothesis, which the Church has been forced to condemn, though without replacing it with a better theory; all the same, if human souls suffer from a sin in which they have not individually and consciously participated—and such is the case, for even granting that translation be a fact, these souls existed in Adam only potentially, as unconscious, undeveloped germs, when the sin took place—their punishment is none the less arbitrary and revolting. Saint Augustine believed he was justifying Providence; he succeeded only in deceiving his own reason and revolted sense of justice, but he preferred by suggestion to deceive himself to such an extent as to believe in the reality of his desire rather than enrol himself against the Church.

In order to reconcile divine Justice with the injustice of punishing all for the fault of one alone, the theologians also said: "Adam sinned, his sin has been distributed over the whole of his race, but God, by sending down his son, instituted baptism; and the waters of the sacrament wash the stains of original sin from the souls of men."

This reply is as childish as the former. As a matter of fact, according to the Church, about four thousand years intervened between the sin of Adam and the coming of the Redeemer, and so only after that interval did the souls of the just, who were waiting in the Life Beyond for the coming of the Messiah, enter Paradise!

Would not this delay in itself be an injustice? Ought not baptism to have been instituted immediately after the sin, and should it not have been placed within the reach of all? Besides, do we not see that even in our days, two thousand years after the coming of the Christ, millions of human beings are born and die without ever having heard of the existence of this sacrament. This part of the argument is too puerile to dwell upon at length, but we will spend a few moments on it to show definitely how powerless this theory is to explain evil.

Before teaching the doctrine of "Limbo," the Church accepted the idea of the damnation of children who died without being baptised, as we have just seen in the case of Saint Augustine.[14] Bossuet, with incredible blindness, also accepted it; and, sad to relate, his reason did not feel called upon to furnish an explanation which would justify Providence, as was the case with Saint Augustine. He rejected "translation," and discovered nothing with which to veil the blasphemy.

On this point the following is a faithful resume of his letter to Pope Innocent XII.:

The damnation of children who have died without being baptised must be firmly believed by the Church. They are guilty because they are born under the wrath of God and in the power of Darkness. Children of wrath by nature, objects of hatred and aversion, hurled into Hell with the rest of the damned, they will remain there for all eternity punished by the horrible vengeance of the Demon.

Such also are the decisions of the learned Denis Petau, the most eminent Bellarmin, the Councils of Lyons, of Florence, and of Trent; for these things are not decided by human considerations, but by the authority of tradition and of the Scriptures.

Such logic makes one really doubt human reason, and reminds one of the spirit with which the courts of the Holy Inquisition were inspired. Where in Nature can there be found such lack of proportion between cause and effect, crime and punishment? Have such arguments ever been justified by the voice of conscience?

Official Christianity remains powerless to explain suffering. Let us see what we can learn from the philosophies and religions of the past and the greatest of modern philosophers, as well as from the admirable resumes of Teachers of theosophy.

The problem of suffering is one with that of life, i.e., with that of evolution in general. The object of the successive worlds is the creation of millions of centres of consciousness in the germinal state (souls) and the transformation of these germs into divinities similar to their father, God. This is the divine multiplication, creating innumerable "gods," in God.

To produce divine germs, homogeneous Unity must limit its immensity and create within itself the diversity of matter, of form. This can be obtained by the creation of "multiplicity" and by the "limitation" of what might be called a portion of Divinity. Now, limitation implies imperfection, both general and individual, i.e., suffering; and multiplicity implies diversity of needs and interests, forced submission to the general law i.e., suffering again. That the divine germs may evolve, their potentialities must be awakened by their surroundings; in other words, by the action of the "opposites," and sensation must come into being; the action of the opposites on sensation is also a cause of pain.

Outside of the unknown Being—which will be known at the end of evolution—nothing can be. Everything is in Him. He is all; the worlds, time and space are "aspects" which He assumes from time to time[15]; for this reason it has been said that the Universe is an illusion, which may be expressed more clearly by saying that it is an illusion to believe that what exists is not one form of divine activity, an "aspect" of God.

That anything may exist, or rather that aspects of God may appear, there must be manifested in Him a special mode of being, to call forth what we designate as multiplicity.

That multiplicity[16] may be manifest, differences must be produced in Unity; these differences in the world are the "pairs of opposites"—the contraries. These contraries are everywhere.

Matter is the fulcrum of force—both of these terms being "aspects" of God—and without a fulcrum no force can manifest itself; there is no heat without cold, and when it is summer in the northern hemisphere it is winter in the southern. There is no movement that does not depend upon a state of rest, no light without shadow, no pleasure without the faculty of pain, no freedom that is not founded upon necessity, no good that does not betoken an evil.

The following are a few examples of duality taken from nature. The current of electricity is polarised into a positive and a negative current. It is the same with the magnet; though you break a bar into a hundred pieces, you bring into being a hundred small magnets, each possessing its positive and negative side; you will not have destroyed the "duality," the opposites.

Like the magnet, the solar spectrum forms two series, separated by a neutral point, the blue series and the red one, united by the violet.[17]


Indigo. Yellow. Blue. Orange. Green. Red.

The terms of the two series are respectively complimentary to each other; the violet dominates the two groups of opposites and is a visible member of the axis formed by the colours that might be called neutral.

Duality appears in every shape and form.

Symbolically, we may say with the Hindus that the Universe begins and ends with two opposite movements: an emanation from Brahma, it is born when the breast of God sends forth the heavenly outbreathing, it dies, reabsorbed, when the universal inbreathing takes place. These movements produce attraction and repulsion, the aggregation and dissolution to be found everywhere. It is the attraction of a force-centre, the "laya centre" of Theosophy, which permits of the atomic condensation that gives it the envelope whose soul it is; when its cycle of activity ends, attraction gives place to repulsion, the envelope is destroyed by the return of its constituent elements to the source from which they were drawn, and the soul is liberated until a future cycle of activity begins.

Even the rhythm of pulmonary respiration, the contraction and dilation (systole and diastole) of the heart, the ebb and flow of the tides, as also day and night, sleeping and waking, summer and winter, life and death, are all products of that law of contraries which rules creation.

These "opposites" are the very essence of cosmic life, the twin pillars of universal equilibrium; they have been represented in Solomon's symbolical temple—here, the Universe—by Jakin and Boaz, the white and the black columns; they are also the interlaced triangles of "Solomon's Seal," the six-pointed star, the two Old Men of the Kabbalah, the white Jehovah and the black Jehovah; Eros and Anteros, the serpents of Mercury's caduceus, the two Sphinxes of the car of Osiris, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, the Chinese "Yang" and "Yin," the goblet and staff of Tarot, man and woman. All these images represent the same law.

Multiplicity, the fruit of the contraries, makes its appearance in the forms born in infinite, homogeneous Being; its goal is the goal of creation; the production, in infinite Being, of centres which are developed by evolution and finally become gods in God. These centres, or "souls," these points in the supreme Point, are divine in essence, though, so far, they have no share at all in the perfection "manifested" by God; they are all "centres," for God is a sphere, whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere, but they have not developed consciousness which is as yet only potential in them. Like cuttings of willow which reproduce the mother-tree, these points, veritable portions of God, are capable of germinating, growing up, and becoming "I's," self-conscious beings, intelligent and endowed with will-power, and finally gods, having developed the entire potentialities of the All by their repeated imprisonment in the series of forms that make up the visible and invisible kingdoms of nature.

Every form, i.e. aggregate of substance-force, reflects within itself one of these points of Divinity. This point is its Monad, its centre of consciousness, or soul; it is the cause which is manifested as qualities in the envelopes, and these give it the illusion of separateness for a certain period,[18] just as a soap-bubble momentarily acquires a fictitious individuality and appears separate from the atmosphere—of which it forms part—so long as its illusory envelope endures.

Thus do men imagine themselves separate from one another, when all the time their soul is nothing more than a drop of the divine Ocean, hidden momentarily in a perishable body.

The "contraries" are the anvil and the hammer which slowly forge souls by producing what might be called sensation in general, and sensation is a fertile cause of suffering each time the vehicles of consciousness receive vibrations that greatly exceed their fundamental capacity of sensation. Without sensation however—consequently without suffering—the body could neither walk,[19] nor see, nor hear, nor show any disturbance brought to bear upon it; there would exist no possible relation between the Universe and the "I," between the All and the parts, between bodies and souls; there would be no consciousness, or sensation of being, since no vibration from without would find an echo in the incarnated "centres" of life; no knowledge would be possible; man would be, as it were, in a state of nothingness; and, without suspecting it, his body might at any moment be crushed to the ground by the forces of Nature.

But these material necessities are not by any means the only ones that demand sensation; without it, one of the principal objects of evolution—the development of "Egos"—would be impossible. As an example borrowed from the domain of physical sensation, we need only call to memory a well-known experience in childhood.

All who have been at a boarding school know how heavy and fetid is the atmosphere of a dormitory in the early winter morning, when fifty boys have been breathing the same air again and again during the whole of the night. And yet, who suspected this until he had gone out for a few minutes and then returned to the bed-room? It needed the "contrary," the pure outside air, to make known the state of the atmosphere inside. The contrast produced sensation—that nauseous, suffocating impression of foul, mephitic air; suffering[20] generated knowledge of the vitiated air; as the result of this influence, the "centre of consciousness" felt itself an "I" distinct from its surroundings, and its "self-consciousness" received a slight increase.

What might be called passional sensibility—desire, emotion, impulse—is, like physical sensation, another indispensable factor in evolution; it is the special element in the development of the animal kingdom as well as of the less evolved portion of the human kingdom.

The young souls of mankind must receive the comparatively simple lessons of sensation, desire, and passion, before beginning the far more complicated study of mentality. But for desire, a host of needs could not be manifested, numberless functions would remain inactive; the body would not feed itself, and would die, were it not for hunger; danger would not be fled from, but for the instinct of self-preservation; nor without this would there be any propagation of the species. None the less is this life of sensation the source of many evils; desire and passion amongst human beings create terrible misery, fill prisons and hospitals, and are at the root of all kinds of moral suffering. In its turn, intelligence—that sensation so characteristic of the human state—is both an indispensable necessity and the most fertile source of evil, so long as it has not experienced a yearning for that inner "divinity," deep in the heart of man, which calls to it. A powerful lever of progress, it might convert this earth into a paradise, whereas it is the weapon which the strong, in their egoism, use to crush the feeble, a terrible weapon which either creates or intensifies all the evils under which the people writhe in despair. Once it becomes the instrument of a regenerate humanity, that is to say, when men have become compassionate, loving, and devoted, then the social question will cease to exist, and the old instrument of torture will become a pledge of general happiness.

Even spiritual sensibility is a cause of suffering to some noble souls who have developed it, for however deep the joy of loving and giving oneself, intense too is the pain of witnessing the cruel drama of life, that fratricidal struggle in which passion strikes without mercy, whilst illusion and ignorance deal blows even more terrible, for into the wounds they make they instil the poison of revolt and despair.

The action of multiplicity, and of its creators, the "contraries," engenders still other causes of suffering. Every being lives both for others and at their expense. For instance, physical bodies are obliged to replace with food and nourishment those particles which the various functions of life cause them to lose. The vegetable kingdom takes its constituent elements from the mineral kingdom, and itself serves as food for large portions of the animal kingdom; up to this point physical pain has not manifested itself, though there is a momentary arrest of evolution for the animistic essence which represents the individual in the destroyed vegetable. A portion of the animal kingdom feeds on its own members; man, too, extorts from this same kingdom a very heavy tribute; here, the arrested evolution of the victims is all the more important, inasmuch as their stage of evolution is higher, and the existence of a nervous system brings the possibility of suffering, suffering which certain influences[21] either diminish or suppress altogether, when caused by animal destructiveness, but which may become intense when it is man who is the sacrificer.

Among the causes of pain, arising from multiplicity there is also the physical, mental, and moral action exercised by the solidarity of all beings. By exchanging, with those that come into contact with us, the products thrown off by our visible and invisible bodies, we are the dispensers of good or ill-health. Everyone, for instance, is aware of the far-reaching effects of an evil intellectual and moral example; physical contagion, in spite of the torture it inflicts, is far less to be dreaded than moral contagion. The spiritual qualities alone do not form a leaven of evil; they are not the double-edged instruments we meet with elsewhere. The reason of this is that they belong to the plane of Unity. But it is none the less true that, though the presence of a highly developed soul is a help to younger souls within its reach and influence, its powerful vibrations may, from certain points of view, prove fatiguing to those still at the foot of the ladder of evolution. This is one of the many reasons that have given rise to the saying that it is dangerous prematurely to enter the "circle of the ascetics."

But the most powerful causes of pain, due to multiplicity, are the ignorance and the will of beings who have reached the human stage. Man can employ his mental faculties for good or evil, and so long as he does not know definitely that he is the brother of all beings, i.e., until his divine faculties have been developed, and love and the spirit of sacrifice have taken possession of his heart, he remains a terrible egoist, more to be dreaded than the criminal dominated by a momentary burst of passion, for he acts in cold blood, he evades or refuses to recognise the law of humanity, he dominates and destroys. This man is at the stage of ingratitude; he no longer possesses the harmlessness of childhood, nor has he yet acquired the wisdom of advanced age. Our Western race has reached this critical stage, whereof the menacing demands of the suffering masses are a striking testimony. Here, too, God could not do otherwise; He might create bodies blindly obedient to his law, mere automata, but it would be impossible for Him to cause divine germs to evolve into "gods" without pulling them through the school of evolution which teaches them, first, of the "ego," the root of all egoism, then knowledge by ignorance, liberty by necessity, good by evil, and the perfect by the imperfect.

It may at this point just be mentioned that though human egoism appears to have free play and to be unrestrained in its cruelty, divine Law never allows innocence to suffer for the errors of evolving souls, it punishes only the guilty, whether their faults or misdeeds be known or unknown, belonging to the present life or to past ones.

Such, briefly, is the cause of pain and suffering in evolution; in the following pages we will set forth the causes of the unequal distribution of this suffering.


If suffering in general is the child of Necessity—since it is born of multiplicity and the limitation of the Infinite, without which the Universe could not exist—it would seem that we ought to find it falling upon all beings without distinction, in uniform, regular, and impartial fashion. Instead of this, it is every moment losing its character of impersonality; it respects those who are guilty on a large scale; and, without any visible cause, strikes fiercely the most innocent of persons; noble souls are born in the families of criminals, whilst criminals have fathers of the utmost respectability; we find parricides, and brothers hostile to each other; millionaires die of surfeiting alongside of paupers dying of hunger; we find giants by the side of dwarfs; the healthy and well-formed near the crippled or those wasted away by terrible diseases; Apollos contrast with Quasimodos; men of genius are met with, cheek by jowl with idiots; some children are stillborn, others blind or deaf and dumb from birth. Extremely different races people the earth—on the one hand, unintelligent and cannibal negroes; on the other, the proud, handsome, and intelligent, though selfish and cruel white race. Again, from a moral standpoint, who can explain congenital tendencies to crime, the vicious by birth, the wicked by nature, the persons with uncontrollable passions? Wherefore are thrift and foresight lacking in so many men, who are consequently condemned to lifelong poverty and wretchedness? Why this excess of intelligence, used mainly for the exploiting of folly? It is useless to multiply examples, one has only to look around at hospitals and prisons, night-shelters, palaces and garrets; everywhere suffering has taken up its abode. Can no reply be given to this terrible charge brought against Divinity? Is man to remain in a state of dejection and discouragement, as though some irreparable catastrophe had befallen him?

According to the Church, all this is the work of the soul which God gives at the birth of a man—a soul that is good or bad, prudent or foolish, one which damns or saves itself according as its will can, or cannot, dominate its passions, its intelligence discover the way to heaven or not; according as grace or rejection predestine it to heaven or to hell.

Is it not the depth of profanity to represent God as watching over conceptions in order to create souls so unfairly endowed, most of whom will never hear the Gospel message, and consequently cannot be saved, whilst the rest are destined to animate the bodies of savages and cannibals, devoid of moral consciousness? Is it not an act of sacrilege thus to convert God, Who is all Wisdom and Love, into a kind of accomplice of adulterers and lewd persons or the sport of Malthusian insults. Unconscious blasphemers are they who would offer this Dead Sea fruit as the true manna of Life!

There is also another theory, often advanced in certain quarters, on which we must say a few words, for though it contains only a minimum of truth, and consequently cannot withstand serious examination, it has led astray more than one earnest thinker. Inequalities of suffering, it has been said, arise from inequalities of social conditions. Intelligence, morality, will, in fact all human faculties, develop more or less according to their environment; men are born equal; they become unequal as the result of different environment; pay the same care and attention to all and they will remain equal, and if they are equal, the theory seems to imply, evil will disappear from the face of the earth.

This is not so.

Inequality of suffering does not result from inequality of condition. Many a poor tiller of the fields enjoys a degree of peace and happiness that those favoured by birth or fortune would envy. Disease visits poor and rich alike; moral suffering is more especially the appanage of the so-called higher classes, and if obscurity and poverty render certain troubles specially severe, wealth and rank play the same role in afflictions of another kind; there is a dark side to every picture. More than this, inequality of condition is one of the fundamental factors of social equilibrium; without it, many urgent and even indispensable functions would be neglected, numerous general needs would remain unsatisfied; so-called menial work, which, in a state of society that is still imperfect and consequently selfish, is performed only in the hope of remuneration, would never be done at all; every man would have to provide for the whole of his necessities; no one could find time for self-improvement or for flinging himself entirely into those divers branches of activity which, if personal interest were absent, would make life infinitely better and progress extremely rapid. The partisans of this theory rely on diversity of tastes to fill the diversity of functions that are necessary in social life: another illusion. The inferior, painful, or difficult tasks will never find sufficient workers, whilst easy or honourable posts will always be overcrowded. To believe the contrary would be to shut one's eyes to the present imperfection of men; it would mean the belief that they were noble and lofty beings, eager for self-sacrifice, demanding only to work for the happiness of all, without a single thought of their personal preferences; it would mean seeing, in present-day humanity, that of the future in which each individual has attained to such a degree of perfection that not a single idle, ill-disposed, or stupid person is to be found amongst them, for each one would regard himself as the brother and helper of all, and the universal standard of life would be: Each for all and all for each! How ardently we desire that this were so; how eagerly we pray for that future, so far away, when we shall have grown to this nobler stature, and the present fratricidal struggle shall have given place to a lasting peace, the offspring of a higher, spiritual, universal love. Anxiously do we await it; like lost travellers, we fix our eyes on the dark horizon to catch the first faint streaks of light, harbingers of the dawn. We greet with joy and gratitude all such as believe in that blessed future and endeavour to hasten its coming, all who impersonally and in sincerity aim at the social Unity towards which the heart aspires, and especially those whose aim it is to advance in accordance with that continuous, progressive evolution based on the physical, moral, mental, and spiritual amelioration of men, for it is they who have learned the secret of Nature. Indeed, evolution shows us that, the more souls grow, the nearer they approach that perfection to which progress destines them, and happiness exists only in perfection.

To return to other aspects of the subject.

Men are born equal, we are told.

A single glance at the differences in the moral and intellectual qualities of races and individuals, at the differences between young children, even at the differences in the instincts of infants at the breast, is sufficient to prove the contrary.

There are savages in whom no trace whatever of the moral sense can be discovered. Charles Darwin in one of his works relates a fact, which Mrs. Besant has quoted, in illustration of this. An English missionary reproached a Tasmanian with having killed his wife in order to eat her. In that rudimentary intellect, the reproach aroused an idea quite different from that of a crime; the cannibal thought the missionary imagined that human flesh was of an unpleasant flavour, and so he replied: "But she was very good!"

Is it possible to attribute to the influence of surroundings alone a degree of moral poverty so profound as this?

Many a mother has been able to find out that souls are not equal, in other words, that they are of different ages, by the discovery of diametrically opposite qualities and tendencies in two children born under the same conditions; in twins, for instance.

Every schoolmaster has noticed the same fact in the pupils under his charge. Mrs. Besant says that amongst the 80,000 children who came under her inspection in the London schools she would often find side by side with gentle, affectionate little beings others who showed criminal tendencies from birth.

Looking at the question from another point of view, are we not continually finding in schools and educational establishments pupils who, for no explicable reason, show a disposition for one branch of instruction only? They shine in this, but are dunces in every other subject.

As a final example, do not infant prodigies prove that men are not born equal? Young, who discovered the undulatory theory of light, could read with wonderful rapidity at the age of two, whilst at eight he had a thorough knowledge of six languages.

Sir W. R. Hamilton began to learn Hebrew when he was three, and knew it perfectly four years later. At the age of thirteen he knew thirteen languages.

Gauss, of Brunswick—the greatest mathematician in Europe, according to Laplace—solved problems in arithmetic when only three.

No, men are not born equal. Nor does environment cause the inequalities we find; it favours or checks the development of qualities, but has no part in their creation. Still, its influence is sufficiently important for us to give it due consideration.

We are linked to one another by the closest bonds of solidarity, whether we wish it and are conscious thereof or not. Everything absorbs and throws off, breathes in and breathes out, and this universal exchange, if at times bad, is none the less a powerful factor in evolution. The atom of carbon, on entering into the combinations of the human body, is endowed with a far higher power of combining than the one which has just left the lump of ore; to obtain its new properties, this atom has had to pass through millions of vegetable, animal, and human molecules. Animals brought into close contact with man develop mentally to a degree that is sometimes incredible, by reason of the intellectual food with which our thoughts supply them. The man who lives alone is, other things being equal, weaker physically, morally, and mentally than he who lives in a large social environment; it is for this reason that the mind develops far more rapidly in large centres of life than in the country. And what is true of good is, unfortunately, true also of evil qualities.

Consequently, environment has an undeniable influence, and it is perfectly true to say that the social conditions under which individuals are born favour or impede the development of their faculties. There its influence stops; it can intensify inequality, but does not create it.

Inequality of condition arises, above all else, from the continuity of what might be called creation. Atoms are incessantly being formed in the womb of the Virgin Mother,[22] by the might of the divine vortex perceived by seers in ecstatic vision, and which theosophy has named the Great Breath; ceaselessly are these atoms entering into multitudes of organisms, ceaselessly is the plan of evolution being worked—some ending, others beginning the great Pilgrimage. It is the existence of this circuit which creates and keeps complete the hierarchy of beings, brings into existence and perpetuates the known and the unknown kingdoms of Nature; souls ascend slowly from one kingdom to another, whilst the places they leave are filled by new-comers, by younger souls.

A second cause of human inequality is the difference in effort and deed accomplished by the will of human beings who have reached a certain point in evolution. As soon as this will is guided by intelligence and the moral sense, it hastens or delays individual evolution, makes it easy when it acts in harmony with divine Law—by doing what is called "good"—or disturbs evolution by pain, when it opposes this Law, by doing "evil." By modifying the direction of the Law, the Soul engenders beneficent or maleficent forces, which, after having played in the universe within the limit the law has imposed on them, return to their starting point—man. From that time, one understands that the balance of the scales in different individuals becomes unequal. These effects of the will influence to a noticeable degree the life during which they have originated; they are preserved in a latent condition after death, and appear again in future returns to earth.

Thus are men born laden with the results of their past and in possession of the capacities they have developed in the course of their evolution. Those whom the difficulties of life have filled with energy in the past return to existence on earth possessed of that might which the world admires; now it is perseverance or courage; now patient calm or violence, which is the stronger, according to the aspect of the energy developed. Others, again, are born feeble and devoid of energy; their former lives have been too easy. Men are philosophers or mathematicians, artists or savants, from the very cradle.

Objections have been brought against the doctrine of Rebirth by opponents who have looked only on one side of the individual life, and so have been unable to explain apparent anomalies, especially in those cases where it is seen that the effect does not immediately follow the cause. In reality, every force that emerges from a centre of will[23] describes an ellipse, so to speak, which travels through a net-work of other ellipses generated by thousands of other centres of energy, and is accelerated or retarded in its course, according to the direction and nature of the forces with which it is connected. It is for this reason that certain actions meet with their reward or their punishment almost immediately. Then the people say: "It is the finger of God!" In other cases, again, and these are the most numerous, the reaction is postponed; the noble-hearted man, who has made sacrifices the whole of his life, seems to receive in exchange nothing but misfortune and pain, whilst close by the wicked, selfish man prospers and thrives exceedingly. Thereupon the ignorant say: "There is no God, for there is no justice."

Not so! It is impossible to defeat Justice; though, in the interests of evolving beings, it may allow the forces around to accelerate or retard its progress. Nothing is ever lost; causes that have not fructified remain potential; and, like the grain of corn gathered thousands of years ago, grow and develop as soon as favourable soil and environment are offered them. Debts are still recorded, when the perishable sheaths of our physical bodies have been cast off; they come up for future payment, often in the next life. But this next life may not wipe off the whole of the liabilities, so the process is continued for several successive existences, and this has given rise to the saying that the sins of the parents[24] are visited upon the children[25] unto the seventh generation.[26]

Such is the truth.

Souls, equal in potentialities whilst dormant as germs in the womb of Being, become unequal, as soon as they are born into existence in the manifested Universe, for they find predecessors, elder souls in front of them; inequality is intensified when they have reached the human stage, where intelligence and will come into play, for henceforth, inequality in the actions of individuals, variations of what might be called merit and demerit, set up a second factor in the inequality of conditions. Evolution treasures up the causes that have not been able to germinate in one existence, and, by successive returns to earth, realises the aims and ends of that Justice which governs the Universe, the designs of that Love which makes for progress and leads to perfection.


An apparently serious objection to the doctrine of Rebirth is constantly being made. It is unjust and useless, people say, to be punished for misdeeds that are forgotten. As this objection has reference to moral proofs, we must deal with it here.

Does forgetfulness efface faults or destroy their consequences? Could the assassin, who has lost all memory of the crime committed the previous evening, change his deed or its results in the slightest degree? Rebirths are nothing more than the morrows of former lives, and though the merciful waters of Lethe have effaced their memory, the forces stored up in the soul, during the ages, perform their work all the same in the future.

On the other hand, injustice would exist, and that under a very cruel aspect, were memory to continue; for the painful vision of a past always full of weaknesses, even when free from the stain of crime, would be a continual one. And if, too—as our opponents would prefer—man knew why he was punished, i.e., if he knew that each of these past errors and faults, ever present before his eyes, would carry with it a particular fruit, and that strict payment would be exacted at every step in his new life, would not the punishment be far greater than the sin? Would there not rise from every human heart an outcry of blasphemy against a God who, by means of memory, transformed life into an endless torment, destroying all activity or initiative in the anxiety of expectancy, in a word, stifling the present beneath the heavy nightmare of the past?

Men, though so unjust and little disposed to pity, have always refused to inflict on a man condemned to death the torture of anticipation; only at the last moment is he informed of the rejection of his appeal for mercy. Could divine Law be less compassionate than human law?

Is it not rash for us, in our profound ignorance, to criticise the workings of a boundless Wisdom? He who takes only a few steps along the pathway of Knowledge, or enters, however slightly, into the secret of the works of God, obtains the proof that Providence leaves no part of the Cosmos, no being anywhere, deprived of its fatherly care and protection. When, in our blindness, we imagine injustice, a void or an imperfection of any kind, a radiant beam of light shows us the omnipresent Life, bestowing love on all its children without distinction, from the slumbering atom to the glorious planetary Spirit, whose consciousness is so vast as to enfold the Universe.

It is more especially after death that the soul, set free from its illusory sheaths, makes an impartial review of its recent incarnation, attentively following its actions and their consequences, noting its errors and failures, along with their motives and causes. In this school it grows in knowledge and power; and when, in a future incarnation, the same difficulties present themselves anew, it is better equipped for the struggle; what has been learned, is retained within the soul; it knows, where formerly it was ignorant, and by the "voice of conscience," tells the personality[27] what its duty is. This wisdom, sifted from the panorama of a thousand past images, is the best of all memories, for on those numerous occasions when a decision must be arrived at on the spur of the moment it would not be possible to summon forth from the depths of the past such groups of memories as refer to the decision to be reached, to see the events over again, and deduce therefrom a line of conduct. The lesson must have been learnt and thoroughly assimilated during the enlightened peace and calm of the Hereafter; then only is the soul ready to respond without delay, and its command is distinct; its judgment, sure; do this, avoid that.

When a soul, in the course of evolution, has succeeded in impressing its vibration—its thought—on a brain which it has refined and made responsive by a training which purifies the entire nature of the man, it is able to transmit to the incarnated consciousness the memory of its past lives; but this memory then ceases to be painful or dangerous, for the soul has not only exhausted the greater part of its karma of suffering, it also possesses the strength necessary to sustain its personality, whenever a foreboding of what we call misfortune comes upon it.

In the divine work everything comes in its own time, and we recognise the perfection of the Creator by the perfect concatenation of all creation.

Reincarnation is so intimately bound up with the Law of Causality, and receives from it such powerful support, that this chapter would be left in a very incomplete form were we not to say a few words on Karma.


Karma is the Law of the Universe, the expression of divine Will. Its seemingly essential attributes are Justice and Love; it neither punishes nor rewards, but adjusts things, restores disturbed balance and harmony, brings back evolving souls to the right path and teaches them Law.

When a man acts against the Law, he is like a swimmer, struggling against the current of a rapid river; his strength fails, and he is borne away.

So does God bear away, in spite of all their efforts, those who, whether ignorantly or consciously, fight against the Law, for it is His love that wills evolution, i.e., the making human beings divine; so he brings them back to the path, in spite of themselves, every time they wander astray.

"God is patient because He is eternal," it has been said. The sentence is incomplete and must be changed, since it attributes to Divinity a vindictive nature. The Law is patient because it is perfect in Wisdom, Power, and Love.

This Law is the divine Will which moves all things and vibrates everywhere; it is the music of the spheres, the song of glory and harmony, which murmurs in the heart like the rippling of a waterfall, the chant of life and joy that eternally triumphs in its never-ending creation of beings, who, after revolving for a moment in the universe, have become perfect.

Its glorious strains resound in the heart of man, when the soul has found peace in the Law, and we are told that, when once heard, its divine accents continue for ever, like an ineffable whisper which brings us back to hope and faith, when we are sunk in the depths of despair.

God limited himself in order to become incarnate in the Universe: He is the Soul of the world. His will is exerted everywhere, it finds its reflection in every creature; and man, a portion of divinity in course of evolution, possesses a germ of will that is infinite in its essence, and consequently capable of limitless development; God respects this will in His creatures, and submits to violence, in order to teach them His will, which is supreme Love. Like a stone that falls into a tranquil lake, a human action creates, all round, concentric ripples which continue to the very shores or limits of the Universe; then the wave is thrown back upon itself, returns to its starting-point, and the man who began the first movement receives a recoil exactly equivalent to the original impetus. Reaction is equal to action; obstacles on the way may delay its return or break up its energy, but the time comes when the fractions return to the centre that generates the disturbance, which thus receives from the Law a perfectly just retribution.

The principal element in actions is thought. Every thought is a form in a state of vibration—a ray of intelligence which unites itself with subtle matter[29] and forms a being, of which this matter is the body, and thought, the soul. This being, often called a "thought-form," possesses form, duration, and strength that bear a strict relation to the energy of the thought that created it; if it embodies a soul of hatred, it will react on the man who harbours this thought, and on all who come into contact with him, as a leaven of destruction, but if it is guided by love it will be, as it were, the incarnation of some beneficent power.

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