The doctrine of reincarnation or rebirth, which teaches that the spiritual part of man is an integral part of God—that it enfolds all the divine possibilities as the acorn enfolds the oak—that by many existences in an earthly body of gradually improving texture the spirit is reaching nearer to perfection and reunion with God, is a teaching which is claiming our attention today. It has always been taught by Oriental occultists, and if we examine the Eastern religions (from which our own religions have been evolved) we shall find that reincarnation is the foundation upon which a man builds his whole life, for he does not think that the mere physical change called "death" will transform him at once into an angel or a devil—fit to stand in the presence of God, or condemned to everlasting punishment. He knows that death is only a pause, and that after a period of rest succeeded by activity on a spiritual plane, he will be born again to continue that subjugation of the body and uplifting of the soul which only can set the spirit free.
Rebirth has not only found place in the esoteric teaching of nearly every known religion, but was also implied by the Christ and taught by the early Christian Church. It is, however, a truth which is not realized until a certain stage of spiritual development has been reached; and it has been entirely rejected by the age of materialism which, we trust, is now passing.
The reason why we live on this earth at all is so that we may continually work upwards and fit ourselves for the very highest life, the life of the spirit, and though it may take icons of time to prepare for this high plane of existence, this world is the best school in which to learn virtue and acquire soul-experience. Save in exceptional cases, all who have lived on this earth are reincarnated after certain periods, the length of time between two lives being dependent on the state of development which has already been attained by the spirit, for the developed spirit will naturally not require so much schooling as the undeveloped spirit. We are not as a rule allowed to know when we were last living on this earth, nor do we know when we shall live here again—we may have belonged to any nation and we may have lived in any country. Only certain very advanced egos who have realized reincarnation and are conscious of it are able to know their past lives, and they are able, to some extent, to choose the outlines of future lives.
A very real obstacle to belief in reincarnation, and a difficulty to many, is the question "If I have loved someone very dearly in this life, how can I love again in a future life unless I recognize my loved one?" Love is the strongest force in the universe, so it must remain constant, and reincarnation teaches that those who have loved in one life almost always meet in future lives. All things are so perfectly ordered that souls which have been drawn together are usually ready to be reincarnated at about the same time, and we may be quite sure that the people who really affect our lives are the ones we have known from the beginning. There are some, who have traveled far along the Path, who are able to recognize their friends when they meet them in the flesh, but whether or not we are able to do this depends upon our own psychic powers.
We may also be certain that those who are bound to us by ties of affection in this life still feel that affection for us in the spirit life, for reincarnation does not interfere with the reunion after each physical life, on higher planes of consciousness, of those who love one another here. There is ample time for this between successive earth lives; for intervals, sometimes of two thousand years, may separate two incarnations, giving scope for the development in higher spheres of existence of all the spiritual energies evolved by each entity during its earthly pilgrimage. When the time for reincarnation comes, that will in ordinary cases be the time for the approximately simultaneous reincarnation of those who are nearest and dearest to one another.
Thus no view of human life so profoundly embodies a recognition of the manner in which the love-tie serves to unite human souls in true sympathy throughout the ages, whether they are in one plane of existence or another, as the sublime natural law which we call Reincarnation.
Then also, this teaching gives us the only possible explanation of the apparent injustice of the universe to individuals.
A person is born, perhaps, to a life of poverty and misery and pain, and involuntarily we ask "Is it fair?" On the face of it, it is not fair, but if we believe that that person is suffering on account of the sins of a former life, then we may be quite sure that the punishment is just, for "as a man sows, so shall he reap." Man was in the beginning created in order that Spirit might manifest through matter, but if man so far forgets his divine origin and his spiritual destiny as to live the life of an animal, and worse, he cannot blame his Creator, neither can he expect to gather flowers where only rank weeds have been allowed to grow. So we see that the acceptance of reincarnation must modify our ideas of heaven and hell, as generally taught. Christ told his disciples that "The kingdom of heaven is within you"; and hell is not a state of eternal misery to which the erring soul is condemned by Divine Justice, for it is impossible to believe that a finite offence can merit an infinite punishment. Hell is just what a man prepares for himself by setting up evil causes which are bound to have evil effects, either in this or in some future incarnation.
As soon as we realize the truth of reincarnation we also realize that life is really worth living, for just as evil thoughts and actions will have their effect so also good thoughts and actions will have their effect, and those high ideals and aspirations which we strive for now will be nearer attainment in our next earth life. We are working, not for a few short years, but for all time, and whatever seed we sow will certainly have to be reaped sooner or later.