Reincarnation, reality or fantasy?
Joy Mills

Lecture held at Staranzano on l0th June 1997 – Literal transcription of the talk.

Good evening my dear friends!

Is reincarnation a fact or is it simply imagination or is it neither of these? Well, let us look at this subject and see what we can understand about it.

We could approach it from a number of points of view. For example, we need, of course, to understand what is meant by the term reincarnation. There are several other words very closely alienated with this term which we also need to consider. In fact there are some fourteen different terms that could be considered. But I do not intend to bore you with endless definitions of terms. I may bore you in another way. But what we need to understand is precisely what we are discussing. And to understand this concept fully or as completely as possible, we should set it in a philosophical or in metaphysical context. To see it as part of an all-embracing world view. This, of course, is what the theosophical philosophy present and suggests that everywhere one sees a law at work. A law of constant renewal. We see this expressed in a concept of cycles, cycles which occur in our own life, cycles which occur in nature, cycles which occur in many fields, such as economies. There are those who study economic cycles of the rise and fall of the stock market, there are those who study the cycles of history, the coming and going of civilizations. But what we need really to understand are the cycles in our own experience. And to understand those cycles in our own experience we need to understand who we are.

When you are asked who are you, what do you answer? You perhaps first of all give your name. But does this really describe who you are? Is the name simply a kind of label that has been put upon you? Certainly it does not reveal the totality of who you are. We see before us and around us a number of physical bodies and the name is a kind of label for that body and we recognize each other by name, which is really why we want to know what is your name. But we also have sensations and feelings and we have thoughts, ideas, opinions and however much we may share our feelings and our thoughts with another, we still feel that there is something more than can never quite be shared fully. Perhaps we could call it that inner being of our own nature, or we may prefer to it as a kind of spiritual dimension of our nature.

Now, to understand reincarnation than, we must accept the fact that there must be something that reincarnates. And what is it that reincarnates? Or what is it that does not reincarnate? Would it surprise you if I would thus tell you that you have already reincarnated since you entered this room? The very word indicates that you are constantly changing the physical aspect of yourself. And even since you entered this room there have been certain cells in the physical body which have disintegrated and new cells have been born. Perhaps you have not been aware of this. And we are not aware of these internal physical changes that are going on all of the time. At the same time we are certainly aware that none of us is in the same physical body we had at birth. If you meet a close friend after an absence of many, many years, you may say: My goodness you have grown wide or you have grown larger, or thinner, you have changed in some way. If I stay here in Italy very much longer and than return to my home in California they will say: You have been eating too much pasta. They’ll say: You have grown wider and wider. So, obviously the physical body is undergoing constant change. The emotions also are undergoing continual change. Just like the stock market, Wall Street in my country, our emotions go up and down and up and down. One moment we are very, very happy and the next moment we may be in the depth of some depression. Certainly we continually change our mind. Of course the men may say the women change their mind more frequently, which only goes to show that women air their minds more frequently. But we do undergo many changes in, what we can call our personality. Sometimes we meet individuals and we feel we have known them all our lives. Sometimes we come to a place we have never visited before but we feel that somehow it is all very familiar. We meet people that we are immediately attracted to, and we meet people that we say: I hope I would not see that person again. Now, that is not any proof of reincarnation, in fact there is no proof. These are perhaps evidences that may support the idea. And many explanations can be given from the fields of psychology, sociology and other fields of study. In fact several explanations have been proposed to account for the numerous human differences that exist. There are differences in ability, in opportunities, in circumstances.

Although the concept of reincarnation was wide spread in the early days of Christianity and it was certainly one of the accepted concepts in the total world view into which the founders of Christianity came into existence, it was early taken out of any Christian doctrine. I really do not intend to discuss the history of Christianity or why this occurred because that is not really relevant. But what is the curse is that generally in the western religions the explanation for our differences is that each soul; each individual is a special creation. And this suggests, in the extreme form, that our destinies are outside our own control, and we are simply to submit to God’s will. And we use this as a convenient excuse for all of the problems that afflict humanity. There are all due to the will of God. And of course even peoples on opposing sides in conflict, in any conflict, still presume that they know that God is on their side. Materialistic science, as it has developed in the last century, proposes that all of our differences are due to the influence of heredity and environment. Perhaps those differences are due to the stars and perhaps they are due to the genetic structure we inherited from our parents. Again this leaves us rather powerless. If each one of us is simply the result of inherited and environmental factors than we have little control over our lives.

But a third explanation which is widely accepted today involves the application of this concept of cycles to our individual lives. And of course it must be seen in connection with a universal law which has been called karma. A law which suggests that every cause will have its effect and every effect will be cause of another effect. This concept than implies that we may have and we do have some control over our present existence. And that we can influence our own destiny. Therefore this kind of concept there must also be the recognition of an evolutionary development. And the theosophical philosophy, accepting the basic understanding of physical evolution, add to that the suggestion, the proposal, that there are two other areas of evolutionary development. There is an intellectual evolution. Certainly we can recognize this in our own lives. Consciousness has expanded considerably since we were born. In fact the whole world has moved in a quite new direction even in the last hundred years. We recognize today, for example, even contemporary science recognizes the interconnectedness of all things. It has been called the butterfly effect: that a butterfly flattering its wings in Japan affects the weather on the west coast of the United States. There is an increasing recognition of our responsibility for the planet on which we dwell, that we can not continue to cut down a rain forest of the Amazonian valley without seriously damaging the life in many parts, other parts of the world. The whole rise of the ecological movement, the environmental awareness has quite altered our individual consciousness. In my country it is now compulsory to recycle newspapers, glass, aluminum and all other plastic products. And in many countries this is coming to be recognized as a necessity if we will preserve a balance, health of our planet.

Perhaps, of course, reincarnation also follows the law of conservation and we are just recycled from the past; we are all recycled beings. And, of course, how we reform ourselves is the whole purpose of the process. The very suggestion that there is lawfulness throughout the universe finds its expression in numerous fields today. And I have only mentioned briefly one or two.

But whether we will it or not our destinies are so interlinked that we can not, we must not overlook our responsibility towards each other. Our thoughts affect each other, our emotions affect each other, our very physical presence affects each other and the planet on which we have our homes. We are all on a pilgrimage towards understanding what life is about. And on this journey we discover that the character that we are developing is indeed self-made. The capacities with which we are born can be developed or they can be smothered. We can develop new capacities, new abilities. I am very sure that it will not be very long before a generation is born with, shall I say, computer fingers. In fact they may be born with the software already installed between their ears. I say that because at mine age it is come a little difficult to learn a computer. And the 14 years old son of a good friend of mine in Australia has been trying, was trying, desperately, to teach me how to use a computer. I kept saying to him: Well, maybe in another life I’ll be able to know what I am doing with this machine. And probably an another generation or two will be born without legs, because we are content to travel in mechanized vehicles and we will not need legs to walk and we will approach that condition on which Plato, so many centuries ago, spoke. In which the ideal human form was a rotundum. And we can just roll on.

But more to the point however is the fact that the development that will take place; of character, of consciousness and of capacity; will be the result of the choices we make now. More, we can decide what will be our future. An increasing number of scientists even are suggesting that we live in a co-participatory universe. We are co-creators with the one ultimate, divine reality. Our destiny is in our hands. And you can decide, I can decide, now and here, the kind of life that I will live. I can be defeated by circumstances, I can say: These circumstances are outside my control, its mine parents fault that I have this kind of genetic structure and it is somebody else’s fault that I was born under the wrong stars. Or I can face the circumstances in which I have been placed and develop capacities that deal with them creatively. I can determine what will be my attitude towards all that occurs in my life.

I do think that sometimes the first requirement on this human pilgrimage is a sense of humor. Less than a week ago I felt I was stranded in Paris and might have to remain there forever. All due to a strike of the Air France staff. The plane was ready to go but there seem to be no way to transfer us from the waiting room to the plane. And I was concerned for my friend waiting for me in Venice. And in the middle of it I began to laugh. What else could one do? And I thought: Look here Joy, you got yourself into this by agreeing to become a theosophical speaker. No one else got me into that mass. It was a circumstance, of course, beyond my control, but what was within my control was my attitude towards it. And I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to look at how human beings react to such a circumstance. And I made a few friends. Instead of feeling depressed and unhappy, I began to look upon it as a great adventure. And all of us can consider the circumstances of our life and decide how we will face them. It is for us to make that decision. You may not change the outer circumstance but in some subtle way even the outer condition is changed. So on this journey on which we are all embarked as human beings the development is in accordance with the choices we make every moment of our lives. And if you feel that reincarnation is a reasonable explanation, a reasonable explanation for the differences that exist among human beings, a reasonable explanation for the problems that exist in our world, than we can begin to make thoughtful and intelligent choices to change the situation. Because it is not simply one existence after another ad infinitum.

As I suggested, reincarnation is going on every moment of this existence. And consequently the decisions can be made, here and now. It is very true that we are greatly affected by experiences encountered in our present existence, but it is also equally true, it might be suggested, that we are affected by the results of all our past decisions. I recognize that one of the questions that is most often asked is: If I have been here before why I do not remember those past lives? Of course, there are those who seem to remember and we all do remember, in very dramatic ways, meeting people that we know we have been with before, visiting places that we know we have been before, but to live in the past does not help us to make conscious decisions in the present.

We really do not remember all the incidents of our childhood, we certainly do not remember all of the struggles we went through to learn to read, to write or even to speak our native tongue, and jet all the incidents of our childhood and our youth have left their traces on our character. But even more, of course, we are here and now and are faced with the decisions to be made today. So, we must also recognize that in a complete change of our personality, in a completely new incarnation, we have new physical brain.

But what is really suggested, far beyond all of that is that there can be that kind of expansioning consciousness which leads to true spiritual growth. As I suggested earlier, the Theosophical philosophy does not deny physical evolution but it adds to it the growth and development of consciousness through intellectual capacities and spiritual faculties. So, rather than defining a number of different terms I would like to look at just two. Very often it has been suggested that reincarnation may be confused with the concept of transmigration. And the concept of transmigration has been usually put in terms of individual returning in some animal form. But the true meaning of the concept of transmigration in the ancient literature refers to what has been called the destiny of the life atoms that compose our physical, emotional and mental vehicles. In fact it is what composes our, those vehicles, physical, emotional and mental. And it is suggested therefore that we are constantly throwing off, if you like, that kind of material at those levels which may be picked up and utilized by other life forms. You realize that you may enter a room in which - this happens to me, I may say, all the time - I enter a hotel room and there is an unpleasant atmosphere or there is a pleasant atmosphere. And all we are doing is picking up what many may call the life atoms of individuals who have been in that room before. Perhaps you have sat next to somebody on a bus or a train and felt very agitated. Perhaps you have entered the room where there is someone who seems very saintly, very beautiful, a peaceful atmosphere. We are all sitting in each others protoplasmic soup. We constantly exchange our protoplasm among each other. And that is the true meaning of transmigration. And consequently again we need to consider what are our feelings, what attitude, what thoughts we are sending out in the world, because we are sending them out constantly.

The other term that I would like to look at briefly is the Greek word metempsychosis which refers to this entire pilgrimage in terms of consciousness, which refers to the possibility that exists within everyone of us, our coming to a completely new consciousness, a total change of the psychic nature, which is focused at the mental, emotional level and which can be illumined by the spiritual awareness of one’s true being. I would suggest than unless we are willing to take this human journey towards a totally new mind we can not solve the problems of the world. In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul wrote: Unless there is a complete turning about in consciousness, you can not perceive the light! This is all that has been referred to his conversion. And indeed in the Buddhist tradition it is called a turning about in a seed of consciousness. And this is what must be aimed at.

It is true that our own past, whether of this existence or of many lives past, our own past explains the present. But the present influences the future and when the laws of spiritual growth are understood and obeyed we become ever more responsible for fulfilling our human task to build a future in which every human being will know freedom and peace and in which all will recognize they are parts of one universal consciousness. Our lives will become increasingly fulfilling because we will be making an ever more effective contribution towards the upliftment of humanity.

Is reincarnation a fact or is it fantasy? The contemporary philosopher of our time, the great philosopher of this century J. Krishnamurti, once said: Reincarnation is a fact but it is not the truth. Of course it is a fact, it is going on constantly whether you are aware of it or not. But the truth lies far beyond any series of existences. The truth lies in the acceptance of our responsibility, here and now, to create a beautiful and peaceful and loving, compassionate future for all humanity.

Thank you!

Question: What is happening after death?

Answer: Ah, yes, of course is a very long story because, very briefly, at death the personality, the mental, emotional, physical, come in sort of mediumism, eventually dies. That is to say, the physical dies first and then the emotional and mental. There are a number of different theories with regard to the length of time, for example. But, of course, time is of a different factor in the inner realms than it is here in physical world. But, if I say briefly, the summation of the existence put closed is digested, can I put it in that way, and there is a glimpse of the possibilities for a future existence. And the more developed the individual, the more their choice can be made of where, how and when a new incarnation will take place. And than the process of return takes place, so long with, finally, the birth of a new physical form.

Question: You said there is not simply one reincarnation after another, so why do we have to die, is there a law?

Answer: Yes, of course, there is a law but what my main point is that we must, maybe one existence after another, until we come awake to the real purpose of human existence. Than is as though we go in a new direction, make a new determination and that is the purpose of metempsychosis. We now undertake the expansion of consciousness towards a definite goal. It is as though for many, many lives, we can call that life has lived us. But when we come awake we begin to live life. This is why the Christ, the Buddha, all of the great saints and seers of humanity have said: Awake, arise and know what you are about! For the most part we are sleepwalkers. But we have to wake up and to fulfill the purpose for which we are here.

Question: So, there should to be a kind of spiritual refinement till we reach some sublime state.

Answer: Yes, yes!

Question: But there must be some limitate number of those spirits, angels who will reincarnate in new entities.

Answer: That is not what I was suggesting. We are each of us a spiritual being at ours roots. And so we are to realize and recognize our spiritual inheritance and fulfill in consciousness our spiritual goal. Reincarnation than becomes a voluntary process for those who determine to stay with humanity as its teachers. The Bible itself speaks of becoming a pillar in the Temple of God and going forth no more. But many make the decision to return as did the Christ and Buddha and many others, whose names are almost anonymous to general humanity. These are the saints and the saviors, the sages and seers, the bodhisattvas, who stay with humanity to aid humanity.

Question: In this situation is there the devil?

Answer: There is always the shadow side as there is in each one of us.

Question: If there is a reincarnation, how come the world is always, every day more populated?

Answer: Yes, this is a customary question, what about the population explosion. It has been said that there are periods in history, in the cycles of history, when there are more individuals on this side that on that side. The occult philosophy proposes that every step in the development of spiritual consciousness must be taken in physical reincarnation - for our cycle. And there are times in history when there are greater opportunities for advancement, as it were, because the problems are greater and consequently more may take incarnation. And certainly this is one of those periods when everything inspires to awake us to the possibilities of solving our world problems. Consequently I think it is a time when there are greater number in incarnation than might be true at a more peaceful period.

Thank you again!

Last update: januar 2009
Copyright © 2005 Theosophy in Slovenia