Q. It is hardly necessary, I suppose, to ask you whether you believe in the Christian dogmas of Paradise and Hell, or in future rewards and punishments as taught by the Orthodox churches?
A. As described in your catechisms, we reject them absolutely; least of all would we accept their eternity. But we believe firmly in what we call the Law of Retribution, and in the absolute justice and wisdom guiding this Law, or Karma. Hence we positively refuse to accept the cruel and unphilosophical belief in eternal reward or eternal punishment. We say with Horace:
Let rules be fixed that may our rage contain,
And punish faults with a proportioned pain;
But do not flay him who deserves alone
A whipping for the fault that he has done.
This is a rule for all men, and a just one. Have we to believe that God, of whom you make the embodiment of wisdom, love and mercy, is less entitled to these attributes than mortal man?
Q. Have you any other reasons for rejecting this dogma?
A. Our chief reason for it lies in the fact of reincarnation. As already stated, we reject the idea of a new soul created for every newly-born babe. We believe that every human being is the bearer, or Vehicle, of an Ego coeval with every other Ego; because all Egos are of the same essence and belong to the primeval emanation from one universal infinite Ego. Plato calls the latter the logos (or the second manifested God); and we, the manifested divine principle, which is one with the universal mind or soul, not the anthropomorphic, extra-cosmic and personal God in which so many Theists believe. Pray do not confuse.
Q. But where is the difficulty, once you accept a manifested principle, in believing that the soul of every new mortal is created by that Principle, as all the Souls before it have been so created?
A. Because that which is impersonal can hardly create, plan and think, at its own sweet will and pleasure. Being a universal Law, immutable in its periodical manifestations, those of radiating and manifesting its own essence at the beginning of every new cycle of life, it is not supposed to create men, only to repent a few years later of having created them. If we have to believe in a divine principle at all, it must be in one which is as absolute harmony, logic, and justice, as it is absolute love, wisdom, and impartiality; and a God who would create every soul for the space of one brief span of life, regardless of the fact whether it has to animate the body of a wealthy, happy man, or that of a poor suffering wretch, hapless from birth to death though he has done nothing to deserve his cruel fate-would be rather a senseless fiend than a God. Why, even the Jewish philosophers, believers in the Mosaic Bible (esoterically, of course), have never entertained such an idea; and, moreover, they believed in reincarnation, as we do.
Q. Can you give me some instances as a proof of this?
A. Most decidedly I can. Philo Judaeus says:
The air is full of them (of souls); those which are nearest the earth, descending to be tied to mortal bodies, palindromousi authis , return to other bodies, being desirous to live in them.
In The Zohar, the soul is made to plead her freedom before God:
Lord of the Universe! I am happy in this world, and do not wish to go into another world, where I shall be a handmaid, and be exposed to all kinds of pollution.
The doctrine of fatal necessity, the everlasting immutable law, is asserted in the answer of the Deity: "Against thy will thou becomest an embryo, and against thy will thou art born." Light would be incomprehensible without darkness to make it manifest by contrast; good would be no longer good without evil to show the priceless nature of the boon; and so personal virtue could claim no merit, unless it had passed through the furnace of temptation. Nothing is eternal and unchangeable, save the concealed Deity. Nothing that is finite-whether because it had a beginning, or must have an end-can remain stationary. It must either progress or recede; and a soul which thirsts after a reunion with its spirit, which alone confers upon it immortality, must purify itself through cyclic transmigrations onward toward the only land of bliss and eternal rest, called in The Zohar, "The Palace of Love," ; in the Hindu religion, "Moksha"; among the Gnostics, "The Pleroma of Eternal Light"; and by the Buddhists, "Nirvana." And all these states are temporary, not eternal.
Q. Yet there is no reincarnation spoken of in all this.
A. A soul which pleads to be allowed to remain where she is, must be preexistent, and not have been created for the occasion. In The Zohar, however, there is a still better proof. Speaking of the reincarnating Egos (the rational souls), those whose last personality has to fade out entirely, it is said:
All souls which have alienated themselves in heaven from the Holy One-blessed be His Name-have thrown themselves into an abyss at their very existence, and have anticipated the time when they are to descend once more on earth.
"The Holy One" means here, esoterically, the Atma, or Atma-Buddhi.
Q. Moreover, it is very strange to find Nirvana spoken of as something synonymous with the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Paradise, since according to every Orientalist of note Nirvana is a synonym of annihilation!
A. Taken literally, with regard to the personality and differentiated matter, not otherwise. These ideas on reincarnation and the trinity of man were held by many of the early Christian Fathers. It is the jumble made by the translators of the New Testament and ancient philosophical treatises between soul and spirit, that has occasioned the many misunderstandings. It is also one of the many reasons why Buddha, Plotinus, and so many other Initiates are now accused of having longed for the total extinction of their souls-"absorption unto the Deity," or "reunion with the universal soul," meaning, according to modern ideas, annihilation. The personal soul must, of course, be disintegrated into its particles, before it is able to link its purer essence forever with the immortal spirit. But the translators of both the Acts and the Epistles, who laid the foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the modern commentators on the Buddhist Sutra of the Foundation of the Kingdom of Righteousness, have muddled the sense of the great apostle of Christianity as of the great reformer of India. The former have smothered the word psuchikos , so that no reader imagines it to have any relation with soul; and with this confusion of soul and spirit together, Bible readers get only a perverted sense of anything on the subject. On the other hand, the interpreters of Buddha have failed to understand the meaning and object of the Buddhist four degrees of Dhyana. Ask the Pythagoreans, "Can that spirit, which gives life and motion and partakes of the nature of light, be reduced to nonentity?" "Can even that sensitive spirit in brutes which exercises memory, one of the rational faculties, die and become nothing?" observe the Occultists. In Buddhist philosophy annihilation means only a dispersion of matter, in whatever form or semblance of form it may be, for everything that has form is temporary, and is, therefore, really an illusion. For in eternity the longest periods of time are as a wink of the eye. So with form. Before we have time to realize that we have seen it, it is gone like an instantaneous flash of lightning, and passed forever. When the Spiritual entity breaks loose forever from every particle of matter, substance, or form, and rebecomes a Spiritual breath: then only does it enter upon the eternal and unchangeable Nirvana, lasting as long as the cycle of life has lasted-an eternity, truly. And then that Breath, existing in Spirit, is nothing because it is all; as a form, a semblance, a shape, it is completely annihilated; as absolute Spirit it still is, for it has become Be-ness itself. The very word used, "absorbed in the universal essence," when spoken of the "Soul" as Spirit, means "union with." It can never mean annihilation, as that would mean eternal separation.
Q. Do you not lay yourself open to the accusation of preaching annihilation by the language you yourself use? You have just spoken of the Soul of man returning to its primordial elements.
A. But you forget that I have given you the differences between the various meanings of the word Soul, and shown the loose way in which the term Spirit has been hitherto translated. We speak of an animal, a human, and a spiritual, Soul, and distinguish between them. Plato, for instance, calls "rational Soul" that which we call Buddhi, adding to it the adjective of "spiritual," however; but that which we call the reincarnating Ego, Manas, he calls Spirit, Nous, etc., whereas we apply the term Spirit, when standing alone and without any qualification, to Atma alone. Pythagoras repeats our archaic doctrine when stating that the Ego (Nous) is eternal with Deity; that the soul only passed through various stages to arrive at divine excellence; while thumos returned to the earth, and even the phren, the lower Manas, was eliminated. Again, Plato defines Soul (Buddhi) as "the motion that is able to move itself." "Soul," he adds (Laws X.), "is the most ancient of all things, and the commencement of motion," thus calling Atma-Buddhi "Soul," and Manas "Spirit," which we do not.
Soul was generated prior to body, and body is posterior and secondary, as being according to nature, ruled over by the ruling soul. The soul which administers all things that are moved in every way, administers likewise the heavens.
Soul then leads everything in heaven, and on earth, and in the sea, by its movements-the names of which are, to will, to consider to take care of, to consult. to form opinions true and false, to be in a state of joy, sorrow, confidence, fear, hate, love, together with all such primary movements as are allied to these. Being a goddess herself, she ever takes as an ally Nous, a god, and disciplines all things correctly and happily; but when with Annoia-not nous-it works out everything the contrary.
In this language, as in the Buddhist texts, the negative is treated as essential existence. Annihilation comes under a similar exegesis. The positive state is essential being, but no manifestation as such. When the spirit, in Buddhist parlance, enters Nirvana, it loses objective existence, but retains subjective being. To objective minds this is becoming absolute "nothing"; to subjective, No-thing, nothing to be displayed to sense. Thus, their Nirvana means the certitude of individual immortality in Spirit, not in Soul, which, though "the most ancient of all things," is still-along with all the other Gods-a finite emanation, in forms and individuality, if not in substance.
Q. I do not quite seize the idea yet, and would be thankful to have you explain this to me by some illustrations.
A. No doubt it is very difficult to understand, especially to one brought up in the regular orthodox ideas of the Christian Church. Moreover, I must tell you one. thing; and this is that unless you have studied thoroughly well the separate functions assigned to all the human principles and the state of all these after death, you will hardly realize our Eastern philosophy.