Volume V - Spiritual Liberty
Part III: THE PHENOMENON OF THE SOUL
MAN, THE SEED OF GOD
Man may most justly be called the seed of God. God the Infinite, most conscious within Himself, embraces His nature full of variety; in this way He is one and He is all. The whole of manifestation is just like a tree sprung from the divine root. Nature is like its stem and all the aspects of nature are like the branches, the leaves, the fruit, and the flower; and from this tree again the same seed is produced, the human soul, which was the first cause of the tree. The seed is the spirit of man, and as God comprehends the whole universe within Himself, being one, so man contains within himself the whole universe as His miniature. It is said in the Quran, 'In our own image we have created man.' Therefore neither can God be anything else than what He is, for the very reason that He is one and at the same time He is all, nor can man; neither can man be reincarnated nor can God.
The men of science of today have admitted the fact that the whole skin of man is changed in so many years and they have also been able to discover that each atom of man's constitution changes so many times in life, renewing his body each time. If the body is subject to change, so is the mind, and it is only by these that man's person is identified. Again, in our food and drink we live upon so many small lives and so many small lives live upon us, dwelling in our blood, veins, tubes, and in the skin, all of which constitute our individuality. And in the mind our every thought and feeling is as alive as we, even such beings as the elementals, demons, and angels, which are created within us, from us, and of us, and yet may as fitly be called individuals as we. So in the end of the examination it is hard for a man to find out whether he exists as one or many.
In our dreams all the inhabitants of our mind resurrect, forming a world within ourselves. We see in the dream things and beings, a friend, a foe, an animal, a bird, and they come from nowhere, but are created out of our own selves. This shows that the mind of an individual constitutes a world in itself, which is created and destroyed by the conscious or unconscious action of the will, which has two aspects: intention and accident. We have experience of this world of mind even while awake, but the contrast between the world within and without makes the world without concrete and the world within abstract.
Someone may ask, 'If all that we see in the dream is we ourselves, then why do we even in the dream see ourselves as an entity separate from all the other things before us in the dream?' The answer is, because the soul is deluded by our external form, and this picture it recognizes as I, and all other images and forms manifesting before it in the dream stand in contrast to this I; therefore the soul recognizes them as other than I.
However, if it is one individual that reincarnates should we hold our changeable body to be an individual or our mind, both of which appear to be one and at the same time many? One might ask Jack, 'Which part of yourself is Jack, the eye, the nose the ear, or the hand or foot, for each of them has a particular name? Or are your thoughts and feelings Jack? They are numerous, changeable and diverse; you name them as such an imagination, such a feeling.' This shows that Jack stands aloof as the owner of all finer and grosser properties that have grouped and formed an illusion before him, which, reflected upon his soul, makes him say, 'I, Jack.' He is the owner of all that he realizes around and about him, and yet each atom and vibration which has composed his illusionary self is liable to change, and to a separate and individual birth and death.
The soul on its journey to the infinite cannot turn back halfway; and when it reaches that goal, it experiences only the light, the wisdom, the love of God, and it loses two things: it loses all the marks of the experiences and thoughts of its manifestation, and it gradually loses its individuality and merges in the infinite, divine Consciousness.
If an earthen thing is thrown into the water it has a tendency to go to the bottom, to its own element. If water is accompanying fire on its journey as steam, its watery part still drips down. When fire travels with the air its smoke is taken a certain distance but in its higher spheres the air gets rid of the fire. When ether turns into spirit it drops its contact with the air element. Thus it is with the soul; on its return journey it gives back all these properties to their own sources, thus lightening its load on its way towards its own element. The earthly body goes to earth, its water part to the world of waters, its heat to the kingdom of heat, its air to the spheres of the air, its ether into the ethereal regions. Its impressions, thoughts, feelings, merits, qualities go as far as they can reach, and remain there wherever they are meant to be. Then it is the soul in its own essence that is left, merging into the ocean of consciousness where nothing of its previous properties remains.
Our personality is just like a little bubble in the water. There is as little probability of a bubble once merged in the sea coming out again composed of the same portion of water, as there is of the soul once merged in the ocean of consciousness coming out again formed of the self-same portion of consciousness. The bubble may come back in the same place with the same portion of water, or it may be another portion of water. There may be half of the first drop of water in the second bubble, there may be a small part, or there may be some other portion of water added to it.
If one bubble comes, and we call that bubble John, and then we call another Jacob and a third Henry, yet they are all the same water, and if we call the water John then they are all the same John. All is the same spirit, the same life, involving itself into all the forms and the names. From this point of view there no I, no you, no he, no she, no it, in the light of reality; all are but the differences of a moment.
Every bubble loses both reflections and any properties it possessed during its existence as soon as it merges into the water, and even if in one of a thousand chances it should come formed of the self-same portion of water, it would not retain its previous property. In the same way supposing, as a mere assumption, that the self-same portion of consciousness, which in any case is not so substantial and stable as water, could possibly appear again on the surface without any addition or deduction, it is utterly impossible that it should still possess its past qualities and impressions, for it has been absolutely purified by sinking into the consciousness. If even a drop of ink loses its ink property in the sea, why should not the ocean of consciousness purify its own element from all elements foreign to itself?
As Hinduism teaches the doctrine that bathing once in the Sangam at the confluence of the two rivers can purify man from all life's sins, how can it deny that this bath of the soul, sinking into the consciousness even once, purifies the soul from all the properties it has gathered during its previous life? In the first place, the nature of absorption into the Spirit is itself purification from the material state of being, and the very nature of manifestation is for the soul to arrive new and fresh.
Suppose we granted that cream was the reincarnation of milk, and butter was the third step of the reincarnation of milk, and its fourth reincarnation could be called ghee; then the question would arise, of what was milk the reincarnation? Milk is composed of several chemical substances, and its chemical arrangement changes the name, savor, smell, and effect. Butter cannot be called milk, nor is ghee cream. If there is anything which seems to exist through all the manifestations of the milk, it is the inner ruling current which groups and scatters atoms, compelling them to change, and which may be likened to the soul.
Also, if Jack has reincarnated as John, or John has reincarnated as Jack, what were both in the beginning? Were they two or one? If one became two, then one could become thousands, millions, and still he is one only.
The shooting forth of the soul from the consciousness can be symbolized as an arrow. The arrow shot up in the air goes up as far as the will and power of the bow-man has destined it to go, and when it reaches its utmost height its return journey begins. The death of the physical being is the return of that arrow. Of course, on its return it may perhaps be detained on its way, as the arrow is sometimes caught in the branches of a tree, but it returns some day or other to the earth, its own element. It does not go up again from there by any means. So it is with the human soul, which, after finishing its course on earth, returns to its origin, drawn by its power of attraction.
When we look at the world we see that everything makes a circle. The plant grows from the seed to its developed state and returns to dust. Man grows from childhood to youth, to maturity, and then to old age. This, it is said, is an argument for our passing through many lives. But it is not the circle which journeys but the point which, journeying, forms the circle and returns to the place from which it started. It is the consciousness that performs the journey and not the individual soul.
The drops of water in a fountain go up, some higher, some lower, some go a very little way, some rise very high. When each drop falls down it sinks into the stream, flowing away with it, and does not rise again, although the water of the same stream rises and falls again in drops, which proves to us the fact that it is the water which rises and falls continually, not the drop; yet apparently it rises and falls as drops, though the portion of water in every drop is different.
One argument which the reincarnationists bring forward in support of their doctrine is that sometimes unusual genius or gifts are found in a child who does not seem to inherit them from its ancestors and cannot have acquired them from its surroundings. Sometimes in the slums a child is born which has great poetic genius which could not be traced to its father or mother, nor to its forefathers; or it shows a great musical gift which was not found in its father or grandfather or ancestors.
The soul before coming to the face of the earth, on its way towards manifestation, for a very, very long time gathers the impressions of those souls whom it meets on its way, and takes on their attributes. In this way the attributes of the past souls are manifested again. A soul may receive the impressions of one soul or of a few souls or of many souls.
The soul on its way towards manifestation may meet the soul of a genius in poetry or music and take with it these impressions. When some very great or very good or philanthropic person has died you will find that soon after a child of like qualities will be born to balance the world. A child may be born with the qualities of Alexander the Great. This is because the new soul coming out towards manifestation has met the soul of Alexander and has become impressed with all his qualities or part of his qualities. Such a one may assert, 'I am the reincarnation of Alexander.' But the soul of Alexander does not return. If it did, then every soul that has left this life would know of his former lives.
Much of the difference of understanding is the difference of words. If someone says that the soul is the world of impressions which the consciousness holds before it, and the spirit is the consciousness, then he may say that the soul returns.
When the child of unpoetic parents sings, making up words of its own, this shows that it has received the impression of some poetic soul. The soul that comes to the surface is more responsive than creative; it is not creative, because it has nothing to give. The soul on its return is creative; it imparts its experiences there. For example, an unused photographic plate takes the impression of the object before it, but the used plate reflects its impression onto the paper. Suppose, for instance, the soul of Vishnu meets a soul on its way to manifestation, this powerful soul may impress the other with its attributes. Then that soul may say, 'I am Krishna, the reincarnation of Vishnu.' The soul is impressed with whatever comes before it. Sometimes children of quite ordinary parents may be so impressed by a great person in whose presence they are that they themselves become great. And as man's personality is nothing but an agglomeration of his thoughts and impressions, the inheritor of these may be called the reincarnation of the past one, though his soul is his own.
Sometimes a child appears to see and understand very much of what is going on around him from his infancy up. Sometimes a young man sees and understands more than an old person. Such people are supposed by the average person to be old souls, and the reincarnationists take it as proof of the doctrine of reincarnation. But in reality knowing and understanding do not depend upon learning; knowledge is the soul's quality. The knowledge of the spirit has been man's in all ages. An old person does not need to read many books in order to learn that he was once a little child, he knows it, it is his past experience. So the soul knows its own experience; it needs only a little awakening to make it conscious of itself.
When the Shah of Persia wished to have the history of Persia written by some literary person, no one could be found to do it until the mystic poet Firdausi said that he would write it. And he wrote, from his inner knowledge, Shahnama, the history of the Shahs of Persia. If he had this knowledge from the recollection of his own previous lives he must have reincarnated uninterruptedly in Persia and in Persia only, endowed each time with the same degree of intelligence, so as to have acquired and retained all this knowledge.
There is nothing which the soul cannot know, for the whole objective existence is made by the soul for its own use; and therefore it is not astonishing if man possesses great qualities that he has not inherited, and if he has knowledge of all things through revelation, not by learning. It is astonishing only when he lacks this, and that is owing to the globes upon globes of the objective world, covering the light of the soul.