The Riddle of Life and Death


    At every birth, what appears to be a new life comes into the world. Slowly the little form grows, it lives and moves among us, it becomes a factor in our lives; but at last there comes a time when the form ceases to move and decays. The love that came, whence we know not, has again passed to the invisible beyond. Then, in sorrow and perplexity we ask ourselves the three great questions concerning our existence: Whence have we come? Why are we here? Whither are we going?

    Across every threshold the fearsome specter of Death throws his shadow. It visits alike the palace and the poorhouse. None are safe: old or young, well or ill, rich or poor. All alike must pass through this gloomy portal, and down the ages has sounded the piteous cry for a solution of the riddle of life, the riddle of death.

    Unfortunately there has been much vague speculation by people who did not know, and it has therefore come to be the popularly accepted opinion that nothing definite can be known about the most important part of our existence: Life prior to its manifestation through the gate of birth and beyond the portal of death.

    That idea is erroneous. Definite firsthand knowledge may be had by anyone who will take the trouble to cultivate the "sixth sense" which is latent in all. When it is acquired it opens our spiritual eyes so that we perceive the Spirits who are about to enter physical life by birth, and those who have just re-entered the beyond after death. We see them as clearly and definitely as we cognize physical beings by our ordinary sight. Nor is firsthand information about the inner worlds indispensable to satisfy the inquiring mind any more than it is necessary to visit China to learn about conditions there. We learn about foreign countries through the reports of returned travelers. There is as much knowledge concerning the world beyond as about the interior of Africa, Australia, or China.

    The solution of the problem of Life and Being advocated in the following pages is based upon the concurrent testimony of many who have cultivated the above-mentioned faculty and are qualified to investigate the superphysical realms in a scientific manner. It is in harmony with scientific facts, an eternal truth in Nature which governs human progress, as the law of gravity serves to keep the stars unchangeably in their orbits about the Sun.

Three Theories

    Three theories have been brought forward to solve the riddle of life and death, and it seems to be universally agreed that a fourth is an impossible conception. If so, one of the three theories must be the true solution, or it remains insoluble; at least by man.

    The riddle of life and death is a basic problem; everyone must solve it at some time, and it is of the utmost importance to each individual human being which of these theories he accepts; for his choice will color his whole life. In order that we may make an intelligent choice, it is necessary to know them all, to analyze, compare, and weigh them, holding the mind open and free from the bias of preconceived ideas, ready to accept or reject each theory upon its merits. Let us first state the three theories and then let us see how they agree with established facts of life and how far they are in harmony with other known laws of Nature, as we should reasonably expect them to be, if true, for discord in Nature is impossible.

    1. THE MATERIALISTIC THEORY holds that life is a journey form the womb to the tomb; that mind is the product of matter; that man is the highest intelligence in the cosmos; and that intelligence perishes when the body dissolves at death.

    2. THE THEORY OF THEOLOGY asserts that at each birth a newly-created soul enters the arena of life fresh from God; that at the end of one short span of life in the material world it passes through the gate of death into the invisible beyond, there to remain; and that its happiness or misery there is determined for all eternity by its belief just prior to death.

    3. THE THEORY OF REBIRTH teaches that each Spirit is an integral part of God; that it enfolds all divine possibilities as a seed enfolds the plant; that by means of repeated existences in a gradually improving earthly body those latent powers are being slowly unfolded into dynamic energy; that none are lost, but that all Egos will ultimately attain the goal of perfection and reunion with God, bringing with them the cumulative experience which is the fruitage of their pilgrimage through matter.

The Materialistic Theory

    Comparing the materialistic theory with the known laws of Nature, we find that it is contrary to such well-established laws as those which declare matter and force indestructible. According to those laws mind cannot be destroyed at death as the materialistic theory asserts, for when nothing can be destroyed mind must be included.

    Moreover, mind evidently is superior to matter, for it molds the face so that it mirrors the mind; also, we know that the particles of our bodies are constantly changing; that an entire change takes place at least once in seven years. If the materialistic theory were true, our consciousness ought also to undergo an entire change, with no memory of what preceded; so that no one could remember an event more than seven years.

    We know that is not the case. We remember our whole life; the smallest incident, though forgotten in ordinary life, is vividly remembered by a drowning person; also in the trance state. Materialism takes no account of these states of subconsciousness or superconsciousness; it cannot explain them, so it ignores them, but in the face of scientific investigations which have established the verity of psychic phenomena beyond cavil, the policy of ignoring rather than disproving these alleged facts is a fatal defect in a theory which lays claim to solve the greatest problem of life: Life itself.

    The materialistic theory has many more defects which render it unworthy of our acceptance; but sufficient has been said to justify us in casting it aside and turning to the other two.

The Theory of Theology

    One of the greatest difficulties in the doctrine of the theologians is its entire and confessed inadequacy. According to their theory that a new soul is created at each birth, myriads of souls have been created since the beginning of existence (even if that beginning goes back only 6,000 years). According to certain sects, only 144,000 are to be saved; the rest are to be tortured forever. And that is called "God's plan of salvation"; extolled as proof of God's wonderful love.

    Let us suppose a wireless message is received at New York, stating that a large transatlantic liner is sinking just outside Sandy Hook; that 3,000 people are in danger of drowning. Would we hail it as a glorious plan of salvation if a small, fast motorboat were sent to their relief, and succeeded in rescuing two or three people? Certainly not. Only when some adequate means was provided to save the great majority at least would it be hailed as a plan of salvation."

    The "plan of salvation" which the theologians are offering is worse than sending a motorboat to save the people on an Atlantic liner, for two or three are a larger proportion saved out of a total of 3,000 than 144,000 of all the myriads of souls created on the plan of theology. If God had really evolved that plan, it would seem to the logical mind that He cannot be good. If He cannot help Himself, He is not all-powerful. In neither case can He therefore be God. Such suppositions are, however, unthinkable as actualities, for that cannot be God's plan, and it is a gross libel to attribute it to Him.

The Doctrine of Reincarnation

    If we turn to the doctrine of reincarnation (rebirth in human bodies) which postulates a slow process of development carried on with unwavering persistence through repeated embodiment in human forms of increasing efficiency, whereby all beings are in time brought to a height of spirituality inconceivable to our present limited understanding, we can readily perceive its harmony with nature's methods. EVERYWHERE IN NATURE IS FOUND THIS SLOW AND PERSISTENT STRIVING FOR PERFECTION; AND NOWHERE IS FOUND A SUDDEN PROCESS OF EITHER CREATION OR DESTRUCTION ANALOGOUS TO THE PLAN WHICH THE THEOLOGIANS AND MATERIALISTS WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE.

    Science recognizes the process of evolution as Nature's method of development alike for the star and the starfish, the microbe and the man. It is the progression of spirit in time, and as we look about and note evolution in our three-dimensional universe, we cannot escape the obvious fact that its path is also three-dimensional, a spiral; each loop of the spiral is a cycle, and cycle follows cycle in unbroken progression, as the loops of the spiral succeed each other, each cycle being the improved product of the preceding and the basis of progress in the succeeding cycles.

    A straight line is but the extension of a point, and analogous to the theories of the materialist and the theologians. The materialistic line of existence goes from birth to death; the theologian commences the lines at a point just previous to birth and carries it into the invisible beyond at death.

    There is no return. Existence thus lived would extract but a minimum of the experience from the school of life, such as might be had by one-dimensional beings incapable of broadening out or rising to sublime heights of attainment.

The Spiral Progression

    A two-dimensional zigzag path for the evolving life would be no better, a circle would mean a never-ending round of the same experiences. Everything in Nature has a purpose, the third dimension included. In order that we may live up to the opportunities of a three dimensional universe, the path of evolution must be a spiral. So it is. Everywhere in heaven and on earth all things are going onward, upward forever.

    The modest little plant in the garden and the giant redwood of California with its forty-foot diameter alike show the spiral in the arrangement of their branches, twigs, and leaves. If we study the great vaulted arch of heaven and examine the spiral nebulae, which are worlds in the making, or the path of the solar systems, the spiral is evidently the way of progression.

    We find another illustration of spiral progression in the yearly course of our planet. In the spring she emerges from her period of rest, her wintry sleep. We see the life budding everywhere. All the activities of Nature are exerted to bring forth. Time passes; the corn and the grape are ripened and harvested, and again the silence and inactivity of winter take the place of the activity of the summer; again the snowy coverlet wraps the Earth. But she will not sleep forever; she will wake again to the song of a new spring, and will then be a little farther progressed along the pathway of time.

The Law of Alternating Cycles

    Is it possible that a law, universal in all other realms of Nature, should be abrogated in the case of man? Shall the Earth wake each year from its wintry slumber; shall the tree and the flower live again, and man die? No, that is impossible in a universe governed by immutable law. The same law that wakes the life in the plant to new growth must wake the human being to further progress toward the goal of perfection. Therefore the doctrine of rebirth, or repeated human embodiment in gradually improving vehicles, is in perfect accord with evolution and the phenomena of Nature, when it states that birth and death follow each other in succession. It is in full harmony with the law of alternating cycles which decrees that activity and rest, ebb and flood, summer and winter, must follow each other in unbroken sequence. It is also in perfect accord with the spiral phase of the Law of Evolution when it states that each time the Spirit returns to a new birth it takes on a better body, and as man progresses in mental, moral, and spiritual attainment in consequence of the accumulated experiences of past lives he comes into an improved environment.

    When we seek to solve the riddle of life and death; to find an answer that shall satisfy both head and heart as to the difference in the endowment of human beings, and give a reason for the existence of sorrow and pain; when we ask why one is reared in the lap of luxury while another receives more kicks than crusts; why one obtains a moral education, but another is taught to steal and lie; why one has the face and figure of a Venus, while another has the head of a Medusa; why one has perfect health and another never knows a moment's rest from pain; why one has the intellect of a Socrates, and another can only count "one, two, many," as do the Australian aborigines, we receive no satisfaction from the materialist or the theologian. Materialism gives the law of heredity as the reason for sickness, and in regard to economic conditions a Spencer tells us that in the animal world the law of existence is "eat, or be eaten"; in civilized society it is "cheat, or be cheated."

Accounting for Moral Proclivities

    Heredity accounts partly for the PHYSICAL constitution. Like begets like, so far as the FORM is concerned, but heredity does not account for the moral proclivities and mental trend, which differ in each human being. Heredity is a fact in the lower kingdoms where all the animals of a certain species look nearly alike, eat the same kind of food, and act similarly in similar circumstances, because they have no individual will, but are dominated by a common Group Spirit. In the human kingdom it is different. Each man acts differently from others. Each requires a different diet. As the years of infancy and youth pass the indwelling Ego molds its instrument so that it reflects itself in the features. Thus no two look exactly alike. Even twins who could not be distinguished in childhood grow to look different as the features of each express the thought of the Ego within.

    On the moral plane a like condition prevails. Police records show that though the children of habitual criminals generally possess criminal tendencies, they invariably keep out of the courts, and in the "rogues' galleries" of Europe and America it is impossible to find both father and son. Thus criminals are the sons of honest people, and so heredity is unable to account for moral proclivities.

    When we come to a consideration of the higher intellectual and artistic faculties we find that the children of a genius are mediocre and often even idiots. Cuvier's brain was the greatest brain ever weighed and analyzed by science. His five children died of paresis. The brother of Alexander the Great was an idiot, and so cases could be cited ad lib. to show that heredity only partially accounts for similarity of Form, and not at all for mental and moral conditions. The Law of Attraction, which causes musicians to congregate in concert halls, and brings about meetings of literary people because of similarity of tastes; and the Law of Consequence, which draws one who has developed criminal tendencies into association with criminals, that he may learn to do good by beholding the trouble incident to wrong-doing, account more logically than heredity for the facts of associations and character.

    The theologian explains that all conditions are made by the will of God, who in His inscrutable wisdom has seen fit to make some rich and poor; some clever and others dull, etc.; that He sends trouble and trials to all, much to the many and little to a favored few, and they say we must accept our lot without murmur. But it is hard to look with love to the skies when one realizes that thence, according to divine caprice, comes all our misery, be it little or much, and the benevolent human mind revolts at the thought of a father who lavishes love, comfort, and luxury upon a few, and sends sorrow, suffering, and misery to millions. Surely there must be another solution to the problems of life than this. Is it not more reasonable to think that the theologians may have misinterpreted the Bible than to saddle such monstrous conduct upon God?

The Law of Consequence

    The Law of Rebirth offers a reasonable solution to all the inequalities of life, its sorrow and pains, when coupled with its companion law--the Law of Consequence--besides showing the road to emancipation.

    The Law of Consequence is Nature's law of justice. It decrees that whatever a man sows, he reaps. What we are, what we have, all our good qualities are the result of our labor in the past, thence our talents. What we lack in physical, moral, or mental accomplishments is due to neglect of opportunities in the past or to lack of them, but sometime, somewhere, we shall have other chances, and retrieve the loss. As to our obligations to others or their debts to us, the Law of Consequence also takes care of that. What cannot be liquidated in one life holds over to future lives. Death does not cancel our obligations any more than moving to another city pays our debts here. The Law of Rebirth provides a new environment, but in it are our old friends, and our old enemies. We know them, too, for when we meet a person for the first time, yet feel as if we had known him all our lives, that is but the recognition of the Ego who pierces the veil of flesh and recognizes an old friend. When we meet a person who at once inspires us with fear or repugnance, it is again a message from the Ego, warning us of our old-time enemy.

The School of Life

    The occult teaching regarding life, which bases its solution upon the twin Laws of Consequence and Rebirth, is simply that the world about us is a school of experience; that even as we send a child to school day after day and year after year in order that it may learn more and more as it advances through the different grades from kindergarten to college, so the Ego in man, as a child of the Father, goes to the school of life, day after day. But in that larger life of the Ego, each day at school is a life on earth and the night which intervenes between two days at the child's school corresponds to the sleep of death in the larger life of the human Ego (the Spirit in man).

    In a school there are many grades. The older children who have attended school many times have very different lessons from the tots in the kindergarten. So in the school of life, those in high positions, endowed with great faculties, are our Elder Brothers, and the savages are but entering the lowest class. What they are we have been, and all will in time reach a point where they will be wiser than the wisest we know. Nor should it surprise the philosopher that the powerful crush the weak; the elder children are cruel to their younger brothers at a certain stage of their growth because they have not at that time evolved the true sense of right, but as they grow they learn to protect weakness. So will the children of the larger life. Altruism is flowering more and more everywhere, and the day will come when all men will be as good and benevolent as are the greatest saints.

    There is but one sin--Ignorance; and but one salvation--Applied Knowledge. All sorrow, suffering and pain are traceable to ignorance of how to act, and the school of life is as necessary to bring out our latent capabilities as is the daily school which evokes those of the child.

We are Masters of Our Destiny

    When we realize that this is so, life will at once take on an altogether different aspect. It does not matter then what the conditions are in which we find ourselves, the knowledge that WE have made them helps us to bear them in patience; and, best of all, the glorious feeling that we are masters of our destiny and can make the FUTURE what we will, is of itself a power. It rests with us to develop what we lack. Of course we still have the past to reckon with, and perhaps much misfortune may yet accrue from wrong deeds, but if we will cease to do evil we may look with joy to every affliction as liquidating an old score and bringing the day nearer when we shall have a clear record. It is no valid objection, that often the most upright suffer the greatest. The great intelligences who apportion to each man the amount of his past score which is to be liquidated in each life always help the man who pays the debts of his past without adding new delinquencies, by giving him as much as he can bear, to hasten the day of emancipation; and in that sense it is strictly true that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth."

    The doctrine of rebirth is sometimes confounded with the theory of transmigration, which teaches that a human soul may incarnate in an animal. That has no foundation in Nature. Each species of animal is the emanation from a Group Spirit, which governs them FROM THE OUTSIDE, by suggestion. It functions in the Desire World; and as distance does not exist there, it can thus influence its members, no matter where located. The human Spirit, the Ego, on the other hand, enters right into a dense body; there is an individual Spirit in each person, dwelling in its instrument and guiding it FROM WITHIN. These are two entirely different stages of evolution, and it is as impossible for man to incarnate in an animal body as for a Group Spirit to take human shape.

Remembering Past Lives

    The question, "Why do we not remember our past existences?" is another apparent difficulty. But if we realize that we have an entirely new brain at each birth, and that the human Spirit is weak and engrossed in its new environment, so that it fails to make a full impression on the brain in the days of childhood, when it is most sensitive, it is not so surprising after all. Some children do remember the past, especially in the earliest years, and it is one of the most pathetic phases of childhood that they are so thoroughly misunderstood by their elders. When they speak of the past, they are ridiculed, and even punished for being "imaginary." If children speak of their invisible playmates, and of "seeing things," for many children are clairvoyant, they meet the same harsh treatment, and the inevitable result is that the little ones learn to keep still until they lose the faculty. Sometimes it happens, however, that the prattle of a child is listened to and results in some wonderful revelations. The writer heard of such a case a few years ago on the Pacific Coast.

A Remarkable Story

    A little child in Santa Barbara ran up to a gentleman by the name of Roberts on the street and called him papa, persisting that she had lived with him and another mama in a little house by a brook, and that one morning he had left the cabin and never returned. She and her mother had both died of starvation and the little one finished quaintly, "But I didn't die; I came here." The story was not told at once, or succinctly, but in the course of an afternoon, by intermittent questioning it came out. Mr. Roberts' story of an early elopement, marriage and emigration from England to Australia, of the building of a cabin by a stream with no other houses near, of leaving his wife and baby, of being arrested, denied permission to notify his wife because the officers feared a trap, of being driven to the coast at the point of a gun, of being taken to England and tried for a bank robbery committed the night he sailed for Australia, of proving his innocence; of how only then notice was taken of his persistent ravings about a wife and child who must starve to death, of the telegram sent, the search party organized and the answer that they had found but the skeletons of a woman and a child. All these things corroborated the story of the little three-year-old tot; and being shown some photographs in a casual way, she picked out the pictures of Mr. Roberts and his wife, though Mr. Roberts had altered much in the eighteen years which intervened between the tragedy and the Santa Barbara incident.

Frequency of Rebirth

    It must not be supposed, however, that all who pass through the gate of death reenter as quickly as that. Such a short interim would give the Ego no chance to do the important work of assimilating experiences and preparation for a new Earth-life. But a three year old child has had no experience to speak of, so it seeks a new embodiment quickly, often incarnating in the same family as before. Children often die because a change in the parents' habits has frustrated the working out of their past acts. It is then necessary to seek another chance, or they are born and die to teach the parents a needed lesson. In one case an Ego incarnated eight times in the same family for that purpose before the lesson was learned. Then it incarnated elsewhere. It was a friend of the family who acquired great merit by thus helping them.

    The Law of Rebirth, where it is not modified by the Law of Consequence to such an extent as in the above cases, works according to the movement of the Sun known as the precession of the equinoxes, by which the Sun goes backward through the twelve signs of the zodiac in the so-called sidereal or world-year comprising 25,868 of our ordinary solar years.

    As the passage of the Earth in her orbit around the Sun makes the climatic changes which alter our conditions according to seasons and change our activities, so the passage of the Sun through the great world-year makes still greater changes in climate and topographical conditions, in respect to civilization, and it is necessary that the Ego should learn to cope with it all.

    Therefore the Ego incarnates twice in the time it takes the Sun to go through each one of the signs of the zodiac, which is about 2,100 years. There are thus normally about 1,000 years between two incarnations and, while the experiences of a man are widely different from those of a woman, the conditions are not materially different in a thousand years, so the Spirit usually incarnates alternately as a man and a woman. But that is not a hard and fast rule; it is subject to modification when such is required by the Law of Consequence.

Solution of the Riddle

    Thus occult science resolves the riddle of life into the Ego's quest for experience, all conditions having that purpose in view, and all being automatically determined by desert; it robs death of its terror and its sting, by placing it where it belongs, as an incident in a larger life, similar to the removal to another city for a time; it makes the parting from loved ones easier by assuring us that the very love we feel will be the means of reuniting us, and it gives us the grandest hope in life that some day we shall all obtain the knowledge which illumines all problems, links all our lives, and best of all, as taught by occult science, we have it in our own power, by application, to hasten that glorious day when faith shall be swallowed up in knowledge. Then we shall realize in a higher sense the beauty of Sir Edwin Arnold's poetic statement of the doctrine of rebirth:

Never the Spirit was born!
The Spirit shall cease to be never!
Never was time it was not,
End and beginning are dreams.
Birthless and deathless remaineth the spirit forever.
Death has not touched it at all,
Dead though the house of it seems.

Nay! but as one layeth
A worn-out robe away.
And taking another sayeth:
This will I wear today,
So putteth by the spirit
Lightly its garment of flesh
And passeth on to inherit
A residence afresh.

Written by Max Heindel, founder of
The Rosicrucian Fellowship

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