Reincarnation is in a way a simple idea, which is, moreover, a beneficent force having the power to heal as to impart life. It is beneficent in its unerring justice; it heals the dire disease of sorrow, and imparts life by explaining to us why we are what we are, with our limitations and faculties, with our virtues and weaknesses, with our divine aspirations and our devilish tendencies.
The simple central idea underlying reincarnation is that the Soul in man does not come for the first time into a human body of flesh and blood when it sees the light of day in this life. That Soul has lived on this earth in other human bodies, learning its lessons and garnering its experiences; then at death taking a vacation, a rest, to come back again in a new body and continue its task in this mightiest of all schools. Yet, simple as this idea is, it ramifies in almost every direction and becomes so profound that years of study but bring forth new questions, further research, new solutions followed by new problems once again.
Let us ask the preliminary question: If the Soul was before the birth of this body, where was it and what was it doing? It was in the state of ideation that is called Devachan, the Land of the Gods. In this state the Soul sees the whole panorama of its good and heroic deeds in its past earthly life. It hears the symphony composed of its own pure and noble words. It feels the aspiration to perfect those deeds and to make living those chords and notes of words. For, mighty as is the vision it now beholds, powerful and wonderful as is the music it hears, such is the miracle of Life that within the ideating Soul lies the possibility of further aspiration, further effort and hope for still mightier achievements!
Therefore each human Soul in its godlike meditation awakens within itself the desire and the potency to grow nobler and better and wiser than it was before. And this in turn brings a desire for further experience. Just as in our own daily meditation we reach a point which is our saturation point, higher and deeper than which we cannot go, so, too, in the state of Devachan the devas or divine Souls, reach a saturation point, attain the highest stage possible, each according to his own past merit; they see the deep of truth and recognize that there is a greater deep, hear the music of beauty and recognize that mightier music exists, feel the prolonged thrill of goodness and recognize that there is no end to Compassion; and in this moment of highest ecstasy and illumination they obtain, prophetlike, a glimpse, a flashing gaze, into what is to come. Just as the clever gardener can tell how the bud will blossom forth and when, how the shrub will flower and in what season, when the seed will begin to sprout forth and by what process, so too the divine Soul, fully awakened in the spiritual world, can get a glimpse into the future, can see what seed the fruit of many past efforts is about to yield, what reflections the deeds of previous lives are now about to cast. Thus the awakened Soul falls from the highest state of contemplation into a shadowy dreaming of the life to come.
In the first stage the Soul has a full realization of its own spirituality. Then it passes from its wakeful introspection of its past to a dreaming of the future. The past fades away more and more because the Soul begins to concentrate on the future. It now dreams, "What shall I do, where shall I go, and how shall I go? The Soul so to speak says to itself in its dream condition: "I want to learn this and to teach that; I need this and can give that. I must go back to earth. Where and how shall I go?" Thus the third stage is reached. The divine vision has now vanished and only a vague memory of it persists.
In this very search and questioning, the dreaming Soul, on the principle that Nature supplies every demand, attracts to itself the army of its past feelings and desires, of the tanhaic and skandhaic elementals which belonged to its former birth, and without which it could not be drawn back to birth again. The deva by his very dreaming attracts the devatas. The army of skandhas or the aggregates that make up the man, it is said, await the Soul at the threshold of Devachan. These skandhas, left behind at the time of death, are now magnetically collected and drawn back to the Soul. The body includes one set of skandhas, the astral man another, the Kama principle is another set, and still others pertain to other parts. In Kama are the really active and important ones which control rebirths and lead to all the varieties of life circumstance upon each rebirth. These desire-lives, these threads of Tanha and Trishna, are now ready to join the Soul for a new life on earth. And this is all under Karma, under the Law of Ethical Compensation. It is not a matter of chance, accident, coincidence or miracle. Like a bit of metal which flies to a magnet as soon as it comes within the sphere of magnetic influence, so these skandhaic and tanhaic elementals fly to the dreaming Thinker, and the third stage of a new life on earth is reached. Now the Soul has the basis for its new personality and it has forgotten much of its Vision.
Just as the first stage of full awakening merges into the second, the dream stage, in which the future life just glimpsed becomes the subject of the dream, so too the second stage becomes the third in which the skandhas or desire-attributes are drawn to the Soul.
At this third stage the Soul, enmeshed in its own desire-lives or tanhaic elementals, gets ready to be attracted to its new family, race and nation. The Soul, like a curious person, peers about, so to speak, and its dream now becomes more shadowy and vague, less divine, less abstract and more concrete, less self-conscious and more automatic.
That brings us to one aspect of the miracle of birth. A relationship in accordance with past Karma is now established between the thinking-dreaming Soul and the future mother of its new body. This mighty mystery of birth has never yet been fully disclosed. But there is no more striking miracle in ordinary life than this silent, psychic link established between the mother and her future child. Its equal can only be found in the spiritual life, in the attraction of the aspirant to his Guru, which magnetic attraction brings about the Second Birth.
Under the laws of magnetic attraction, then, some of the subtle matter of the ethereal vesture of the incoming Soul is drawn to the mother, and the father through the sperm furnishes the basis for the building of the physical body. At the seventh month, the process of the Soul joining itself to its future body, fibre by fibre and thread by thread, is completed. That Soul is connected with its Divine Parent, its Higher Self, by the bridge of Antaskarana.
In the mystery of embryology lies concealed the whole course of human evolution, but modern science knows it not. The ancients knew it and the Vishnu Purana relates it in the form of allegory.
Once born, the being who has identified himself with the body receives impressions from without, and the gathering of such impressions on the foundation of the incarnated being develops into what is called our personality. At one end it is connected with the Divine Soul by the Bridge of Conscience; at the other, with the senses and sense-organs of the body by the personal self.
Each Soul attracts to itself its natural conditions. There are no misfits at all, all are attracted to a particular environment according to Karma, their past deeds, words, feelings and thoughts, so that they may learn through them and grow in purity, making also the environment pure, and so that the very devil in them may be raised to the stage of divinity.
Reincarnation means Justice, unerring Justice that is not human justice but Nature's Justice, which acts impersonally and universally, and which therefore is also merciful and compassionate.
Reincarnation means Contentment, for what has come to us has come because of our own deeds of body or speech or mind; whatever condition is ours today, that condition is exactly what we ourselves desired—a difficult concept, but a true one.
Reincarnation means Progress, for it offers us fresh opportunities, with every birth, to mend our ways. The saints and sages of today were sinners yesterday; the sinners will become saints and sages tomorrow.
Reincarnation means Effort, for the Soul passes from one condition to another by self-endeavour. In daily life we see this: he who wants to earn must labour; he who wants to know must learn; he who wants to serve must sacrifice.
Reincarnation means Divinity, for in our innermost nature we are godlike, nay, we are verily gods, and by effort and knowledge we can make the "Father in Heaven" incarnate fully and wholly in the Temple of the Body. The birth of the body is a miracle; the second birth of the twice-born, the Dwija, is still greater miracle. By right action, by the true understanding and application of the Law of Fate and Free Will or Karma, we shall attain to that Second Birth.