by Charles A. Hall
Revised by Lee S. Woofenden. © 1984 Lee S. Woofenden
This pamphlet was first printed in London in 1937 under the
title: "Rebirth, With Observations on the Reincarnation Theory." In this 1984
reprinting, the revisions have all been aimed at updating the language to make
it easier to read. The ideas are still the same ones originally expressed by
the Rev. Charles A. Hall. I leave them to speak for themselves.
According to the teachings of the New Church, which are based
on the heavenly truths revealed through Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), every
person born into the world is a new creation. He has not existed before. He
is an immortal spiritual being with a mortal physical body. His spirit is made
out of the non-molecular substance of the spiritual universe, and his physical
body out of the molecular matter of the material universe.
It is as a spirit that a person is a human being. The physical
body is an organism that enables him to make contact with the natural world
and get certain experiences that he needs on the material level. When the physical
body has served its purpose, it is left behind, never to be used again. It returns,
"earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
A person is a spirit right from the start. It is as a spirit
that he sees, hears, and experiences every other sensation. The physical eye
is a material structure enabling the spirit to see things in the natural world.
In fact, all the physical sense organs are channels that the spirit uses to
make contact with this universe. It is the spirit that feels, sees, hears, and
interprets. The spirit is the lover, the thinker, the doer. Without the spirit,
the body is incapable of feeling.
When the spirit--the real person--is freed from the body
by the wholesome process known as death, the body quickly disintegrates. There
is no resurrection of the discarded body, nor does the freed spirit ever take
on another physical body in order to live on earth again. The immortal spirit
continues his life on the spiritual plane, which is his true home.
The Spiritual Body
Actually, as long as it lasts, the material body is in a
state of harmony with the body of spiritual substance by which the spirit relates
to the spiritual universe. This means that even while we are living on earth,
we have both a spiritual body and a physical body.
When we die, we do not find ourselves disembodied. We actually
have a body made for our life in the spiritual world. It is not an airy, ghostlike
body, just "such stuff as dreams are made of," but a perfectly organized body
made of real substance.
Since people didn't realize that the spirit and the spiritual
body are made of substance, they began to believe that in a future resurrection
the bodiless spirit, something like a ghost, would go back into its physical
But a material body would be of no use in the spiritual world.
To live there, we need a body made of spiritual substance, just as we need a
body made of matter to live on earth. As Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth,
"There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. . . . Flesh and blood
cannot inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 15:44, 50) The spirit is
real, and the spiritual world is real--a world where we can enjoy a full, rich,
Our life on earth is a temporary but very important stage
of our existence. It is the prelude to an endless and uninterrupted life in
the spiritual world, which is our real home.
The Foundation Now Being Built
I said that our life on earth is a very important phase of
our endless existence. This statement needs emphasis.
We may be tempted to think that since we are going to live
forever, it is not very important what we do during our short stay on earth.
But actually, it is during our stay on earth that our personality is established
and our character formed. The inner character formed in the world is what develops
forever in the afterlife. While we are living in this world, the foundations
of our eternal existence are being laid.
We have to realize that death only gives us a clearer consciousness
of our spiritual surroundings. It has no power to change us in any way. It can't
change greed into unselfishness, or hate into kindness. In short, while we are
living in this world we are forming our future heaven or hell for ourselves.
If we are dominated by self-love and mere physical-mindedness,
we have hell inside of us, and in the future life we will go into situations
that reflect our inner state of mind. If we are inwardly motivated by love for
the Lord and the spirit of helpfulness to others, having kind feelings toward
everyone and following the divine teachings with love in everything we do, we
have heaven inside us, and in the future life we will come into heavenly situations.
The Need for Rebirth
But for us to achieve the good character that will bring
us into heavenly situations and give us eternal peace and happiness, we have
to be reborn. I don't have to remind you that the Lord strongly insisted upon
this kind of rebirth in his conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).
Without getting into the whys and wherefores, there is certainly
no question that we come into this world with a tendency toward selfishness
and the negative things that come with it. Now, far be it from me to say we
are born evil! Everyone is born with tendencies toward evil that have a way
of coming out into their actions. These tendencies are hereditary, just as tendencies
toward physical diseases are hereditary.
Even a baby is self assertive, and as the child grows up,
his egoism becomes stronger and needs to be kept in line all the time. If it
weren't for the discipline of life and the influence of the divine love and
wisdom holding us back, we would all break out into terrible crimes.
By physical birth we are creatures of heredity, and the children
of our natural parents. By spiritual rebirth, or regeneration, we become children
of God. We come into this world with the stamp of self. It is a good thing for
us if we leave it with the likeness of God, as spiritual members of his family.
In saying that children are born with innate tendencies toward
evil, I am considering the known facts of today. But this should not make us
think it was always that way. Originally people were born into good. God, who
is good itself, could not create evil.
But in creating the human being, he did not make a robot.
For a human being to be human, with spiritual freedom, he has to be able actually
to want the good he was made for. And to be able to want what is good, there
has to be another choice. Evil came into being through people making this other
choice. They turned away from willingly following God and gave in to the pull
of their senses. They asserted themselves so much that self began to rule them.
In this way, evil, which is disorder, came into the scheme
of things through people's turning away from God. And heredity has perpetuated
the tendency to disorder.
It could be said that in creating a free being, God had to
take the chance of his abusing that freedom. But it could also be said that
God foresaw this abuse and right from the beginning provided for dealing with
The provision he made is what is known in religion as regeneration
or rebirth--a spiritual process by which a person gets back into spiritual order.
From being dominated by self-love and materialistic thinking, he comes to love
God and mankind. It is by this rebirth that a person becomes spiritually the
image and likeness of God.
We know from history and personal experience that men and
women have become unselfish. People who used to be dominated by self-love and
by the desire for wealth and pleasure are now led by worthy motives and live
to honor the Lord in serving other people. In the old revivalistic days it would
be said that they'd been converted.
How can this kind of change in a person's whole life be possible?
How can a person with bad tendencies, who is living a selfish and immoral life,
be changed into a good person and a true follower of the Lord? This kind of
transformation is certainly the miracle of miracles!
How Rebirth Happens
A person's spiritual rebirth is brought about by the Lord
alone. The Divine Spirit works in unseen ways in the person and around him,
using every means available. It is said very truly that a person becomes a son
or daughter of God by spiritual rebirth, since his rebirth comes from what could
be called an impregnation by the Divine, and the constant watching over, or
providence, of the Divine.
The main influence in spiritual rebirth is the divine spirit,
or life, that a person is constantly receiving from the Lord. The life that
keeps him in existence physically also sustains him spiritually. It carries
inside of it a re-creative power that tends to bring us into harmony with itself.
It is a purposeful power, pressing into our inner being in the effort to rebuild
our character and make it a true and fitting manifestation of its activity.
It works quietly, respecting our freedom (we aren't conscious of it), and its
effect on us varies with our reaction to it.
Heredity and environment may be strong influences in the
determination of human character, but the biggest determining factor is the
ceaselessly active Spirit of the Lord.
There are other influences in our spiritual rebirth as well,
which the Divine Spirit takes hold of and uses. I said before that a person
is born with tendencies toward evil. These exist in his ego. But there are also
good tendencies in everyone. These are not from the ego, but from the Lord.
I am not talking about hereditary personality traits that
seem to be good. If you look at it closely, you will see that this kind of good
trait is motivated by the ego and made impure by self. It is just "natural goodness,"
and it needs to be purified by the process of rebirth. In fact, every inherited
trait needs to be refined before it can work in harmony with the divine purpose.
The ego can use good traits to achieve its own ends, and
it is only when the ego is mastered that we can be sure the good things we do
are genuine. There is nothing heavenly in good done for personal advantage and
with the view of getting something out of it. This is true whether we are going
after reward in this world or reward in the afterlife.
We have to learn to do good from a heavenly motive--to the
honor of the Lord, where everything good comes from. The Lord uses his own goodness
in us as a very powerful tool for our spiritual rebirth. Under its influence
our natural emotions are refined, rearranged, and brought into harmony with
the spirit of our regenerator. When the divine good comes into our desires,
it gives them a new direction and a new motivation. It removes the stain of
You should realize that all genuine goodness in any human
being is from the Lord, and is his. This realization comes to us with more and
more force as we move along in the process of rebirth.
There are other important influences that contribute to our
rebirth from above. They are good states of our emotions starting in infancy
and going right through to old age, which make us able to have a positive reaction
to divine influences.
Swedenborg describes these helpful states as "lasting impressions,"
meaning conditions deeply impressed on our nature. They are emotions that form
a holy remnant deep inside us and are called on and strengthened as our lives
These "lasting impressions" are described as "not just the
good and true things learned from childhood out of the Lord's Word and impressed
on the memory, but also all the states of being that come from this, such as
innocent times from infancy; times of love toward parents, brothers and sisters,
teachers and friends; times of kindness to other people, and also of pity for
poor and needy people; in a word, every experience of goodness and truth."
Swedenborg goes on to say--and his statement can be demonstrated
by observation--that "these lasting impressions are saved up in the person by
the Lord and stored in his inner self while he has no consciousness of it. They
are carefully separated from the things that belong to the person's ego, that
is, from evils and falsities" (Arcana Coelestia #561).
In another place Swedenborg says, "It is impossible for any
person to live, and especially to live as a human being, if he does not have
something alive inside of him, that is, unless he has at least some innocence,
kindness, and mercy, or something from them that is like them. The person receives
this share of innocence, kindness, and mercy from the Lord during infancy and
childhood. What the person receives then is saved up inside him. It is these
saved-up impressions that make a person capable of becoming a truly human being
when he reaches adulthood" (Arcana Coelestia #1050). We are also told
that while we are being reborn, we receive new "lasting impressions" in addition
to the ones kept from early life.
These "lasting impressions" that are "carefully separated
from the things that belong to the person's ego" form what is known in modern
psychological terminology as a "complex." They are arranged into a unified whole
that, under the divine eye, is valuable in our rebirth process. They are a very
powerful factor in our rebirth--one that is not usually recognized by psychologists.
One more influence helping in our rebirth is conscience.
Because of its obvious outward differences in different people, conscience is
not considered to be reliable in some quarters.
Conscience is formed outwardly by what we have been taught
is good and true. Because of this, it varies according to a person's upbringing
and culture. But its outer form is like a body that expresses a living spirit.
The inner spirit of conscience is made alive and given light by the Divine.
It is this spirit that gives us a sense of right and wrong by an inner voice,
and we experience qualms of conscience when we do something against that inner
Living according to conscience greatly helps our rebirth;
and as we develop, the outer form of conscience becomes more and more refined.
It is by devotedly learning what is actually good and true from the Word of
God, and living by it, that a true form of conscience is developed.
At this point it is good to summarize the things that help
in our rebirth. First, there is the divine activity that constantly influences
our inner being, working quietly and encouraging our free response. Of course,
this is the most powerful influence of all. Second, there is the goodness from
the Lord (not from heredity) in our inner self. Third, there are "lasting impressions,"
which are good emotional experiences carefully preserved. And fourth, there
is conscience, which must be formed outwardly by knowing what is actually good
and true from the Word if it is going to be the type of conscience that is most
helpful to our rebirth.
Of course, there are also factors that work against our spiritual
rebirth. Our natural egotism opposes the process of rebuilding our spiritual
character. Hereditary tendencies to evil fight it, and there are influences
in the world we live in that appeal to our evil tendencies and encourage us
to act on them.
For rebirth to happen, we have to cooperate with the forces
that help the process. This cooperation means avoiding anything that is wrong
because it is an offense against God. Wanting and doing what is wrong will get
in the way of our developing the way the Lord wants us to. It will make it difficult
to establish the principles of heaven in our hearts, minds, and lives.
You should realize that if this cooperation is going to have
any value in your spiritual development, it has to come from good motives. You
may avoid doing what is wrong for self-centered reasons, not honestly trying
to hide it from the people around you. You might be honest, or avoid lying,
because you want to look honest and keep a good reputation with your friends.
If that is your reason for being honest, then if all your fears of being found
out were taken away, your inner dishonesty would immediately show itself in
Swedenborg says, "If a person does not avoid wrongs as sins,
but only because they are harmful, he does not look to the Lord, but only to
himself, and so he stays in his degenerate state" (The Doctrine of Charity
#204 ) And in another place he says, "An evil person may avoid wrongs as hurtful,
but only a Christian can avoid them as sins" (The Doctrine of Life #111).
In short, our avoidance of wrongs should have a religious
motive. When evils in ourselves--such as selfishness, greediness for wealth,
and unkind thoughts and actions--are avoided as offenses against God, he can
give us the strength to overcome them. We can't overcome our faults without
letting the Lord into our lives. While we are expected to do this good work
as if we were doing it by ourselves--in fact, as if the outcome depended completely
on us--we should realize that our determination to avoid what is wrong is inspired
by God, and our actions are supported by him.
This highest act of cooperation with the Lord may seem to
be a negative thing, but it is not. There are teachers who insist that we become
good by ignoring faults and doing good things. But in actual fact, we can't
do any good that is really good until we act from a spiritual motive. And as
long as the evil of selfishness is solidly fixed in our motives, this spiritual
motive is absent. Only as we get rid of our faults can good qualities take their
place. Really, our determination to avoid doing wrong is an effect of good from
the Lord working in our deeper being. And that good replaces evil when the mind,
by actively changing its attitudes, is prepared to receive the good and give
Someone may argue that this cooperation with the Lord, which
is necessary for our spiritual rebirth, can hardly be possible with people who
have been influenced toward bad ways of living from the time they were born.
But it is a fact known from experience that we can use self-compulsion. Anybody
can make himself do what he does not want to do.
Some people think of this power of self-compulsion as residing
in a higher self that can take control of a lower self. Actually it comes from
the Lord and is evidence of the activity of his Spirit in our inner being. In
our determination to avoid wrongs we should recognize a divine motivation.
Rebirth is the great purpose of our existence, since we can
start a life that is really alive only by being reborn. The Lord has an overarching
purpose for creation that is no less than the building of a heavenly human society--in
this world as far as possible, and in its full expression in the eternal world.
This heavenly society has to be made of heavenly beings.
And for human beings to become heavenly they have to be reborn. We are born
into this world as the children of our natural parents. By rebirth we become
children of God, members of his family.
It is this great goal that gives meaning to human existence.
God has a purpose for us, and all the discipline of life is related to it. Our
experiences are watched over so that our heart of stone may become a heart of
flesh, and we may freely direct ourselves into the order of heaven.
This teaching does not imply the idea that when people are
reborn they all become the same--of one monotonous type. Everyone knows that
individual people are different, and as character develops, personality traits
become stronger. Some Eastern philosophies teach that the purpose of human existence
is mergence with the Divine. Obviously, this means losing any distinctive personality.
According to the teaching of the New Church, the closer a
person lives to God, the more intense is his individuality. The Spirit of the
Lord working in his soul brings out his distinctive characteristics, just as
the warm sunshine makes a seed planted in the ground germinate, grow, and produce
according to the specific type of plant it is.
As members of the family of God we are distinct individuals,
each adding the value of his personality to the common good. A heavenly society
is harmony in variety, and the unifying force is the love of good and the desire
to be of service to others. In the process of spiritual rebirth, individual
characteristics are not blotted out or silenced. They are saved from being used
badly, spiritually refined, and put to heavenly use.
To be merged with the Divine would be to become God, the
creature being lost in the Creator. If that were the end result of our labor,
we would have to give up the hope of our own immortality.
Reincarnation is Not Meant
You will realize from what I've said that according to the
New Church teaching, rebirth does not imply reincarnation. We are born on earth
just once. After our life on earth we continue as spiritual beings, with bodies
made of spiritual substance, in the spiritual world. There is no need for us
to return to the earth to gain further experience and undergo further discipline.
Everything necessary for our eternal well-being is provided in the eternal living
place of humanity.
The idea of reincarnation flourishes in the East, and has
invaded Western thought. Stated briefly, it says that the soul of a person now
living on earth is not a new creation. It may have existed here before in different
bodies and circumstances, and will probably exist here in many future incarnations.
According to the reincarnationist, a newborn baby is a reincarnation
of a soul that has had many incarnations, and between incarnate existences has
lived in a disembodied state in a nebulous astral realm. While it was in that
realm it supposedly assimilated past experience and developed characteristics
whose good or bad effects will appear in the next incarnation. In each incarnation
the bill is paid for past error, and reward is given for past good. The soul
must continue to be incarnated at intervals for a longer or shorter time until
it is purged of evil and no longer needs the discipline of earth.
As to its final destiny, there seems to be a difference of
opinion among teachers of the theory. Hindu reincarnationists, millions in number,
seem to hold that the soul finally finds Nirvana, which, as I understand it,
means mergence into the Divine. As we've already seen, this involves loss of
individuality. Others teach that individuality survives, but the form in which
it survives is mostly left to the imagination.
There are some reincarnationists who say that the end result
is not mergence with the Divine, but the attainment of a divine status in which,
to use my own term, the purified individual becomes a kind of demigod. With
the Buddhists this means the attainment of Buddha-hood. While for his own development
the purified individual needs no more incarnations, he may decide to take on
a body once more as a great world teacher.
It was probably a reincarnationist teaching that started
the idea that the Lord Jesus Christ would make a second personal advent in the
flesh, no longer to be despised and rejected by men, but to be accepted as a
great world leader. If this surmise is true, we can see that the teaching of
reincarnation is responsible for a serious misunderstanding that deceives millions
of Christians. We should not look forward to a new physical appearance of the
Man of Nazareth, but realize that now and always the kingdom of the Lord in
his Divine Humanity is spiritual. He is always with us spiritually in his Word,
and in the goodness and truth he puts into the human soul. The Lord's second
advent is spiritual, and a person sees it with his spiritual understanding,
not his physical eyes.
The theory of reincarnation implies the existence of a limited
number of souls. And if, as the Hindus believe, the end of the individual is
mergence in deity, unless by some device new souls are created, the human family
will gradually get less numerous until at last only deity exists.
Reincarnation in the New Testament
We know that the reincarnation theory penetrated Palestine
and had its advocates among the Apocalyptics who flourished around the time
of our Lord. Many Jewish thinkers adopted the theory, and it appears in the
Zohar. It was probably a person who favored reincarnation who asked Jesus the
question, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?"
(John 9:2). And the theory is reflected in the answer given to Jesus when he
asked, "Whom do people say that I am?" The disciples answered, "Some say Elijah,
others Jeremiah, and others one of the prophets" (Matthew 16:13, 14).
But nowhere in the Bible do we find a positive word that
approves the theory. We do not have to accept a teaching that is mentioned in
Scripture as being held by people with a speculative mindset. The Bible shows
that by a certain time the reincarnation theory had influenced popular thought.
It also shows that people once believed that the earth was a flat disk floating
on water. We do not have to believe either. The Word is not given to tell us
about ancient beliefs, but to show us spiritual and eternal truths about the
Lord, the way he provides for us, and his life in people's souls. Just because
there are shadows of reincarnation in the Bible does not prove that the theory
Reincarnationists claim that Jesus was a reincarnation of
a pre-existent Christ. But the New Testament indicates that he was God himself
accommodated to human understanding. Someone may bring against this statement
the philosophical doctrine of the Eternal Word, given in John's Gospel. All
I need to say is that the Word, or Logos, referred to there is the Eternal Wisdom,
Thought, or Mind of God that became personal and appeared as the Word made flesh.
It is claimed for reincarnation that it explains our present
experience and shows why we suffer or enjoy as we do. In suffering we are punished
for wrongdoing in a past incarnation. In present well-being we are rewarded
for bearing hardships.
The teaching implies that the poor must accept poverty and
look for compensation, not in this present existence, but in a future incarnation.
In fact, each incarnation is said to compensate for past ones. The rich man
of today may return a thousand years from now in the dress of poverty. Someone
who exploits others may return to earth and be exploited.
The law of retaliation has a prominent place in the theory.
Even if we are completely unaware of wrongs done in a former incarnation, we
will have to pay the bill. It seems to me that the payment can hardly be helpful
or reforming if we have no idea what it is for. It is more likely to bring on
bitterness and rebellion. In actual fact, we experience the consequences of
our actions in the present life, and our wrongs are not held against us if we
do not persist in them.
The rigid caste system in India is supported by the widely
accepted teaching of reincarnation. The person of low caste is told he must
be content with his lot. His present position is attributed to his behavior
in former incarnations, and he is taught that submission to an obviously bad
condition will lead to a better position in a future incarnation.
Social change is impossible under the tyranny of this kind
of belief. Indeed, the belief is fatalistic, and leads to tame resignation.
It overlooks the saving power of the Lord, which is always at work and can set
us free from the tyranny of circumstances if we cooperate with it.
Those who suggest that Christianity should adopt the teaching
of reincarnation must hardly realize that they are advocating an impossible
union. Christianity calls for change in the present, and newness of life here
and now. It is concerned with present issues, dealing with things as they are.
It does not evade the urgent call of the present in speculating about remote
Claims of Remembering Past Lives
Some reincarnationists say that they can remember past incarnations.
I believe two well known advocates of the theory have claimed to be re-embodiments
of Hypatia. Since both were living at the same time, at least one of them must
Sometimes, at times of day-dreaming or deep thought, we seem
to experience a sense of having lived in conditions that don't exist now, but
which are vivid to the mind for a moment. Reincarnationists take such experiences
as evidence for their theory.
But Swedenborg shows that they can have a completely different
explanation. He tells us that we are in unconscious association with spirits
who influence us in an inner way. On the communication of spirits with people
on earth, he says in his Heaven and Hell, #256:
Angels and spirits are not allowed to speak to a person
from their own memory; only from the person's memory. Spirits and angels
have a memory just as people do.
If a spirit talked to a person from his own memory, the
person would not know anything else but that all he thought then were his
own thoughts, when they were actually the spirit's. It is like remembering
things that the person never actually heard or saw. I have been shown by
experience that it is like this.
It was from this experience that some of the ancients
got the belief that after several thousand years they would return to their
former life, and to everything they did in it, and also that they had already
returned from before. They concluded this because they occasionally had
something like a memory of things that they had never seen or heard. This
happened because spirits flowed from their own memory into the ideas of
So according to Swedenborg, the claims of remembering past
lives are due to the projection of the memory of a spirit into the mind of a
person receptive to it. Each spirit has had his own life on earth, which the
person would "remember" quite clearly, believing it to be a buried memory of
one of his own past lives.
Determination of Character
Reincarnationists suggest, or insist, that compensation for
present experiences is given in future incarnations. In our returns to earth
we are rewarded for the good we have done and punished for our wrongs.
The New Church teaches that the consequences of good or bad
actions are immediate, not just in outward experience, but also in the deeper
level of their effect on our character. A single existence on earth is enough
to determine a person's character.
And the character developed here, not under compulsion but
in free response to the different inner and outer influences that bear upon
us, continues in the afterlife.
Seen from a spiritual standpoint, even if the situations
we are in here on earth seem far from ideal outwardly, they are all directed
by the divine providence so as to bring us into a state of heart and mind that
prepares us for our eternal service. It is not wealth or poverty, sickness or
health, high or low position, but character that counts. Not what we
have, but what we are.
Experience is stuff to try our strength on, and we should
take our circumstances as a way toward compassion. If we react with good spirit
to our present conditions, we gradually create new and better ones.
It is not necessary or desirable that we be forced to conform
to one type of personality. An individual is happy in the life of good that
he freely chooses; and if that good is not the highest, he can still enjoy it
as long as his actions do not hurt other people.
Just as in the human body there are organs that have higher,
middle, and lower functions, all of which are necessary for the health of the
whole, so in spiritual society there are different levels of people who are
happy and healthy in doing services that are all needed for the common good,
whatever their status is.
A Spiritual Interpretation Needed
The true spiritual seers of ancient times, like those of
all ages, have had a clear vision of the need for human rebirth, or spiritual
regeneration. And for lack of better language, they have always described it
in terms of ordinary birth.
Our Lord did this when he said, "Unless a person is born
again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). But as the rest of what
he said shows, he was speaking of spiritual rebirth, not physical rebirth.
It is only a grossly literalistic outlook that leads readers
of ancient Eastern Scriptures to find statements in favor of reincarnation in
them. In the Bhagavad-Gita there are frequent passages that describe spiritual
rebirth in physical terms. So we read, "We have been born many times, I and
thou, Arjuna." And again, "Those unhappy ones, who hate and are cruel, I cast
from one reincarnation to another."
Indeed, in a spiritual sense we are born many times in the
course of our labors. Without our taking particular notice, we are reborn every
time a new motivation takes over in our lives. We are a new person, a different
person, under the rule of new and vital interests. A changed person is a different
person, and when we see a definite mental or moral development in a friend we
even speak of him as a new person. Yet he is the same individual--the difference
comes from his new motivation and changed outlook.
Most mature people can look back over the years and notice
the changes that have been critical in causing a remade personality to emerge
in themselves. A person is spiritually reborn when, from being completely apathetic,
he becomes motivated by the love of truth. He is again reborn--becoming new--when
he lives according to the vision of that faith. And he is a new person once
more when love for the Lord and kind goodwill toward other people rule his outlook
and his life.
The rebirths referred to in the Bhagavad-Gita are spiritual,
not physical. The language used is figurative and should be interpreted in spiritual
terms, not literally. Rebirth, in these Scriptures, is a figure of speech. Anyone
who has a spiritual understanding sees in it a picture of the states of mind
and heart that we must pass through to reach true spirituality.
Rebirth From Above
In all that I have said, the rebirth mentioned is one that
means spiritual development. It is the rebirth taught by the Lord Jesus.
But we should realize that a person who rejects the divine
love and wisdom, deliberately choosing a way of selfishness and wrongdoing,
is reborn again and again in a descending scale. He goes from bad to worse;
and as new ideas of evil dominate him, he is shaped by them. His spiritual rebirths
are from below, not from above. They are the opposite of the ones that happen
in true rebirth.
The potential angel, through his own deliberate desire, becomes
an actual devil. He is a child of hell, one of the company of "those unhappy
ones who hate and are cruel," and he passes from birth to birth as malicious
loves dominate him one after another. But let me emphasize that those births
are changes in his state of mind, and do not produce reincarnations.
Reincarnationists, in my view, have done themselves and the
world an injustice by their literalistic and materialistic interpretation of
sacred writings that are actually speaking of spiritual realities.
And it seems that their literalism comes from failure to
see sound spiritual values and the reality of the spiritual world, and to an
unconscious but compelling materialism that demands physical satisfactions.
The aspiring soul does not ask to return after death to scenes
on the earth, but reaches out to the eternal world where it will enjoy the full
fruits of its labors. It does not ask for any reward there other than the fulfillment
of its being. It does not suffer any punishment arbitrarily meted out, but only
the painful reaction that comes after failure to serve a good and sacred purpose.
In the other world every person finds his own place where
he can truly be himself and find the fulfillment he needs. Even in this world,
with all its inequalities and imperfections, no one can corner happiness. Whatever
condition we find ourselves in, we can be fairly happy most of the time if we
will only decide to be.