THE SPIRITIST REVIEW - JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES - 1858

Allan Kardec

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Plurality of the existencesfirst article


From all doctrines professed by Spiritism the most controversial is undoubtedly that of reincarnation and the plurality of corporeal existences. Although this opinion is presently shared by a large number of people and that we have discussed it on several occasions, we consider our duty to examine it in more detail, given its extraordinary importance and to respond to several objections that were raised.

Before diving deep into the question we must make some observations that seem indispensable to us. The dogma of the reincarnation is not new to many people: it is resurrected from Pythagoras. We have never said that the Spiritist Doctrine is a modern invention. As a consequence of a natural law, Spiritism must have existed since the origin of times, and we always strive to demonstrate that its traces are found in the remotest antiquity. Pythagoras is not the author of the metempsychosis system, as well known. He has taken them from the Indian philosophers and the Egyptians, with whom it existed since immemorial times. Thus, the idea of the transmigration of the soul was a vulgar belief, admitted by the most eminent celebrities. Where has it come from? Has it come by revelation or intuition? We don’t know. Nevertheless, however it might have been, an idea doesn’t cross the ages and isn’t accepted by the highest intelligences if it does not have a serious side. Therefore, its ancient character is more of a proof than an objection. However, there is an important difference between the old doctrine of metempsychosis and the modern doctrine of reincarnation, as it is also known: the spirits absolutely reject the idea of transmigration of man’s soul to the animals and vice-versa.

No doubt, some contradictors say, you had such prior ideas and that is why the spirits agreed with your way of seeing things. This is a mistake that demonstrates, once more, the danger of hastily judgments, without proper examination. If, before passing judgment, those persons had their homework done and had studied what we have written about Spiritism, they would have spared themselves from the embarrassment of such a frivolous objection. We repeat what we have already said about it, that when we were taught the doctrine of the reincarnation by the spirits it was so far off from our thoughts that we had envisioned a completely different system about the antecedents of the soul. A system that is,in fact, shared by several people.

Regarding this subject the doctrine of the spirits has surprised us. We go further: it contradicted us, since it knocked our own ideas down. Hence, it is far from being a reflection of those ideas.

That is not all. We did not give in at the first clash. We fought back; defended our opinion; raised objections and only surrendered before the evidence and when we noticed the insufficiency of our system to solve all questions related to this issue.

To the eyes of some people the use of the word evidence may seem singular with such a subject; however it would not be improper to anyone used to analyze the spiritist phenomena. There are facts to the careful observer that, although not of absolutely material nature, they are not less truthful evidence, at least moral evidence.

This is not the place to explain those facts, only understandable through a continuous and perseverant study. Our objective was only to deny the idea that this theory is nothing but a translation of our thoughts.

We have still to make another refutation: that such a doctrine was not taught only to us; that it was vented in many places, in France as well as abroad: in Germany, in the Netherlands, in Russia, etc and all that even before the publication of the Spirits’ Book.

We shall add to that the fact that since we have devoted ourselves to Spiritism we have had communications from more than fifty mediums, writing, speaking, clairvoyants etc, more or less instructed; of normal, more or less limited intelligence; some completely illiterate hence totally alien to the philosophical subjects and yet in not a single case have the spirits contradicted themselves on that point. The same applies to all circles that we are familiar with and that profess such a principle. We know that this argument is not irrefutable thus we shall not insist on anything else but the reasoning.

We will examine the question from another point of view, abstracting from any intervention of the spirits, who we will keep aside for the time being. Suppose that this theory has nothing to do with them; that we have never even considered the existence of the spirits. Thus let us momentarily position ourselves on neutral grounds, admitting the same degree of likelihood to either one of the hypotheses, that is the unity and the plurality of the corporeal existences, and let us see where our reason and own interest fall.

Some people reject the idea of reincarnation by the simple fact of inconvenience. They say that a single existence is enough and that they do not wish to restart another one. We even know some to whom the idea of reappearing on Earth infuriates them. The question is if God has taken their advice or consulted with them before creating the Universe. Well, it is one out of two possibilities: there is or there isn’t reincarnation. If there is they will be upset but will have to submit to that, as God has not asked for their permission. We can even hear an ailing person saying: “I have suffered a lot for the day. I want no more suffering tomorrow.” Irrespective of their mood they will not suffer less tomorrow or the day after until they are healed.

Therefore, if they have to be physically reborn they will be; they will reincarnate. There is no point in revolting like a child does, not wanting to go to school or like a person who has been sentenced that does not wish to go to prison: they will have to go. Such puerile objections do not deserve serious examination. We say, however, that the Spiritist Doctrine is not as terrible about reincarnation as they may think and had they seriously studied it they would not be so much terrified. They would know that the conditions of a new existence depend on oneself; that one will be happy or unhappy according to what one had done here on Earth; and that they can elevate so much since this existence that they should not fear a setback into the marshland.

We assume here to be talking to individuals that believe in a future after death and not to those who have the perspective of nothingness or wish to dive their souls into a universal wholeness, with no individuality, like the drop of rain into the ocean that is practically the same thing. Then, if you believe in any future, you will certainly believe that it will not be the same for everyone, otherwise what would be the utility of goodness? Why constrain oneself? Why not give rise to all passions, all desires, even if to the detriment of others, if none of that would have any meaning at all?

Do you believe that such a future will be more or less fortunate according to our deeds during this life? Do you then long for a happy as possible future, since it is for eternity? However, do you by any means have the presumption to be the most perfect person that has ever lived on Earth and thus having the right to supreme happiness of the elected ones? No. You then admit that there are persons that are more worthy then you and that have the right to a better place than you, without you being condemned for that.

Well then, place yourself, through your thoughts, in the median situation, considering that you have agreed with that, and suppose that someone tells you:

  • - You suffer; you are not as happy as you could be; however, you have before your eyes beings that enjoy the purest happiness. Would you like to change place with them?

  • - No doubt! - You will answer. What do we have to do?

  • - Nothing else than restart doing right what you did wrong, striving to be better.

- Would you have any doubts to accept it, even if to the expenses of several trials like existences?

Let us make a more prosaic comparison. If a man who lives in deprivation, although not in absolute misery, as a consequence of his faults, were told: “Here, there is an immense fortune; you can have it but you have to work very hard for one minute.” Even if that were the laziest person on Earth he would unhesitantly say: “Let me work one minute, two, one hour, one day if needed. What is that if my whole life is going to end up in abundance?”

Well, what is the corporeal life in presence of eternity? It is less than a minute, less than a second.

We have heard the following reasoning: How can God, who is sovereignly good, force man to restart a series of miseries and tribulations? Would God find more benevolence in the condemnation of a man to a perpetual suffering as a consequence of a few moments of error than to provide him with the means of repairing his own faults?

“Two factory owners had each an employee who could aspire to become partner. As it happened one day those workers did not do their duties and deserved to lose their jobs. One employer fired his worker out right, despite his supplication. He died in misery, as he could not find another job. The other employer told his worker: You lost one day and owe me one, in compensation; by badly executing your duties you owe me amends. I allow you to restart. Go and do well and I shall keep you, and you can always aspire the superior position that I promised you.”
Is it still necessary to ask which one of the two owners was more humane? Would God, who is the clemency Himself, be more inexorable than that man? The thought that our fate is forever determined by a few years of trial, when reaching perfection on Earth has not always depended on us, has something of pungent, whereas the contrary idea is eminently consoling, for it gives us hope. Thus, without pronouncing in favor or against the plurality of the existences; without showing preference for one hypothesis or the other, we shall say that had we been given the choice, nobody would prefer a trial without an appeal. A philosopher has said that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him for the happiness of human kind. The same could be said about the plurality of the existences. However, as we mentioned, God does not ask us for permission; does not consult our taste. It is or it isn’t. Let us see on which side the probabilities fall and let us face the problem from another point of view, always making abstraction of the teachings of the spirits, considering it as a philosophical study only. It is obvious that without reincarnation there is only one corporeal existence. If our current existence is the only one, each soul is created at birth, unless its preexistence is admitted. In such a case, one has to ask what the soul was before and if that state did not constitute an existence, in some way. There is no middle ground: Either the soul did exist or did not exist before the body. If it existed, what was its situation? Was it aware of its own existence? If not aware, it is as if it did not exist. If aware, the individuality was progressive or stationary? In either case what was its level on reaching the body? Admitting, according to the vulgar belief, that the soul is created with the body or, which is the same, that before its incarnation it only had negative faculties, we raise the following questions:

  1. Why does the soul show so diverse aptitudes and independent from the ideas acquired by education?
  2. Where does the supernormal aptitudes towards Science and Art, in children of early age come from, while others remain mediocre or inferior their whole life?
  3. Where do the innate ideas, which some present and others don’t, come from?
  4. Where do premature instincts of vices or virtues; innate feelings of dignity or inferiority, in certain children come from, contrasting with the environment where they were born?
  5. Abstraction made of education, why certain men are so more advanced than others?
  6. Why are there savages and civilized men? If you take a tribal man in his diapers and educate him in the best colleges, will you turn him into a Laplace or Newton?

We ask what is the philosophy or theosophy that can resolve such problems. Either the souls are equal at birth or they are not, no doubt. If they are equal why do they show such diverse aptitudes? Some will say that it depends on the organism. But this will then be the most monstrous and immoral of all doctrines. Man would be nothing but a machine and a little toy of matter; would not have the responsibility for his acts; he could attribute everything to his physical imperfections. If they are unequal it is because God so created them. But then why is such an innate superiority given to some? Would that partiality be in accordance with God’s justice and to the love that He equally dedicates to all his creatures?
Let us admit, on the contrary, a series of previous progressive existences and it will all be explained. Since birth, men bring the intuition of what they have acquired. They are more or less advanced, pending on the number of experienced existences and how far they are from the starting point. Absolutely like a congregation of people of all ages, each will show a development that is proportional to the number of years that they have lived. The successive existences will be to the life of the soul what the years are to the life of the body.

Assemble one-day individuals from one to eighty years old. Suppose that a veil is cast over their pasts and that, out of your ignorance, you think they were all born on the same day. You shall naturally ask how come some are big and others tiny, some old and others young, some instructed and others ignorant. However, once the cloud that hides their past is withdrawn and you realize that some lived more than others, all will be explained.

In His fairness, God could not have created some souls that are more perfect than others; however, with the plurality of the existences, the inequalities that we observe will contain nothing contrary to the most rigorous justice. We see only the present and not the past. Will such an argument rest on a gratuitous system or supposition? No. We start from a patent and incontestable fact: the inequality of aptitudes and of the moral and intellectual development, fact that we find inexplicable in every existing theory, whereas its explanation is simple, natural and logic by this theory. Is it natural to prefer those that do not explain to the one that does explain?

With respect to the sixth question above some may argue that the tribal man comes from an inferior race. We then ask if he is a man or not? If he is then why has God disinherited him and his race from the privileges given to the Caucasian race? If he is not a man why are we trying to turn him into a Christian? The Spiritist Doctrine is broader than all that. To that Doctrine there isn’t such a thing as different species of men; there are simply man whose spirit is more or less advanced, susceptible however to progress. Wouldn’t that be in more agreement with God’s justice?

We have just seen the soul in its past and its present. If we consider the soul in its future, we will find the same difficulties.

  1. If our future is uniquely decided by our present existence, what is going to be the position of a savage as compared to a civilized man? Will they be on the same level or far apart in the summation of all eternal happiness?
  2. A man that has strived his whole life to become better shall be on the same level as the other who remained inferior not for his fault but because he did not have time neither the conditions to improve?
  3. A man who has done evil deeds because he did not have the possibility to enlighten himself is subjected to circumstances that did not depend on him?
  4. Despite the efforts to instruct, moralize and civilize men, to each one that is enlightened there are millions that daily disappear before the light gets to them. What is their destiny? Are they treated as outcasts? If not, what have they done to deserve the same level as the others?
  5. What shall be the fate of the children that die at an early age, before they are able to do the good or evil deeds? If they find themselves among the elected ones, why such a favor, as they have not done anything to deserve that? Based on which privilege have they been released from life’s tribulations?

Is there a doctrine that can solve those questions? Admit the successive existences and everything shall be explained in conformity to God’s justice. What cannot be done in one existence will be done in the next. Thus, nobody will escape the law of progress and everyone will be compensated according to their real merit and nobody will be excluded from the supreme happiness, that all can aspire, whatever the obstacles found in their routes.

Those questions could be multiplied to infinity as the moral and psychological problems whose solution is found in the plurality of the existences are countless. We limited to the more general ones. Nevertheless some will perhaps say that the Church does not accept the doctrine of reincarnation; that it would be the end of religion. Our objective is not to handle such a subject at this point: it is enough to have demonstrated that that doctrine is eminently moral and rational. Later we will demonstrate that religion is closer to that than thought and that it would not suffer with this doctrine more that it had done with the discovery of the movements and geological periods of Earth that, at first sight, seemed to deny the sacred texts. The teaching of the spirits is eminently Christian. It is based on the immortality of the soul, on the future penalties and awards, on man’s free-will and on Christ’s moral. Thus, it is not anti-religious.

As we have said, the proposed reasoning was developed abstracting from the whole teaching of the spirits that, for some people, have no authority. If we have adopted, as many others have, the opinion of the plurality of the existences, it was not because it came from the spirits to us, but because it seemed the more logical and the only one capable of resolving problems hitherto unsolvable.

Had it come from a simple mortal and we would have adopted it, not hesitating to renounce to our own ideas. Since an error has been demonstrated the self-esteem has more to lose than to gain with the stubborn persistence on a false idea.

Accordingly, we would have repelled it, even if coming from the spirits, had it sounded contrary to reason, as we have proceeded with many others, for we know from experience that one should not blindly accept everything that come from them, or even from men.

We now have to examine the issue of the plurality of the existences from the point of view of the teaching of the spirits; how should we understand it and, finally, respond to the most serious objections that may be raised against it. This is what we shall do in a next article.

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