Copyright © 1996 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
Theosophy teaches that man, being divine in essence, is immortal — that he lives on and on. This doctrine is wonderfully beautiful and is common sense. It is quite impossible for one who thinks deeply on the subject to settle down and be satisfied with one short life. Those who have the highest aspirations, the grandest hopes, and the largest plans never can fulfill them in one lifetime. If humanity is, as we believe ourselves to be, the highest expression of creative life on the earth-plane, what limitations are put upon man by the idea of just one existence. What an insult is such a conception to his spiritual dignity, to confine him to one life on earth for the realization of all his aspirations, his hopes, his yearnings, and the splendor of his inner character, which may not be known at all in the outer sense. Man cannot find the justice of life if he is confined to one existence on earth.
Reincarnation is built upon a larger and more optimistic view of life than the Western world is accustomed to. It teaches that man is essentially divine and therefore sacred, that while the body is mortal, living on this earth and then dying, the spiritual soul is immortal — it does not die. With this conception man expects more of the higher majestic laws of being which govern our lives. With this new view of existence, the man or woman who is nearing the time when he or she is about to be separated from this earth for a time is to be envied. Why? Because the body, the physical garment, is worn out and is to be thrown aside. It is of the earth, earthy, while the spiritual soul is a part of the divine life which we cannot control but which we may understand to a degree, if we will, and which cares for us.
One of the most beautiful subjects to consider is the explanation of death. You know it in your soul, when once you grasp it, that death means life, liberation, advancement, progress, and another chance. I cannot conceive how anybody can be timid or fearful or regretful about coming back to earth again. Of course, I have met some really splendid people who rebel against the idea of reincarnation because they imagine that they will come back to the same old locality as before, and have the same old aches and trials and disappointments, and have no larger vision than before. But such a conception is absurd. We have no right to say what the world will have in store for us, but of this we may be sure: it will give us our due because nothing in the great universal economy is lost, nothing can be lost.
So that which the immortal man fails to achieve in this life, he has the opportunity of reaching in another existence. We always have another chance. There is great significance in those two words when applied to one's own life, and more particularly when applied to some poor unfortunate fellow about to be hanged. The idea of another chance, considered from a theosophical standpoint, is of great importance. In my experience with prisoners, extending over thirty years, I have found that the assurance of another chance — given to a prisoner with a friendly smile of sympathy that will prove one is not working in jail from curiosity or for questioning, but rather to do something helpful — will do more for that prisoner than all the preaching in the world. One must give him time to think it out. Then comes the questioning: What does it mean? And then the book of revelations of theosophy is open, if the one who gives that message does it intelligently. It gives hope, it gives understanding, it gives a definition of life, it gives to the man who has committed a crime a clear explanation of the fact that he possesses a higher and a lower nature.
I suppose that all of you, in your moods or notions or whims or experiences, must have sometimes found in your own lives many things that you were not overproud of — perhaps many thoughts only, or perhaps some acts, that were not creditable. But when you thought more deeply, the better things would come to you — your higher natures would assume command again. So in considering the unfortunates who have drifted off the path, let us remember that we too might have drifted — and might be drifting now — as they did, if we had had no better opportunities than they. We cannot know what the prenatal or hereditary conditions were in these I speak of. We know very little about their parents. We do not know what the fathers and mothers taught them, or failed to teach them.
So the man who is about to be hanged — what has he had to depend on? Can you not see that somewhere along the road he has lost faith: probably first in himself, then in his neighbors, then in humanity, and finally in the divine? And then he commits some offense which brings him within the reach of the law and he must be punished. And if his offense has been murder, the only way men know how to punish him is to kill him! This we will not have: we won't listen to it without protest, we won't tolerate it. It is barbarity, it is murder legalized by man-made laws which are against the divine laws. It is an outrage to all the finer and better qualities of human nature, no matter how low the offender had fallen. We do not know what the causes were that led him astray.
This does not mean that we should extend our mercy so far that we will excuse him or place him in a position where he can repeat his crime. But we should all recognize that that man, being a part of the divine scheme of life just as we all are, possesses at least a spark of the divine in him. There is something sacred in him in spite of his degradation and sin and the horror of his offense. We cannot recall to life the one he may have slain, but we can at least open the way for the offender to find his own soul so that he may recover himself before he is launched out into another life. All that it requires is the spirit of mercy, of true brotherhood. And no matter how much we may differ, or how many horrible and dreadful things we may see in the records of those who have erred, we must cultivate the spirit that Jesus taught. If there were no other reasons for abolishing the death penalty, we ought to remember his words: first, that ye love one another; and second, thou shalt not kill.
In considering this question of the death penalty, one has to meet not only the law of the land but the men who administer that law. It is not possible for us to think for a moment that any judge would wish to impose a sentence of death on a fellow man. I have no question that many people think that every governor who refuses to raise his hand or his voice to give a man who is condemned to death another chance does so from choice. Of course he has the power to do it or to refuse to do it, and the legal right to do it or to refuse to do it. And if he refuses a pardon because he has had so much ingrained in his mind the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we are at an extremely dangerous point, where we can label such conduct as man's inhumanity to man. For did not the Teacher declare that we must "love one another"? Those simple words need no amplification.
The only way you can reach the point of seeing it as I do is for it to strike your own children. If it touches your own hearts that is when it sets you to thinking. Then you can move into a proper atmosphere for realizing the awful injustice that is done by war, and also the awful injustice that is done by capital punishment.
How does our life come to us? Does it not come out of the eternity of spiritual things — out of the majesty of the higher law? It comes to us with a power that we can neither explain nor control, according to that divine law. And so life should go, when the body is tired and worn out, when the physical has done its part. Then the spiritual soul seeks the liberty that it should have. But to launch a life out of existence by the hand of man is an interference with this divine law. It is the result of man's inhumanity to man, it is a part of the insanity of the age, it is the lack of brotherhood — it is fiendish and it is barbaric. No matter how bad the man we speak of has been, we have no right to take his life. How much more liberal, how much more in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ, how much more grand and godlike it is to show mercy.
Can you not conceive how one who has been condemned hates humanity? He hates everything that has crossed his life because he has been deprived of some of the essential things he should have had. And because we have had them, we stand and pass judgment on him; whereas if he had had the same chances that we have had, perhaps he would never have been where he is. One cannot think along these lines very long and let one's heart warm towards the subject, without reaching one's higher nature, the spiritual part of oneself, that really demands that nobler justice may be done.
But it is not for us to condemn even him who condemns the unfortunate to death, because he does not know any better. For he has been taught the doctrine of centuries in the Occident that we are born in sin, that there is a damnation, a curse on us, from the time we breathe as little innocent children. Oh, how pained I am to think that anyone will talk of the all-loving God, the all-powerful, omnipresent One who is ever guiding our lives, and then imagine that it could make such a law for its children. Of course, theosophists do not accept that man is born in sin. But they accept the teaching that we have lived before, that we are imperfect, and that as we live, so we receive in return; that if we have lost opportunities, understanding them and knowing them, we must make them up. There is compensation everywhere. Eternal justice will not permit any overdoing on one side or the other.
I do not know how many read the criminal statistics and how many realize, in our great "civilization" of today, what monstrous and almost unbelievable reports we have of crime and of the so-called correction of crime. Our newspapers are teeming with them. It is pitiful that the newspapers print the stuff. It is poisonous in its psychological influence on the young — indeed, on all minds — and this evil is constantly increasing. We have new forms of crime, more fiendish, worse than ever before, showing man often as seemingly only a brute. But the worse he is, the more he has my pity, because I always ask myself: What brought him to that condition? What were the influences that fashioned his life? What knowledge did his parents give him — in fact, what knowledge did they have to give him? Within the last few days we have been reading of several very young men who were put out of physical existence by the noose. That was to "square the account" — an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The situation has become something monstrously dangerous and terrible.
Have you ever stopped to think of the psychological influence of the public reports of these crimes and hangings? A young boy or girl, possibly with good, loving parents, sits down and reads of the crime of legal murder, of the legal destroying of human life by the state. They notice that papa and mama take their breakfast just the same, read the paper and show no distress at all, and so they too read the papers and become callous. After a while something happens to them because, let me tell you, the soul of man must have the best in its environment, it must have the light of truth and the consciousness of its own essential divinity that it may stand and live and become. We cannot give our children this soul-freedom if we allow them to be brought up under the psychology of the appalling spiritual ignorance of the age.
True, we have great institutions, we have high schemes of education, science is making great strides on many lines. But show me the evidence that men are growing better, that families are becoming more united, that the youth are maintaining their virtue and fulfilling the promises of babyhood and childhood. Such evidence is nowhere to be found. A good man — noble, courageous, and true — is a rarity nowadays.
But, on the other hand, that the race is still standing on its feet at all, not dismayed, not horrified, not completely thrown down and rushed into the insanity of the age is proof enough for me of the essential divinity of human nature. This innate divinity will continue to sustain us if we will turn towards it and permit it to do so. Of course, if we turn away from the sun, we might say that it did not exist. And so, if we turn away from our own essential divinity, it does not exist in our consciousness.
This morning, when I saw the beauties of nature, felt its touch of kindness and quiet, everything seemed to be telling me of the finer things of life. Then I thought of the youth of the present time and of their shadowy future. What example do we give to the youth today? What do we give them that is so vivifying, so engaging, so convincing, and so powerful that it lifts them above the psychology of the age? Physical and mental ability are not enough. There must be something behind these, and that something is the spiritual soul of man that must speak. It is the soul of our reformers, the soul of our teachers, the soul of the parents that must save the situation that confronts us today.
No matter how many laws are made, no matter how many systems are introduced, no matter how many sermons are preached or articles written, our boys and girls and young men and women are going to the dogs as never before in the history of modern times. You, who have had some experience, compare the youth of the present time with the youth of even forty or fifty years ago — and that was by no means the best type! Even then there was pitiful ignorance, there was the psychology of centuries of false teaching, and though you might not admit it, there was on your minds the blearing and marring influence of the dogma that we were born in sin.
In taking up this study of the death penalty, let me first remind you that those who are sent to prison, and those who are hanged, were children once — mother's children — and not so very long ago, either! But they drifted and, let me talk plainly, we have let them drift. I say this not in the spirit of blame for anyone, but the fact is we have let them drift away from their moorings, from their soul-opportunities, from the sacredness of the home, and from the sacredness of the divine laws. Yes, we have let them drift, and they continue to drift.
A few years ago we read occasionally about a murder or a hanging. Now our papers are full of them, sometimes two or three in one day in one state. The picture is black and discouraging. Splendid men in some of our states have worked until they have succeeded in abolishing the death penalty, and their reports show that there is no more crime in their states than in others where this relic of barbarism still persists. If we are to do away with capital punishment in our own state, we must throw all our force, our minds, our hearts, our energy, and our speech against it.
Many a young boy has never known of crime and has no intention of doing any evil, yet does not know the difference between his impulses and his intuitions; and under the influence of bad company or of strong temptation, he makes his first mistake. What is it that makes the boy go wrong? It is the unspiritual and deadening influence of the psychology of the age that is sweeping all over the world.
Many of our systems of education are good as far as they go, but they are too negative. They have no spiritual basis to work on. They do not understand the laws that govern man's life. And no father can tell his son or his daughter anything about those laws if he has never been taught them himself, even though he may have had a superb education, hold a prominent position in life, be good in heart, and desire the best for his children. But he cannot grasp those laws if he knows nothing about them. Let him realize that there is no possibility of a change for the better until man finds himself. He must take a new pride in himself and his own spiritual dignity. Let him say to himself. "I may not fully believe it yet, but I will see how I feel for few days, trying to believe that I am divine in essence, that I have the power of self-control and can gain many victories over myself even in one life. I have no time to think about old age and loss of money or anything else."
Men must of course give a large portion of their time to the bread-and-butter question. But when they see that they are still under the sweeping influence of the world's psychology, that crime is increasing, that the children are going to the dogs fast, and that human life is threatened, they must look for a panacea. A man may do just as nearly right as he can, the best he knows, but if he knows that within the depths of his own soul there is vast knowledge for him, if he thinks again and again of the possibility of realizing his essential divinity, before you know it he has imbibed some of that undying, eternal, ever-breathing force that is right at hand if he will only reach it. And when he reaches it, it brings him to a place of surety from which he can work.
A question was put to me two or three years ago in Berlin by a great scientist, which was in substance as follows: "If, as you say, all are God's children and under His protective power, how is it that we have these awful catastrophes, disasters, floods, and so forth, where so many lives are lost?"
I said that is very easily answered. In the olden days, those people who had the larger knowledge of these inner teachings did not make the mistakes that we make. When a man selected the place where he was going to live, never was such a thing heard of as his depending on his brain merely in order to decide where he would go or not. So, today, if he applied the ancient wisdom to his life, he will know more or less clearly where he should go. No matter how great the inducement of money and opportunity, he would not go to an unsafe place; and if he believes in his essential divinity and does justice to his inner life, he will have this consciousness that I speak of, that will warn him where not to go.
This is not farfetched at all; it is right within your grasp. You can know what will come to pass. If these people that we speak of had had their intuition awakened, they would not have gone to those places. And when the catastrophe happens, are we going to blame God for it? Why not accept the fact that the divine laws are immutable and that it is for us to accept them and apply them, but that we cannot twist them to our intentions? We must meet them halfway, and if we meet them halfway we get a response in our natures, in our souls. We get an explanation of many things that otherwise we cannot answer.
We do not know all the definiteness of these laws any more than a mother knows about her little prenatal baby. Do you suppose that she could tell you anything about the mystery of the processes that govern the development of that body in her body? No, she could not do it. One must keep thinking and thinking! One of the great secrets of the ancients is: think, and think, and then think again, and then hesitate to speak or decide. And then think still again, and if your mind is receptive, if you are ready for the truth, if you are seeking it, light will then be yours and you will progress surely.
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