Reincarnation, Karma and Past Lives
by Benjamin Creme

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Summary: Esotericist Benjamin Creme discusses the Laws of Karma and Rebirth and the need for right relationship in order for humans to move forward in the cycle of evolution. First printed in Share International magazine.

     I suppose in the world, today, there are really three approaches to the idea of reincarnation. A two-fold one in the West, where the idea itself is almost non-existent: either a belief in the transmigration of souls that you could be a human being in one life and an animal in the next, and therefore that there is great danger in swiping flies and treading on ants because it could be your grandmother -- or simply an interest in past lives. That is almost the sole interest in the concept of rebirth in the West.

     In the East, broadly speaking, people do believe in reincarnation and, correctly, in relation to the Law of Karma. Unfortunately, even in the East, the Law of Karma is seen from an erroneous point of view. Of course, here and there, both in East and West, there is a correct interpretation and approach to the idea of rebirth, and its close connection with the Law of Action and Reaction, Cause and Effect.

     In the Orient, most people believing in the Law of Karma accept that they are who and where they are because of their actions in a previous life, which is true; but, unfortunately, they think they can do nothing about changing their particular situation, which is not true. In the West, we tend to think that we are totally in control of our destiny, which we are to some extent, but that there is no greater law governing our destiny, which is not true.

     The Westerner tends to reject the idea of a future life. It is an idea which is only just beginning to engage people's minds. If he thinks about it at all, he really thinks about it in terms of: If I have a future life, I must have had a past life; and if I had a past life it is interesting to know who I was. The popular literature in the West about reincarnation is almost exclusively about previous existences.

     There are now many techniques, authentic or otherwise, advertised and used to take people back into an experience of their past lives: hypnosis, rebirthing, and so on. Of course, there is also much serious research on the subject going on in several countries. The work of Professor Ian Stevenson and others is adding much evidence pointing to the likelihood of the fact of reincarnation.

The Danger of Knowing our Past Lives

     Is it of value to know our past lives? After a certain point: yes. Before that point, not only is it not of major value, it can actually be dangerous. There is a little-known law that when we become truly aware of our past life we enter into the karma of that time. Most of us have a heavy enough load of karma to deal with in this life without an unnecessary load from some previous one, which happily we are not yet called upon to resolve.

     And it is irresponsible for so-called clairvoyants to tell people about their past lives; even if they are correct. Particularly if they are correct! If they are wrong, people will still create thoughtforms around that incorrect image of themselves. That makes for glamour, illusion. If they are right, the people involved become subject to the karma for which they may not yet be prepared. There are occasions, in certain illnesses of a mental nature, which cannot be handled in any other way, in which it may be useful to go back to a previous life. These are relatively few, and the way is through hypnosis.

     The whole subject is fraught with danger and complexity. When our past lives enter spontaneously into our consciousness, they will do so under law. The more important thing is to know that every moment we are making karma, we are creating our next life right now.

     Needless to say, you will always find clairvoyants, channels and sensitives who are only too happy, for a price, to look into your past and to tell you about your previous lives. But how do you know if they are right or wrong? In what possible way can you verify what they may tell you? It is better for you to keep your money. If you are told that in a previous life you were important and powerful (it is usually some king, queen, priestess), a priestess in Egypt, say, how can you prove this? And are you, today, at least the equivalent in importance, influence and power in the world, contributing something original and creative to life?

Memories are Not Infallible

     It is also the easiest thing in the world to be mistaken in our own memories. Let me illustrate with an instance from my own experience which rose in my consciousness during a profound meditation lasting about five hours. I saw myself (it did not look like me now, but I recognized myself nevertheless) as a minister of religion during religious persecutions somewhere in Europe around the 1650's.

     My church looked on to a square. I stood on the steps outside the church listening to the shrieks and cries of pain and terror. I knew what it meant: the protestants were being set upon by the soldiery and put to the sword. From a road at one corner of the square the people came running, screaming, chased by the soldiers. Diagonally across the square and into the church they ran, seeking sanctuary. I stood in the church entrance, a very tall, broad figure in a long black cassock, urging the terrified people into the church. The soldiers came up the steps, stabbing and laying about them with their swords. I was not at all afraid, but held my arms out sideways to block their passage. I said,"This is my holy place." To my surprise, they were not the least impressed, and one ran me through with his sword. I can see it vividly now: this tall, broadly built man and the sword through his chest. I fell and can still clearly feel the sensation of the hard, cold stone on my cheek as I lay dying on the steps of my church.

     For years I believed I had remembered in total clarity, like a film, my last minutes of a previous life, and it was not until about ten years ago that I learned from my Master that the experience was real, had happened, but not to me. It was nothing to do with me; I had never lived near that town or been the minister in the black cassock.

     It was a clairvoyant experience of the death of someone closely related to me on the soul plane. So how do you know what you are picking up? How can you be sure?

Fatalism is Not the Correct Approach

     Fatalistic Eastern people have a different point of view. They are not so worried about who they were in their past life. They believe that if they are poor, hungry, miserable, indebted to the landlord, with hardly enough to feed their family, they were someone really terrible before. They believe it is the Law of Karma because they were so bad, nasty, horrible, such low-grade human beings in their past life, they deserve the misery they are in now.

     They believe that; it is the teaching. And they believe, because it is the Law of Karma, that there is nothing they can do about it. They accept it totally, fatalistically, as their due according to the law. And they also believe that if they accept their lot meekly and try to be good they will be rewarded with a life of higher status next time around. If there is anything which has kept the Orient down, in terms of its living standards, its social happiness, social democracy and equality, it is the acceptance of the Law of Karma on that basis.

     There is nothing to prevent the untouchables of India from transforming their lives except the acceptance that their untouchability is due to their misdeeds in former lives. So, some kind of balance has to be reached, both from the Eastern and the Western viewpoints, in the approach to these two great laws: the Law of Karma, Cause and Effect, and the Law of Rebirth, its corollary.

The Law of Cause and Effect, Karma

     This is the basic law governing our existence in this solar system and is the outcome of the action of the energy of the alter ego of our solar system, the constellation Sirius. Just as our personalities are acting out, more or less well, the intentions of ourselves as souls, so this solar system acts under the intentions of Sirius as its soul. To put it more succinctly, the relationship between Sirius and this solar system is the same as the relationship between our soul and its reflection, the personality.

     Every thought, every action that we have and make sets into motion a cause. These causes have their effects. These effects make our lives, for good or ill. We are now, have been, and will go on, making our lives from moment to moment. Sooner or later, the causes set into motion by our thoughts and actions will produce effects which will rebound on us; and we will experience that as good karma or bad karma.

     When it is uncomfortable we call it bad karma. And when it is good karma, when life is comfortable, easy, we do not notice it. We take it as our right, our due, because that is what we expect life to be like. People really only talk about karma when they mean bad karma. It is important to realize and remember that we have more good karma than bad karma.

Lords of Karma

     Like all laws, the Law of Karma is under the control, the jurisdiction, of certain entities -- in this case, the Lords of Karma. The Lords of Karma are like cosmic judges. They look at this action and reaction of causes and effects which we set in motion, and they regulate this according to our needs as evolving souls. It is always the soul which incarnates, in every entity, human or sub-human. Our souls incarnate in a personality with a given structure of energies, rays, which relate to the karma and the possibilities of that particular incarnation.

     The souls co-operate with the Lords of Karma to decide what pain or pleasure we will suffer in any particular life. That, of course, is precisely the wrong way to describe what happens. The soul is not at all interested, nor are the Lords of Karma, in our pleasure or our suffering. These are simply psychological reactions to events.

     What they are interested in is the working out of the Law, the cosmic Law of Cause and Effect. Also, the soul has its own purposes for every given incarnation. It provides itself with a vehicle, the personality, with mental, emotional and physical bodies which will provide the possibility for its intentions being achieved in that particular life. That purpose might not be achieved, but the soul provides the possibility. The soul lives ever in hope!

     The ultimate aim is to live life in such a way that we make no personal karma. We can do that either by being perfect or being dead. Since being perfect is much more interesting than being dead, most people accept the premise of trying, more or less, to achieve the soul's purpose and staying to the last possible moment to do so. Thus, we work with this burden which we have ourselves created in the present and in past lives.

     We try, consciously or unconsciously, to become perfect. We have no control over the events of life. The only thing we can control is our reaction to these events. So the aim is to achieve such a measure of detachment from events that we can control ourselves. In this way we cope with the burden of karma in any given incarnation. This is not a case of sitting in a catatonic stupor, so that we do nothing and therefore create no karma.

     What we can do, in every event, in every situation, is distance ourselves from that event -- looking at the event as out there, and us here, and not react. In this way we gradually create an impersonality in relation to life, a detachment in relation to events, where we become indifferent to whether our karma is good or bad.

Renunciation Leads to Self-Mastery

     Correctly seen, evolutionary life is a gradual renunciation of the lower for the sake of the higher. As a soul in incarnation, a high level of divinity has incarnated at a lower level of divinity, and the journey to perfection, the evolutionary goal, is the gradual renunciation of these lower levels, by embodying, at these lower levels, the higher; becoming more and more what one essentially is as a soul.

     The soul makes its journey into incarnation over aeons of time, and then back, out of the need to incarnate at all. The path of return for the soul is the gradual release of itself from the limitations of the physical, astral and mental planes. This is done by infusing its vehicles -- physical, emotional and mental -- with its energies and qualities. Two things are going on at the same time in this process. One is the gradual spiritualizing of the vehicle by the soul. The other is the burdening of the vehicle, intentionally, by the soul, to burn up ancient karma.

     As the soul progresses in its incarnational experience, so its reflection, the man or woman in incarnation, receives a heavier and heavier burden of karma until, in the last incarnation of all, in which the person will be a fourth-degree initiate, the burden is at its heaviest. It is for this reason that the fourth initiation is called, in the West, the Crucifixion and, in the East, the Great Renunciation. In that experience everything, all the lower aspects, are being renounced in favor of the higher spiritual reality. That is why the life of the fourth-degree initiate is usually, from the world's point of view, painful, heavy indeed.

     People imagine that, as a man or woman progresses in evolution, they should become freer and freer of karma. The opposite is true. Not only that, but as a man or woman becomes a disciple, becomes initiate, a world-server, they take more and more of the weight of world karma. They are the upholders of the world. Their shoulders are, and need to be, broad. Imagine a bridge over a river, and the river is the world and its karma, and the disciples and initiates are the pillars of the bridge, and the spaces between are the masses of people. Where there are spaces, the water flows easily through. It is the pillars of the bridge that take the force of the flood, of the water.

     In a very real sense, the disciples and initiates of the world support the world. That is one reason why the life of a disciple is, from the average man's point of view, a very difficult life to lead. But, of course, he is governed by the great Law of Service. Under this law, disciples and initiates come very frequently into incarnation to serve world need and to finish off this earth experience as quickly as possible -- not to get it over with, but to serve the better. The more advanced a person is, the more he can serve, the more useful he can be to the world.

     When a certain level is reached -- that of the third-degree initiate -- the relationship to the Law of Cause and Effect changes. Gradually the law is manipulated by the person himself. As a conscious divine soul, working in the world, he becomes really the pilot of his own plane. He may have a co-pilot, his Master, but he is the pilot. It is not an automatic thing, but gradually this point is achieved. He takes an active part in his own evolution, consciously working with the Law of Karma, under the control of his soul. Then it may come to pass that his previous lives will open up before his inner eye. As this happens, also the karma of that time becomes open to him on the physical plane, which, of course, increases the burden of the initiate.

     The aim is that by the time the person is ready to take the fifth initiation and become a Master, all karma will have been resolved, burned up, taken back to the source from which it came.

Service: The Best Method for Resolving Karma

     How do you get rid of karma; how do you deal with it? Well, you cannot give it away. It is too heavy, nobody wants it. There is no sale for excess karma; everyone has enough of their own. So what do you do, how can you cope with this burden that limits your activity, your joy and happiness? There is a very simple method. It is called service. Service is the way par excellence for getting rid of karma. Of course it does not get rid of it, but it burns it up.

     The process is something like this: as you serve you draw to yourself energy. By giving out energy, you get energy back; that is the law. Basically, it is the Law of Love, which governs our nature, without which the universe would not exist. It is, of course, in another sense, the Law of Cause and Effect itself. As you give love, you set in motion a cause, the effect of which is the return of love. So the law itself sets in motion its own fulfillment. As we serve, we demonstrate love. As we demonstrate love, by law, we get love. That strengthens and potentizes the individual in a way in which he can deal with his own karma.

     As the person progresses in love, in service, he is automatically distancing himself from the effect of events. The events take place, but they have less and less effect on his psychology. In the East they say: well, it's my karma. In France they say: well, c'est la vie. Gradually, we have to develop an attitude of c'est la vie. If it is good, easy: c'est la vie. If it is hard, if it is painful, makes us unhappy: c'est la vie. We really have to live with that attitude.

Right Relationship Ends the Karmic Cycle

     The Law of Karma is a great binding law, but it is benign. Nobody receives more karma than their soul, and the Lords of Karma, know they can usefully handle. Some lives for some people are very hard, very painful, very limited indeed. From the point of view of the soul, this is probably intentional and useful, productive. Because the soul knows that, by the burning in this way of a burden of karma from the past, greater progress can be made. What holds us back, what limits us, is our karma. The efforts made in dealing with the karma pave the way for periods of growth. Our development proceeds thus in cycles.

     The Law of Karma is not a mechanical law of punishment. If you hit somebody on the head, it is not inevitable that you will be hit on the head. It is not a question of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It is simply the energetic outcome of previous causes set in motion by ourselves. All that we do will inevitably come back in some way or other. However, we can do something about it. The untouchables of India can change their lives. They are not bound by karma to be untouchables. That is a social structure, a class system, which binds people to particular stations in life. It is totally artificial and man-made. The poverty, the squalor, the degradation and the misery of people in the Third World is not necessary, it is not a result of karma, but of our greed. And we have the major responsibility to help them change these conditions and enter true living.

     People think of karma as always from the past life, but what about yesterday's karma, or the day before, last week's, last month's karma? It is this succession of moments of action and reaction which today we are coping with, which tomorrow and in our next life we will cope with. Until we come into right relationship with each other and with the whole of which we are a part, we will go on making bad karma. It is more important, more useful, to realize the benefit of right relationship, thus handling the Laws of Karma and Rebirth correctly, than to know our past lives.

Questions & Answers on Reincarnation, Karma, & Past Lives
with Benjamin Creme

Q. If God were omnipresent, this would be heaven. Why is there suffering?

A. You are a soul incarnating on the physical plane, through a personality, with a physical, an emotional, and a mental vehicle. All of these make up your personality, the reflection on this plane of a great god, your own soul, which is identical with the Logos of this planet, of which we are all part. The reason we suffer, fundamentally, is because we believe and experience ourselves as separate from God. If we could, from moment to moment, as the Masters of the Wisdom do, as the highest initiates do, experience ourselves as one with all that exists, One and identical, we would realize that we and God are one. We would no longer suffer.

If God is immanent in all of creation, He is physically in us. What we call the physical world is God manifesting at this level of consciousness. God at the soul level of consciousness is manifesting in a much more perfect way and, if we had perfect soul consciousness, we would realize that we and God are One. There is no separation. But because we identify with the personality and with this body, with its suffering and its hopes and fears and its ambitions and so on, we suffer; because that is the level that we reduce God to, through identification.

It is a part of God because there isn't anything outside God. But the part cannot see the whole in its entirety. If we can bring that part, that physical plane personality, into soul infusion, we become initiate, we become aware of God and manifest that God in Its true state. This is the perfecting process of evolution, in which we are all engaged, the process which the Masters of Wisdom have finished. They have arrived at that point; they are totally at-one with God. They know God from moment to moment because that is what they identify with. They do not suffer. They are an example for us, so that we, too, shall come to the same point. But this is an evolutionary process. We can't do it all at once. This is why reincarnation, the doctrine of rebirth, is a fact; why from life to life we need to undergo experience, to gradually become soul-infused and perfected.


Q. Is there any way of telling whether suffering is caused by our karma or otherwise?

A. By karmic, I think the questioner probably means stemming from long past action, and this is frequently the case. But most of our suffering comes from our thoughts, actions and reactions of the present and immediate past. Our hatreds, fears, jealousies, envy, frustrations and (thwarted) ambitions cause us to suffer, moment to moment. This, too, is the action of karma. We misuse energy -- soul, mental, astral and etheric -- and so we suffer, through the Law of Cause and Effect, by such misuse. The desire principle has us in its grip, and only by controlling the desire principle -- through the mind -- can we overcome suffering. Most of our suffering is therefore self-inflicted and unnecessary. We share, however, in the karmic suffering of humanity as a whole, but that is something else, the human inheritance.


Q. Is misfortune always retribution for past lives or can it be purely an opportunity for spiritual growth through overcoming suffering?

A. We are so used to functioning under the pleasure-pain syndrome that we tend to consider all painful experience as misfortune and as retribution for past misdeeds. The Law of Karma is not about retribution, but about cause and effect. Our life proceeds in cycles: some painful, representing opportunities for growth through understanding and gaining of detachment; and others relatively pleasurable, evolving easily on the gain of the previous struggle.


Q. (1) Are physical handicaps always the result of karma? (2) Does the soul provide its vehicle with physical handicaps for a particular purpose?

A. (1) No, physical handicaps are quite frequently the result of straight-forward accidents at birth. Karma is not only reaction but action. New causes -- which produce the effect, karma -- are continually being set in motion. (2) There are certain limitations which the soul quite definitely seeks in incarnating. It might even seek a body with very severe handicaps in order precisely to limit it for that life, and in so doing burn up a burden of karma accumulated from previous lives, which may be holding back the evolution of the individual. It is often the case that, as the result of the tension generated by the overcoming of the limitations, the next life is one of great progress and development.


Q. Why do some writers say that we are fallen angels? What happened?

A. This relates to the biblical fall of man from paradise. Essentially, each of us is a soul in incarnation, a solar angel. On the soul plane, each soul is an individualized part of one oversoul; the separation we experience on the personality level is an illusion -- the great heresy. The fall refers to the decision of the human souls to come into incarnation for the first time, eighteen-and-a-half million years ago, to leave paradise -- the soul's natural state of perfection -- for the experience of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. This is a great sacrifice for the human soul, for it involves severe limitation of its sphere of expression. The sacrifice is willingly undertaken, however, to carry further the Plan of evolution of the Logos of the planet. Thus the fall is really symbolic.


Q. You have said that our present life situation is due to our past karma. Is not then the present life situation of the starving millions due to their past karma? Have they not been placed in that starving situation by reason of past misdeeds? If not, it would seem that the Law of Karma was not operating justly in this case.

A. I think we would all agree that no-one understands the working of the Law of Karma better than Maitreya, the Christ. Yet He has said: "These people die for no other reason than that they have the misfortune to be born in one part of the world rather than another." They are not "placed in that starving situation by reason of past misdeeds," but are brought into incarnation under group law. The family and tribal groups to which they belong have for centuries, probably, lived in these areas.

They starve because we, the developed nations, usurp and waste three-quarters of the world's food, because *we* can afford to pay the market price. Many developing countries export food, needed by their hungry citizens, in order to earn the hard currency to pay for essential imports of oil and machine goods. Moreover, since most of the capital for development comes from abroad, most of the profits created by their developing industry likewise goes abroad. They can never catch up, since the rich nations dictate the rules of international commerce -- in their own favor. So the fault is not in *their* past misdeeds but in *our* greed and lack of sharing, whereby we in the West are generating a great burden of karma for the whole world. Karma is an active, not passive, process in which we all share responsibility.


Q. Will Maitreya wipe the slate clean, the karmic debt of mankind?

A. No. The Christian church's concept of a vicarious atonement is a misunderstanding of the Christ's function. He came (in Palestine) and has come again now, to show the way, to lead, guide and inspire, but not to go against the Law of Karma. We must save ourselves through response to His teachings.

He does, however, act as the agent of divine intervention, to mitigate the effects of disasters such as earthquakes. A study of earthquake patterns (as to frequency and related deaths) both before July, 1977 -- when He entered the modern world -- and since, will show the powerful effect which His Presence and work have had on these phenomena.


Q. Does your Master expect a purification of world karma on the physical plane in the form of catastrophe?

A.If the questioner means will there be major earth changes, then the answer is no. The Law of Karma is the Law of Cause and Effect, and karma is not purified but resolved or balanced. By the action of this Law, the present imbalances and irrationalities in man's thinking and behavior (separation, division, wars, millions left to starve, etc.) create conditions of extreme imbalance in nature. This is being, and will continue to be, expressed in the form of hurricanes, high winds, floods, freak weather patterns and so on. When man begins to put his house in order, the nature elementals will respond with more balanced activity, and greater harmony will result.


Q. How does the soul make its choice as to where, when and to whom it will be born?

A. It depends on the evolution of the soul. Under the Law of Evolution of evolution, unevolved souls are drawn magnetically to the prepared bodies through karmic necessity; they have little choice. More advanced humanity, coming in under group law, are attracted to particular family and national groups (with which they have karmic connections) according to the world's need for such groups' energies at a particular time. Initiates enter under the law of service and choose (with the help of their Master) the family, conditions, etc., which will allow them best to serve in their special way.


Q. Is one always karmically related to all the members of one's family?

A. Usually, but not always. From time to time new blood is brought into most families. Of course, new karmic ties are being formed all the time.


Q. How does the mechanism, if any, work which decides that one is to be born as a boy or a girl?

A. It is the soul which decides. According to its purpose in any particular life, the soul creates its vehicle of expression on the physical plane in all respects. We really are an expression of our soul. On the soul plane there is neither male nor female, and the division of the sexes on this level is but a reflection of the polarities of the Father-Mother God, whose union brings us as souls into being. Through repeated experience as both male and female, we eventually bring both these aspects into equilibrium.


Q. Does miscarriage signify that the soul drawn into possible incarnation has changed its mind?

A. No. The vast majority of miscarriages occur because of technical factors: the state of health of the woman involved, the introduction of drugs, or some other physical cause. There remains a small percentage of cases in which the incarnating entity resists incarnation and aborts the pregnancy.


Q. In a specific life as a Westerner, could it still be visible that one was from Asia or Africa in a previous incarnation?

A. In physical characteristics, no, but in ways of thought, general approach to the world, yes.


Q. What effects do you foresee the acceptance of reincarnation having on the Western world?

A. It seems obvious that a true realization of the implications of reincarnation (and not simply an intellectual acceptance) will transform the whole Western approach to reality. The idea that life is not short, brutish and arbitrary; that there is purpose and plan; that we are undergoing a process of gradual perfectionment; above all that the great Law of Cause and Effect governs our existence, must change our viewpoint. The need for right human relationships, for harmlessness, will become abundantly clear.