Light of the Spirit Blog

Annie Besant and the Necessity for Reincarnation

Annie Besant, author of Necessity for Reincarnation

We have just published a remarkable article, The Necessity for Reincarnation, by Annie Besant (1847 – 1933), a renowned speaker and writer, and president of the Madras Theosophical society. The article is a long and comprehensive one on various scientific, moral, and historical aspects of reincarnation, and as an introduction we give excerpts of the article below.

Now look at [the concept of reincarnation] from the standpoint of justice and of love. Some religious people believe that this one human life decides the whole course of the future. Others do not accept that view, but think that on the other side of the grave progress, or happiness for all, is possible. Now if progress be admitted, then the whole principle of Reincarnation is granted. For, whether it be in this or in other worlds, if progress be admitted as the law of life, the growth of the spirit and the soul is granted. But suppose, with the great majority in Christendom, that men believe either that this life decides the whole fate of the soul hereafter, or believe that though all will pass into bliss, this life is but one, one single life, then how very difficult to reconcile the facts with that. For a human soul is born into the world in a baby’s body and dies in a few days. Another goes through a long life of sixty or seventy years. If the first idea be accepted, that this life decides the whole future, then it becomes very hard for the man who lives out his life to run the risk of eternal loss, from which the baby, by the mere fact of his early death, is secured. A terrible injustice that, when you come to think of it; because none would say that the child who dies a few hours old runs any risk of misery hereafter. Then why should he reap the fruit of bliss which may be forfeited by the older man in his struggles in the world in the course of his long life? This difference of the length of human life becomes inseparable from the question of justice, if you are going to admit only this one life. And if you say that, of what use is the life if the child, who has only had two or three hours of it, reaches the same everlastingness of bliss as the man who, through a life of struggle, has won virtue and triumphed over temptation?

Now every student knows that this doctrine was common amongst the Jews. You may read in their books that it was the common faith of the time. You can see it in the questions that in the Gospels are sometimes put to the disciples and to the Christ. Remember the words spoken, by the Christ Himself to the disciples when they questioned Him of John the Baptist: “If you can receive it, this is Elijah.” Remember His answer when they brought to Him the challenge of the people outside “How say the scribes that Elijah must first come?” His answer was: “He has come already; and they understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.” This is simply one case showing the familiarity of the idea among the Jews, just as you may find it in the writings I refer to, that they said that all imperfect souls had to return to the earth.

Come …to the writings and teachings of those who lived in the early centuries after Christ, and see how often in the writings of the great Fathers of the Church this doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul is taught. One of the plainest teachings of it is found in the writings of that noblest of the Fathers, Origen. He lays it down distinctly that each person born into the world receives a body according to his deserts and his former actions; a very, very clear statement. And Origen, remember, was one of the grandest minds of which the early Church could boast, one of the noblest and purest characters, and he taught that doctrine definitely and clearly. Take other great bishops, and you will find them speaking along the same line; for five-and-a-half centuries after the death of Christ that was a current doctrine of the Christian Church. And when, in the middle of the sixth century, it was condemned by a council, it was not condemned as a general doctrine, but only in the form in which Origen had put it, so that you have absolutely no Christian authority against it. The Roman Catholic may object to the form into which Origen threw it, and say that that form was condemned by a council of the Church, but he cannot say that the whole doctrine of Reincarnation was condemned, for there is no such condemnation of the doctrine known in Christian history.

I say to you, it [reincarnation] is yours as much as theirs, and if you accept the doctrine of Reincarnation, do not accept it as an alien doctrine that comes from some other faith; take it as part of the great Christian revelation; take it as part of the great Christian teaching. Admit that it fell out of sight for a while under the blackness of ignorance that swept over Europe. Admit that it dropped below the surface, in times when men were not thinking of these great problems that face you today.

Friends, if I speak to you on this tonight, it is because I know what the doctrine has of hope, of strength, of encouragement, in the face of the difficulties in the world. I know what it means for the heart-broken, who fall in despair before the puzzles of life, to have the light thrown upon it which makes life intelligible; for the misery of intellectual unrest is one of the worst miseries that we face in the modern world. To be able to understand what we are, to be able to understand whence we have come and whither we are going, to see all through the world one law as there is one life, to realize that there is no partiality, no injustice, no unfair treatment of one human soul, no unfair treatment of one human life; that all are growing; that all are evolving; that our elders are only elders and not different in kind from ourselves; that the youngest shall be as the oldest; that man has within him the developing spirit of his Father and shall therefore be perfect as God is perfect; that is the hope–nay, not the hope, the certainty–that this doctrine gives to the human soul. And when we have grasped it we can face the miseries, the sorrows, the despairs of life, and know that in the end, looking back upon this sorrowful world, we shall say: “It was from God, it came from God, and to God it returns.”

Read the full article The Necessity for Reincarnation by Annie Besant here.

Podcast: Swami Sivananda’s Humor


Click here to listen to Swami Sivananda’s Humor if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 16:06 minutes.
Sivananda's humorSwami Sivananda’s joyful sense of humor are evident in today’s podcast. This includes the following incidents:

  • Sivananda’s riddle and the over-serious student.
  • The rare color film photos of Swamiji.
  • Sivananda’s omniscience regarding what was going on in Sivanandashram.
  • What it was like at satsangs with Sivanandaji.
  • Two interviews with Sivananda, and Sivananda’s important advice for success in spiritual life.

Listen to Swami Sivananda’s Humor.

Listen to more podcasts on meditation and living the Yoga Life.

Is Reincarnation True?

Is Reincarnation True? PhoenixTo someone who wrote juggling all kinds of statements about how much better it would be to not believe in reincarnation and the problems such a belief caused.

In the West the question about a belief is its utility, its plausibility, its acceptability (appeal) and its practicality.

In the East it is a simple of question of: Is it true? No other question really matters. That each person settles for himself.

Those who purify and refine their consciousness through yoga meditation have no problem, because their intuition and their own memories of past lives settle the question, as well as the testimonies and the research of many, many others.

Also read:

Podcast: I Meet Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh

In this new series of podcasts about Swami Sivananda, Abbot George relates his memories in a much fuller form than in previous podcasts.


Click here to listen to I Meet Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 14:32 minutes.

Abbot George BurkeI met God in flesh both in America and India in the form of great yogis and devotees. Transformed by yoga and devotion they were embodiments of higher consciousness. One time my friend Hari Datta Vasudev was telling me about some of the holy ones he had met during his life. After one account he paused and then looked at me very intently. “They are the glory of India!” he told me. I agree and would like to tell you of the glory of India I encountered, the glory of God revealed in humanity.

Swami SivanandaThe greatest of these was Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, a holy city in the Himalayan foothills about twenty miles north of Hardwar, another most sacred place. Truly in a class by himself, Sivananda was the Lord of life and death, holding the keys of immortality. Although I could describe the other holy ones to some degree, Sivanandaji was beyond description or classification. He loved and we loved in return. I do not think even his closest disciples could say any more.

I met many great yogis in India but among them Sivananda was unique. The other yogis, great as they were, yet produced in me an external awareness, the awareness of their vibration, their very high energy. Now that awareness was certainly beneficial, but in a lesser degree, because it was outwardly turned and reality is inside. Sivananda was glorious and a wonder beyond telling, as was always evident. Yet, I found that the moment I entered his presence I experienced silence and became increasingly self-aware rather than drawn outward. I saw and admired him from the base of my true Self. There is a lot of talk about being centered, but Sivananda’s presence made me centered in the silent core of my being that is pure consciousness.

This podcast is the first of a series recounting my time with Swami Sivananda in the early 60’s, beginning with how I first heard Sivanandaji, and how I first met him.

Listen to I Meet Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh now.

Listen to more podcasts on meditation and living the Yoga Life.

Podcast: The Yoga Life 5: The Importance of Vegetarianism for the Yogi


Abbot George BurkeClick here to listen to The Yoga Life 5: The Importance of Vegetarianism for the Yogi if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 15:41 minutes.

Since we have considered shaucha in the last podcast which includes purity of diet, let’s take a brief look at the spiritual benefits of being a vegetarian yogi.

importance of vegetarianismThe mind, as a mass of vibrating energy, is limited by the constitution or condition of that energy. If the energy is heavy or inert, little can be done with it to produce the state of silence and clarity needed to reflect the truth of spirit. Certain elements darken the mind and make it thick or heavy, vibrating very slowly–sometimes seemingly not at all.

On the other hand, some elements lighten the mind, making it fluid and subtle, vibrating at a very high level. It is this latter condition that is needed for attaining the state of liberation–or rather, the state that liberates the spirit from the illusion of bondage and suffering. It is really the mind that becomes liberated, but that liberation also affects the essentially ever-free spirit and sets it free. To attain such liberation the mind must be purified and refined, vegetarian diet being one of the best and strongest means for its purification.

We cannot get a marble statue from clay, nor can we get wheat bread from barley meal–the end product is still going to consist of the nature of the material started with. So it is with all our bodies, gross and subtle. They will reflect the character of the food which has gone into their formation.

It is obvious, then, that the food we eat is going to determine the quality and condition of all the levels of our being, including body and mind.

Therefore when we eat something, it not only affects us on all levels of our existence, it becomes those levels. In this very real sense we indeed are what we eat.

Listen to The Yoga Life 5: The Importance of Vegetarianism for the Yogi to hear much more practical information.

Podcast: The Yoga Life 4: Niyama, the “Do”s of Yoga

Abbot George BurkeHaving finished Yama, the “Don’t”s of Yoga, in the last podcast, we now consider Niyama: the “Dos” of yoga.

  • Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
  • Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
  • Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
  • Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
  • Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God

Click here to listen to The Yoga Life 4: Niyama, the “Do”s of Yoga if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 24:15 minutes.

NiyamaBelow is a brief summary of some of the points covered in this podcast:


Shaucha means purity and cleanliness within the context of attaining unobstructed clarity of consciousness.

“Internal shaucha is the washing away of the stains of the mind,” according to Vyasa. “Shaucha implies purity in seeing and listening…and washing away the stains of the mind, such as desire and anger, by the waters of meditation,” adds Shankara.

Physical cleanliness is important for it eliminates bodily toxins and prevents disease. Inner purification is important for it eliminates mental toxins and prevents inner ills. For the yogi, the most important external aspect of shaucha is purity of diet. This is because the food we eat determines the vibration of our body and our mind. For this reason it is only wisdom to eat a purely vegetarian diet consisting of grains, vegetables, and fruits. All animal products should be avoided as Gandhi advocated and was persecuted over.


Santosha consists of the passive aspect of contentment and peacefulness and the more positive aspect of joy and happiness.

Santosha is a fundamentally cheerful attitude based on a harmonious interior condition and an intellectually spiritual outlook. This is possible only through meditation, and is one of the signs of progress in meditation. This must not be equated with mere intellectual “positive thinking” or a forced external “happiness” which is a camouflage, not a real state.

Santosha is also contentment with simple living, and relates to aparigraha. Vyasa says that “santosha is being satisfied with the resources at hand and so not desiring more.” Shankara says: “As a result of the satisfaction with what is at hand, even though there may be some lack, he has the feeling, ‘It is enough.’” Santosha is freedom from the “bigger and more is better” syndrome that grips most of us.

Santosha is also the absence of negative emotions and the presence of positive emotions. In its highest form santosha is the contentment and peace that comes from resting in our own spirit.


Tapas literally means “to generate heat” in the sense of awakening or stimulating the whole of our being to higher consciousness. It is commonly applied to the practice of spiritual discipline, especially that which involves some form of physical austerity or self-denial.

Tapas is a procedure that causes all the components of the yogi to vibrate at a much higher rate, and to eventually become permanently established in that higher vibration.

Regarding physical tapas Vyasa writes: “Tapas is endurance of the opposites. The opposites are hunger and thirst, heat and cold, standing and sitting, complete silence and merely verbal silence.” Shankara says these opposites may occur naturally or by our own choice through self-denial. And both Vyasa and Shankara say that tapas is always done in the light of the capability of the yogi and is never exaggerated, strenuous, or beyond the yogi’s natural ability.

Basically, tapas is spiritual discipline that produces a perceptible result, particularly in the form of purification. Tapas is the turning from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to the Light, from death to Immortality. But it is never a matter of mere thought or desire, it is always practical action towards that end. Consequently, whenever tapas is spoken of it always implies the practice of yoga and the observances that facilitate yoga practice.


Swadhyaya means “self-study.” This is usually interpreted as the study of the sacred texts which deal with the nature of the true Self (spirit) and its realization. But it also means keeping a careful watch on the ego-based mind so as to be aware of its delusive and destructive tricks. For it is no external “devil” or “Satan” we need fear, but the “enemy within,” the “Dweller at the Threshold” which is our ego-mind complex that has blinded and enslaved us from life to life and has no intention of giving up its domination of us just because we practice a bit of meditation. Therefore we must be wary of its cunning and subtle ways and carefully analyze the debris it casts up into our consciousness in the form of thoughts and emotions. In this way we will see the direction in which it would pull us. We must take our susceptibility to its machinations most seriously. In swadhyaya we look at and analyze the mind in the calmness and intuition born of meditation.


The final foundation, for which all the others are a necessary preparation, is Ishwarapranidhana–the offering of one’s life to God. This is far more on every level than simple religious devotion, and much more than any kind of discipline or self-denial done in the name of spirituality. It is the giving to God of the yogi’s entire life, not just a giving of material offerings or occasional tidbits of devotion to God, however fervent or sincere.

Moreover, as Taimni points out: “The fact that the progressive practice of Ishwarapranidhana can ultimately lead to samadhi shows definitely that it signifies a much deeper process of transformation in the sadhaka than a mere acceptance of whatever experiences and ordeals come to him in the course of his life.…The practice of Ishwarapranidhana therefore begins with the mental assertion ‘Not my will but Thy will be done’ but it does not end there. There is a steady effort to bring about a continuous recession of consciousness from the level of the personality which is the seat of ‘I’ consciousness into the consciousness of the Supreme Whose will is working out in the manifest world.”

Ishwarapranidhana is total giving. The yogi does not eke out droplets of his life, but pours out his entire life in offering unto God. He gives all that he has–even his very self. And this is only sensible, for the entire aim of yoga is the reunion of the individual spirit with the Supreme Spirit, the falling of the drop into the Immortal Sea. Ishwarapranidhana anticipates this divine union and ensures its accomplishment. This is why the first law-giver, Manu, says that the highest sacrifice (medha) is purushamedha–the sacrifice of the individual spirit.

Yoga is a thoroughly theistic endeavor, one which makes God the center of life and its aim, as well. Ishwarapranidhana is merging the individual consciousness with the Cosmic Consciousness of Ishwara.

Listen to The Yoga Life 4: Niyama, the “Dos” of Yoga for this and much more besides.

Visit our Podcasts Page for more talks on spiritual life.

Avidya: Primal Ignorance, the Source of Life’s Miseries

AvidyaSutras 4 and 5 of Book Two of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

4. Avidya is the source of those that are mentioned after it (see What Are the Kleshas?), whether they be in the dormant, attenuated, alternating or expanded condition.

This is why Shankara keeps insisting that jnana alone brings liberation.

5. Avidya is taking the non-eternal [anitya], impure [ashuchi], pain-producing [dukha] and non-Atman [anatman] to be eternal [nitya], pure [shuchi], pleasure-producing [sukha] and Atman respectively.

No comment is really needed for this sutra, just the definitions.

  • Anitya: Impermanent; transient.
  • Ashaucha: Impurity; uncleanness.
  • Dukha: Pain; suffering; misery; sorrow; grief; unhappiness; stress; that which is unsatisfactory.
  • Anatman: Not-Self; insentient.
  • Nitya: Eternal; permanent; unchanging; the ultimate Reality; the eternal Absolute.
  • Shaucha: Purity; cleanliness.
  • Sukha: Happiness; ease; joy; happy; pleasant; agreeable.
  • Atman: The individual spirit or Self that is one with Brahman. The true nature or identity (self).

The whole world is caught in this snare. The yogi must free himself from these illusions right away, even though he must struggle hard against the ignorance and conditionings of many past lives as well as those of this life.

Further Reading:

Podcast: The Yoga Life 3: Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha, and the Great Vow

Abbot George BurkeIn today’s podcast Abbot George finishes the consideration of Yama, with its last three elements: asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha, and the sidesteps that people will take to avoid a strict adherence to these important principles. Then he considers the “Great Vow” of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Below is a brief summary of the major topics of this podcast.

What is Asteya (non-stealing)?

asteya brahmacharya andaparigrahaAsteya is abstinence from stealing, which Vyasa defines as: “the improper appropriation to oneself of others’ things.” He then concludes: “Refusal to do it, in freedom from desire, is non-stealing.”

Regarding asteya, Abbot George discusses the mental fudges one sometimes makes in order to justify violating this principle.

What is Brahmacharya (control and continence)?

“Brahmacharya is restraint of the sex organ and other senses,” says Vyasa. From this we see that brahmacharya has a twofold nature: control and continence.

Control: Spirit has two aspects: consciousness and energy. Consciousness is constant, whereas energy is cyclic. It is the movement of energy that produces (and is) our experience of relativity, and it is the development of energy that is the process of evolution. Therefore the conservation and application of energy is the main determinant of success or failure in spiritual endeavor. Diffusion and dissipation of energy always weakens us. Hence brahmacharya is a vital element of Yoga, without which we cannot successfully pursue the greater life of Higher Consciousness.

Basically, brahmacharya is conservation and mastery of all the energy systems and powers of our being. This is especially true in relation to negative emotions, for tremendous energy is expended through lust, anger, greed, envy, hatred, resentment, depression, fear, obsession, and the rest. Further, they are both the causes and the symptoms of losing self-control, a major aspect of brahmacharya.

Research has shown that persons in the grip of these emotions literally breathe out vital elements of the body. For example, the breath of angry people is found to be laden with copper. So negative emotion depletes us physically as well as energetically.

Positive emotions on the other hand actually enhance and raise our energy and physical levels. The cultivation of (true) love, compassion, generosity, cheerfulness, friendliness, and suchlike make us stronger and calmer–essential aspects of brahmacharya. It is noteworthy that the word “virtue” is derived from the Latin word virtus–power–which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word virya, which means both power and strength.

What is Aparigraha (non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness)

Vyasa’s definition is most practical: “Seeing the defects in objects involved in acquiring them, and defending them, and losing them, and being attached to them, and depriving others of them, one does not take them to himself, and that is aparigraha.”

Here, as in the other foundations, the true virtue or observance is mostly internal, leading to the correct state of mind for successful yoga practice.

The Great Vow

After listing ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha, Patanjali continues: “These, not conditioned by class, place, time or occasion, and extending to all stages, constitute the Great Vow” (Yoga Sutra 2:31).

They are the Great Vow because they require the exercise of will and because of their dynamic effect on us. Even more, they are great because, like the elements, they are self-sufficient, depending on nothing else, and because they cannot be mutated into something else. They are always what they are, and for that reason they are always to be observed with no exceptions whatsoever. They cannot be neglected or omitted for any reason–absolutely. Patanjali lists the possible conditions which do affect lesser observances: class, place, time or occasion, and stages. In this podcast Abbot George gives a brief consideration of each of these.

This podcast is 25:20 minutes long.


Click here to listen to The Yoga Life 3: Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha, and the Great Vow if you do not see the player above.

info-symbol-80Note: We just discovered that the link to the podcast in our last email was directed to the wrong podcast episode. This has now been corrected. You can hear it now by clicking here to listen to The Yoga Life 2: a Practical Understanding of Harmlessness and Truthfulness.

What are the Kleshas? (Hint: They Are Not an Alien Life-Form)

The Kleshas: the great afflictions or causes of all miseries in lifeSutras 2 and 3 of Book Two of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

2. (Kriya-Yoga) is practiced for attenuating Kleshas and bringing about Samadhi.

“Klesha” means taints or afflictions. A klesha is something that diminishes or distorts our consciousness, bringing misery and pain in some form. It also hinders meditation, preventing us from rising to the state of calm, clear concentration and samadhi.

Tapas, swadhyaya, and ishwarapranidhana weaken the kleshas, literally fading them out, washing them away, for they are accretions that have nothing to do with the eternal nature of our Self.

info-symbol-80Note that diminishing the kleshas is enough to bring about samadhi, which will then itself erase them completely. So we are not facing a herculean task that need daunt us. As Krishna tells Arjuna: “Even a little practice of this yoga will save you from the terrible wheel of rebirth and death [mahato bhayat–great fear]” (Bhagavad Gita 2:40).

3. The lack of awareness of Reality [avidya], the sense of egoism or ‘I-am-ness’ [asmita], attractions [raga] and repulsions [dwesha] towards objects and the strong desire for life [abhinivesha] are the great afflictions or causes of all miseries in life.

The five major kleshas are:

  • Avidya: Ignorance; nescience; unknowing; literally: “to know not.” Also called ajnana.
  • Asmita: I-ness; the sense of “I am;” “I exist;” sense of individuality.
  • Raga: Attachment/affinity for something, implying a desire for it. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple liking or preference to intense desire and attraction. Greed; passion.
  • Dwesha: Aversion/avoidance for something, implying a dislike for it. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple nonpreference to intense repulsion, antipathy and even hatred.
  • Abhinivesha: Will to live; strong desire; false identification of the Self with the body or mind; an instinctive clinging to life and a dread of death.

(All the above are from A Brief Sanskrit Glossary.)

Next: The Source of all the Afflictions in life: Primal Ignorance
Previously: Kriya Yoga According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


The Yoga Life 2: a Practical Understanding of Harmlessness and Truthfulness

ahimsa and satyaIn this podcast Abbot George begins a practical and detailed analysis of the first of the components of Yama: Ahimsa (harmlessness) and Satya (truth), which it is essential for the aspiring yogi to understand.

Ahimsa is not willfully causing any harm or pain whatsoever to any being whatsoever, in any degree whatsoever. Ahimsa includes strict abstinence from any form of injury in act, speech, or thought. Violence, verbal or physical, causing mental injury or pain, and angry or malicious damage or misuse of physical objects are all violations of ahimsa, unthinkable for the yogi.

“Satya is said to be speech and thought in conformity with what has been seen or inferred or heard on authority. The speech spoken to convey one’s own experience to others should be not deceitful, nor inaccurate, nor uninformative. It is that uttered for helping all beings. But that uttered to the harm of beings, even if it is what is called truth, when the ultimate aim is merely to injure beings, would not be truth. It would be a wrong.” So says Vyasa.

But these are mere definitions. How is the yogi to apply them in his Yoga Life, in his quest for enlightenment? Listen to the podcast to find out.

This podcast is 24:56 minutes long.


Click here to listen to The Yoga Life 2: a Practical Understanding of Harmlessness and Truthfulness if you do not see the player above.

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