Reincarnation and Population Growth
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‘Can population growth rule out reincarnation?’ This is a question that often crops up in discussions on reincarnation. It is also the title of a recent article by David Bishai, published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration.1
It is estimated that in 8000 BC the world’s population was about 5 million. By 1 AD it had risen to about 300 million. Today it is approximately 6 billion and is increasing at a rate of 85 million per year (135 million births as against 50 million deaths). However, the current period of unprecedented population growth appears to be drawing to a close. David Bishai writes:
A sustained global decline in the fertility rate began over 20 years ago and shows no sign of reversing. Barring significant unforeseen economic or epidemiological setbacks, world population should peak at roughly 10 billion about the year 2050.
If reincarnation is a fact, and if we assume that the total number of human souls – both incarnated and unincarnated – evolving on the earth remains more or less constant, then the global population can only increase if the average period between two lives decreases. Conversely, for the global population to decrease, the average period between two lives must increase.
Since it seems reasonable to suppose that the average length of time spent in the various after-death states does in fact change in accordance with the various yugas and other cycles that humanity passes through, variations in the total human population are to be expected and present no threat at all to the idea of reincarnation. This is also the conclusion reached by David Bishai, who analyzes the issue mathematically.
According to theosophy, the general rule is that the period of postmortem rest is about 100 times the length of the life just lived; the average period is sometimes given as 1500 years, but this is based on an average lifespan at present of about 15 years. The actual period varies enormously, according to the mental and spiritual development of the person concerned. In rare cases, reincarnation can even take place within a few years, as in the case of children who die a violent death.2 The explosive growth in world population in recent times is an indication that reincarnation is taking place more quickly than in the past – a reflection, in part, of the quickened pace of life and strong materialistic tendencies in the present age.
In theosophical literature it is stated that, in general, unincarnated souls far outnumber incarnated souls.3 G. de Purucker said that the number of incarnated souls was only about a hundredth of the number of unincarnated souls.4 However, given that the global population fluctuates enormously in the course of human history, while the number of incarnating monads remains the same,5 this percentage presumably applies only to the average global population – whatever that may be. On another occasion, Purucker tentatively suggested that the total number of human souls evolving on earth may be 10 billion, or 5 times the world population at that time.6
Since it is now predicted that the world population will peak at around 10 billion in 2050, the total number of souls incarnating on our globe can obviously be no less than that figure, and could be far higher. Applying the same factor of 5 that Purucker used, there could be 50 billion human souls associated with our globe.
David Bishai suggests a maximum figure of 100 billion souls; this is based on the estimate that about 100 billion people have lived on earth since around 50,000 BC, which, in Bishai’s view, is when humans of the modern type first emerged. Theosophy, on the other hand, traces the beginnings of human civilization back many millions of years. Nevertheless, if we can assume that every human soul has had at least one incarnation since 50,000 BC, then the maximum number of human souls can be no more than 100 billion.
One of the first people to claim that population growth disproves reincarnation was the fiery Christian church father, Tertullian. One of his most notable contributions to Christian theology was the following:
I maintain that the very Son of God died; now this is a thing to be accepted, because it is a monstrous absurdity; further, I maintain that after he was buried, he rose again; and this I believe to be absolutely true because it is absolutely impossible.7
– a revelation that does not inspire much confidence in Tertullian’s capacity for rational thought.
Those who use the population argument to try and invalidate reincarnation are assuming that the average rest period between two lives has remained absolutely constant throughout human history. But, as Bishai points out, how such sceptics have managed to obtain this transcendental knowledge about a state they don’t even believe in remains a mystery!
- David Bishai, ‘Can population growth rule out reincarnation? A model of circular migration’, Journal of Scientific Exploration, vol. 14, no. 3, 2000, pp. 411-20.
- G. de Purucker, Fountain-Source of Occultism, TUP, 1974, pp. 593-4; ‘Where reincarnation and biology intersect’, http://davidpratt.info.
- W.Q. Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy (1893), TUP, 1973, pp. 86-8; G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, TUP, 1973, pp. 579-80
- G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, 2nd ed., TUP, 1940, p. 877; Dialogues of G. de Purucker, TUP, 1948, 3:219-20.
- H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (1888), TUP, 1977, 1:171, 173, 182-3, 2:302-3.
- Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 580.
- Quoted in The Esoteric Tradition, p. 9.
January 2001. Last revised: November 2001
Other suggested explanations for increases and decreases in the earth’s population include the following: (1) monads from other planetary chains, not necessarily in our own solar system, joining the human evolutionary stream on earth, or monads leaving earth to continue their evolution elsewhere; and (2) animal souls reincarnating as humans, or human souls reincarnating as animals.
As regards the first point, H.P. Blavatsky states the general rule as follows:
... the humanity of the first manvantara is that of the seventh and of all the intermediate ones. The mankind of the first root-race is the mankind of the second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. To the last it forms a cyclic and constant reincarnation of the monads belonging to the dhyan chohans of our planetary chain.1
... Mankind, from the first down to the last, or seventh race, is composed of one and the same company of actors, who have descended from higher spheres to perform their artistic tour on this planet, Earth. Starting as pure spirits on our downward journey around the world (verily!) with the knowledge of truth ... inherent in us, cyclic law brings us down to the reversed apex of matter, which is lost down here on earth and the bottom of which we have already struck; and then, the same law of spiritual gravity will make us slowly ascend to still higher, still purer spheres than those we started from.2
In other words, once we are associated with a particular planetary chain, we have to run through all its cycles from beginning to last, i.e. through all the seven root-races on all the globes in each of the seven rounds and in each of the seven planetary embodiments, gradually advancing through each of the ten kingdoms in turn, and raising ourselves from unselfconscious god-sparks (elementals) to selfconscious gods. It seems less likely that a human monad would suddenly leave the earth in the middle of one cycle and dash off to join an evolutionary process already under way on a completely different planet, possibly in a different solar system.
Most of the monads currently evolving on the earth chain in its current embodiment were also evolving on the same chain in its previous embodiment (the remains of which are the moon chain). As explained in the teachings on the outer rounds, after completing the full evolutionary cycle (of seven planetary manvantaras) on the earth chain, we then proceed to the next of the sacred planets, where we go through a similar evolutionary journey, and so on, round all the sacred planets, seven times. And during even greater expanses of time, we migrate from one solar system to another.
In addition to the major outer rounds which monads make collectively at great intervals, there are also minor outer rounds, during which our highest (spiritual and divine) monads make relatively brief visits to other planetary chains and other solar systems after death and during sleep or initiations. This suggests that there are monads from other planets and solar systems passing through the earth chain. The monads making these journeys are said to manifest in suitable forms on the globes they pass through. Whether that includes embodiment in physical human bodies on our own globe is not stated.
As far as interchange between the animal and human kingdoms is concerned, theosophy explicitly rejects the exoteric Buddhist teaching that it is quite normal for human souls to switch back and forth between incarnating in human bodies and animal bodies. Once human selfconsciousness has been attained, souls do not normally regress to the predominantly instinctual animal kingdom.3 Only very rarely do human souls, through persistent evil-doing over a series of lives, sever the link with their divine self and become ‘lost souls’, which then reembody in the lower kingdoms.4
Theosophy says that the ‘door’ to the human kingdom closed in the middle of the present fourth round (some 4.5 million years ago), and that no more animal monads will graduate to the human kingdom for the rest of this planetary manvantara.5 The only exception are the monads embodying in the apes and higher monkeys, which will be able to enter the lower ranks of the human kingdom due to the apes’ semi-human ancestry.
As evolution proceeds along the arc of ascent, or spiritualization, during the remainder of the seven rounds, we’re told that some human monads will drop out of the evolutionary stream and enter a quasi-nirvana because they will not be able to progress sufficiently; they will have to wait until the next planetary reembodiment to continue their evolution.6 This is even truer of the animal kingdom; most monads composing that kingdom will cease to incarnate before the end of the seventh round.7
- H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, TUP, 1977 (1888), 2:146fn.
- H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, TPH, 1950-91, 14:303.
- Blavatsky Collected Writings, 4:399; G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, TUP, 1973, pp. 683-4.
- G. de Purucker, Fountain-Source of Occultism, TUP, 1974, pp. 452-3.
- The Secret Doctrine, 1:173, 182-3; G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, TUP, 2nd ed., 1940, pp. 314-15.
- The Dialogues of G. de Purucker, 3:412-14.
- Studies in Occult Philosophy, pp. 194-5, 680-1.
Evolution in the fourth round
Inner and outer rounds