Each individual is born with a character. Differences in character do exist, and reincarnation is the only logical explanation.
Character is Karma. The memory aspect of character is not understood and people want specific instances of memory: who they were in their past life, where they had lived, and what they did. But memory is the result of life-experiences transformed through assimilation in the post-mortem state of Devachan. Just as through digestion and assimilation the different items of food that we eat become transformed, enriching or enfeebling blood, flesh and bones, so the present character of each is the transformed result of all actions and experiences in former lives. Between each life there is a process analogous to the process between two meals. This memory aspect of character refers to the past.
There is also the motion aspect of Karma, and therefore of character. Karma is not only of the past; it is also action in the present. So by our efforts and actions in the present we are putting something into our character. To continue the comparison: our present physical body improves or deteriorates, is made gross or subtle, sensitive or dull, by the food that we eat day after day. Healthy bodies become ill, and weak bodies gain health and strength by the kind of nourishment given. So with character.
Whether we know it or not, by our present action we are changing our character—bettering it or weakening it. Just as modern science advocates knowledge of physiology, hygiene and dietetics, so that we may live good, healthy lives, so Theosophy asks us to acquire knowledge for the building of character.
Just as our present character is the result of past Karma of our own making, so our future character will result from our present Karma. Most people are building now their future character, unconsciously to themselves. Theosophy opposes every form of unconscious action, for such action means lack of knowledge, working in the dark.
In our present efforts there is one important factor to be noted, that the assimilation of our present efforts and actions takes time. We are apt to overlook this, engrossed as we are in living our life, doing this thing and that. Our present-day actions impress our character, but these experiences have to go through the mill of assimilation ere the full result becomes manifest in character. Just as we do not digest and assimilate food in the hour of eating, but one process follows another, so also in ordinary beings life-activities and experiences in the body are assimilated by the soul in after-death states. Many students of Theosophy who endeavour to improve their character get dejected because results do not show themselves. Here is one of the reasons why honest, earnest and sincere effort does not show results. Of course we are taking for granted that effort, honest, earnest and sincere, is made. As The Voice of the Silence puts it: "Learn that no efforts, not the smallest—whether in right or wrong direction—can vanish from the world of causes."
Here we might make one more point and an important one for students of Theosophy. In the great School of Raja Yogis whose practical science H.P.B. taught, real Chelas of the Great Gurus are taught to forgo the bliss of Devachan, so that they might continue unbroken the spiritual service of the Race. This necessitates their assimilating their present experiences now and here, day by day.
But leaving alone this higher process, it is well for all people to learn that their present efforts are producing future character.
That brings us to the practical question of how we can build our character in the present for the future; and future includes tomorrow and the years belonging to this life, as well as lives and incarnations ahead of us.
There is character that is visible and character that is invisible. Weak or strong, good or bad character, expresses itself in action; but there is the invisible counterpart represented by our thoughts and feelings which are there all the time and which are so to speak the soul of actions. In the invisible department there are thoughts and feelings; in the visible department there are speech and deeds, words and actions.
It is necessary to recognize the existence of the invisible soul of character, made up of thoughts and feelings which cause the visible results of words and deeds. To take an example: Because of kindness in our character we do a helpful action for someone. That deed is visible in the result; but what is kindness? It is an emotion, people say. But what is an emotion? It is a force, an energy, substantial though invisible. Take another example—thoughtlessness. The world suffers much more from thoughtlessness than from actual wickedness. Thoughtlessly we do something that hurts or injures another person, or perhaps irritates him or even makes him angry. The thoughtless person causing this phenomenon may be ignorant of the consequences of his action, but the deed is done.
So when we speak of building our character we have to take into account four factors in two departments. Past character or memory, and present character or actions, involve four factors or four principles—mind, feeling, speech, deed. But let us not overlook the most important fact that these four belong to the Soul, the Real Man.
Character is the memory of the Soul who is also the actor or doer or mover in the present. The Soul is at the back of memory, at the back of effort, and ever will be. Mind, feeling, speech and deed belong to the Soul and there can be no Karma without a being to make it. Soul is the Being who makes or transforms his character.
What is the actual method which Theosophy offers to anyone who desires to improve his own character, consciously and deliberately? Having recognized the existence of these factors, what shall we do?
Let us begin with the Soul and acquire some knowledge about the creative faculty of the Soul. Soul creates his character and is therefore superior to the four factors of character—mind, feeling, speech and deeds.
Here arises an important question: If Soul builds character, how is it that there is ugliness in our present character? This ugliness came into our character not because of the Soul but in spite of it. Whenever we disregard the Soul, our character gets impressed with ugliness. Let us watch ourselves in daily life. We speak and act a hundred times a day—mostly thoughtlessly, i.e., we speak and act without deliberate thought. This happens because we are carried away by our likes and dislikes. We are attracted or repelled by this, that or the other, and we never pause to question: why, how, what? All such actions are wombs of pain, as the Gita points out. That is how ugliness and weakness came into our existing character. Removing this ugliness is one of our tasks.
All of us are apt to indulge in impulsive actions, disregarding the Soul. When we grow angry or jealous, the Soul flees from its tabernacle; when the mind and feelings are focused in the senses, the Soul weeps inside the castle of illusion; and so on. If it is true that we do so in the present life, it is equally true that we acted thus in the past. That is how ugliness entered our present character and often we increase it or strengthen it and we will have to face the results of our present follies in the future.
Therefore the first task is to rid our character of its existing ugliness. The best way to achieve this is to try to develop the opposite virtue. Do not only fight your irritation, but develop patience; do not only restrain your jealousy, but develop magnanimity and graciousness; do not only wage a war against your pride and egotism, but unfold gratitude and humility.
All this can be done with the help of the mind. "As you think, so you become." Therefore think nobly, unselfishly. Every morning read and recite such words and ideas as are related to the qualities or virtues you wish to develop. The mind wanders, and such words and sentences and aphorisms are an aid to steady the mind.
Next, Theosophy says that like master-keys there are certain master-virtues, i.e., seed virtues; and if we develop these seed-virtues others fructify quickly and naturally. What are they?
Because we are ordinary, normal people we should begin with the development of Graciousness. Graciousness leads to Gratitude and Compassion, just as affection develops into love.
The Supreme Characters of the drama of Evolution are the Great Ones whom Theosophists call Masters—living men whose sacrifice is so thorough that renouncing the Beautitude of Nirvana they remain with us, toiling for humanity. Ever gracious, they are Gratitude Incarnate, for they see the Supreme Self in each and every being. They are Compassion Absolute, for their vision is perfect and they see where we are blind. Those Gracious Ones, then, we must seek out as Patterns to build our character; in their likeness, humbly but confidently, we should endeavour to grow. Studying their Philosophy in the company orf co-students, we will soon learn the qualities of Graciousness, Gratitude, Compassion, and transform ourselves into men and women who are a blessing not only to our kin and friends but to all who contact us.
The object of reincarnation is that all the possible egos may have the chance to become immortal by uniting themselves with Spirit. If they do not, they lose. Bur further yet, it is laid down that the periods of evolution succeed each other in endless succession, and all who are "left over" unsaved at the end of any one of such periods are taken up again, in the succeeding evolution, for the purpose of working up to perfection. Thus in every Manvantara numbers of egos reach perfection, for that period is very long as mortals count years. I say "numbers" because in fact the number is very large, although, if compared to the entire whole, they may not seem to be many. This is what Theosophists are working for—not only to reach perfection themselves but to help all other men to do so likewise. And they should remember that whether they like it or not, the laws of life will bring them upon earth again and again until they believe in the doctrine, and acquire aspiration, and turn both into action.