When does reincarnation occur? How long a period of time do we spend in Devachan prior to returning to the physical plane for a new life in a new body? This is an interesting question.
In several places in the Theosophical literature it is implied that the average person does not usually reincarnate until approximately 1,000 to 1,500 years have passed and that the soul may even stay in the Devachanic state for several thousand years before being reincarnated. This was said by the Master K.H. and the Master M. in letters that They wrote to A.P. Sinnett and later repeated in various writings of H.P. Blavatsky, William Q. Judge, A.P. Sinnett, and others.
This average period of 1,000 to 1,500 years between incarnations is unfortunately taken by some Theosophists to be a strict rule and applicable for all time but this is not the case.
The Masters, HPB, and WQJ, were no doubt correct in saying that this very lengthy period was the average at that time – i.e. the end of the 19th century – but they never said that that would be the case forever and indeed Mr Judge in his book “The Ocean of Theosophy” specifically writes of that duration as “what the time would be for the average man of this century in every land.”
So for that point of time in human history this was the average but there is no reason to assume that it is still the average. In fact, the astounding population increase over the last century – with the world’s population rising by nearly 6-billion within just 120 years! – is quite sufficient to indicate that it is no longer the average at all and that many souls are reincarnating far sooner and far more quickly nowadays than they did 100 years ago.
The Masters have stated that reincarnation takes place much sooner and even very quickly in cases where the force of “tanha” or “trishna” (synonymous terms in Pali and Sanskrit which mean “lust for life,” “thirst for physical material existence,” “desire for sensuous and objective experience” etc.) is strong or prevalent and where the spiritual nature of the individual is totally undeveloped or unawakened.
It would seem that the main reason for the population increase is the increase of tanha and decrease of spirituality in human life, due to many individuals having fallen prey to materialistic and sense-driven thought. This is the cause of much speedier reincarnation for the majority. More can be read about this under the heading “Reincarnation and the World’s Population” in the article A Right Understanding of Reincarnation.
Since there are some Theosophists who insist that the 1,000-1,500 years figure should still be taken as the rule or gauge even in the 21st century, we quote here some passages which show that Theosophy has never actually held to such a strict and rigid view on this matter as some are inclined to think…
“The dream of Devachan lasts until Karma is satisfied in that direction, until the ripple of force reaches the edge of its cyclic basin and the being moves into the next area of causes.”
– Master K.H., Notes on Devachan, Theosophical Articles and Notes, p. 242
“The stay in Devachan is proportionate to the unexhausted psychic impulses originating in earth life. Those whose attractions were preponderatingly material will sooner be drawn back into rebirth by the force of Tanha.”
– Master K.H., Notes on Devachan, Theosophical Articles and Notes, p. 243-244
“Tanha is the thirst for life. He therefore who has not in life originated many psychic impulses will have but little basis or force in his essential nature to keep his higher principles in devachan. About all he will have are those originated in childhood before he began to fix his thoughts on materialistic thinking. … And this sort of materialistic thinker may emerge out of devachan into another body here in a month, allowing for the unexpended psychic forces originated in early life. But as every one of such persons varies as to class, intensity and quantity of thought and psychic impulse, each may vary in respect to the time of stay in devachan.”
– William Q. Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy, p. 113
“How long does the incarnating Ego remain in the Devachanic state? This, we are taught, depends on the degree of spirituality and the merit or demerit of the last incarnation.”
– H.P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, p. 145
“It is known that many persons emerge from the Devachanic state very soon after entering it. … And those who have but little aspiration here, who indulge in act more than thought, lay but little basis for Devachan, and hence emerge from it sooner than others.”
– William Q. Judge, Forum Answers, p. 57
“It must be borne in mind that each ego for itself varies the length of stay in the post-mortem states. They do not reincarnate at the same interval, but come out of the state after death at different rates.”
– William Q. Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy, p. 77
This is quite conclusive, especially the last quote, which sums up the whole matter. But what we have said above does not negate the probability that some souls still pass an extremely lengthy period of time in Devachan, of many hundreds or even thousands of years. As HPB says, it all “depends on the degree of spirituality and the merit or demerit of the last incarnation,” i.e. whether much of an amount or force of positive Karma was accrued by the individual during the lifetime just ended. The Law of Karma rules in this, as in all things. Everything is a matter of self-created destiny.
As competent research on the part of investigators has shown that the vast majority of individuals who accurately remember past life details have only spent several years in an interim condition (what Theosophists call Devachan), some have attempted to use this as proof or evidence that souls always reincarnate after just a few years only.
But this proves nothing. The reason so many of those who correctly recall verifiable details of their previous lifetime have only spent several years in the Devachanic state is precisely because those who have spent a lengthy period would be far less likely to remember anything from the previous lifetime, or at least far less likely to remember anything clearly, accurately, or in specific detail. Thus souls who have been in the Devachanic state for centuries or even millennia would obviously be significantly less likely to recall details of their previous lifetime upon eventually reincarnating, since the actual events and happenings of that previous lifetime would by then have been so long ago.
The possibility of souls spending a very long time between incarnations is therefore not invalidated at all by modern reincarnation research.
“For logic, consistency, profound philosophy, divine mercy and equity, this doctrine of Reincarnation has not its equal on earth. It is a belief in a perpetual progress for each incarnating Ego, or divine soul, in an evolution from the outward into the inward, from the material to the Spiritual, arriving at the end of each stage at absolute unity with the divine Principle. From strength to strength, from the beauty and perfection of one plane to the greater beauty and perfection of another, with accessions of new glory, of fresh knowledge and power in each cycle, such is the destiny of every Ego, which thus becomes its own Saviour in each world and incarnation.” – H.P. Blavatsky, “The Key to Theosophy”
~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~
SOME RELATED ARTICLES: A Right Understanding of Reincarnation, A Right Understanding of Karma, Questions about Karma, Death and the Afterlife, When We Die, Being Sensible about Past Lives, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, The Sevenfold Nature of Man, The Masters and Madame Blavatsky, Words from The Masters about H.P. Blavatsky, Who are you, Madame Blavatsky?, Gandhi on Blavatsky and Theosophy, Who was William Quan Judge?, “My Law” – Theosophy in a Poem, The Closing of the Door into the Human Kingdom, and Reincarnation and Christianity.