When we come to understand the important Theosophical teaching about the Skandhas, we begin to realise that we are our own Karmic progeny and that we are far more truly and deeply our own parent than our father and mother are. In previous incarnations or embodiments, as previous and now deceased personalities, we – that is, the reincarnating part of us, the mind-entity, the permanent individuality, the soul, the Ego, the inner unseen “I” – set causes in motion through our every thought, feeling, word, and action. And in so doing, we unwittingly shaped and fashioned not only our future experiences for future lives but also our future character, tendencies, traits, strengths, and weaknesses.
So with this in mind, we can understand how we are our own ancestor, Karmically speaking. All those previous lives were not the lives of “someone else” but of our Ego. But Theosophy reveals that even on the objective, mundane, physical level, we were sometimes our own ancestor.
Robert Crosbie, in “Answers to Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy” (p. 129), explains:
“Man, who now inhabits physical bodies, is also the conscious entity who evolved and established them. Every family trait, tendency and characteristic is due to the use of physical bodies in that line of physical heredity by numbers of egos, and all are karmically drawn to that physical family line which each one had a part in establishing, thus coming into his own inheritance. . . . Each ego in incarnation has the opportunity to eliminate family defects in himself, and by so doing benefit the physical line.”
He was deriving this from William Q. Judge’s article “Thoughts on Karma” which says:
“Each Ego is attracted to the body in which he will meet his just deserts, but also for another reason. That is, that not only is the body to give opportunity for his just reward or punishment, but also for that he in the past was connected with the family in which the body was born, and the stream of heredity to which it belongs is his too. It is therefore a question not alone of desert and similarity, but one of responsibility. Justice orders that the Ego shall suffer or enjoy irrespective of what family he comes to; similarity decrees that he shall come to the family in which there is some characteristic similar to one or many of his and thus having a drawing power; but responsibility, which is compounded of justice, directs that the Ego shall come to the race or the nation or the family to which its responsibility lies for the part taken by it in other lives in forming of the general character, or affecting that physical stream of heredity that has so much influence on those who are involved in it.”
But he then goes on to add that this is not actually always the case. Similarly, our being reborn in a particular nation or race does not necessarily always mean that we played a part in that nation or race or group in the past, because –
“An Ego may have no direct responsibility for a family, national, or race condition, and yet be drawn into incarnation there. In such an event it is similarity of character which causes the place of rebirth, for the being coming to the abode of mortals is drawn like electricity along the path of least resistance and of greatest conductibility.”
So in that case it is still Karma and perfect justice, through the law of cause and effect manifesting itself under the principle of affinity, even though it is not a direct historical and geographical type of cause and effect.
There is also such a thing, Mr. Judge says, as “attachment by opposites,” wherein a strong aversion to or hatred for a particular people or race or nation may cause us to reincarnate as one of them, due to our frequent strong thoughts and feelings about them having caused such a powerful magnetic link in their direction. (See “Letters That Have Helped Me” p. 22, Theosophy Company edition) “Thought is the real plane of action” is a Theosophical maxim that cannot be repeated often enough.
Returning to the first two quotes, however, we shouldn’t assume from this that we were previously our great-great grandfather or something as recent as that. That could sometimes be the case but the texts seem to imply something much further back, potentially thousands or tens of thousands of years or more. And having lived so many lives, we must have been responsible for helping to establish many lines of heredity all over the world and certainly not just the one we have incarnated into this time. In each incarnation we have both a maternal and paternal line of heredity, so it could be either of these with which we were connected in the past and not necessarily both of them.
It’s also worth remembering that some lines of heredity eventually reach a final end and die out, for example an “only child” (someone with no siblings) becoming parent to another “only child” who proceeds to never have children of their own; that family as a whole will still exist but that particular line of heredity within it will have come to a close, presumably indicating that it has served its Karmic purpose.
To explore this subject more, please read through the articles listed under the headings “The Law of Karma” and “Death, The Afterlife, and Reincarnation” on the Articles page, especially The Skandhas and Heredity – A Karmic Effect. We also recommend getting your own copies of the Theosophical books and studying them direct for yourself as well as with other like-minded people.