The Key to Theosophy



Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

1831 -1891



The Key to Theosophy


Helena Petrovna Blavatsky


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What is Memory According

to Theosophical Teaching?


Q. The most difficult thing for you to do, will be to explain and give

reasonable grounds for such a belief. No Theosophist has ever yet succeeded in

bringing forward a single valid proof to shake my skepticism. First of all, you

have against this theory of reincarnation, the fact that no single man has yet

been found to remember that he has lived, least of all who he was, during his

previous life.

A. Your argument, I see, tends to the same old objection; the loss of memory in

each of us of our previous incarnation. You think it invalidates our doctrine?

My answer is that it does not, and that at any rate such an objection cannot be



Q. I would like to hear your arguments.

A. They are short and few. Yet when you take into consideration (a) the utter

inability of the best modern psychologists to explain to the world the nature of

mind; and (b) their complete ignorance of its potentialities, and higher states,

you have to admit that this objection is based on an a priori conclusion drawn

from prima facieand circumstantial evidence more than anything else. Now what is "memory" in your conception, pray?


Q. That which is generally accepted: the faculty in our mind of remembering and

of retaining the knowledge of previous thoughts, deeds, and events.

A. Please add to it that there is a great difference between the three accepted

forms of memory. Besides memory in general you have Remembrance,

Recollection,and Reminiscence, have you not? Have you ever thought over the

difference? Memory, remember, is a generic name.


Q. Yet, all these are only synonyms.

A. Indeed, they are not-not in philosophy, at all events. Memory is simply an

innate power in thinking beings, and even in animals, of reproducing past

impressions by an association of ideas principally suggested by objective things

or by some action on our external sensory organs. Memory is a faculty depending entirely on the more or less healthy and normal functioning of our physical brain; and remembranceand recollection are the attributes and handmaidens of that memory. But reminiscence is an entirely different thing.


Reminiscence is defined by the modern psychologist as something intermediate between remembrance and recollection,or "a conscious process of recalling past occurrences, but without that full and varied reference to particular things which

characterizes recollection." Locke, speaking of recollection and remembrance,



When an idea again recurs without the operation of the like object on the

external sensory, it is remembrance;if it be sought after by the mind, and with

pain and endeavor found and brought again into view, it is recollection.

But even Locke leaves reminiscence without any clear definition, because it is

no faculty or attribute of our physical memory, but an intuitional perception

apart from and outside our physical brain; a perception which, covering as it

does (being called into action by the ever-present knowledge of our spiritual

Ego) all those visions in man which are regarded as abnormal-from the pictures

suggested by genius to theravings of fever and even madness-are classed by

science as having no existence outside of our fancy. Occultism and Theosophy,

however, regard reminiscence in an entirely different light. For us, while

memory is physical and evanescent and depends on the physiological conditions of the brain-a fundamental proposition with all teachers of mnemonics, who have the researches of modern scientific psychologists to back them-we call

reminiscencethe memory of the soul. And it is this memory which gives the

assurance to almost every human being, whether he understands it or not, of his

having lived before and having to live again. Indeed, as Wordsworth has it:


Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,

The soul that rises with us, our life's star,

Hath elsewhere had its setting,

And cometh from afar.


Q. If it is on this kind of memory-poetry and abnormal fancies, on your own

confession-that you base your doctrine, then you will convince very few, I am


A. I did not "confess" it was a fancy. I simply said that physiologists and

scientists in general regard such reminiscences as hallucinations and fancy, to

which learned conclusion they are welcome. We do not deny that such visions of the past and glimpses far back into the corridors of time, are not abnormal, as

contrasted with our normal daily life experience and physical memory. But we do maintain with Professor W. Knight, that: The absence of memory of any action done in a previous state cannot be a conclusive argument against our having lived through it.


And every fair-minded opponent must agree with what is said in Butler's Lectures on Platonic Philosophy:


That the feeling of extravagance with which it (preexistence) affects us has its

secret source in materialistic or semi-materialistic prejudices.

Besides which we maintain that memory, as Olympiodorus called it, is simply

fantasy, and the most unreliable thing in us.


Says Olympiodorus, in Platonis Phaed.:


The fantasy is an impediment to our intellectual conceptions; and hence, when we are agitated by the inspiring influence of the Divinity, if the fantasy

intervenes, the enthusiastic energy ceases: for enthusiasm and the ecstasy are

contrary to each other. Should it be asked whether the soul is able to energize

without the fantasy, we reply, that its perception of universals proves that it

is able. It has perceptions, therefore, independent of the fantasy; at the same

time, however, the fantasy attends in its energies, just as a storm pursues him

who sails on the sea.


Ammonius Saccas asserted that the only faculty in man directly opposed to

prognostication, or looking into futurity, is memory. Furthermore, remember that

memory is one thing and mind or thought is another; one is a recording machine,

a register which very easily gets out of order; the other (thoughts) are eternal

and imperishable. Would you refuse to believe in the existence of certain things

or men only because your physical eyes have not seen them? Would not the

collective testimony of past generations who have seen him be a sufficient

guarantee that Julius Caesar once lived? Why should not the same testimony of

the psychic senses of the masses be taken into consideration ?


Q. But don't you think that these are too fine distinctions to be accepted by

the majority of mortals?

A. Say rather by the majority of materialists. And to them we say, behold: even

in the short span of ordinary existence, memory is too weak to register all the

events of a lifetime. How frequently do even most important events lie dormant

in our memory until awakened by some association of ideas, or aroused to

function and activity by some other link. This is especially the case with

people of advanced age, who are always found suffering from feebleness of

recollection. When, therefore, we remember that which we know about the physical and the spiritual principles in man, it is not the fact that our memory has

failed to record our precedent life and lives that ought to surprise us, but the

contrary, were it to happen.






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