From REPLIES TO CLASS QUESTIONS chapter, delivered at Golden Gate Hall, Sunday, January 25, 1903
How is it explained that in a family, say, of six children, there is born a saint, a sinner, a healthy or sickly child, etc.? How is it that they are all different?
This is how individual births differ. There is one thing in common always. One person is working in a printing firm; another is working for a polishing firm, another in an oil factory, another in a cloth mill, and so on. All these people are following different lines, but they have one thing in common. They all buy cloth from the same shop. So if we have differences in one respect, it does not follow that we should have no points in common.
In all these children one desire is common, the attachment to their parents. That they have all in common. They were all attached to that home, or to those surroundings, but their other desires were different so it is that one comes into this world by one road, another comes by another road, but all meet fit the same crossing.
Do we perfect ourselves in the Spirit world when we lay off this body?
According to the Vedanta we perfect ourselves in future births. It is the future births, the future lives in which we perfect ourselves. The Spirit worlds will be to us just as dreams are to us every twenty four hours.
Can we assist those who have departed spiritually?
Yes, you can. You can assist them by keeping their pictures, or keeping their images before you mentally and then thinking, realizing and feeling that they are Divinity. Just think good thoughts for them, have the best feelings for them, and you can help them and you will help yourself also.
Do they ever assist us in material affairs?
If in the material world other people can assist you, we might say that the departed also assist you, but according to the Vedanta, even in the material world it is you yourselves who help yourselves, not to speak of the departed. It is you yourselves that assist yourselves in the shape of the departed, or in the bodies of the living. Thus the Vedanta requires you to seek nothing from outside, to keep your centre within you and to go about expecting and seeking everything from within. If you deserve, you need not desire; the objects of desire will be brought to you, will come to you. If you make yourselves worthy, help must come to you. Now we come to the question put the other day.
If a man lives in surroundings which all the time are making him love East India, which are all the “time inspiring him with Indian thoughts, he reads such books, and comes in contact with such persons, as keep East India before him continually. This man, being an American or Englishman, when he dies* will be born in India as the Result of his thoughts. Thus he is born in India by his own desires.
Do men go back to cats and dogs?
Now as to cats, dogs and other animals, it depends upon the surroundings in which they are. Their future births will depend upon their present surroundings.
There came two men to a sage in India, one of them with the temper of a dog, and the other with the temper of a cat, or you might say, a cat and a dog came to the sage. The dog put this question to the sage, “Sir, here is this cat or this cat like man. He is very wicked and sly, he is very bad. What will become of him in his next birth?” Afterwards that cat like man came to the sage and put the same question, “Sir, here is this dog or doggish fellow; he is very bad; he is snarling, barking. What will become of him after 4eath in the next birth?” The sage kept quiet, but after die questions had been repeated very often, he said, “Brothers, it would have been better if you had not put these questions”. But they insisted upon a reply. The sage said, “Well, here is this cat; the cat keeps company with you, O dog, and he or she is imbibing your habits, is living with you, and is all the time partaking of your character. Well, in his or her next birth, this cat will become a dog. What else can it become?” And as to the dog, well, it is keeping company with you, O cat, and is all the time imbibing your characteristics and sharing your habits. Well, in his next birth, he must become a dog.” Now it depends upon who keeps the company of a dog or cat. We need not enter into detail upon this question.