II.22 As the wearer casts off worn-out clothes and puts on himself others which are new,
Even so, casting off worn-out bodies, the body-wearer passes on to new ones.
This great verse on reincarnation comes at the beginning of the teachings, and it refers to the great Self which takes on itself the illusion of the succession of bodies.
A master of meditation remarked that the idea of reincarnation contains hints at wider truths than the bare idea of things wearing out and being replaced, which to many older people has a depressing ring. They find their bodies less and less reliable, and less competent to fulfil most of the purposes of life as they have understood them. He said:
‘Take the case of furniture. If a chair is reasonably well made, at the beginning it sparkles with the fresh varnish laid evenly all over it. It has an unyielding firmness, and is perfectly adapted for its purpose. But it is not necessarily particularly attractive. Now suppose it has been in use for a hundred years. A good deal of the varnish will have been rubbed off the arms where the sitter has let himself down. For some years it was very comfortable as it gave slightly to the movements of the body, but in the end the whole thing got somewhat rickety. Now it has to be sat on with extreme care, and perhaps finally not at all. If it has been polished and polished for so long, the glare of the new varnish will have become a subdued glow. The chair is from the practical point of view almost useless, but as a matter of fact it is highly appreciated. It diffuses a soft radiance all around; it may even become a valuable antique.
‘In the same way a personality, if it has been used properly and polished every day by meditation, may become less active in the affairs of the world, but it spreads an atmosphere of quiet peace. It too has a sort of subdued radiance.
‘It is not quite the same with clothes, which don’t after all become antiques. But in fact old clothes are generally much more comfortable than new ones; they have come to adapt to the body. When we are wearing new clothes, we generally are not quite at ease. We take care that not a speck of anything drops on them, and we don’t care to go out even for a moment into rain. Whereas with the old clothes, though it is true that we handle them with care too, it is done with a kind of affection and without any worry. When they are finally laid aside, we give a little thought of gratitude for their faithful service. And it can be the same with the personality when it is time for that too to be laid aside.
‘In this way we can bring meaning to the whole of the incarnation in which we find ourself, instead of thinking of it as just the first part, with the later parts as without real meaning.’
Spiritual life can and should grow stronger every year!