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The Doctrine Of Rebirth In Modern Philosophy

In antiquity, science and philosophy were scarcely anything else than

parts of religion[223]; the most eminent scientists and the greatest

philosophers alike were all supporters of the established form of

religion, whenever they did not happen to be its priests, for the

temples were the common cradle of science and philosophy. No wonder,

then, that we find these three great aspects of Truth always hand in

hand, never o
posed to or in conflict with one another through the

whole of antiquity. Science was for the body, philosophy for the

intellect, and religion for that divine spark which is destined to

flash forth and finally become a "god" in the bosom of the World Soul.

Every intelligent man knew that on this tripod lay the life of the

individual, the life of society, and the life of the world. Divorce

between these took place only at a later date, when the divine

Teachers had disappeared, and mutilated traditions handed down to the

nations nothing but disfigured and incomplete teachings buried beneath

the ruins of temples that had been crumbling away ever since spiritual

Life had left them.

Then followed the era of separation; science and philosophy became

debased and went their own ways, whilst a degenerate religion

reflected nothing higher than the narrow mentality of fallen

ministers. As this degradation continued, there sprang into being

religious wars, monstrosities that were unknown in those times when

Divinity shed illumination and guidance on the nations by means of

those mighty souls, the Adept-Kings: gods, demi-gods, and heroes.

Nevertheless, Truth never remained without her guardians, and when

apostleship had been destroyed by persecutions the sacred treasure

which was to be handed down from age to age was secretly entrusted by

the sages to faithful disciples. Thus did Esoterism pass through fire

and bloodshed, and one of its greatest teachings, the doctrine of

Palingenesis, has left a stream of light in its wake. Now we will give

a rapid sketch of it in modern times, examining the philosophical

teachings of the greatest of recent thinkers. We will borrow mainly

from Walker's work on this subject, quoting only the writers most

deserving of mention, and making only short extracts, for all that is

needed is to plant a few sign-posts to guide the student along the


In the 128th verse of Lalla Rookh, Thomas Moore speaks of rebirths:

"Stranger, though new the frame

Thy soul inhabits now, I've traced its flame

For many an age, in every chance and change

Of that Existence, through whose varied range,--

As through a torch-race, where, from hand to hand

The flying youths transmit their shining brand,--

From frame to frame the unextinguished soul

Rapidly passes, till it reach the goal!"

Paracelsus, like every Initiate, was acquainted with it, and Jacob

Boehme, the "nursling of the Nirmanakayas,"[224] knew that it was a law

of Nature.

Giordano Bruno--also a great Soul--quotes from Ovid's Metamorphoses,

Book 15, Line 156, &c., as follows:

"O mortals! chilled by dreams of icy death,

Whom air-blown bubbles of a poet's breath,

Darkness and Styx in error's gulph have hurl'd,

With fabled terrors of a fabled world;

Think not, whene'er material forms expire,

Consumed by wasting age or funeral fire,

Aught else can die: souls, spurning death's decay,

Freed from their old, new tenements of clay

Forthwith assume, and wake to life again.

... All is change,

Nought perishes" ...

Orger's translation[225]

Campanella, the Dominican monk, was sent into exile on account of his

belief in the successive returns of the soul to earth.

The Younger Helmont, in his turn, was attacked by the inquisition for

leaching this doctrine in his De Revolutione Animarum, in which he

brings forward, in two hundred problems, all the arguments; that make

reincarnation necessary.

Cudworth and Dr. Henry More, the Platonists of Cambridge, were

faithful believers in Palingenesis; whilst Joseph Glanvill, in Lux

Orientalis, finds that there are "Seven Pillars" on which

Pre-existence rests.

Dr. Edward Beecher, in The Conflict of Ages and The Concord of

Ages, as well as Julius Muller, the well-known German theologian, in

The Christian Doctrine of Sin, warmly uphold it.

Schelling acknowledges it in his Dissertation on Metempsychosis.

Leibnitz, in his Monadology, and more especially his Theodicy,

witnessed to his belief in this doctrine. Had he dared to speak out

his thoughts openly, he would more effectively have advocated his

"Optimism," by the teachings of evolution and rebirths, than by all

the other arguments he advanced.

Chevalier Ramsey, in The Philosophical Principles of Natural and

Revealed Religion, writes:

"The holy oracles always represent Paradise as our native country, and

our present life as an exile. How can we be said to have been banished

from a place in which we never were? This argument alone would suffice

to convince us of pre-existence, if the prejudice of infancy inspired

by the schoolmen had not accustomed us to look upon these expressions

as metaphorical, and to believe, contrary to Scripture and reason,

that we were exiled from a happy state, only for the fault and

personal disobedience of our first parents....

"Our Saviour seems to approve the doctrine of pre-existence in his

answer to the disciples, when they interrogate him thus about the man

born blind,[226] 'Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that

he was born blind?' It is clear that this question would have been

ridiculous and impertinent if the disciples had not believed that the

man born blind had sinned before his corporal birth, and consequently

that he had existed in another state long ere he was born on earth.

Our Saviour's answer is remarkable, 'Neither hath this man sinned nor

his parents, but that the works of God might be manifested in him.'

Jesus Christ could not mean that neither this man nor his parents had

ever committed any sin, for this can be said of no mortal; but the

meaning is that it was neither for the sins committed by this man in a

state of pre-existence, nor for those of his parents, that he was born

blind; but that he was deprived of sight from his birth, by a

particular dispensation of Providence, in order to manifest, one day,

the power of God in our Saviour. Our Lord, therefore, far from blaming

and redressing this error in his disciples, as he did those concerning

his temporal kingdom, answers in a way that seems to suppose with

them, and confirm them in the doctrine of pre-existence. If he had

looked upon this opinion as a capital error, would it have been

consonant or compatible with his eternal wisdom to have passed it

over so lightly and thus tacitly authorised it by such silence? On the

contrary, does not his silence manifestly indicate that he looked upon

this doctrine, which was a received maxim of the Jewish Church, as the

true explanation of original sin?

"Since God says that he loved Jacob and detested Esau ere they were

born, and before they had done good or evil in this mortal life, since

God's love and hatred depend upon the moral dispositions of the

creature, ... it follows clearly that if God hated Esau, type of the

reprobate, and loved Jacob, type of the elect, before their natural

birth, they must have pre-existed in another state.

"If it be said that all these texts are obscure, that pre-existence is

largely drawn from them by induction, and that this belief is not

revealed in Scripture by express words, I answer that the doctrines of

the immortality of the soul are nowhere revealed, least of all in the

oracles of the Old and New Testament. We may say the same of

pre-existence. This doctrine is nowhere expressly revealed as an

article of faith, but it is evidently implied in the Wisdom of

Solomon, by the author of Ecclesiasticus, by our Saviour's silence,

by St. Paul's comparisons, and by the sacred doctrine of original sin,

which becomes not only inexplicable, but absurd, repugnant, and

impossible, if that of pre-existence be not true.... The Fifth General

Council held at Constantinople pronounces anathema against all those

who maintain the fabulous doctrine of pre-existence in the Origenian

sense. It was not then the simple doctrine of pre-existence that was

condemned by the council, but the fictitious mixtures and erroneous

disguises by which this ancient tradition had been adulterated by the


Soame Jenyns writes:

"That mankind had existed in some state previous to the present was

the opinion of the wisest sages of the most remote antiquity. It was

held by the Gymnosophists of Egypt, the Brahmans of India, the Magi of

Persia, and the greatest philosophers of Greece and Rome; it was

likewise adopted by the Fathers of the Christian Church, and

frequently enforced by her early writers; why it has been so little

noticed, so much overlooked rather than rejected, by the divines and

metaphysicians of latter ages, I am at a loss to account for, as it is

undoubtedly confirmed by reason, by all the appearances of nature and

the doctrines of revelation.

"In the first place, then, it is confirmed by reason, which teaches us

that it is impossible that the conjunction of a male and female can

create an immortal soul; they may prepare a material habitation for

it; but there cannot be an immortal, pre-existent inhabitant ready to

take possession. Reason assures us that an immortal soul, which will

exist eternally after the dissolution of the body, must have eternally

existed before the formation of it; for whatever has no end can never

have had any beginning....

"Reason likewise tells us that an omnipotent and benevolent Creator

would never have formed such a world as this, and filled it with such

inhabitants if the present was the only, or even the first, state of

their existence; for this state which, if unconnected with the past

and the future, would seem calculated for no purpose intelligible to

our understanding, neither of good or evil, of happiness or misery, of

virtue or vice, of reward or punishment; but a confused jumble of them

all together, proceeding from no visible cause and tending to no


"Pre-existence, although perhaps it is nowhere in the New Testament

explicitly enforced, yet throughout the whole tenour of these writings

is everywhere implied; in them, mankind is constantly represented as

coming into the world under a load of guilt; as condemned criminals,

the children of wrath and objects of divine indignation; placed in it

for a time by the mercies of God to give them an opportunity of

expiating this guilt by sufferings, and regaining, by a pious and

virtuous conduct, their lost state of happiness and innocence....

"Now if by all this a pre-existent state is not constantly supposed,

that is, that mankind has existed in some state previous to the

present, in which this guilt was incurred, and this depravity

contracted, there can be no meaning at all or such a meaning as

contradicts every principle of common sense, that guilt can be

contracted without acting, or that we can act without existing...."

The following is a quotation from Hume, the great positivist


"Reasoning from the common course of nature, what is incorruptible

must also be ingenerable. The soul, therefore, if immortal, existed

before our birth, and if the former existence in noway concerned us,

neither will the latter.... Metempsychosis is, therefore, the only

system of this kind that philosophy can hearken to." (The Immortality

of the Soul.)

Young, in his Night Thoughts (Night the Sixth), has the following


"Look nature through, 'tis revolution all;

All change, no death. Day follows night; and night

The dying day; stars rise, and set, and rise;

Earth takes th' example ...

... All, to reflourish, fades;

As in a wheel, all sinks, to re-ascend.

Emblems of man, who passes, not expires."

"It is not more surprising to be born twice than once; everything in

Nature is resurrection," said Voltaire.

Delormel, Descartes, and Lavater were struck with the tremendous

importance of the doctrine of Palingenesis.

The Philosophy of the Universe, of Dupont de Nemours, is full of the

idea of successive lives, as a necessary corollary of the law of

progress; whilst Fontenelle strongly advocates it in his Entretiens

sur la Pluralite des Mondes.

It is needless to state that these ideas formed part of the esoteric

teachings of Martinez Pasqualis, Claude Saint-Martin, and their


Saint-Martin lived in times that were too troubled for him to speak

freely. In his works, however, not a few passages are found in which

there can be no doubt that reincarnation is hinted at, to anyone able

to read between the lines. (Tableau nat., vol. I, p. 136; L'homme

de Desir, p. 312.)

In his Oeuvres Posthumes (vol. I, p. 286) appears this remarkable


"Death ought to be looked upon only as one stage in our journey. We

reach this stage with tired, worn-out horses, and we start again with

horses that are fresh and able to take us farther on our road; all the

same, we must pay what we owe for the portion of the journey that has

been traversed, and until the account is settled, we are not allowed

to continue our way."

Goethe writes as follows to his friend Madame von Stein:

"Tell me what destiny has in store for us? Wherefore has it bound us

so closely to each other? Ah! in bygone times, thou must have been my

sister or my wife ... and there remains, from the whole of those past

ages, only one memory, hovering like a doubt above my heart, a memory

of that truth of old that is ever present in me."

Ballanche, an orthodox Christian mystic, says:

"Each one of us is a reincarnating being, ignorant both of his present

and of his former transformations." (Pal. Sociale, book III., p.


"Man is brought to perfection only by becoming a more perfect order of

things, and even then he does nothing more than bring back, as Plato

said, a confused memory of the state that preceded his fall." (Essai

sur les Instit. Sociales, vol. ii., p. 170.)

"This life we spend on earth, shut in between an apparent birth and an

equally apparent death, is, in reality, only a portion of our

existence, one manifestation of man in time." (Orphee, vol. iv., p.


"Our former lives belong to astronomical cycles lost in the mighty

bosom of previous ages; not yet has it been given to us to know them."

(Orphee, vol. iv., p. 432.)

Balzac's Seraphita abounds with references to the idea of successive


"All human beings spend their first life in the sphere of instincts,

in which they endeavour to discover how useless are the treasures of


".... How often we live in this first world...."

"Then we have other existences to wear out before we reach the path on

which the light shines. Death is one stage on this journey."

Constant Savy[227] describes as follows the conditions of immortality

and a succession of lives by means of reincarnation:

"In proportion as its soul is developed by successive lives, the body

to which it is to be united will necessarily be superior to those it

has worn out; otherwise there would be no harmony between these two

elements of human existence; the means given to the soul would bear

no relation to the development of its power. This body, gifted with

more perfect and numerous senses, could not have an equal value for


"Besides, these natural inequalities are also advantageous for

individual progress in another way; the errors resulting therefrom

cause truths to be discovered; vices laid bare almost form a reason

for the practice of virtue by all men, or at all events they protect

one from vice by reason of the horror they inspire; the ignorance of

some arouses the love of science in others; the very idleness which

dishonours some men inspires others with a love for work.

"So that these inequalities, inevitable because they are necessary,

are present in the successive lives we pass through. There is nothing

in them contrary to universal harmony; rather, they are a means for

effecting this harmony, and are the inevitable result of the

difference in value that bodies possess. Besides, no man remains

stationary; all advance at a more or less rapid rate of progress....

"When faith is born, it is an illumination. Since man's immortality is

one progressive advance, and, to effect this, he prepares the life he

enters by the life he is leaving; since, in short, there are

necessarily two worlds, one material, the other intellectual, these

two worlds, which make up the life to come, must be in harmonious

relationship with our own.

"Man's work will, therefore, be a continuation of his past work....

"I would never believe that our intelligence, which begins to develop

in this life, comes to a halt after such an imperfect growth, and is

not exercised or perfected after death....

"... Nature always advances, always labours, because God is life and

he is eternal, and life is the progressive movement in the direction

of the supreme good, which is God himself. Could man alone in the

whole of nature, man so imperfect and full of faults, stop in his

onward course, either to be annihilated, or suddenly, without

participating in it, though he was created free, find that he was as

perfect as he could possibly be? This is more than I can understand.

"No, when the time comes, man will not find that his life has been

useless, a thing for mere contemplation; he will not find that he is

improved without personal participation therein, without effort and

toil on his part; above all, he will not be reduced to a state of

nothingness. He will again have a life of toil; he will participate,

to the extent God has permitted him, in the endless creations produced

by divine omnipotence; he will again love, he will never cease to

love; he will continue his eternal progress, because the distance

between himself and God is infinite."

Pierre Leroux says:

"If God, after creating the world and all creation, were then to

abandon them, instead of guiding them from life to life, from one

state of progress to another, to a goal of real happiness, he would be

an unjust God. It is unnecessary for St. Paul to say; 'Shall the thing

formed say to him that formed it. Why hast thou made me thus?'

(Romans, chap, 9, v. 20.) There is an inner voice, doubtless coming

to us from God himself, which tells us that God cannot bring about

evil, or create in order to cause suffering. Now this is what would

certainly happen were God to abandon his creatures after an imperfect,

a truly unhappy life.

"On the other hand, if we regard the world as a series of successive

lives for each creature, we see very well how it comes about that God,

to whom there is neither time nor space, and who perceives the final

goal of all things, permits evil and suffering as being necessary

phases through which creatures must pass, in order to reach a state of

happiness which the creature does not see, and, consequently, cannot

enjoy in so far as it is a creature, but which God sees, and which,

therefore, the creature virtually enjoys in him, for the time will

come when it will partake of that happiness."[228]

In Fourier we find the following lines[229]:

"Where is there an old man who would not like to feel certain that he

would be born again and bring back into another life the experience he

has gained in the present one? To affirm that this desire cannot be

realised is to confess that God is capable of deceiving us. We must,

therefore, recognise that we have already lived before being what we

now are, and that many another life awaits us, some in this world, and

the rest in a higher sphere, with a finer body and more delicate


Alphonse Esquiros expresses himself as follows[230]:

"The question may well be asked whether the talents, the good and the

evil tendencies man brings with him at birth may not be the fruit of

acquired intelligence, of qualities and vices gained in one or many

former existences. Is there a previous life the elements of which have

prepared the conditions of the life now being lived by each of us?

People in ancient times thought so. Inborn dispositions, so different

in children, caused them to believe in impressions left by previous

existences in the imperishable germ of man. From the time when

intelligence begins to show itself in children we faintly discern a

general attitude towards things, which is very like a memory thereof.

It would appear that, according to this system, no one is unconnected

with the elements he introduces into life at each birth.

"All the same, rebirth in humanity constitutes no more than an initial

circle of tests. When, after one or several incarnations, man has

attained to the degree of perfection necessary to cause a change, he

passes to another life, and, in another sphere, begins an existence of

which we know nothing, though it is possible for us to regard it as

linked to the present life by the closest of bonds....

"The limit to the progress man must have attained to, before entering

upon another circle of tests in another sphere, is at present unknown

to us; science and philosophy will doubtless succeed in determining

this limit later on.

"They alone are reborn to earthly flesh who have in no way raised the

immortal principle of their nature to a degree of perfection that will

enable them to be reborn in glory....

"I affirm the perpetual union of the soul to organic bodies; these

bodies succeed each other, being born from one another, and fitting

themselves for the constitutive forms of the worlds traversed by the

immortal ego in its successive existences. The principle of life,

extended to divers evolutions of rebirth, is ever for the Creator

nothing more than a continuation of one and the same state. God does

not regard the duration of a being as limited to the interval between

birth and death; he includes all possible segments of existence, the

succession of which, after many interruptions and renewals, forms the

real unity of life. Must souls, when they leave our globe, put on,

from sphere to sphere, an existence hidden from us, whose organic

elements would continually be fitting themselves for the characters

and natures of the different worlds? Reason can come to no decision on

this point. Only let us not forget that the soul always carries off a

material germ from one existence to the next, making itself anew, so

to speak, several times, in that endless ascent of lives through the

worlds, wherein it attains, heaven after heaven, a degree of

perfection increasingly linked with the eternal elements of our

growing personality.

"It may be seen, from what is here stated, how vain is the hypothesis

of perfect bliss following on the death of the righteous.

"It is useless for the Christian to soar beyond time, beyond some

limit that separates him from infinite good; he cannot do this by a

single effort. God proportions his intervention and aid to the

totality of the states man must pass through in the course of an

indefinitely long series of existences...."

M. d'Orient, an orthodox Catholic, writes as follows[231]:

"In this doctrine, so evidently based on reason, everything is linked

and held together: the foreknowledge of God and the agreement thereof

with man's free-will. This problem, hitherto impossible to solve, no

longer offers any difficulty, if by it is meant that God, knowing

before birth, by reason of his previous deeds, what there is in the

heart of man, brings man to life and removes him from it in

circumstances that best fit in with the accomplishment of his


"We see in this way how it is that God is the controller of all the

main events that take place in the world, for the knowledge he has of

souls in former lives, and his power to dispose of each and all in the

way he pleases, enable him to foresee events in his infinite knowledge

and arrange the whole sequence of things in conformity with his plans,

somewhat as an ingenious, skilful workman, by the aid of various

colours, conceives of and arranges the life-like reproduction of a

mosaic, a picture, or a piece of inlaid work. We understand all his

forecasts of the future, how it was that Daniel foretold so exactly

the greatness of Alexander and his conquests; how Isaiah called Cyrus

by name many centuries before these mighty conquerors appeared to

spread confusion and terror over the world; how God, in order to show

forth his might before the nations and spread abroad the glory of his

name, is said to have hardened Pharaoh's heart and roused his

obstinate will; for all that was needed in order to bring to pass

these various results was for God to call back into existence certain

souls he knew to be naturally suited to his purpose. This is

distinctly pointed out in the passage from the apostle St. Jude,

which, if we accept the meaning that first offers itself to the mind,

would seem positively to imply that certain souls had undergone a

sentence of eternal reprobation: 'For there are certain men crept in

unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation,

turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness....'

"And so there falls away and disappears the greatest difficulty in the

doctrine of grace, which consisted in explaining how it came about

that God made some men pitiful and others hard-hearted, without there

being in him either justice or acceptance of persons; showing pity,

says St. Augustine, only by grace that was unmerited, and hardening

hearts only by judgment that was always just; since evidently

according to this theory it is not (as Origen has already said) apart

from previous merit that some are formed for vessels of honour, and

others for vessels of shame and wrath. That harsh sentence pronounced

upon Judas by the Bishop of Hippon, which so grievously scandalised

most of the Catholic theologians, although only the confirmation of

the quotation from St. Jude, viz., that the wretched man had been

predestined to shed the Saviour's blood, will seem to be a very just

one in the sense that God causes that already lost soul to be born

again, that demon, as Jesus Christ called him, for the very purpose of

perpetrating the hateful crime.

"Consequently the most sublime mysteries of religion, the most

wonderful facts regarding the destiny of the soul, find their natural

explanation in a clear understanding of this doctrine of

metempsychosis, however strange and extraordinary it may at first

appear. What more striking proof can be asked for, what stronger and

more convincing reason than such agreement, concerning matter wherein

all positive proof will always, humanly speaking, be impossible? A

doctrine which meets all the facts of the case so accurately, which

explains, without difficulty, all the phenomena of our existence in

this world, can, of necessity, be nothing else than true."

Jean Reynaud expresses himself in these terms in Terre el Ciel:

"How glorious the light that would be cast on the present order of

things on earth by a knowledge of our former existences! And yet, not

only is our memory helpless regarding the times that preceded birth,

it is not even conscious of the whole of the intervening period, often

playing us false in the course of a lifetime. It retains absolutely

nothing of the period immediately preceding birth, and scarcely any

trace of our education as children; we might even be altogether

ignorant of the fact that we were children once, were there not around

us witnesses of that time. On every hand we are wrapped in a veil of

ignorance, as with a pall of darkness, we no more distinguish the

light beyond the cradle than that beyond the tomb. So far as memory is

concerned, it would seem that we might be compared with a rocket such

as we sometimes see flashing through the sky in the night-time,

leaving behind it a line of light, this light never shows anything

more than a limited portion of the way. Of like nature is memory, a

trail of light left behind on our journey; we die, and everything is

dark around us; we are born again, and the light begins to appear,

like a star through the mist; we live, and it develops and grows,

suddenly disappears again and reappears once more; from one eclipse to

another we continue our way, and this way, interrupted by periods of

darkness, is a continuous one, whose elements, only apparently

separated, are linked to each other by the closest of bonds; we always

bear within ourselves the principle of what we shall be later on, we

are always rising higher. Question us on our past, and, like the

rocket, we reply that we are going forward, but that our path is

illumined only in our immediate neighbourhood, and that the rest of

the road is lost in the blackness of night; we no more know from where

we came than we know our destination, but we do know that we came from

below and are rising higher, and that is all that is necessary to

interest us in ourselves and make us conscious of what we are. And who

knows but what our soul, in the unknown secret of its essence, has

power some day to throw light on its successive journeyings, like

those streaks of flame to which we are comparing it? There are strong

reasons for thinking that such is the case, since the entire

restoration of memory appears, with good reason, to be one of the main

conditions of our future happiness....

"In like manner the soul, passing from one abode to another, and

leaving its first body for a new one, ever changing its appearance and

its dwelling, guided by the Creator's beams, from transmigration to

transmigration, from metamorphosis to metamorphosis, pursues the

palingenesic course of its eternal destiny....

"... Let us, then, add the teachings of metempsychosis to those of the

Gospel, and place Pythagoras by the side of Jesus...."

Andre Pezzani concludes in the following words his remarkable book on

The Plurality of the Soul's Lives:

"Apart from the belief in previous lives, nothing can be explained,

neither the coming of a new soul into this evil world, the often

incurable bodily infirmities, the disproportionate division of wealth,

nor the inequality in intelligence and morality. The justice of God

lies behind the monstrous phantom of chance. We understand neither

what man is, whence he comes, nor whither he goes; original sin does

not account for the particular fate of individuals, as it is the same

for all. Roughly speaking, it clears up no difficulties, but rather

adds to them the most revolting injustice. Once accept the theory of

pre-existence, and a glorious light is thrown on the dogma of sin, for

it becomes the result of personal faults from which the guilty soul

must be purified.

"Pre-existence, once admitted as regards the past, logically implies a

succession of future existences for all souls that have not yet

attained to the goal and that have imperfections and defilements from

which to be cleansed. In order to enter the circle of happiness and

leave the circle of wanderings, one must be pure.

"We have opposed error, and proclaimed truth, and we firmly believe

that the dogmas of pre-existence and the plurality of lives are true."

Thomas Browne, in Religio Medici, section 6, hints at Reincarnation:

"Heresies perish not with their authors, but, like the river Arethusa,

though they lose their currents in one place, they rise up again in

another ... revolution of time will restore it, when it will flourish

till it be condemned again. For as though there were a Metempsychosis,

and the soul of one man passed into another, opinions do find, after

certain Revolutions, men and minds like those that first begat

them.... Each man is not only himself, there hath been many Diogenes

and as many Timons, though but few of that name; men are lived over

again, the world is now as it was in ages past; there was none then

but there hath been someone since that parallels him, and is, as it

were, his revived self."

Lessing, in The Divine Education of the Human Race, vigorously

opposes a Lutheran divine who rejects reincarnation:

"The very same way by which the race reaches its perfection must every

individual man--one sooner, another later--have travelled over. Have

travelled over in one and the same life? Can he have been in one and

the self-same life a sensual Jew and a spiritual Christian?

"Surely not that! But why should not every individual man have existed

more than once in this world?

"Is this hypothesis so laughable merely because it is the oldest?

Because the human understanding, before the sophistries of the schools

had disciplined and debilitated it, lighted upon it at once? Why may

not even I have already performed those steps of my perfecting which

bring to men only temporal punishments and rewards? And once more, why

not another time all those steps, to perform which the views of

Eternal Rewards so powerfully assist us? Why should I not come back as

often as I am capable of acquiring fresh knowledge, fresh expertness?

Do I bring away so much from once that there is nothing to repay the

trouble of coming back?

"Is this a reason against it? Or because I forget that I have been

here already? Happy is it for me that I do forget. The recollection of

my former condition would permit me to make only a bad use of the

present. And that which even I must forget now, is that necessarily

forgotten for ever?"

Schlosser gives expression to similar thoughts in a fine work of his:

Ueber die Seelenwanderung.

Lichtemberg says in his Seibstcharacteristik:

"I cannot get rid of the thought that I died before I was born, and

that by this death I was led to this rebirth. I feel so many things

that, were I to write them down, the world would regard me as a

madman. Consequently, I prefer to hold my peace."

Charles Bonnet is the author of a splendid work, full of noble and

lofty thoughts, on this subject. It is entitled Philosophic


Emmanuel Kant believes that our souls start imperfect from the sun,

and travel through planetary stages farther and farther away to a

paradise in the coldest and remotest star in our system. (General

History of Nature.)

In The Destiny of Man, J. G. Fichte says:

"These two systems, the purely spiritual and the sensuous--which last

may consist of an immeasurable series of particular lives--exist in me

from the moment when my active reason is developed and pursue their

parallel course....

"All death in nature is birth.... There is no death-bringing principle

in nature, for nature is only life throughout.... Even because Nature

puts me to death, she must quicken me anew...."

Herder, in his Dialogues on Metempsychosis, deals with this subject

more fully:

"Do you not know great and rare men who cannot have been what they are

in a single human existence; who must have often existed before in

order to have attained that purity of feeling, that instinctive

impulse for all that is true, beautiful, and good?... Have you never

had remembrances of a former state?... Pythagoras, Iarchas,

Apollonius, and others remembered distinctly what and how many times

they had been in the world before. If we are blind or can see but two

steps before our noses, ought we, therefore, to deny that others may

see a hundred or a thousand degrees farther, even to the bottom of

time ...?"

"He who has not become ripe in one form of humanity is put into the

experience again, and, some time or other, must be perfected."

"I am not ashamed of my half-brothers the brutes; on the contrary, so

far as I am concerned, I am a great advocate of metempsychosis. I

believe for a certainty that they will ascend to a higher grade of

being, and am unable to understand how anyone can object to this

hypothesis, which seems to have the analogy of the whole creation in

its favour."

Sir Walter Scott had such vivid memories of his past lives that they

compelled a belief in pre-existence. Instances of this belief may be

found in The Life of Scott, by Lockhart (vol. 7, p. 114, first


According to Schlegel:

"Nature is nothing less than the ladder of resurrection, which, step

by step, leads upward, or rather is carried from the abyss of eternal

death up to the apex of life." (AEsthetic and Miscellaneous Works;

and, The Philosophy of History.)

Shelley held a firm belief in Reincarnation:

"It is not the less certain, notwithstanding the cunning attempts to

conceal the truth, that all knowledge is reminiscence. The doctrine is

far more ancient than the times of Plato," (Dowden's Life of

Shelley, vol. 1, p. 82.)

Schopenhauer adopted the idea of Reincarnation which he had found in

the Upanishads; regarding this portion of his teaching, his

contemporaries and followers set up a kind of conspiracy of silence.

In Parerga and Paralipomena, vol. 2, chap. 15, Essay on Religions,

he says:

"I have said that the combination of the Old Testament with the

New gives rise to absurdities. As an example, I may cite the

Christian doctrine of Predestination and Grace as formulated by

Augustine and adopted from him by Luther, according to which one man

is endowed with grace and another is not. Grace thus comes to be a

privilege received at birth and brought ready into the world.... What

is obnoxious and absurd in this doctrine may be traced to the idea

contained in the Old Testament, that man is the creation of an

external will which called him into existence out of nothing. It is

quite true that genuine moral excellence is really innate; but the

meaning of the Christian doctrine is expressed in another and more

rational way by the theory of Metempsychosis, common to Brahmans and

Buddhists. According to this theory, the qualities which distinguish

one man from another are received at birth, i.e., are brought from

another world and a former life; these qualities are not an external

gift of grace, but are the fruits of the acts committed in that other


"What is absurd and revolting in this dogma is, in the main, as I

said, the simple outcome of Jewish theism with its 'creation out of

nothing,' and the really foolish and paradoxical denial of the

doctrine of metempsychosis which is involved in that idea, a doctrine

which is natural to a certain extent, self-evident, and, with the

exception of the Jews, accepted by nearly the whole human race at all

times.... Were an Asiatic to ask me for a definition of Europe, I

should be forced to answer him: It is that part of the world which is

haunted by the incredible delusion that man was created out of

nothing, and that his present birth is his first entrance into life."

In The World as Will and Idea, he also says:

"What sleep is for the individual, death is for the Will (character).

"It flings off memory and individuality, and this is Lethe; and

through this sleep of death it reappears refreshed and fitted out with

another intellect, as a new being."

In Parerga and Paralipomena, vol. 2, chap. 10, he adds:

"Did we clearly understand the real nature of our inmost being, we

should see how absurd it is to desire that individuality should exist

eternally. This wish implies that we confuse real Being with one of

its innumerable manifestations. The individuality disappears at death,

but we lose nothing thereby, for it is only the manifestation of quite

a different Being--a Being ignorant of time, and, consequently,

knowing neither life nor death. The loss of intellect is the Lethe,

but for which the Will would remember the various manifestations it

has caused. When we die, we throw off our individuality, like a

worn-out garment, and rejoice because we are about to receive a new

and a better one."

Edgar Allen Poe, speaking of the dim memories of bygone lives, says:

"We walk about, amid the destinies of our world-existence, encompassed

by divine but ever present Memories of a Destiny more vast--very

distant in the bygone time and infinitely awful.

"We live out a Youth peculiarly haunted by such dreams, yet never

mistaking them for dreams. As Memories we know them. During our

Youth the distinction is too clear to deceive us even for a moment.

"But now comes the period at which a conventional World-Reason awakens

us from the truth of our dream ... a mis-shapen day or a misfortune

that could not be traced back to our own doings in this or in another

life...." (Eureka.)

Georges Sand, in Consuelo, sets forth the logic of Reincarnation;

and G. Flammarion expounds this doctrine in most of his works:

Uranie; Les Mondes Imaginaires et les Mondes Reels; La Pluralite

des Mondes Habites, etc.

Professor William Knight wrote in the Fortnightly Review for

September, 1878:

"It seems surprising that in the discussions of contemporary philosophy

on the origin and destiny of the soul there has been no explicit revival

of the doctrines of Pre-existence and Metempsychosis.... They offer

quite a remarkable solution of the mystery of Creation, Translation, and


"Stripped of all extravagances and expressed in the modest terms of

probability, the theory has immense speculative interest and great

ethical value. It is much to have the puzzle of the origin of evil

thrown back for an indefinite number of cycles of lives and to have a

workable explanation of Nemesis...."

Professor W. A. Butler, in his Lectures on the History of Ancient

Philosophy, says:

"There is internally no greater improbability that the present may be

the result of a former state now almost wholly forgotten than that the

present should be followed by a future form of existence in which,

perhaps, or in some departments of which, the oblivion may be as


The Rev. William R. Alger, a Unitarian minister, adds:

"Our present lack of recollection of past lives is no disproof of

their actuality.... The most striking fact about the doctrine of the

repeated incarnations of the soul ... is the constant reappearance of

that faith in all parts of the world and its permanent hold on certain

great nations....

"The advocates of the resurrection should not confine their attention

to the repellent or ludicrous aspects of metempsychosis, ... but do

justice to its claim and charm." (A Critical History of the Doctrine

of a Future Life.)

Professor Francis Bowen, of Harvard University, writes in the

Princetown Review for May, 1881, when dealing with the subject of

Christian Metempsychosis:

"Our life upon earth is rightly held to be a discipline and a

preparation for a higher and eternal life hereafter. But if limited to

the duration of a single mortal body, it is so brief as to seem hardly

sufficient for so great a purpose.... Why may not the probation of the

soul be continued or repeated through a long series of successive

generations, the same personality animating, one after another, an

indefinite number of tenements of flesh, and carrying forward into

each the training it has received, the character it has formed, the

temper and dispositions it has indulged, in the stage of existence

immediately preceding?...

"Every human being thus dwells successively in many bodies, even

during one short life.[232] If every birth were an act of absolute

creation, the introduction to life of an entirely new creature, we

might reasonably ask why different souls are so variously constituted

at the outset.... One child seems a perverse goblin, while another has

the early promise of a Cowley or a Pascal.... The birthplace of one is

in Central Africa, and of another in the heart of civilised and

Christian Europe. Where lingers eternal justice then? How can such

frightful inequalities be made to appear consistent with the infinite

wisdom and goodness of God?...

"If metempsychosis is included in the scheme of the divine government

of the world, this difficulty disappears altogether. Considered from

this point of view, everyone is born into the state which he has

fairly earned by his own previous history.... We submit with enforced

resignation to the stern decree; ... that the iniquities of the

fathers shall be visited upon the children even to the third and

fourth generation. But no one can complain of the dispositions and

endowments which he has inherited, so to speak, from himself, that is,

from his former self in a previous stage of existence.

"And it matters not, so far as the justice of the sentence is

concerned, whether the former self from whom we receive this heritage

bore the same name with our present self, or bore a different


Professor F. H. Hedge, in Ways of the Spirit, and other Essays, p.

359, maintains that:

"Whatever had a beginning in time, it should seem, must end in time.

The eternal destination which faith ascribes to the soul presupposes

an eternal origin.... An obvious objection, and one often urged

against this hypothesis, is the absence of any recollection of a

previous life.... The new organisation with its new entries must

necessarily efface the record of the old. For memory depends on

continuity of association. When the thread of that continuity is

broken, the knowledge of the past is gone....

"And a happy thing, if the soul pre-existed, it is for us that we

remember nothing of its former life.... Of all the theories respecting

the origin of the soul this seems to me the most plausible, and

therefore the one most likely to throw light on the question of a life

to come."

The Spiritualists of Europe--those belonging to the school of Allan

Kardec, at all events--place reincarnation in the very forefront of

their teaching. We may add that those of America do not acknowledge

that the soul has more than one existence on earth, driven, however,

by the logic of things, which insists on progress, they state that

there are a series of lives passed in subtler bodies on invisible

planets and worlds.

All true philosophers have been attracted by the mystery of

palingenesis, and have found that its acceptance has thrown a flood of

light on the questions that perplexed them.

In Asia there are 400 millions of believers in reincarnation,

including the Chinese, Tartars, Thibetans, Hindus, Siamese,

Mongolians, Burmese, Cambodians, Koreans, and the people of Japan.

Tradition has handed down this teaching even to the most savage

tribes. In Madagascar, when a man is on the point of death, a hole is

made in the roof of his straw hut, through which his soul may pass out

and enter the body of a woman in labour. This may be looked upon as a

stupid superstition, still it is one which, in spite of its degenerate

form, sets forth the doctrine of the return of souls back to evolution

through earthly experiences. The Sontals, Somalis, and Zulus, the

Dyaks of Borneo and Sumatra, and the Powhatans of Mexico have similar

traditions. In Central Africa, slaves who are hunchbacked or maimed

forestall the hour of death by voluntary self-immolation, in the hope

of being reborn in the bodies of men who will be free and perfectly


To sum up: all tradition, whether popular, philosophical, or

religious, is instinct with the teaching of Rebirth.