The Doctrine Of Rebirth In Modern Philosophy
In antiquity, science and philosophy were scarcely anything else than
parts of religion; 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 opposed 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," knew that it was a law
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" ...
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
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
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, '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 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."
In Fourier we find the following lines:
"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:
"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
"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:
"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
"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
"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
"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
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,
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Every human being thus dwells successively in many bodies, even
during one short life. 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
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.