WRITERS ON REINCARNATION
This section will endeavor to list down references to reincarnation in world literature or in the thoughts of literary writers. Suggestions and referrals are most welcome.
W. Somerset Maugham
Honore de Balzac
G. E. Lessing
Jean Paul Richter
Samuel T. Coleridge
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ralph Waldo Emerson
J. D. Salinger
W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
“Has it occurred to you that transmigration is at once an explanation and a justification of the evil of the world? If the evils we suffer are the result of sins committed in our past lives, we can bear them with resignation and hope that if in this one we strive toward virtue out future lives will be less afflicted.
The doctrine of transmigration… was a means of constructing a plausible vindication of the ways of the cosmos to man; … none but very hasty thinkers will reject it on the grounds of inherent absurdity.
We all have some experience of a feeling, that comes over us occasionally, of what we are saying and doing having been said and done before, in a remote time – of our having been surrounded, dim ages ago, by the same faces, objects, and circumstances.
Honore de Balzac (1799-1850)
All human beings go through a previous life… Who knows how many fleshly forms the heir of heaven occupies before he can be brought to understand the value of that silence and solitude whose starry plains are but the vestibule of spiritual worlds?
Pindar (542-443 BCE), Greek lyric poet:
“They were certain priests and priestesses who have studied so as to be able to give a reasoned account of their ministry; and Pindar also and many another poet of heavenly gifts. As to their words, they are these: mark now, if you judge them to be true. They say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes. Consequently one ought to live all one’s life in the utmost holiness.” (Plato, Meno, 81a-b)
John Masefield (1878-1967)
“I hold that when a person dies / His soul returns again to earth; / Arrayed in some new flesh disguise / Another mother gives him birth / With sturdier limbs and brighter brain.
Henry More (1614-1687)
I would sing the pre-existency
Of Human souls, and live once 0’er again
By recollection and quick memory
All that is passed since first we all began.
But all too shallow be my wits to scan
So deep a point and mind too dull to clear
So dark a matter. . . .
John Dryden (1631-1700)
If they pre-existing soul
Was form’d at first with myriads more,
It did through all the mighty poets roll
Who Greek or Latin laurels wore,
And was that Sappho last, which once it was before.
If so, then cease thy flight, O heaven-born mind!
Thou hast no dross to purge from thy rich ore:
Nor can thy soul a fairer mansion find,
Than was the beauteous frame she left behind:
Return to fill or mend the choir of thy celestial kind.
Soame Jenyns (1704-1787)
The ancient doctrine of transmigration seems the most rational and most consistent with God’s wisdom and goodness; as by it all the unequal dispensations of things so necessary in one life may be set right in another, and all creatures serve the highest and lowest, the most eligible and most burdensome offices of life by an equitable rotation; by which means their rewards and punishments may not only be proportioned to their behavior, but also carry on the business of the universe, and thus at the same time answer the purposes both of justice and utility. (Quoted in E. D. Walker, Reincarnation, Study of a Forgotten Truth)
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 Brachmans 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 primitive writers. Why it has been so little noticed, so much overlooked rather than rejected, by the divines and metaphysicians of later 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, or bring into being, an immortal soul: they may prepare a material habitation for it, but there must be an immaterial preexistent inhabitant ready to take possession. Reason assures us that an immortal soul, which will eternally exist 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, but must exist in some manner which bears no relation to time, to us totally incomprehensible; if, thereore, the soul will continue to exist in a future life, it must have existed in a former. Reason likewise tells us that an omnipotent and benevolent Creator would never have formed such a world as this, and filled it with inhabitants, if the present was the only, or even the first, state of their existence, a state which, if unconnected with the past and the future, seems calculated for no one purpose intelligible to our understandings ; 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 end. But, as we are certain that infinite power cannot be employed without effect, nor infinite wisdom without design, we may rationally conclude that this world could be designed as nothing more than a prison, in which we are awhile confined to receive punishment for the offenses committed in a former, and an opportunity of preparing ourselves for the enjoyment of happiness in a future, life.
Secondly, these conclusions of reason are sufficiently confirmed by the force of nature and the appearance of things. This world is evidently formed for a place of punishment as well as probation, a prison, or house of correction, to which we are committed, some for a longer, and some for a shorter time; some to the severest labor, others to more indulgent tasks; and if we consider it under this character, we shall perceive it admirably fitted for the end for which it was intended. . . . As we may suppose that they have not all been equally guilty, so they are not all equally miserable; the majority are permitted to procure a tolerable subsistence by their labor, and pass through their confinement without any extraordinary penalties, except from paying their fees at their discharge by death. Others, who perhaps stand in need of more severe chastisement, receive it by a variety of methods, some by the most tedious pains and diseases; some by disappointments, and many by success in their favorite pursuits; some by being condemned to situations peculiarly unfortunate, as to those of extreme poverty or superabundant riches, of despicable manners or painful preeminence, of galley-slaves in a despotic, or ministers in a free, country.
Lastly, the opinion of preexistence is no less confirmed by revelation than by reason and the appear ance of things; for although, perhaps, it is nowhere in the New Testament explicitly enforced, yet through out the whole tenor of those writings it is every where implied. In them mankind are 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 their guilt by sufferings, and regaining by a pious and virtuous conduct their lost estate of happiness and innocence; this is styled working out their salvation, not preventing their condemnation, for that is already past, and their only hope now is redemption, that is, being rescued from a state of captivity and sin, in which they are universally involved. This is the very essence of the Christian dispensation, and the grand principle in which it differs from the religion of nature ; in every other respect they are nearly similar. They both enjoin the same moral duties and prohibit the same vices; but Christianity acquaints us that we are admitted into this life oppressed by guilt and depravity, which we must atone for by suffering its usual calamities, and work off by acts of positive virtue, before we can hope for happiness in another. Now, if by all this a preexistent state is not constantly supposed, 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. So undeniable is this inference that it renders any positive assertion of a preexistent state totally useless; as, if a man at the moment of his entrance into a new country was declared a criminal, it would surely be unnecessary to assert that he had lived in some other before he came there.
In all our researches into abstruse subjects there is a certain clue, without which, the further we proceed the more we are bewildered ; but which, being fortunately discovered, leads us at once through the whole labyrinth, puts an end to our difficulties, and opens a system perfectly clear, consistent, and intelligible. The doctrine of preexistence, or the acknowledgment of some past state of disobedience, I take to be this very clue ; which, if we constantly carry along with us, we shall proceed unembarrassed through all the intricate mysteries both of nature and revelation, and at last arrive at so clear a prospect of the wise and just dispensations of our Creator, as cannot fail to afford complete satisfaction to the most inquisitive skeptic.
Thus is a preexistent state, I think, clearly demonstrated by the principles of reason, the appearance of things, and the sense of revelation; all which agree that this world is intended for a place of punishment, as well as probation, and must therefore refer to some former period. For as probation implies a future life, for which it is preparatory, so punishment must imply a former state, in which offenses were committed for which it is due; and indeed there is not a single argument drawn from the justice of God, and the seemingly undeserved sufferings of many in the present state, which can be urged in proof of a future life, which proves not with superior force the existence of another which is already past. (Quoted in E. D. Walker, Reincarnation, Study of a Forgotten Truth)
G. E. Lessing (1729-1781)
Is it after all so certain that my soul has only once inhabited the form of man? Is it after all so unreasonable to suppose that my soul, upon its journey to perfection, should have been forced to wear this fleshly veil more than once? Possibly this migration of the soul through several human bodies was based on a new system of thought. Possibly this new system was merely oldest of all. (Observations Upon Campe’s Philosophical Dialogues, quoted in Phoenix Fire Mystery, 274)
The very same way by which the race reaches its perfection must every individual man one sooner, another later have traveled over. . . . Why should not every individual man have existed more than once upon this world? Is this hypothesis so laughable merely because it is the oldest? Because the human understanding, before the sophistries of the schools had dissipated 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 forever? Or is it a reason against the hypothesis that so much time would have been lost to me? Lost? And how much then should I miss ? Is not a whole eternity mine? (Quoted in E. D. Walker, Reincarnation, Study of a Forgotten Truth)
William Jones (1746-1794)
I am no Hindu; but I hold the doctrine of the Hindus concerning a future state to be incomparably more rational, more pious, and more likely to deter men from vice, than the horrid opinions inculcated by Christians on punishments without end. (Letter to Radhakrishan, quoted in Phoenix Fire Mystery, 276)
William Blake (1757-1827)
In my brain are studies and chambers filled with books and pictures of old, which I wrote and painted in ages of eternity before my mortal life; and these works are the delight and study of archangels. . . . You, O dear Flaxman, are a sublime archangel, my friend and companion from eternity. (Letter to John Flaxman, quoted in E. D. Walker, Reincarnation, Study of a Forgotten Truth)
Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825)
The least valid objection to the theory of soul-circulation is that we forget these journeyings. Even during this life and without experiencing a “change of clothes,” multifarious conditions vanish from our memories. How then should we expect to remember the different bodies and the still more varied conditions experienced in previous lives? Why not allow a way of thinking to enjoy full light that a Plato, a Pythagoras, and who nations and eras have not disdained? . . . Let the soul return as often as it wishes. (“On the Immortality of the Soul,” quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 285)
William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home.
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
(From “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 288)
Samuel T. Coleridge (1772-1834)
Oft o’er my brain does that strange fancy roll
Which makes the present (while the flash doth last)
Seem a mere semblance of some unknown past,
Mixed with such feelings as perplex the soul
Self-questioned in her sleep; and some have said
We lived, ere yet this robe of flesh we wore.
O my sweet baby! when I reach my door,
If heavy looks should tell me thou are dead,
(As sometimes, through excess of hope, I fear)
I think that I should struggle to believe
Thou wert a spirit, to this nether sphere
Sentenc’d for some more venial crime to grieve;
Didst scream, then spring to meet Heaven’s quick reprieve
While we wept idly o’er thy little bier!
(“On a Homeward Journey upon Hearing the Birth of a Son,” quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 290)
Robert Southey (1774-1843)
I have a strong and lively faith in a state of continued consciousness from this stage of existence, and that we shall recover the consciousness of some lower sages through which we may previously have passed seems to me not impossible. . . . The system of progressive existence seems, of all others, the most benevolent, and all that we do understand is so wise and so good, and all we do or do not, so perfectly and overwhelmingly wonderful, that the most benevolent system is the most probable. (Letter, quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 292)
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
If there be no reasons to suppose that we have existed before that period at which our existence apparently commences, then there are no grounds for supposing that we shall continue to exist after our ex istence has apparently ceased.
George Russell (AE) (1867-1935)
They tell me that my recollections and visions are ancestral memories — a mere phrase. I talked to Julian Huxley about it once. You tell me, I said, that a man cannot transmit musical knowledge, or a language he has mastered, or a craft, to his children? No, he said, you may transmit a tendency, but everything has to be learnt afresh. And yet you tell me, I said, that when I get a glimpse of strange cities and buildings I have never seen, vivid and alive in every detail, the figures in the streets, the sharp shadows, it has nothing to do with me, but is a memory of some hypothetical ancestor of mind who may have gone on the Crusades? Huxley didn’t know what to say. He too dm she had sat up all night once dying to find a flaw in one of my arguments, and had to give up! (From an account of Mrs. Constance Sitwell, quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 425)
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, it’s age old pain,
It’s ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star, piercing the darkness of time.
You become an image of what is remembered forever.
You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers,
Shared in the same shy sweetness of meeting,
the distressful tears of farewell,
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.
Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.”
Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931)
A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me. (The Prophet)
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)
The soul comes from without into the human body, as into a temporary abode, and it goes out of it anew… it passes into other habitations, for the soul is immortal.
Walt Whitman (1819 -1892)
I know I am deathless…We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers, / There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them.
Wolfgang Goethe (1749 – 1832)
I am certain that I have been here as I am now a thousand times before, and I hope to return a thousand times.
Jack London (1876 – 1916)
I did not begin when I was born, nor when I was conceived. I have been growing, developing, through incalculable myriads of millenniums… All my previous selves have their voices, echoes, promptings in me… Oh, incalculable times again shall I be born.
J. D. Salinger (1919-2010)
It’s so silly. All you do is get the heck out of your body when you die. My gosh, everybody’s done it thousands of times. Just because they don’t remember, it doesn’t mean they haven’t done it.