PHILOSOPHERS ON REINCARNATION
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Pherecydes of Syros
Ralph Waldo Emerson
J. G. Herder
J. G. Fichte
Friedrich von Schlegel
Pherecydes of Syros (6th century BCE)
There also are the souls of men who have committed bloodshed. Their souls are borne through the portals and gates of Tartaros on an outflowing river to birth; the river is like the seed that leads to new life. And the souls of men depart from life and enter again the caves and hollows of Tartaros through its portals and gates. Alongside Tartaros is Chaos and the realms of dark Night. (H. S. Schibli (1990). Pherekydes of Syros. Clarendon Press Oxford. p. 129, quoted in Wikipedia, “Pherecydes of Syros”)
Pythagoras himself left no writings. What is known about his beliefs come from the writings of others, such as Xenophanes, his contemporary, and Decaearchus:
Xenophanes writes: “Once he [Pythagoras] was present when a puppy was being beaten, they say, and he took pity and spoke this word: Stop! Do not strike it, for it is the soul of a man who is dear. I recognized it when I heard it screaming.” (Heinrik Hellwig,“Theories of Reincarnation in the History of Philosophy — Ancient Perspectives“)
“According to Porphyry, Dicaearchus said that Pythagoras believed ‘that the soul is immortal and that it transmigrates into animal bodies.’ ” (Heinrik Hellwig,“Theories of Reincarnation in the History of Philosophy — Ancient Perspectives“)
There is a word of Fate, an old decree
And everlasting of the gods, made fast
With amplest oaths, that whosoe’er of those
Far spirits, with their lot of age-long life,
Do foul their limbs with slaughter in offense,
Or swear forsworn, as failing of their pledge,
Shall wander thrice ten thousand weary years
Far from the Blessed, and be born through time
In various shapes of mortal kind, which change
Ever and ever troublous paths of life:
For now Air hunts them onward to the Sea;
Now the wild Sea disgorges them on Land;
Now Earth will spue toward beams of radiant Sun;
Whence he will toss them back to whirling Air–
Each gets from other what they all abhor.
And in that brood I too am numbered now,
A fugitive and vagabond from heaven,
As one obedient unto raving Strife.
(From “Purifications,” in The Fragments of Empedocles. William Ellery Leonard – Translator. Open Court Pub. Co.. 1908. Fragment 115)
I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence.
But when she (the celestial soul) is unable to follow, and fails to behold the truth, and through some ill-hap sinks beneath the double load of forgetfulness and vice, and her wings fall from her and she drops to the ground, then the law ordains that this soul shall at her first birth pass, not into any other animal, but only into man; and the soul which has seen most of truth shall come to the birth as a philosopher, or artist, or some musical and loving nature. (Phaedrus)
Ten thousand years must elapse before the soul of each one can return to the place from whence she came, for she cannot grow her wings in less; only the soul of a philosopher, guileless and true, or the soul of a lover, who is not devoid of philosophy, may acquire wings in the third of the recurring periods of a thousand years; he is distinguished from the ordinary good man who gains wings in three thousand years:-and they who choose this life three times in succession have wings given them, and go away at the end of three thousand years. But the others receive judgment when they have completed their first life, and after the judgment they go, some of them to the houses of correction which are under the earth, and are punished; others to some place in heaven whither they are lightly borne by justice, and there they live in a manner worthy of the life which they led here when in the form of men. And at the end of the first thousand years the good souls and also the evil souls both come to draw lots and choose their second life, and they may take any which they please. The soul of a man may pass into the life of a beast, or from the beast return again into the man. But the soul which has never seen the truth will not pass into the human form. For a man must have intelligence of universals, and be able to proceed from the many particulars of sense to one conception of reason;-this is the recollection of those things which our soul once saw while following God-when regardless of that which we now call being she raised her head up towards the true being. And therefore the mind of the philosopher alone has wings; and this is just, for he is always, according to the measure of his abilities, clinging in recollection to those things in which God abides, and in beholding which He is what He is. And he who employs aright these memories is ever being initiated into perfect mysteries and alone becomes truly perfect. But, as he forgets earthly interests and is rapt in the divine, the vulgar deem him mad, and rebuke him; they do not see that he is inspired. (Phaedrus)
Those also who are remarkable for having led holy lives are released from this earthly prison, and go to their pure home which is above, and dwell in the purer earth; and those who have duly purified themselves with philosophy live henceforth altogether without the body, in mansions fairer far than these, which may not be described, and of which the time would fail me to tell. (Phaedo)
As a man, casting off worn out garments taketh new ones, so the dweller in the body, entereth into ones that are new.
Those that have maintained the human level are men once more. Those that have lived wholly to sense become animals, corresponding in species to the particular temper of the life, ferocious animals where the sensuality has been accompanied by a certain measure of spirit, gluttonous and lascivious animals where all has been appetite and satiation of appetite. Those who in their pleasures have not even lived by sensation, but have gone their way in a torpid grossness become mere growing things, for this lethargy is the entire act of the vegetative, and such men have been busy be-treeing themselves. Those, we read, that, otherwise untainted, have loved song become vocal animals; kings ruling unreasonably but with no other vice are eagles; futile and flighty visionaries ever soaring skyward, become highflying birds; observance of civic and secular virtue makes man again, or where the merit is less marked, one of the animals of communal tendency, a bee or the like. (Enneads, III, 4.2, quoted in (Heinrik Hellwig,“Theories of Reincarnation in the History of Philosophy — Ancient Perspectives“)
It is not more surprising to be born twice than once; everything in nature is resurrection.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo (American writer)
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.
It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again. Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals; and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some strange new disguise.
Live so that thou mayest desire to live again – that is thy duty – for in any case thou wilt live again!
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.
David Hume (1711-1776)
What is incorruptible must also be unregenerable. The soul, therefore, if immortal, existed before our birth: And if the former existence noways concerns us, neither will the later. . . . The Metempsychosis is, therefore, the only system of this kind, that philosophy can hearken to. (“The Immortality of the Soul” quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery)
J. G. Herder (1744-1803)
Do you not know great and rate men who cannot have become what they are at once, in a single human existence? Who must often have existed before in order to have attained that purity of feeling, that instinctive impulse for all that is true, beautiful and good — in short, that elevation and natural supremacy over all around them? . . .
Have you never observed that children will sometimes, of a sudden, give utterance to ideas which makes us wonder how they got possession of them, which presuppose a long series of other ideas and secret self-communinings, which break forth like a full stream out of ht earth, an infallible sign that the stream was not produced in a moment form a few raindrops, but had long been flowing concealed beneath the ground? . .
Have you never had remembrances of a former state, which you could find no place for in this life? . . . Have you not seen persons, been in places, of which you are ready to swear that you had seen those persons, or had been in those places before? . . . And such are we; we who, from a hundred causes, have sunk so deep and are so wedded to matter, that but few reminiscences of so pour a character remain to us. The nobler class of men who, separate from wine and meat, lived in perfect simplicity, temperate and according to the order of Nature, carried it further, no doubt, than others, as we learn from the example of Pythagoras, of Iarchas, of Apollonius, and others, who remembered distinctly what and how many times they had been in the world before. . . .
I am not ashamed of my half-brothers, the brutes; on the contrary as far as they are 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 comprehend how anyone can object to this hypothesis which seems to have the analogy of the whole creation in its favor. (Dialogues on Metempsychosis, quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 275-6)
J. G. Fichte (1762-1814)
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 in which my active reason is developed, and pursue their parallel course. . . . The former alone gives to the latter meaning, and purpose, and value. I am immortal, imperishable, eternal, so soon as I form the resolution to obey the law of Reason. . . . After an existence of myriad lives [the supersensuous world] cannot be more present than at this moment. other conditions of my sensuous existence are to come; but these are no more the true life than the present condition. . . . Even because [Nature] puts me to death she must quicken me anew. It can only be my higher life, unfolding itself in her, and that which mortals call death is the visible appearing of a second vivification. (The Destination of Man, quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 285)
G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831)
Change while it imports dissolution, involves at the same time the rise of a new life — that while death is the issue of life, life is also the issue of death. This is a grand conception; one which the Oriental thinkers attained, and which is perhaps the highest in their metaphysics. In the idea of Metempsychosis we find it evolved in its relation to individual existence. . . . Spirit — consuming the envelope of existence — does not merely pass into another envelope, nor rise rejuvenescent from the ashes of its previous form; it comes forth exalted, glorified, a purer spirit. . . .
The principles of the successive phases of Spirit . . . are themselves only steps in the development of one universal Spirit. . . . Nothing in the past is lost for it, for the Idea is ever present; Spirit is immortal; with it there is no past, no future, but an essential now. This necessarily implies that the present form of Spirit comprehends within it all earlier steps. . . . The life of the ever present Spirit is a circle of progressive embodiments, which looked at in one aspect still exist beside each other, and only as looked at from another point of view appear as past. The grades which Spirit seems to have left behind it, it still possesses in the depths of its present. (Philosophy of History, quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery)
Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829)
Philosophy has primarily to refute two basic errors: firstly, that the human soul can dissolve into nothingness, and secondly, that man, without any effort of his own, is already fully endowed with immortality. . . . Man as he is now is entirely too imperfect, too material, to claim hat higher kind of immortality. He will have to enter into other earthly, yet far more refined and transfigured forms and developments before he can directly partake of the eternal glory of the divine world of light. . . .
The idea of metempsychosis, embraced by mysticism, is remarkable in itself for its antiquity. . . . It does not permit the soul to pass to full freedom before it has incarnated in many bodies. Here we view metempsychosis in its most general meaning as continuance of spirit, alternately using organic forms, and not in the sense of . . . an aggravating punishment accelerating. (From Cologne Lectures, quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 291)
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
In the succession of births . . . the persons who now stand in close connection or contact with us will also be born along with us at the next birth, and will have the same or analogous relations and sentiments towards us as now, whether these are of a friendly or a hostile description. . . .
What sleep is for the individual, death is for the will. . . . it would not endure to continue the same actions and sufferings throughout an eternity without true gain, if memory and individuality remained to it. It flings them off, and this is lethe; and through this lsepp of data it reappears refreshed and fitted out with another intellect, as a new being — “a new day tempts to new shores,” . . .
These constant new births, then, constitute the succession of the life-dreams of a will which in itself is indestructible. . . . Every new-born being indeed comes fresh and blithe into the new existence, and enjoys it as a free gift: but there is, and can be, nothing freely give. its fresh existence is paid for by the old age and death of a worn-out existence which has perished, but which contained the indestructible seed out of which this new existence has arisen: they are one being. To show the bridge between the two would certainly be the solution of a great riddle.
(The World as Will and Idea, quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 296)
The moral meaning of metempsychosis in all Indian religions is not merely that in a subsequent rebirth we have to atone for every wrong we commit, but also that we must regard every wrong beguiling us as thoroughly deserved through our misdeeds in a former existence. . . .
The individuality disappears at death, but we lost 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. . . . When we die, we throw off our individuality like a worn-out garment, and rejoice because we are about to receive a new and better one. . . .
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 to life.
(From Parerga and Paralipomena, quoted in The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 296)
Francis Bowen (1811-1890)
It seems to me, a firm and well-grounded faith in the doctrine of Christian metempsychosis might help to regenerate the world. For it would be a faith not hedged round with many of the difficulties and objections which beset other forms of doctrine, and it offers distinct and pungent motives for trying to lead a more Christian life, and for loving and helping our brother-man. (Quoted in E. D. Walker, Reincarnation – A Study of a Forgotten Truth)