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METEMPSYCHOSIS


235


METEMPSYCHOSIS


mortality, partly in its comprehensiveness, binding together, as for the most part it seems to do, all indi- vidual existences in one single, unbroken scheme; partly also in the unrestrained liberty which it leaves to the mythologizing fancy.

History. — Egypt. — Herodotus tells us in a well- known pa.ssage that " the Egyptians were the first to assert the immortality of the soul, and that it passes on the death of the body into another animal ; and that when it has gone the round of all forms of life on land, in water, and in air, then it once more enters a human body born for it ; and this cycle of the soul takes place in three tliousand years " (ii. 123). That the doctrine first originated with the Egyptians is unlikely. It al- most certainly passed from Egypt into Greece, but the same belief had sprung up independently in many na- tions from a very early date. The accounts of Egyp- tian metempsychosis vary considerably: indeed such a doctrine was bound to undergo modifications accord- ing to changes in the national religion. In the " Book of the Dead ", it Is connected with the notion of a judg- ment after death, transmigration into infra-human forms being a punishment for sin. Certain animals were recon;nized by the Egyptians as the abode of specially wicked persons and were on this account, ac- cortling to Plutarch, preferred for sacrificial purposes. In Herodotus' account given above, this ethical note is absent, and transmigration is a purely natural and necessary cosmic process. Plato's version mediates between these two views. He represents the Egyp- tians as teaching that ordinary mortals will, after a cycle of ten thousand years, return to the human form, but that an adept in philosophy may hope to accom- plish the process in three thousand years. There was also a pantheistic form of Egyptian metempsychosis, the individual being regarded as an emanation from a single universal principle to which it was destined to return after having completed its " cycle of necessity". There are traces of this doctrine of a cosmic cycle in the Fourth Eclogue of Vergil. It has been thought that the custom of embalming the dead was connected with this form of the doctrine, the object being to pre- serve the body intact for the return of the soul. It is probalile, indeed, that the belief in such a return helped to confirm the practice, but it can hardly have provided the sole motive, since we find that other ani- mals were also frequently embalmed.

Greece, as already stated, probalily borrowed the theory of transmigration from Egypt. According to tradition, it had been taught by Musreus and Or- pheus, and it was an element of the Orphic and other mystic doctrines. Pindar represents it in this rela- tion (cf. 2nd Ol. Ode). The introduction of metemp- sychosis as a philosophical doctrine is due to Pythago- ras, who, we are told, gave himself out as identical with the Trojan hero Euphorbos, and added copious details of his subsequent soul-wanderings. Vegeta- rianism and a general regard for animals was the practical Pythagorean deduction from the doctrine. Plato's metempsychosis was learnt from the Pytha- goreans. He gave the doctrine a philosophic stand- ing such as it never before possessed ; for Plato exhibits the most elaborate attempt in the history of philosophy to find in the facts of actual experience justification for the theory of the pre-existence of the soul. In particular, sundry arguments adopted later on to prove immortality were employed by him to es- tablish pre-existence. Such were the proofs from uni- versal cognitions and the natural attraction of the soul towards the One, the Permanent, and the Beautiful. Plato ascribes to these arguments a retrospective as well as a prospective force. He seeks to show that learning is but a form of reminiscence, and love but the desire for reuruon with a once-possessed good. Man is a fallen spirit, "full of forgetfulncss". His sole hope is, by means of education and philosophy, to recover his memory of himself and of truth, and thus


free himself from the chains of irrationality that bind him. Thus only can he hasten his return to his " true fatherland " and his perfect assimilation to the Divine. Neglect of this will lead to further and perhaps per- manent degradation in the world beyond. The wise man will have an advantageous transmigration be- cause he has practised prudence, and the cnoioe of his next life will be put into his own hands. The vicious, ignorant, and passion-blinded man will, for the con- trary reason, find himself bound to a wretched ex- istence in some lower form. Plato's scheme of me- tempsychosis is conspicuous for the scope it allows to human freedom. The transmigration of the individual soul is no mere episode of a universal world-move- ment, predestined and unchangeable. Its course is really influenced by character, and character in turn is determined by conduct. A main oliject of his theory was to guarantee personal continuity of the soul's life, the point in which most other systems of transmigra- tion fail. Besides Plato and Pythagoras, the chief professors of this doctrine among the Greeks were Empedocles, Timaeus of Locri, and the Neoplatonists, none of whom call for detailed notice. ApoUonius of Tyana also taught it.

India. — The tloctrine of transmigration is not found in the oldest of the sacred books of India, viz., the Rig- Veda ; but in the later works it appears as an uncon- tested dogma, and as such it has lieen received by the two great religions of India. (1) Brahmanisra. — In Brahmanism, we find the doctrine of world-cycles, of annihilations and restorations destined to recur at enormous intervals of time; and of this general move- ment the fortunes of the soul are but an incident. At the same time, transmigrations are determined by moral worth. Every act has its award in some future life. By irreversilile law, evil deeds beget unhappi- ness, sooner or later; these, indeed, are nothing else but the slowly-ripened fruit of conduct, which every man must eat. Thus they explain the anomalies of experience presented in the misfortunes of the good and the prosperity of the wicked: each is "eating the fruit of his past actions ", actions done perhaps in some far-remote existence. Such a belief may tend to pa- tience and resignation in present suffering, but it has a distinctly unpleasant effect upon the Brahmanical out- look on the future. A pious Brahman cannot assure himself of happiness in his next incarnation ; there may be the penalty of great unknown sin still to be faced. Beatitude is union with Brahma and emancipation from the series of births, but no degree of actual holi- ness can guarantee this, since one is always exposed to the danger of being thrown back either by sin past or sin to come, the fruit of which will have to be eaten, and so on, we might be tempted to imagine, ad infi- nitum. Hence a great fear of re-incarnation prevails. (2) Buddhism. — Brahminism is bound up with caste, and is therefore strongly aristocratic, insisting much on innate superiorities. Buddhism, on the con- trary, cuts through caste-divisions and asserts the paramount importance of "works", of individual effort, though always with a backgroimd of fatalism which the denial of a personal Providence entails. According to the Buddhist doctrine, the ambition to rise to the summit of existence must infallibly be ful- filled; and the mission of Guatama was to teach the way to its attainment, i. e., to Buddhaship and Nir- vana. It is only through a long series of existences that this consummation can be reached. Guatama himself had as many as five hundred and fifty trans- migrations in various forms of life.

The characteristic feature in Buddhistic metemp- sychosis is the doctrine of Karma, which is a subtle sub- stitute for the conception of personal continuity. According to tliis view it is not the concrete individu- ality of the soul that survives, and migrates into a new life, but only the karma, or action, i. e., the sum of the man's deeds, his merits, the ethical resultant of his