Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/35

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
27
EVOLUTION AND ETHICS.

means of constructing a plausible vindication of the ways of the cosmos to man. If this world is full of pain and sorrow; if grief and evil fall, like the rain, upon both the just and the unjust; it is because, like the rain, they are links in the endless chain of natural causation by which past, present, and future are indissolubly connected; and there is no more injustice in the one case than in the other. Every sentient being is reaping as it has sown; if not in this life, then in one or other of the infinite series of antecedent existences of which it is the latest term. The present distribution of good and evil is, therefore, the algebraical sum of accumulated positive and negative deserts; or rather, it depends on the floating balance of the account. For it was not thought necessary that a complete settlement should ever take place. Arrears might stand over as a sort of "hanging gale"; a period of celestial happiness just earned might be succeeded by ages of torment in a hideous nether world, the balance still overdue for some remote ancestral error.[1]



    worlds with phantoms of this, the Egyptian doctrine would seem to presuppose the Indian as a more archaic belief.

    Prof. Rhys Davids has fully insisted upon the ethical importance of the transmigration theory. "One of the latest speculations now being put forward among ourselves would seek to explain each man's character, and even his outward condition in life, by the character he inherited from his ancestors, a character gradually formed during a practically endless series of past existences, modified only by the conditions into which he was born, those very conditions being also, in like manner, the last result of a practically endless series of past causes. Gotama's speculation might be stated in the same words. But it attempted also to explain, In a way different from that which would be adopted by the exponents of the modern theory, that strange problem which it is also the motive of the wonderful drama of the book of Job to explain the fact that the actual distribution here of good fortune, or misery, is entirely independent of the moral qualities which men call good or bad. We can not wonder that a teacher, whose whole system was so essentially an ethical reformation, should have felt it incumbent upon him to seek an explanation of this apparent injustice. And all the more so, since the belief he had inherited, the theory of the transmigration of souls, had provided a solution perfectly sufficient to any one who could accept that belief." (Hibbert Lectures, p. 93.) I should venture to suggest the substitution of "largely" for "entirely" in the foregoing passage. Whether a ship makes a good or a bad voyage is largely independent of the conduct of the captain, but it is as largely affected by that conduct. Though powerless before a hurricane, he may weather many a bad gale.

  1. "The outward condition of the soul is, in each new birth, determined by its actions in a previous birth; but by each action in succession and not by the balance struck after the evil has been reckoned off against the good. A good man, who has once uttered a slander, may spend a hundred thousand years as a god, in consequence of his goodness, and, v/hen the power of his good actions is exhausted, may be born as a dumb man on account of his transgression; and a robber who has once done an act of mercy, may come to life in a king's body as a result of his virtue, and then suffer torments for ages in hell or as a ghost without a body, or be reborn many times as a slave or an outcast, in consequence of his evil life.

    "There is no escape, according to this theory, from the result of any act; though it is only the consequences of its own acts that each soul has to endure. The force has been set in motion by itself and can never stop; and its effect can never be foretold. If evil, it can