While to many the idea of Metempsychosis may seem new and unfamiliar, still it is one of the oldest conceptions of the race, and in ages past was the accepted belief of the whole of the civilized race of man of the period. And even today, it is accepted as Truth by the majority of the race.
The almost universal acceptance of the idea by the East with its teeming life, counterbalances its comparative non-reception by the Western people of the day. From the early days of written or legendary history, Metempsychosis has been the accepted belief of many of the most intelligent of the race. It is found underlying the magnificent civilization of ancient Egypt, and from thence it traveled to the Western world being held as the highest truth by such teachers as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato, Virgil and Ovid. Plato’s Dialogues are full of this teaching. The Hindus have always held to it. The Persians, inspired by their learned Magi, accepted it implicitly. The ancient Druids, and Priests of Gaul, as well as the ancient inhabitants of Germany, held to it. Traces of it may be found in the remains of the Aztec, Peruvian and Mexican civilizations.
The Eleusinian Mysteries of Greece, the Roman Mysteries, and the Inner Doctrines of the Cabbala of the Hebrews all taught the Truths of Metempsychosis. The early Christian Fathers; the Gnostic and Manichaeans and other sects of the Early Christian people, all held to the doctrine. The modern German philosophers have treated it with the greatest respect, if indeed they did not at least partially accept it. Many modern writers have considered it gravely, and with respect. The following quotations will give an idea of “how the wind is blowing” in the West:
“Of all the theories respecting the origin of the soul, Metempsychosis seems to me the most plausible and therefore the one most likely to throw light on the question of a life to come.”–Frederick H. Hedge.
“It would be curious if we should find science and philosophy taking up again the old theory of metempsychosis, remodelling’ it to suit our present modes of religious and scientific thought, and launching it again on the wide ocean of human belief. But stranger things have happened in the history of human opinions.”–James Freeman Clarke.
“If we could legitimately determine any question of belief by the number of its adherents, the —- would apply to metempsychosis more fitly than to any other. I think it is quite as likely to be revived and to come to the front as any rival theory.”–Prof. Wm. Knight. “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 around 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.”–Prof. Francis Bowen.
“The doctrine of Metempsychosis may almost claim to be a natural or innate belief in the human mind, if we may judge from its wide diffusion among the nations of the earth, and its prevalence throughout the historical ages.”–Prof. Francis Bowen.
“When Christianity first swept over Europe, the inner thought of its leaders was deeply tinctured with this truth. The Church tried ineffectually to eradicate it, but in various sects it kept sprouting forth beyond the time of Erigina and Bonaventura, its mediaeval advocates. Every great intuitional soul, as Paracelsus, Boehme, and Swedenborg, has adhered to it. The Italian luminaries, Giordano Bruno and Campanella. embraced it. The best of German philosophy is enriched by it. In Schopenhauer, Lessing, Hegel, Leibnitz, Herder, and Fichte, the younger, it is earnestly advocated. The anthropological systems of Kant and Schelling furnish points of contact with it. The younger Helmont, in De Revolutione Animarum, adduces in two hundred problems all the arguments which may be urged in favor of the return of souls into human bodies according to Jewish ideas. Of English thinkers, the Cambridge Platonists defended it with much learning and acuteness, most conspicuously Henry More; and in Cudsworth and Hume it ranks as the most rational theory of immortality. Glanvil’s Lux Orientalis devotes a curious treatise to it. It captivated the minds of Fourier and Leroux. Andre Pezzani’s book on The Plurality of the Soul’s Lives works out the system on the Roman Catholic idea of expiation.”–E.D. WALKER, in “Re-Incarnation, a Study of Forgotten Truth.”
And in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, and the early part of the Twentieth Century, the general public has been made familiar with the idea of Metempsychosis, under the name of Re-incarnation, by means of the great volume of literature issued by The Theosophical Society and its allied following. No longer is the thought a novelty to the Western thinker, and many have found within themselves a corroborative sense of its truth. In fact, to many the mere mention of the idea has been sufficient to awaken faint shadowy memories of past lives, and, to such, many heretofore unaccountable traits of character, tastes, inclinations, sympathies, dislikes, etc., have been explained.
The Western world has been made familiar with the idea of the re-birth of souls into new bodies, under the term of “Re-incarnation,” which means “a re-entry into flesh,” the word “incarnate” being derived from the words “in,” and “carnis,” meaning flesh–the English word meaning “to clothe with flesh,” etc. The word Metempsychosis, which we use in this lesson, is concerned rather with the “passage of the soul” from one tenement to another, the “fleshly” idea being merely incidental.
The doctrine of Metempsychosis, or Re-incarnation, together with its accompanying doctrine, Karma, or Spiritual Cause and Effect, is one of the great foundation stones of the Yogi Philosophy, as indeed it is of the entire system of systems of Oriental Philosophy and Thought. Unless one understands Metempsychosis he will never be able to understand the Eastern Teachings, for he will be without the Key. You who have read the Bhagavad Gita, that wonderful Hindu Epic, will remember how the thread of Re-Birth runs through it all. You remember the words of Krishna to Arjuna: “As the soul, wearing this material body, experienceth the stages of infancy, youth, manhood, and old age, even so shall it, in due time, pass on to another body, and in other incarnations shall it again live, and move and play its part.” “These bodies, which act as enveloping coverings for the souls occupying them, are but finite things–things of the moment–and not the Real Man at all. They perish as all finite things perish–let them perish.” “As a man throweth away his old garments, replacing them with new and brighter ones, even so the Dweller of the body, having quitted its old mortal frame, entereth into others which are new and freshly prepared for it. Weapons pierce not the Real Man, nor doth the fire burn him; the water affecteth him not, nor the wind drieth him nor bloweth him away. For he is impregnable and impervious to these things of the world of change–he is eternal, permanent, unchangeable, and unalterable–Real.”
This view of life gives to the one who holds to it, an entirely different mental attitude. He no longer identifies himself with the particular body that he may be occupying, nor with any other body for that matter. He learns to regard his body just as he would a garment which he is wearing, useful to him for certain purposes, but which will in time be discarded and thrown aside for a better one, and one better adapted to his new requirements and needs. So firmly is this idea embedded in the consciousness of the Hindus, that they will often say “My body is tired,” or “My body is hungry,” or “My body is full of energy,” rather than that “I am” this or that thing. And this consciousness, once attained, gives to one a sense of strength, security and power unknown to him who regards his body as himself. The first step for the student who wishes to grasp the idea of Metempsychosis, and who wishes to awaken in his consciousness a certainty of its truth, is to familiarize himself with the idea of his “I” being a thing independent and a part from his body, although using the latter as an abiding place and a useful shelter and instrument for the time being.