Platonic Idea of Transmigration

Plato says: “Ten thousand years must elapse before the soul can return to the place from whence she came, for she cannot grow her wings in less.” “At the end of the first thousand years, the souls of the good and of the evil kind come together to draw lots, and choose their bodies according to their tendencies and the bent of their characters. They may take any they like. Instead of receiving the natural consequences of their deeds and misdeeds of their previous lives they are allowed to choose their own lot, according to their experience and bent of character. Some, being disgusted with mankind, prefer to be born as animals, such as lions and eagles or some other animals. Others delight in trying their luck as human beings.” From this mythological description we gather what Plato meant by transmigration.

This Platonic idea of transmigration or of successive lives of those who inhabit this earth has been criticized by various thinkers of modern times; and referring to this idea the late Doctor Myers, of the Psychical Research Society of London, writes in his second volume of “Human Personality”: “The simple fact that such was probably the opinion of both Plato and Virgil shows that there is nothing here which is alien to the best reason or to the highest instincts of men. Nor, indeed, is it easy to realize any theory of the direct creation of spirits at such different stages of advancement as those which enter upon the earth in the guise of mortal man. There must, one feels, be some kind of continuity–some form of spiritual past.” (P. 134.)

Why does He not create all souls equal? Why will one soul be highly advanced spiritually while another is entirely ignorant and idiotic? This question cannot be answered, this problem cannot be solved by the special creation theory, and therefore Doctor Myers says that there is no doubt that there was some previous continuity or spiritual past of each individual soul, and therefore he tacitly admits the theory of Transmigration. Although from a scientific viewpoint he could not give any direct proof regarding this idea of a pre-existence of the soul, still he could not deny it entirely when he said: “The shaping forces which have made our bodies and our minds what they are may always have been psychical forces–from the first living slime-speck to the complex intelligences of to-day.” “The old transmigrationist’s view would thus possess a share of truth and the actual man would be the resultant not only of intermingling heredities on father’s and mother’s sides, but of intermingling heredities, one of planetary and one of cosmic scope.” (“Human Personality,” Vol. II, p. 267.)

But this theory of Transmigration, as described by Plato, is a little different from a similar theory which existed in India before his time. In the Platonic idea of transmigration, as we have already seen, the souls were allowed to choose their own lot according to their experience or bent of character, but not to receive the natural consequence of their deeds and misdeeds. Plato did not say anything about the law which governs souls; but in ancient India the great thinkers and philosophers explained that each individual soul is bound by the inexorable law of nature to receive its body as a natural consequence of its former deeds and misdeeds, and not to have free choice of its lot according to its bent of character.