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Brazil say of a fox, “May not that be the spirit of my dead daughter?'1
In Africa, again, mention is made of the Maravi thinking that the souls of bad men became jackals, and of good men snakes. The Zulus, while admitting that a man may turn into a wasp or lizard, work out in the fullest way the idea of the dead becoming snakes, a creature whose change of skin has so often been associated with the thought of resurrection and immortality. It is especially certain green or brown harmless snakes, which come gently and fearlessly into houses, which are considered to be 'amatongo’ or ancestors, and therefore are treated respectfully, and have offerings of food given them. In two ways, the dead man who has become a snake can still be recognized; if the creature is one-eyed, or has a scar or some other mark, it is recognized as the 'itongo' of a man who was thus marked in life; but if he had no mark the 'itongo' appears in human shape in dreams, thus revealing the personality of the snake. In Guinea, monkeys found near a graveyard are supposed to be animated by the spirits of the dead, and in certain localities monkeys, crocodiles, and snakes, being thought men in metempsychosis, are held sacred. It is to be borne in mind that notions of this kind may form in barbaric psychology but a portion of the wide doctrine of the soul's future existence. For a conspicuous instance of this, let us take the system of the Gold-Coast negroes. They believe that the 'kla' or 'kra,' the vital soul, becomes at death a 'sisa' or ghost, which can remain in the house with the body, plague the living, and cause sickness, till it departs or is driven by the sorcerer to the bank of the River Volta, where the ghosts build themselves houses and dwell. But they can and do come back from
1 Chomé in ‘Lettres Edif.' vol. viii. ; see also Martius, vol. i. p. 446. 2 Waitz, vol. ii. p. 419 (Maravi). 3 Callaway, Rel. of Amazulu,' p. 196, &c. ; Arbousset and Daumas,
See also Brun-Rollet, pp. 200,
* J. L. Wilson, ‘W. Afr.' pp. 210, 218. 234; Meiners, vol. i. p. 211.
this Land of Souls. They can be born again as souls in new human bodies, and a soul who was poor before will now be rich. Many will not come back as men, but will become animals. To an African mother who has lost her child, it is a consolation to say, 'He will come again.'
In higher levels of culture, the theory of re-embodiment of the soul appears in strong and varied development. Though seemingly not received by the early Aryans, the doctrine of migration was adopted and adapted by Hindu philosophy, and forms an integral part of that great system common to Brahmanism and Buddhism, wherein successive births or existences are believed to carry on the consequences of past and prepare the antecedents of future life. To the Hindu the body is but the temporary receptacle of the soul, which, 'bound in the chains of deeds' and 'eating the fruits of past actions, promotes or degrades itself along a series of embodiments in plant, beast, man, deity. Thus all creatures differ rather in degree than kind, all are akin to man, an elephant or ape or worm may once have been human, and may become human again, a pariah or barbarian is at once low-caste among men and high-caste among brutes. Through such bodies migrate the sinful souls which desire has drawn down from primal purity into gross material being; the world where they do penance for the guilt incurred in past existences is a huge reformatory, and life is the long grievous process of developing evil into good. The rules are set forth in the book of Manu how souls endowed with the quality of goodness acquire divine nature, while souls governed by passion take up the human state, and souls sunk in darkness are degraded to brutes. Thus the range of migration stretches downward from gods and saints, through holy ascetics, Brahmans, nymphs, kings, counsellors, to actors, drunkards, birds, dancers, cheats, elephants, horses, Sudras, barbarians, wild beasts, snakes, worms, insects, and inert things. Obscure as the relation mostly is between the crime and its punishment in a new
1 Steinhauser in 'Mag. der Evang. Miss.' Basel, 1856, No. 2, p. 135.
life, there may be discerned through the code of penal transmigration an attempt at appropriateness of penalty, and an intention to punish the sinner wherein he sinned. For faults committed in a previous existence men are afflicted with deformities, the stealer of food shall be dyspeptic, the scandal-monger shall have foul breath, the horse-stealer shall go lame, and in consequence of their deeds men shall be born idiots, blind, deaf and dumb, misshaped, and thus despised of good men. After expiation of their wickedness in the hells of torment, the murderer of a Brahman may pass into a wild beast or pariah; he who adulterously dishonours his guru or spiritual father shall be a hundred times re-born as grass, a bush, a creeper, a carrion bird, a beast of prey; the cruel shall become bloodthirsty beasts; stealers of grain and meat shall turn into rats and vultures; the thief who took dyed garments, kitchen-herbs, or perfumes, shall become accordingly a red partridge, a peacock, or a musk-rat. In short, ‘in whatever disposition of mind a man accomplishes such and such an act, he shall reap the fruit in a body endowed with such and such a quality.' The recognition of plants as possible receptacles of the transmigrating spirit well illustrates the conception of souls of plants. The idea is one known to lower races in a district of the world which has been under Hindu influence. Thus we hear among the Dayaks of Borneo of the human soul entering the trunks of trees, where it may be seen damp and blood-like, but no longer personal and sentient, or of its being re-born from an animal which has eaten of the bark, flower, or fruit;? and the Santals of Bengal are said to fancy that uncharitable men and childless women are eaten eternally by worms and snakes, while the good enter into fruit-bearing trees.3 But it is an open question how far these and the Hindu
Manu, xi. xii. Ward, ‘Hindoos,' vol. i. p. 164, vol. ii. pp. 215, 347–52. 2 St. John, “Far East,' vol. i. p. 181 ; Perelaer, 'Ethnog. Beschr. der Dajaks,' p. 17.
3 Hunter, ‘Rural Bengal,' p. 210. See also Shaw in 'As. Res.' vol. iv. p. 46 (Rajmahal tribes).
ideas of vegetable transmigration can be considered as independent. A curious commentary on the Hindu working out of the conception of plant-souls is to be found in a passage in a 17th-century work, which describes certain Brahmans of the Coromandel Coast as eating fruits, but being careful not to pull the plants up by the roots, lest they should dislodge a soul; but few, it is remarked, are so scrupulous as this, and the consideration has occurred to them that souls in roots and herbs are in most vile and abject bodies, so that if dislodged they may become better off by entering into the bodies of men or beasts. Moreover, the Brahmanic doctrine of souls transmigrating into inert things has in like manner a bearing on the savage theory of object-souls.?
Buddhism, like the Brahmanism from which it seceded, habitually recognized transmigration between superhuman and human beings and the lower animals, and in an exceptional way recognized a degradation even into a plant or a thing. How the Buddhist mind elaborated the doctrine of metempsychosis, may be seen in the endless legends of Gautama himself undergoing his 550 births, suffering pain and misery through countless ages to gain the power of freeing sentient beings from the misery inherent in all existence. Four times he became Maha Brahma, twenty times the dewa Sekra, and many times or few he passed through such stages as a hermit, a king, a rich man, a slave, a potter, a gambler, a curer of snake bites, an ape, an elephant, a bull, a serpent, a snipe, a fish, a frog, the dewa or genius of a tree. At last, when he became the supreme Buddha, his mind, like a vessel overflowing with honey, overflowed with the ambrosia of truth, and he proclaimed his triumph over life :
* Abraham Roger, 'La Porte Ouverte,' Amst. 1670, p. 107.
2 Manu, xii. 9: 'çarfrajaih karmmadoshaih yâti sthâvaratâm narah:' for crimes done in the body, the man goes to the inert (motionless) state ;' xii. 42, "sthâvarâh krimakstâçcha matsyâh sarpâh sakachhapâh paçavaçcha mrigaschaiva jaghanyâ tâmasî gatih'_'inert (m things, worms and insects, fish, serpents, tortoises and beasts and deer also are the last dark form.'
• Painful are repeated births.
I have attained to the extinction of desire.' Whether the Buddhists receive the full Hindu doctrine of the migration of the individual soul from birth to birth, or whether they refine away into metaphysical subtleties the notion of continued personality, they do consistently and systematically hold that a man's life in former existences is the cause of his now being what he is, while at this moment he is accumulating merit or demerit whose result will determine his fate in future lives. Memory, it is true, fails generally to recall these past births, but memory, as we know, stops short of the beginning even of this present life. When King Bimsara’s feet were burned and rubbed with salt by command of his cruel son that he might not walk, why was this torture inflicted on a man so holy? Because in a previous birth he had walked near a dagoba with his slippers on, and had trodden on a priest's carpet without washing his feet. A man may be prosperous for a time on account of the merit he has received in former births, but if he does not continue to keep the precepts, his next birth will be in one of the hells, he will then be born in this world as a beast, afterwards as a preta or sprite; a proud man may be born again ugly with large lips, or as a demon or a worm. The Buddhist theory of 'karma' or 'action,' which controls the destiny of all sentient beings, not by judicial reward and punishment, but by the inflexible result of cause into effect, wherein the present is ever determined by the past in an unbroken line of causation, is indeed one of the world's most remarkable developments of ethical speculation.
Köppen, ‘Religion des a,' vol. i. pp. 35, 289, &c., 318; Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, 'Le Bouddha et sa Religion,' p. 122 ; Hardy, 'Manual of Budhism,' pp. 98, &c., 180, 318, 445, &c.