Among all the nations of primitive antiquity, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul was not a mere probable hypothesis, needing laborious researches and diffuse argumentation to produce conviction of its truth. Nor can we hardly give it the name of Faith; for it was a lively certainty, like the feeling of one’s own existence and identity, and of what is actually present; exerting its influence on all sublunary affairs, and the motive of mightier deeds and enterprises than any mere earthly interest could inspire.
Even the doctrine of transmigration of souls, universal among the Ancient Hindūs and Egyptians, rested on a basis of the old primitive religion, and was connected with a sentiment purely religious. It involved this noble element of truth: That since man had gone astray, and wandered far from God, he must needs make many efforts, and undergo a long and painful pilgrimage, before he could rejoin the Source of all Perfection: and the firm conviction and positive certainty, that nothing defective, impure, or defiled with earthy stains, could enter the pure region of perfect spirits, or be eternally united to God; wherefore the soul had to pass through long trials and many purifications before it could attain that blissful end. And the end and aim of all these systems of philosophy was the final deliverance of the soul from the old calamity, the dreaded fate and frightful lot of being compelled to wander through the dark regions of nature and the various forms of the brute creation, ever changing its terrestrial shape, and its union with God, which they held to be the lofty destiny of the wise and virtuous soul.
Pythagoras gave to the doctrine of the transmigration of souls that meaning which the wise Egyptians gave to it in their Mysteries. He never taught the doctrine in that literal sense in which it was understood by the people. Of that literal doctrine not the least vestige is to be found in such of his symbols as remain, nor in his precepts collected by his disciple Lysias. He held that men always remain, in their essence, such as they were created; and can degrade themselves only by vice, and ennoble themselves only by virtue.
Hierocles, one of his most zealous and celebrated disciples, expressly says that he who believes that the soul of man, after his death, will enter the body of a beast, for his vices, or become a plant for his stupidity, is deceived; and is absolutely ignorant of the eternal form of the soul, which can never change; for, always remaining man, it is said to become God or beast, through virtue or vice, though it can become neither one nor the other by nature, but solely by resemblance of its inclinations to theirs.
And Timæus of Locria, another disciple, says that to alarm men and prevent them from committing crimes, they menaced them with strange humiliations and punishments; even declaring that their souls would pass into new bodies,–that of a coward into the body of a deer; that of a ravisher into the body of a wolf; that of a murderer into the body of some still more ferocious animal; and that of an impure sensualist into the body of a hog.
So, too, the doctrine is explained in the Phædo. And Lysias days, that after the soul, purified of its crimes, has left the body and returned to Heaven, it is no longer subject to change or death, but enjoys an eternal felicity. According to the Indians, it returned to, and became a part of, the universal soul which animates everything.
The Hindūs held that Buddha descended on earth to raise all human beings up to the perfect state. He will ultimately succeed, and all, himself included, be merged in Unity.
Vishnu is to judge the world at the last day. It is to be consumed by fire: The Sun and Moon are to lose their light; the Stars to fall; and a New Heaven and Earth to be created.
The legend of the fall of the Spirits, obscured and distorted, is preserved in the Hindu Mythology. And their traditions acknowledged, and they revered, the succession of the first ancestors of mankind, or the Holy Patriarchs of the primitive world, under the name of the Seven Great RISHIS, or Sages of hoary antiquity; though they invested their history with a cloud of fictions.
The Egyptians held that the soul was immortal; and that Osiris was to judge the world.
And thus reads the Persian legend:
“After Ahriman shall have ruled the world until the end of time, SOSIOSCH, the promised Redeemer, will come and annihilate the power of the DEVS (or Evil Spirits), awaken the dead, and sit in final judgment upon spirits and men. After that the comet Gurzsher will be thrown down, and a general conflagration take place, which will consume the whole world. The remains of the earth will then sink down into Duzakh, and become for three periods a place of punishment for the wicked. Then, by degrees, all will be pardoned, even Ahriman and the Devs, and admitted to the regions of bliss, and thus there will be a new Heaven and a new earth.”
In the doctrines of Lamaism also, we find, obscured, and partly concealed in fiction, fragments of the primitive truth. For, according to that faith, “There is to be a final judgment before ESLIK KHAN: The good are to be admitted to Paradise, the bad to be banished to hell, where there are eight regions burning hot and eight freezing cold.”