By Rajeev Dalvi

Part IV – Transcendentalism
This was the period when slowly but steadily Indian influence on philosophy was becoming more and more evident. Interest in reincarnation and Indian philosophy also ran strong among the American Transcendentalists, including Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau. Emerson wrote, “It is a secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again… Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new and strange disguise.” From the Katha Upanisad, one of the many books of ancient Indian philosophy in his library, Emerson quoted, “The soul is not born; it does not die; it was not produced from anyone… Unborn, eternal, it is not slain.”

Thoreau, the philosopher of Walden Pond, wrote, “As far back as I can remember, I have unconsciously referred to the experiences of a previous state of existence.” Another sign of Thoreau’s deep interest in reincarnation is a manuscript, discovered in 1926, entitled “The Transmigration of the Seven Brahmanas.” This short work is an English translation of a story about reincarnation from an ancient Sanskrit history. The transmigration episode follows the lives of seven sages through progressive incarnations as hunters, princes, and animals.

Walt Whitman, in his poem “Song of Myself,” writes,

I know I am deathless…
We have thus far exhausted
trillions of winters and summers,
There are trillions ahead, and
trillions ahead of them.


In France, famed author Honore Balzac wrote an entire novel about reincarnation, Seraphita. There Balzac states, “All human beings go through a previous life… Who knows how many fleshly forms the heir of heaven occupies before he can be brought to understand the value of that silence and solitude whose starry plains are but the vestibule of spiritual worlds?”

In David Copperfield, Charles Dickens explored an experience that hints at remembrances from past lives, deja-vu. “We all have some experience of a feeling, that comes over us occasionally, of what we are saying and doing having been said and done before, in a remote time — of our having been surrounded, dim ages ago, by the same faces, objects, and circumstances.

And in Russia, the eminent Count Leo Tolstoy wrote, “As we live through thousands of dreams in our present life, so is our present life only one of many thousands of such lives which we enter from the other, more real life .. and then return after death. Our life is but one of the dreams of that more real life, and so it is endlessly, until the very last one, the very real life — the life of God.”

So, this was during the late nineteenth century. This philosophy is what was being spoken about during those days. Now as we come closer to the dawn of the twentieth century, what evolved was an age called as ‘The Modern Age’. Read the next article to know further.

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