From The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Volume 7- Chapter 4 – Notes Of Class Talks and Lectures

(Delivered in Memphis on January 19, 1894: Reported in Appeal-Avalanche)

Swami Vive Kananda, the beturbaned and yellow – robed monk, lectured again last night to a fair – sized and appreciative audience at the La Salette Academy on Third street.

The subject was “Transmigration of the Soul, or “metempsychosis”. Possibly Vive Kananda never appeared to greater advantage than in this role, so to speak. Metempsychosis is one of the most widely – accepted beliefs among the Eastern races, and one that they are ever ready to defend, at home or abroad. As Kananda said: “Many of you do not know that it is one of the oldest religious doctrines of all the old religions. It was known among the Pharisees, among the Jews, among the first fathers of the Christian Church, and was a common belief among the Arabs. And it lingers still with the Hindus and the Buddhists. “This state of things went on until the days of science which is merely a contemplation of energies. Now, you Western people believe this doctrine to be subversive of morality. In order to have a full survey of the argument, its logical and metaphysical features, we will have to go over all the ground. All of us believe in a moral governor of this universe; yet nature reveals to us instead of justice, injustice. One man is born under the best of circumstances. Throughout his entire life circumstances come ready made to his hands — all conducive to happiness and a higher order of things. Another is born, and at every point his life is at variance with that of his neighbour. He dies in depravity, exiled from society. Why so much impartiality [partiality] in the distribution of happiness? “The theory of metempsychosis reconciles this dis –
harmonious chord in your common beliefs. Instead of making us immoral, this theory give us the idea of justice. Some of you say: ‘It is God’s will.’ This is no answer. It is unscientific. Everything has a cause. The sole cause and whole theory of causation being left with God, makes Him a most immoral creature. But materialism is as much illogical as the other. So far as we go, perception [causation?] involves all things. Therefore, this doctrine of the transmigration of the soul is necessary on these grounds. Here we are all born. Is this the first creation? Is creation something coming out of nothing? Analysed completely, this sentence is nonsense. It is not creation, but manifestation. “A something cannot be the effect of a cause that is not. If I put my finger in the fire, the burn is a simultaneous effect, and I know that the cause of the burn was the action of my placing my finger in contact with the fire. And as in the case of nature, there never was a time when nature did not exist, because the cause has always existed. But for argument[‘s] sake, admit that there was a time when there was no existence. Where was all this mass of matter? To create something new would be the introduction of so much more energy into the universe. This is impossible. Old things can be re – created, but there can be no addition to the universe. “No mathematical demonstration could be made that would have this theory of metempsychosis. According to logic, hypothesis and theory must not be believed. But my contention is that no better hypothesis has been forwarded by the human intellect to explain the phenomena of life. “I met with a peculiar incident while on a train leaving the city of Minneapolis. There was a cowboy on the train. He was a rough sort of a fellow and a Presbyterian of the blue nose type. He walked up and asked me where I was from. I told him India. ‘What are you?’ he said. ‘Hindu’, I replied. ‘Then you must go to hell’, he remarked. I told him of this theory, and after [my] explaining it, he said he had always believed in it because he said that one day when he was chopping a log, his little sister came out in her clothes and said that she used to be a man. That is why he believed in the transmigration of souls. The whole basis of the theory is this: If a man’s actions be good, he must be a higher being, and vice versa. “There is another beauty in this theory — the moral motor [motive] it supplies. What is done is done. It says, ‘Ah, that it were done better.’ Do not put your finger in the fire again. Every moment is a new chance.”

Vive Kananda spoke in this strain for some time, and he was frequently applauded.

Swami Vive Kananda will lecture again this afternoon at 4 o’clock at La Salette Academy on “The Manners and Customs of India.”