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Behind The Veil
by [?]

“Men of all castes, if they fulfil their assigned duties, enjoy in heaven the highest imperishable bliss. Afterwards, when a man who has fulfilled his duties returns to this world, he obtains, by virtue of a remainder of merit, birth in a distinguished family, beauty of form, beauty of complexion, strength, aptitude for learning, wisdom, wealth, and the gift of fulfilling the laws of his caste or order. Therefore in both worlds he dwells in happiness, rolling like a wheel from one world to the other.” Thus the Brahmans have settled the problem of the life that follows the life on earth. Those strange and subtle men seem to have reasoned themselves into a belief in dreams, and they speak with cool confidence, as though they were describing scenes as vivid and material as are the crowds in a bazaar. There is no hesitation for them; they describe the features of the future existence with the dry minuteness of a broker’s catalogue. The Wheel of Life rolls, and far above the weary cycle of souls Buddha rests in an attitude of benediction; he alone has achieved Nirvana–he alone is aloof from gods and men. The yearning for immortality has in the case of the Brahman passed into certainty, and he describes his heavens and his hells as though the All-wise had placed no dim veil between this world and the world beyond. Most arithmetically minute are all the Brahman’s pictures, and he never stops to hint at a doubt. His hells are twenty-two in number, each applying a new variety of physical and moral pain. We men of the West smile at the grotesque dogmatism of the Orientals; and yet we have no right to smile. In our way we are as keen about the great question as the Brahmans are, and for us the problem of problems may be stated in few words–“Is there a future life?” All our philosophy, all our laws, all our hopes and fears are concerned with that paralyzing question, and we differ from the Hindoo only in that we affect an extravagant uncertainty, while he sincerely professes an absolute certainty. The cultured Western man pretends to dismiss the problem with a shrug; he labels himself as an agnostic or by some other vague definition, and he is fond of proclaiming his idea that he knows and can know nothing. That is a pretence. When the philosopher says that he does not know and does not care what his future may be, he speaks insincerely; he means that he cannot prove by experiment the fact of a future life–or, as Mr. Ruskin puts it, “he declares that he never found God in a bottle”–but deep down in his soul there is a knowledge that influences his lightest action. The man of science, the “advanced thinker,” or whatever he likes to call himself, proves to us by his ceaseless protestations of doubt and unbelief that he is incessantly pondering the one subject which he would fain have us fancy he ignores. At heart he is in full sympathy with the Brahman, with the rude Indian, with the impassioned English Methodist, with all who cannot shake off the mystic belief in a life that shall go on behind the veil. When the pagan emperor spoke to his own parting soul, he asked the piercing question that our sceptic must needs put, whether he like it or no–

Soul of me, floating and flitting and fond,
Thou and this body were life-mates together!
Wilt thou be gone now–and whither?
Pallid and naked and cold,
Not to laugh or be glad as of old!

Theology of any description is far out of my path, but I have the wish and the right to talk gravely about the subject that dwarfs all others. A logician who tries to scoff away any faith I count as almost criminal. Mockery is the fume of little hearts, and the worst and craziest of mockers is the one who grins in presence of a mystery that strikes wise and deep-hearted men with a solemn fear which has in it nothing ignoble. I would as lief play circus pranks by a mother’s deathbed as try to find flippant arguments to disturb a sincere faith.