Reincarnation light at the end

Published on October 25th, 2015 | by HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada | Full size image


Reincarnation Explained

Remembrances of past lives can be fascinating, but the real goal of understanding reincarnation is to become free from the painful cycle of birth in death. Srila Prabhupada warns, This is not a very good business–to die and take birth again. We know that when we die we’ll have to enter again into the womb of a mother–and nowadays mothers are killing the children within the womb.

dehino ‘smin yatha dehe
kaumaram yauvanam jara
tatha dehantara-praptir
dhiras tatra na muhyati

“As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth, and then to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.13)

Generally, people cannot understand this simple verse. Therefore, Krishna says, dhiras tatra na muhyati: “Only a sober man can understand.” But what is the difficulty? How plainly Krsna has explained things! There are three stages of life. The first, kaumaram, lasts until one is fifteen years old. Then, from the sixteenth year, one begins youthful life, yauvanam. Then, after the fortieth or fiftieth year, one becomes an old man, jara. So those who are dhira–sober-headed, cool-headed–they can understand: “I have changed my body. I remember how I was playing and jumping when I was a boy. Then I became a young man, and I was enjoying my life with friends and family. Now I am an old man, and when this body dies I shall again enter a new body.”

In the previous verse Krsna said to Arjuna, “All of us–you, Me, and all the soldiers and kings who are present here–we existed in the past, we are existing now, and we shall continue to exist in the future.” This is Krsna’s statement. But rascals will say, “How was I existing in the past? I was born only in such-and-such a year. Before that I was not existing. At the present time I am existing. That’s all right. But as soon as I die, I’ll not exist.” But Krsna says, “You, I, all of us–we were existing, we are still existing, and we shall continue to exist.” Is that wrong? No, it is a fact. Before our birth we were existing, in a different body; and after our death we shall continue to exist, in a different body. This is to be understood.

For example, seventy years ago I was a boy, then I became a young man, and now I have become an old man. My body has changed, but I, the proprietor of the body, am existing unchanged. So where is the difficulty in understanding? Dehino ‘smin yatha dehe. Dehinah means “the proprietor of the body,” and dehe means “in the body.” The body is changing, but the soul, the proprietor of the body, remains unchanged.

Anyone can understand that his body has changed. So in the next life the body will also change. But we may not remember; that is another thing. In my last life, what was my body? I do not remember. So forgetfulness is our nature, but our forgetting something does not mean that it did not take place. No. In my childhood I did so many things I do not remember, but my father and mother remember. So, forgetting does not mean that things did not take place.

Similarly, death simply means I have forgotten what I was in my past life. That is death. Otherwise I, as spirit soul, have no death. Suppose I change my clothes. In my boyhood I wore certain clothes, in my youth I wore different clothes. Now, in my old age, as a sannyasi [a renunciant], I am wearing different clothes. The clothes may change, but that does not mean that the owner of the clothes is dead and gone. No.

This is a simple explanation of transmigration of the soul.

Also, all of us are individuals. There is no question of merging together. Every one of us is an individual. God is an individual, and we are also individuals. Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam: “Of all the eternal, conscious, individual persons, one is supreme.” The difference is that God never changes His body, but we change our bodies in the material world. When we go to the spiritual world, there is no more change of body. Just as Krsna has His sac-cid-ananda-vigraha, an eternal form of bliss and knowledge, so when you go back home, back to Godhead, you will also get a similar body. The difference is that even when Krsna comes to the material world, He does not change His body. Therefore one of His names is Acyuta, “He who never falls.”

Krsna never changes. He never falls down, because He is the controller of maya, the material energy. We are controlled by the material energy, and Krsna is the controller of the material energy. That is the difference between Krsna and us. And not only does He control the material energy, but He controls the spiritual energy also–all energies. Everything that we see, everything manifested–that is Krsna’s energy. Just as heat and light are the energies of the sun, everything manifested is made up of the energies of Krsna.

There are many energies, but they have been divided into three principal ones: the external energy, the internal energy, and the marginal energy. We living entities are the marginal energy. Marginal means that we may remain under the influence of the external energy or we may remain under the influence of the internal energy, as we like. The independence is there. After speaking Bhagavad-gita Krsna says to Arjuna, yathecchasi tatha kuru: “Whatever you like, you can do.” Krsna gives this independence to Arjuna. He does not force one to surrender. That is not good. Something forced will not stand. For example, we advise our students, “Rise early in the morning.” This is our advice. We do not force anyone. Of course, we may force someone once or twice, but if he does not practice it, force will be useless.

Similarly, Krsna does not force anyone to leave this material world. All conditioned souls are under the influence of the external, or material, energy. Krsna comes here to deliver us from the clutches of the material energy. Because we are part and parcel of Krsna, we are all directly Krsna’s sons. And if a son is in difficulty, the father suffers also, indirectly. Suppose the son has become a madman–or, nowadays, a hippy. The father is very sorry: “Oh, my son is living like a wretch.” So, the father is not happy. Similarly, the conditioned souls in this material world are suffering so much, living like wretches and rascals. So Krsna is not happy. Therefore He comes personally to teach us how to return to Him. (Yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati… tad-atmanam srjamy aham.)

When Krsna comes, He comes in His original form. But unfortunately we understand Krsna to be one of us. In one sense He is one of us, since He is the father and we are His sons. But He’s the chief: nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam. He’s more powerful than us. He’s the most powerful, the supreme powerful. We have a little power, but Krsna has infinite power. That is the difference between Krsna and us. We cannot be equal to God. Nobody can be equal to Krsna or greater than Him. Everyone is under Krsna. Ekale isvara krsna, ara saba bhrtya: Everyone is the servant of Krsna; Krsna is the only master. Bhoktaram yajna-tapasam sarva-loka-mahesvaram: “I am the only enjoyer; I am the proprietor,” Krsna says. And that is a fact.

So, we are changing our body, but Krsna does not change His. We should understand this. The proof is that Krsna remembers past, present, and future. In the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita you’ll find that Krsna says He spoke the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita to the sun-god some 120,000,000 years ago. How does Krsna remember? Because He does not change His body. We forget things because we are changing our body at every moment. That is a medical fact. The corpuscles of our blood are changing at every second. But the body is changing imperceptibly. That is why the father and mother of a growing child do not notice how his body is changing. A third person, if he comes after some time and sees that the child has grown, says, “Oh, the child has grown so big.” But the father and mother have not noticed that he has grown so big, because they are always seeing him and the changes are taking place imperceptibly, at every moment. So our body is always changing, but I, the soul, the proprietor of the body, am not changing. This is to be understood.

We are all individual souls, and we are eternal, but because our body is changing we are suffering birth, death, old age, and disease. The Krsna consciousness movement is meant to get us out of this changing condition. “Since I am eternal, how can I come to the permanent position?” That should be our question. Everyone wants to live eternally; nobody wants to die. If I come before you with a revolver and say, “I am going to kill you,” you will immediately cry out, because you do not want to die. This is not a very good business–to die and take birth again. It is very troublesome. This we all know subconsciously. We know that when we die we’ll have to enter again into the womb of a mother–and nowadays mothers are killing the children within the womb. Then again another mother… The process of accepting another body again and again is very long and very troublesome. In our subconscious we remember all this trouble, and therefore we do not want to die.

So our question should be this: “I am eternal, so why have I been put into this temporary life?” This is an intelligent question. And this is our real problem. But rascals set aside this real problem. They are thinking of how to eat, how to sleep, how to have sex, how to defend. Even if you eat nicely and sleep nicely, ultimately you have to die. The problem of death is there. But they don’t care about this real problem. They are very much alert to solve the temporary problems, which are not actually problems at all. The birds and beasts also eat, sleep, have sexual intercourse, and defend themselves. They know how to do all these things, even without the human beings’ education and so-called civilization. So these things are not our real problems. The real problem is that we do not want to die but death takes place. This is our real problem.

But the rascals do not know it. They are always busy with temporary problems. For example, suppose there is severe cold. This is a problem. We have to search out a nice coat or a fireplace, and if these are not available we are in distress. So severe cold is a problem. But it is a temporary problem. Severe cold, winter, has come, and it will go. It is not a permanent problem. My permanent problem is that because of ignorance I am taking birth, I am accepting disease, I am accepting old age, and I am accepting death. These are my real problems. Therefore Krsna says, janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam: Those who are actually in knowledge see these four problems–birth, death, old age, and disease.

Now, Krsna says, dhiras tatra na muhyati: “A sober man is not perplexed at the time of death.” If you prepare yourself for death, why should you be perplexed? For example, if in your childhood and boyhood you prepare yourself nicely, if you become educated, then you will get a nice job, a nice situation, and be happy. Similarly, if you prepare yourself in this life for going back home, back to Godhead, then where is your perplexity at the time of death? There is no perplexity. You’ll know, “I am going to Krsna. I am going back home, back to Godhead. Now I’ll not have to change material bodies; I’ll have my spiritual body. Now I shall play with Krsna and dance with Krsna and eat with Krsna.” This is Krsna consciousness–to prepare yourself for the next life.

Sometimes a dying man cries out, because according to karma those who are very, very sinful see horrible scenes at the time of death. The sinful man knows he is going to accept some abominable type of body. But those who are pious, the devotees, die without any anxiety. Foolish people say, “You devotees are dying, and the nondevotees are also dying, so what is the difference?” There is a difference. A cat catches her kitten in its mouth, and it also catches the mouse in its mouth. Superficially we may see that the cat has caught both the mouse and the kitten in the same way. But there are differences of catching. The kitten is feeling pleasure: “Oh, my mother is carrying me.” And the mouse is feeling death: “Oh, now I’m going to die.” This is the difference. So, although both devotees and nondevotees die, there is a difference of feeling at the time of death–just like the kitten and the mouse. Don’t think that both of them are dying in the same way. The bodily process may be the same, but the mental situation is different.

In Bhagavad-gita (4.11) Krsna says,

janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna

If you simply try to understand Krsna, you can go to Him at the time of death. Everything about Krsna is divine, transcendental. Krsna’s activities, Krsna’s appearance, Krsna’s worship, Krsna’s temple, Krsna’s glories–everything is transcendental. So if one understands these things, or even tries to understand, then one becomes liberated from the process of birth and death. This is what Krsna says. So become very serious to understand Krsna, and remain in Krsna consciousness. Then these problems–birth, death, old age, and disease–will be solved automatically, very easily.

A dhira, a sober man, will think, “I want to live eternally. Why does death take place? I want to live a very healthy life. Why does disease come? I don’t want to become an old man. Why does old age come?” Janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi. These are real problems. One can solve these problems simply by taking to Krsna consciousness, simply by understanding Krsna. And for understanding Krsna, the Bhagavad-gita is there, very nicely explained. So make your life successful. Understand that you are not the body. You are embodied within the body, but you are not the body. For example, a bird may be within a cage, but the cage is not the bird. Foolish persons take care of the cage, not the bird, and the bird suffers starvation. So we are suffering spiritual starvation. Therefore nobody is happy in the material world. Spiritual starvation. That is why you see that in an opulent country like America–enough food, enough residences, enough material enjoyment–still they are becoming hippies. The young people are not satisfied, because of spiritual starvation. Materially you may be very opulent, but if you starve spiritually you cannot be happy.

A spiritual rejuvenation is required. You must realize, aham brahmasmi: “I am not this body; I am brahman, spiritual soul.” Then you’ll be happy. Brahma-bhutah prasannatma na socati na kanksati samah sarvesu bhutesu. Then there will be equality, fraternity, brotherhood. Otherwise it is all bogus–simply high-sounding words. There cannot be equality, fraternity, and so on without Krsna consciousness. Come to the spiritual platform; then you will see everyone equally. Otherwise you will think, “I am a human being with hands and legs, and the cow has no hands and legs. So let me kill the cow and eat it.” Why? What right do you have to kill an animal? You have no vision of equality, for want of Krsna consciousness. Therefore, in this material world, so-called education, culture, fraternity–all these are bogus. Krsna consciousness is the right subject matter to be studied. Then society will be happy. Otherwise not. Thank you very much.

[From “The Journey of Self Discovery”]

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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7 Responses to Reincarnation Explained

  1. John says:

    Great words from the master.

    I have read the book Beyond birth and death with great interest. I heard Prabhupada say in a video that animals have to work their way up in the material world till they get the human body, before they can get out of this prison and enter the spiritual planets like Krishna loka.

    My question is: how did the birds described in Srimad-Bhagavatam get to the spiritual planets?

    SB(3.15.16–23): “When the king of bees hums in a high pitch, singing the glories of the Lord, there is a temporary lull in the noise of the pigeon, the cuckoo, the crane, the cakravaka, the swan, the parrot, the partridge, and the peacock. Such transcendental birds stop their own singing simply to hear the glories of the Lord.”

    Does this mean that souls of birds can trancend to Krishanloka directly without having to get become humans first?

    Please explain, cause I have asked many people about this without ever getting an answer.

    • Hare Krishna John

      No. Birds can not go directly back home, back to Godhead. Not unless there is some very special circumstances anyhow. What happens is that every living entity has a particular eternal relationship in service with Krishna. So there are some living entities who want to be birds in the spiritual world and sing for Krishna as birds. So the birds in the spiritual world are devotees also and they are serving Krishna in that way.

      It is not just the gopis and gopas who are devotees of Krishna in the spiritual world. No. Everyone, everything in the spiritual word is a devotee serving Krishna in a different way.

      Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!

      Madhudvisa dasa

  2. Luke says:

    Reincarnation is real coz we have a life cycle our cycle will always continue when we die we will live again our life cycle repeats over and over again a cycle never ends We live we die we live again repeating the cycle over and over again in different life states

  3. Sanjoy Ghose says:

    So far as concept of reincernation is concerned, to the most of the people Islam appears to be totally opposite to Hinduism. In Islam time is linear starting with creation of world and ending with last judgement. Time is cyclic in Hinduism. God is transcendent in Islam and pantheistic in Hinduism. We, Hindus believe in transmigration of soul while Muslims believe in resurrection of soul after death. Islam is monotheistic and Hinduism is polytheistic. Hindus are idolaters and Muslims are iconoclasts. Hindus cremate their dead, while Muslims bury their dead with same objective of reducing biological body to dust.

    But if we probe in to philosophies of both religions, there are many similarities too. Hinduism may also be considered as monotheistic as Islam in the sense that in Gita Krishna says “Everything is manifestation of Krishna”. [Gita verse 9/23]. God in Hinduism may also be considered as transcendent in the sense that idols that we worship are only symbols of God, but not God themselves. For common people, it is easier to concentrate on something before eye than something which can not be seen, i.e. infinite. Eye looks but mind sees. Idol creates illusion of God, which is touchable and lovable and hence, it is easier for people to flock around it to worship than something which is everywhere but can neither be seen nor touched. For otherwise there is no need for infinite to incarnate itself in any finite form. Idol could range from an unshaped piece of stone to figurative of God and Goddess chiseled out of that stone. But God in Islam as well as Hinduism is omnipresent and omnipotent and hence, in true sense, no idol or any identified place is required to worship God. But still all religions of the world have designated places for worship [like temples, mosques, churches, fire temples etc.] and various symbols of God, as for common people it is impossible to comprehend the concept of infinite. [Gita verse 12/5].

    Dictionary meaning of resurrection is rising from the dead, while that of reincarnation is re-embodiment or rebirth of soul in new body.

    There is a verse (3:27) in Quran which says “Thou [God] makest the night to pass into the day and Thou makest the day to pass into the night, and Thou bringest forth the living from the dead and Thou bringest forth the dead from the living, and Thou givest sustenance to whom Thou pleasest without measure.”

    One may like to ponder whether the sentence “Thou bringest forth the living from the dead” is referring to rising from the dead or re-embodiment of soul for the same purpose.

    Gita (verse 14/4 to 14/18) says, depending on state of mind during last breath, the individual takes rebirth in form of any of the various creatures with various qualities, characteristics and destinies. But, reincarnation does not necessarily mean that on rebirth the person will remember his past life. Five senses of body and soul residing inside the body are totally different entities. Soul enjoys worldly possession through five senses as per Sankhya pholosophy. When soul departs the body, five senses go back to Bramha with the body, but soul takes along with it some memory of experiences enjoyed through five senses, as air takes along with smell of flower from one place to another. When the soul enters new body, depending on quantum of memory carried on by the soul and five senses in-built in the new body by say Bramha, the person may or may not remember his past life. [Gita verse 15/8 to 15/10]. Hence, absence of many persons in this temporal world with ability to remember their respective past life, does not necessarily prove that concept of reincarnation is null and void.

    It is also good that most of us do not remember past life for otherwise there would have been many incidents of taking revenge on ill-treaters of past lives. In some cases, people might have also lost interest in fleeting pleasures of temporal life and in the process reproduction would have ceased bringing life to a grinding halt. As that is not desirable to the creator of universe, God has covered us with blanket of illusion, by virtue of which every individual thinks it is my family, my religion, my nation and so on of egoism. But, drama of life can not unfold itself without egoism and hence, there is need of illusion too. [Gita verse 7/14].

    But, life is still dear to most of us. As such, no religion of the world says that individual life commences from void at birth and ends in a void at death. Although Buddhism, Bridaranya Upanishad, Vendanda and 15th chapter of Bhagwat Gita do talk about such possibility. However, every religion usually gives hope of eternal bliss in life after death on living pious life according to scripture. The difference lies only in the concept of reincarnation and resurrection.

    Muslims used to believe that at end of first millennium of Islam, a saviour, Imam Mahdi would appear in this temporal world to restore faith in its full glory by banishing crime and vice. Gita also preaches similarly in its own way by repeated incarnation of Krishna. [Gita verse 4/ 7 & 8].

    In sixteenth century, during last phase Lodhi dynasty, Sayyid Muhammad of Jaunpur claimed himself as saviour Imam Mahdi and formed Mahdawi cult. Followers of this cult which included many Amirs of Emperor Islam Shah, son of Sher Shah, used to practice extreme asceticism renouncing immence wealth and respective family in the hope of acquiring eternal bliss in life after death. Similarly, Sufism preached meditation, music, dance and asceticism to get eternal bliss in life after death. With same objective, Qalandars or wandering dervishes, used to practice severe asceticism.

    Now the question arises, is not it logical for the soul to get some sort of re-embodiment to be able to enjoy bliss, for otherwise how soul could enjoy the same? If not, then what for all these people renounced worldly pleasures, however temporal those might be.

    Mahdawi cult, Sufis and Qalandars appear to have believed that rising from the dead or resurrection and re-embodiment of soul or reincarnation are interdependent and cyclic. One is not complete without the other. It is like dilemma, egg before hen or hen before egg.

    According to Badauni, the court historian of emperor Akbar, many Muslim radicals were in favour of concept of transmigration of soul, as they considered reward and punishment for living pious and evil life respectively could operate easily through concept of reincarnation. This thinking process was however highly countered by Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi of Naqshbandiyya order. His teachings were so strident in fundamentalism that emperor Jahangir and subsequently even emperor Aurangzeb, who was a highly devout Muslim and according to his court historian Khafi Khan died Friday 3rd May 1707 while at his prayers, had to ban the same.

    Gita also says, at least in two slokas that, good or bad reward does not depend upon deeds. It is cyclic and rotates souls within bad and good embodiment in next life arbitrarily.

    Hence, if anybody believes in resurrection, he should believe in reincarnation too as two concepts are interlocked forming inseparable maze to eternal bliss in life after death. Besides, is it possible to refine one-self in one birth to get entitled for eternal bliss? There appears to be no escape from cycle of repeated resurrection and reincarnation for ultimate refinement of soul in order to get entitled for eternal bliss.

    However, spectre of eternal bliss in life after death as consequent to practicing severe asceticism like followers of Mahdawi cult, Sufis etc., in no way undermines need of playing the respective role bestowed on us by birth with all sincerity and diligence conforming to one’s faith and belief.

    The choice between asceticism and materialism depends on time to time change in flow of thinking process in individual, which scriptures do not cause, but only God gifts to His chosen individual.

    The advantage in concept of reincarnation lies in its simplicity, as it talks about rewarding and punishing for good and bad deeds by causing rebirth in religious rich family and rebirth as animals, insects etc., respectively. Gita does not speak about existence of any heaven or hell for this purpose.

    The advantage in concept of resurrection is that it works as a safeguard against possibility of a believer to take rebirth as infidel. But, what amiss is; if we believe that we swing like bob of a pendulum between two extreme positions of believer and infidel till we ultimately become static at equlibrium position, where we are neither believer nor infidel, but static in infinity without any Want and Regret.

    Sanjoy Ghose

    Tel: 0120 247 4207 (India)

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About the Author

Founded the Hare Krishna Movement in 1966 in New York. In only 11 years he spread the movement all over the world. He wrote more than 80 books including Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Sri Isopanisad. Prabhupada's books constitute a complete library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature and culture.

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