Published on December 7th, 2023 | by HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada14
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
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