In my last two posts, I gave a brief summary about the body-soul, and karma. I would like to highlight one more aspect of Krishna consciousness which is significant to understanding this world and spiritual life. It is called transmigration of soul from one body to another or simply called reincarnation. It is so important that Krishna mentions about reincarnation in 11 places in Bhagavad Gita, as far as I know.
In today's world, the concept of reincarnation is a matter of subjective belief or opinion. It is not a widely held fact or scientific truth. Most of the scientific community does not agree that reincarnation is a valid theory. Christians, Muslims and Jews (who constitute more than 50% of religious people) do not believe in reincarnation. Therefore reincarnation is a controversial subject matter in today’s world. However, there are some leading scientists who have proven reincarnation as a scientific fact!
In Krishna consciousness, reincarnation holds a very significant place. In fact the concept of body-soul, karma and reincarnation all are closely tied to one another. The concept of God per the Krishna conscious philosophy cannot be understood without appreciating and acknowledging reincarnation. In my previous post about karma, I briefly touched upon the idea of reincarnation.
Reincarnation is a very simple topic. The soul transmigrates from one body to another at the time of death. It is like changing clothes. The soul is awarded a particular type of body at death depending on two criteria; (1) one’s own karmic quota; and (2) one’s mentality at the time of death. Actually one’s lifetime karma and mentality at the time of death are closely tied to each other. What we do (karma) when we live is what we will have in mind when we die. Death is instantaneous. Our mental makeup is defined by the actions we perform on a day-to-day basis. If I am overly attached to my wife and children, then obviously at death I will be meditating on them. So it is very important that we perform spiritual actions all the time because we may die at any moment.
Krishna says in the Gita (BG 2.13) that just as the embodied soul continuously passes from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. Unless we understand that the soul is different from the physical body, we will not be able to understand reincarnation fully. At the time of death, the soul leaves the gross body and is carried by the subtle body. The subtle body is also material and is made of the mind and intelligence. Depending on the condition of mind and intelligence and one’s previous karma, the soul is forced into another body. The images that were created in previous lifetimes are also carried by the mind and intelligence in future bodies. While environmental conditions continue to mold one’s current mentality, still, previous lifetimes’ images influence one’s mental makeup. This is the reason why children at a very young age show natural inclinations towards certain behavior or things. Modern science is very limited in this regard.
While reincarnation may seem like second chance for corrective behavior, still it is considered very painful and dangerous. I say dangerous because the soul can transmigrate into any body. It can devolve into lower species of life such as an ant or aquatic or plant or beasts. There is no guarantee we will obtain a human birth or higher births in our next life. Generally people think that reincarnation means only as humans. This is not true. Once we obtain a lower life form due to our bad karma, then we have to evolve into a higher forms through the evolutionary chain. In other words, if I get a body of an aquatic in my next life, I cannot become a human being immediately after an aquatic form. I have to evolve through all other species of life which is intermediate between aquatic and human. Like this, the Padma Purana states there are 8.4 million different species of life a soul can transmigrate into any species.
I also said reincarnation is painful. It is painful because one has to physically die and be born. Both death and birth are painful processes. And this pain will not stop till we stop birth and death. Birth and death can stop only in the human form - that is if we take shelter of Krishna. That is why the human form of life is the most rarest thing in this world and anyone who throws it away in the name of material enjoyment is the greatest fool. That is also the reason the great saints appear in this world to teach us the value of human life and that we have to use it to stop this cycle of birth and death (reincarnation).
Below are few songs by saints from India.
Bhajahu re mana sri-nanda-nandana
durlabha manava- janama sat- sange
taroho e bhava- sindhu re
O mind, just worship the lotus feet of the son Nanda (Krishna), which make one fearless. Having obtained this rare human birth, cross over the ocean of worldly existence through the association of saintly persons. - By Govinda Das Kaviraj - 16th century saint
punarapi jananam punarapi maranam
punarapi jananii jathare shayanam iha
samsaare bahudustaare kripayaa apaare paahi muraare
Born again, death again, birth again to stay in the mother's womb ! It is indeed hard to cross this boundless ocean of samsara. Oh Murari (Krishna)! Redeem me through Thy mercy. - By Adi Shankaracharya 7th century saint
Ariyadhu Kaetkin Varivadi Veloi
Makkal Yaakkaiyir Piraththalum Aridhae
Makkal Yaakkaiyir Pirandha Kaalaiyum
Moongaiyum Sevidum Koonum Kurudum
Paedum Neengip Piraththalum Aridhae
Paedu Neengi Pirandha Kaalayum
Gnanamum Kalviyum Nankural Aridhae
Being born as a human is rare
Even if born a human, it is rarer
To be born without being dumb, deaf, humpback, blind
Even if born without disabilities, it is rarer
To have knowledge and education - By Avvaiyar 1st century Tamil poet and saint
All the great saints as indicated above conclude the same that the human form of life is rare and that one should gain knowledge and education. What is that knowledge – to take shelter of Murari Krishna by chanting His Holy Names, only then can we cross over this ocean of material existence of birth and death (reincarnation), otherwise not!
For those who have accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Murari, the enemy of the Mura demon, the ocean of the material world (birth and death) is like the water contained in a calf's hoof-print. Their goal is param padam, Vaikuntha, the place where there are no material miseries, not the place where there is danger at every step.
- SB 10.14.58