“The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.10)
The present life is a preparation for the next. This belief is not simply the viewpoint of a select few group of individuals, but rather, a fact of spiritual science that is supported by the workings of cause and effect as they pertain to our ordinary activities. Karma, the system of fruitive actions and their subsequent results, is completely scientific and fair. Though the system is often looked at in the negative light in terms of demotion to a lower species in the next life, the results of karma, or karma-phalam, are visible right before us. Just as each day is a preparation for the next, the activities in this life determine the future fortunes of the identifying object within the body. Apprising themselves of this fact, the wise take to acts of devotion to the Supreme Lord; activities which lead to the most favorable of conditions in the next life.
The need for preparing for the next life shouldn’t be too difficult to understand. Our current disposition is the result of activities performed in the past. When we wake up in the morning each day, we plan out what activities we will take up and what goals we hope to achieve. By the time the next day arrives, the results of our previous day’s actions take shape and effect. As an example, for adults, the present family disposition and current occupation are the results of actions taken during childhood and adolescence. We went to school so that we would have an education. Higher knowledge was required to land a decent paying job; one that provides a salary sufficient enough to meet the basic demands of the body.
The time of death represents the limit to which future preparation stretches. If one is unaware of the eternal nature of the soul, the driving force behind activity, they won’t want to think about the end of their current life or anything beyond it. Instead, there will be a desire to frantically secure as many material possessions and enjoyments as possible in the present life. Similar to the behavior of the man who has one week left before he goes to prison, the dying man hopes to enjoy as much as possible before the end of his life. Even though this behavior is certainly a method of preparation, the end goal is one of neutrality. In addition, the enjoyment that results from activities driven by the panicking mindset really has no bearing on the disposition of the soul at the time of death.
To help us understand the nature of these results, let’s take an example of two people who are relatively similar in age. They are both in the twilight years of their lives, waiting for the day when death will come. One person has achieved all of their hopes and dreams in life. Everything they ever wanted to accomplish was done after hard work and great preparation. There is no longer any worry about family, food, or money. Said individual can just sit back and relax. The other person is similar in age, but they didn’t accomplish their most important objectives. Maybe they wanted financial security or a beautiful wife, but these things didn’t materialize. Somehow or other they made their way to the end of life still intact, with no major injuries or diseases.
Is there any real difference between the two individuals? One may argue that the first person got to live out all of their hopes and dreams and thus they lived a full life, whereas the other person was left with despair and thoughts of what might have been. Though this may be the case, both parties still ended up in the same position. Through the influence of time, which devours all, whatever memories we have, good and bad, eventually fade away. As such, whatever preparation we make for a future disposition, our efforts eventually will go for naught since time takes away everything.
Happiness is assumed to be related to nice surroundings and exhilarating experiences, but its source is actually the state of the mind. For example, the second person in our above example easily could just imagine that he had achieved everything in life. If his dream during childhood was to have a successful life in terms of material ventures, he could just pretend that such accomplishments came his way. After all, whatever good experiences we seek out only lead to satisfaction of the mind. If we can find a way to please the mind solely through thoughts and positive thinking, the results are essentially the same.
“By practice of yoga one becomes gradually detached from material concepts. This is the primary characteristic of the yoga principle. And after this, one becomes situated in trance, or samadhi which means that the yogi realizes the Supersoul through transcendental mind and intelligence, without any of the misgivings of identifying the self with the Superself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 6.20-23 Purport)
Here we have stumbled upon the secret known only to the great Vedic seers, those who spent much time in samadhi, or divine trance. Samadhi is not ordinary meditation or the blocking out of unwanted thoughts brought on by the contact of the senses with external objects. Divine trance involves focusing the mind on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, or one of His direct expansions. Meditation cannot focus on void, for the mind is incapable of conceiving of nothing. One can make a test of this: try to focus the mind for a second on nothing; try to stop yourself from thinking. It is impossible, for it is the nature of the spirit soul to engage in activity. When placed into the body of a living entity, or jiva, consciousness serves as the indication of the soul’s penchant for activity. It is the purification of the consciousness that leads to happiness, and thus a better position in the future.
The discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is also known as God consciousness. It is labeled as such because the practice deals with the future fortunes of the soul; the ultimate preparation leading to the most favorable of future conditions. As previously mentioned, true happiness is a state of mind, something that doesn’t have to be reached through successful achievements or glorious experiences. Controlling the mind unlocks the secret door to the spiritual world, wherein the daily grind of preparation and execution are non-existent and the influences of time and space are checked by the transcendental powers of the Supreme Lord.
God certainly has an ever-existing form; otherwise the variegatedness we see before us would indicate the material world to be a superior realm. If the material world is superior, then there is no need for God or devotion to Him. If there is no God, then why is there death? The Vedas answer all of these questions by informing us of the nature of spirit. As evidenced by the events of birth, old age, disease, and death, the body is constantly changing. It gets created, maintained, and destroyed. Such a temporary dwelling cannot have any bearing on the soul, nor can it be the cause of any meaningful pleasure. After all, every person is looking for pleasure, regardless of their belief in God, or lack thereof.
Since the soul is eternal, it must have a permanent dwelling it can call home. That place is in the spiritual world, where the Supreme Lord, in His original and beautiful form of Lord Krishna, resides. Krishna has hands, eyes, legs, and a face, though these features never diminish nor are they limited in their abilities. Krishna’s complexion is like that of a dark blue raincloud, but this doesn’t mean that He can’t assume other forms with different complexions. Krishna is the most attractive, so His exterior features and bodily hue appeal to the largest cross-section of individuals.
The mind can be satisfied by concentrating it on the lotus feet of such a compassionate master. When one engages in activities aimed at keeping this transcendental concentration intact, the activities fall under the umbrella of bhakti-yoga. Just as every day brings preparation for the next day, week, month, or year, acts of bhakti serve as preparation for the next life. What is unknown to the gross materialists is that not only are they preparing for the next day, but all of their actions are a preparation for the next life. At the time of death, the slate is wiped clean as far as the previous body goes. However, one’s desires and the results of the work they performed determine the future fortunes of the spirit soul. If one is pious and noble in their current life, they will ascend to the higher planetary systems in the next life, or they will take birth on earth under very favorable circumstances. Evidence of this is all around us, with individuals being born under different circumstances and with different qualities. Some people are born very intelligent, taking to math and science without problems, while others have difficulty learning. Some are born in free countries where goods and services are exchanged peaceably and voluntarily, while others take birth in areas run by tyrannical governments which seize wealth and property.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
More than just the results of activity, one’s consciousness is what really drives the future destination of the soul; the workings of the mind serve as the most powerful preparation. Therefore it is vital to take to acts of bhakti immediately. This will not only boost the level of worldly happiness, for the individual will be able to keep a peaceful mind by focusing on Krishna, but it will also help prepare a spiritual body in the next life. Though a material body is ultimately dead and lifeless, a spiritual one is not. There is no difference between Krishna’s body and soul. There is complete oneness in that regard. Even when the Lord descends to earth in His various avatara forms, He remains completely spiritual.
When the soul is awarded a spiritual body in the afterlife, it too takes on a oneness with its body. Thus the fears relating to disease, old age, and death are removed. Even birth is considered an impure time amongst followers of the Vedic tradition. A birth indicates that a spirit soul has fallen from the grace of the Supreme Lover, the Personality of Godhead in the spiritual sky. Though we don’t know when death will come, we know for sure that we have taken birth. This means that we, at some point in the past, desired to separate from the Supreme Lord. This separation is not a good thing, because with birth comes death. With impending death come fear, trepidation, anxiety, and worry about the future.
The fears pertaining to death can cause a person to go one of two ways. The way of the gross materialists, those who are ignorant about the eternality of the soul, is obvious. Enjoy as much as possible and hope for the best. The flaws of this method have already been described. The other path is to take the necessary steps to stop the processes of birth and death, or reincarnation. Only through acts of bhakti, the simplest and most effective of which is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can death be put to a permanent end.
“For one who has accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Mukunda or the giver of mukti, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf's hoofprint. Param padam, or the place where there are no material miseries, or Vaikuntha, is his goal, not the place where there is danger in every step of life.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.14.58)
Just as by hearing a song over and over again it gets stuck in our head, by chanting the maha-mantra over and over again the holy name of the Lord, the most potent incarnation present before the people of this age, gets burned into our minds. When the mind constantly hears this divine chant playing, preparation for a spiritual body begins. When this purified level of consciousness remains at the time of death, release from the cycle of birth and death, moksha, is immediately granted.
Therefore we should all immediately begin this preparation. The truths about the soul and its relationship to God have nothing to do with time, circumstance, geographic location, or religious faith. These truths are universal and self-evident, as is the discipline of bhakti-yoga. Anyone can prepare a spiritual body if they simply take to chanting, hearing, remembering, offering prayers, or surrendering everything unto the Lord. The path to eternal freedom is very simple, and the tangible results are seen immediately. If one practices bhakti-yoga properly, even the fear of death is removed; hence the melancholy of old age also disappears. Bhakti never stops, so even if we have achieved all of our goals in life, preparation still takes place all the way up until the time of death. Those who prepare perfectly will be able to execute their mission of divine love without fear. When the consciousness is purified through acts of bhakti, there is no fear of past, present, or future, for Krishna will take care of everything.