“According to the Vedic scriptures, the most perfect man surrenders unto the Lord after many, many lifetimes of culturing knowledge. The culture of knowledge reaches perfection only when the knower comes to the point of surrendering unto the Supreme Lord, Vasudeva.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shri Ishopanishad, 17 Purport)
When initially learning of reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul through different body types, the mind may initially focus on just the future impact. “Okay, so if I’m overly sinful in this life I’ll be reborn as a rat or a dog in the next one? So reincarnation is sort of a punishment?” The chain of cause-and-effect is seen in many different activities, but for some reason it is difficult for the rational human being to believe that the effects can continue even long after the current life expires. The guaranteed delivery of death is wholly accepted, but what happens to the person residing within the body afterwards remains a mystery. The concept of reincarnation, which is so nicely presented by the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, is not only meant to inform the inquisitive mind about their future destination after leaving the human body, but it is also meant to serve as a wakeup call, a reminder that so much enjoyment has already occurred in previous lifetimes in forms lower than the human species. Therefore the advanced potential for intelligence gifted the human being is intended to be used for realizing the true purpose behind reincarnation and how to go about stopping it.
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)
To summarize the principle Vedic teachings, there is a God, who is accepted as the origin of all energies. Since He is Supreme it is difficult to accurately understand every single thing that He does. To make things easier, the Vedic seers, taking instruction from the original Person Himself, tell us that from God come three distinct energies. One is the spiritual force, which is non-different from the Lord Himself. Since He is referred to as a person, or entity, the Supreme Lord is personal, meaning He has transcendental qualities and features. He even has sportive tendencies which sometimes cause Him to make appearances before us in forms that retain their complete transcendence. The second energy is the material energy, which is considered inferior to God. This designation is there because the original Person’s presence is not directly felt in the material energy. We can liken the difference between the forces to the difference between our identity and our component body parts. The hands and legs are part of the body, but should they ever be separated from us, our individuality would not change. Similarly, the material energy remains apart from Krishna, but at the same time it is always under His control.
The third energy technically is the same as the spiritual force. The marginal potency, consisting of the individual spirit souls, is spiritual in quality, but since it is not equally as potent as God, there is a tendency towards association with the material energy, wherein the presence of the Supreme Lord remains temporarily forgotten. For the spiritual forces there is no such defect; there is never the chance of forgetfulness of God and the need to love and serve Him. When the marginal potency chooses in favor of the inferior energy, the spiritual sparks are sent to a temporary playing field, where they are provided different uniforms, or dresses, required for engagement in fruitive activity. When these forms cease to be useful, new ones are provided.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.22)
This explains reincarnation in a nutshell. The desire of the marginal potency to remain apart from God’s personal presence keeps the engine of transmigration rolling. So from this basic information we can understand that coming under the jurisdiction of reincarnation is not ideal for anyone, for the natural home of the marginal potency is in the spiritual realm, where the association of similarly spiritual entities is found.
At this point the question may be raised as to why there is a variation in the species? Why are there dogs, cats, and human beings? Why not just have a uniform body type for everyone? The allure of material association is the chance to imitate God’s abilities in maintenance, creation, destruction and enjoyment. Since the imitation can follow a seemingly endless array of engagements, up to 8,400,000 different body types are awarded to the spirit soul, the marginal potency that chose in favor of the inferior energy. The human being is considered the most advanced because it is a form achieved after many lifetimes spent in inferior species, the fruit of spiritual evolution if you will.
From logical reasoning and direct perception, we can see that the dogs, cats, birds, beasts, and other animals enjoy eating, sleeping, mating and defending just like human beings do. In fact, that’s all that these lower life forms operate on; they have no other engagements. They don’t have to worry about going to school, holding down a job, making others happy, deciding on what movie to rent on a Friday night, or what to do during retirement. In this sense their ability to enjoy the senses is enhanced compared to the human species. From this information, we can understand that the human being must have a higher purpose, a mission to fulfill that no other life form is granted enrollment in.
The Vedas, which are the mouthpiece for the Supreme Lord, whose original form is described as all-attractive and thus referred to as Krishna, reveal that the human form of life is meant for realizing God. This is not that wild an assertion, as only the human being has the ability to make their choice to return to the spiritual land, the eternal home for the spiritual energy, known. Upon understanding the mission, the steps necessary for success need to be taken, with the first being limits placed on sense gratification. The life of unfettered and unrestricted enjoyment found in the animal species is not conducive to constructing a spiritual awakening. The true choice, the up or down vote as to whether the soul wants to return to Krishna’s company, is measured at the time of death. The consciousness, the mind’s contemplation, while quitting the body is measured by higher authorities. The predominant desires formed over the many activities undertaken during the days spent within the human form construct the consciousness. When the mind is pure and focused on the lotus feet of Krishna, liberation can be had.
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)
If the human being continues to imitate the animals, the opportunity for purification goes to waste. Indeed, there is no reason to continue unrestricted sense gratification, as we already know from our own remembered experiences that there is more to life than simply playing all day. As children, we enjoyed the same benefits that are found in the animal community. We got to play day after day, didn’t have to worry about the pressures of work, and didn’t have to maintain a family. But as we got older, we took on more important tasks, such as getting an education and learning how to master a skill that could help us to earn a livelihood. The independence of the adult human being is best utilized for choosing in favor of learning about God. Concomitant with this undertaking is the voluntary restriction placed on sense gratification. Since this restraint is initially considered painful, or a penance, it is referred to as tapasya.
Restriction on sense gratification is only viewed in the negative light in the beginning stages. This is because we don’t know any better. We have had so many lifetimes of unregulated sense gratification that we think that if we somehow starve ourselves of unrestricted enjoyment, we will end up the loser. But again, we can revert to our childhood memories to understand that this is not true. How many of us actually wanted to go to school for twelve years and then college afterwards? Speaking from personal experience, our humble self dreaded every single day of school we ever attended. But if the young child gets its wish, it will never be properly educated. The forced penance actually turns out to be a great boon, as the education received allows for a higher taste in adult life.
Similarly, if the mature human being puts restrictions on the activities driven by the impulses of the senses, there will be increased sobriety and a much greater chance for God realization. In fact, all of the inhibitions rooted in doubt of the existence of God, which is furthered by the preponderance of religious systems which each claim that theirs is superior, run away the more sober one becomes and the more they take to self-realization.
In addition to tapasya, there must be an active engagement. Sense demands are the natural instincts, tendencies which don’t have to be taught. There are cooking channels on television that show how to make delicious food preparations and where to grab the world’s tastiest burger, but the tendency for eating doesn’t need to be imbibed in anyone. Similarly, there are discussions on different sexual activities and what types of alcohol to drink, but these tendencies are also there in the animals, who have no education on these matters whatsoever.
To the human being, what actually needs to be taught is how to connect with God, how to purify consciousness, and how to remain dedicated in transcendental service. The beginning point is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The holy name is the gateway to the spiritual world. Though sound vibrations are considered part of the material nature, when they are used to address and glorify the person to whom we are inherently attached, they become fully spiritualized. In this way we see that the human being has the choice and ability to associate with the spiritual energy even before the time of death.
“Why should I chant ‘Krishna’? Why not just worship God? I believe in God, shouldn’t that be enough?” Chanting the holy names is wonderful because it addresses God in a loving way. The term “God” is actually quite vague, as it fails to describe the Lord’s transcendental features. The key ingredient in attachment and dedication in service is attraction. If we don’t find something palatable, why would we continue servicing it, giving it attention and making sure we have enough time to connect with it? When an entity is attractive, however, every effort is made to remain always in its company. The words “Krishna” and “Rama” are beautiful not only in the way they describe the Lord, but also in their ability to bring transcendental pleasure to the person who repeats them in a loving way.
The animal cannot chant these words. They are fully attached to Krishna because of their similar spiritual nature, but due to the inhibitions placed on their body type, their consciousness does not have the ability to fully develop. The human being can not only understand reincarnation, but they can also take the necessary steps to stop it. The tendency of the tired worker is to seek relief, a permanent vacation. “I can’t wait until the day when I no longer have to work.” By following the Vedic prescriptions of tapasya and the sacrifice of chanting in devotion, these desires are revised and extended to say, “I can’t wait until I no longer have to suffer the influences of the material world. When will that day come when all I do is think about and glorify Krishna? I’ve had all the sense gratification I could handle, and it failed to provide me any lasting happiness. But with Krishna, I can’t seem to get enough of His association. I see His smiling face and how He gives so much pleasure to the cows, and I immediately forget my past experiences, which never brought me anywhere close to the thrill I feel by being alongside Krishna.”
For any human being, at any stage in their life, so much time has already been spent trying the hand at sense gratification. As there is always the new search for happiness, which is evidenced by the popular self-help books that line the shelves at major bookstores, why not try the ancient art of bhakti-yoga, or the religion of love. A key component, a starting point if you will, is the restriction on sense gratification, and more specifically, refraining from the activities of meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex life. Throughout their many lifetimes in the material land, the marginal potency expansions have travelled down so many avenues of sense gratification. As the human form brings the best opportunity for advancement of consciousness, when there is full sobriety now and the ability to decipher between right and wrong and good and bad, why not take a stab at austerity mixed in with regular chanting of God’s names? The secrets of devotional life are never revealed to those who refuse to advance past the animalistic consciousness. On the other hand, when even a small, yet fully sincere, effort is made towards finding Krishna, that person becomes fully endeared to the Lord, as their devotion is noted and recognized as an indication that a piece of the marginal potency is taking tangible steps towards returning to their natural home.