“Consciousness of the material body means spiritual consciousness expressed through the medium of a material body. This consciousness is inferior, destructible and perverted. But superconsciousness of the supramind in the spiritual plane is as good as the spirit soul and is never annihilated.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.4 Purport)
The individual being has an existence that is revealed through consciousness. From the thoughts, words and deeds emanating from the living being we can understand that there is a consciousness within steering activity. As Shri Hanuman so nicely points out in the Ramayana, it is the mind which instigates the senses to take to actions which bring forth all the auspicious and inauspicious conditions we see in life. The mind is a subtle material element that reports on the disposition of the consciousness. That consciousness is safe for only as long as the form it is encased within remains intact. As soon as that form is destroyed, the thoughts of the mind vanish. But there is a higher consciousness, which when developed carries over from life to life, moving like the aromas through the air.
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)
Why is it important for consciousness to carry over? Shouldn’t the destruction of our worst thoughts be a welcomed event? If I’m suffering mentally from many traumatic past events, why would I want those mental images to linger forever? The development of the higher consciousness has nothing to do with temporary ups and downs, highs and lows, encountered in a relative existence. The individual living being’s original consciousness is unchanged; it is permanent. When the spirit soul assumes a dress composed of gross and subtle earthly elements, that pure consciousness gets pervertedly reflected, sort of like taking a beam of light and deflecting it in various ways. The sun provides immeasurable heat and light, but should a series of clouds cover the sky, the original energy is absorbed differently by the target individual.
When the living entity is unaware of their constitutional position, the pure consciousness gets misdirected towards areas of illusion. This refracted consciousness is destroyed at the time of death, even though the soul continues to exist. How can we be sure that these assertions are valid? How do we know that the perverted consciousness doesn’t remain intact and that the spirit soul continues to exist? For starters, we witness these changes through our own experiences. Memory is a product of consciousness, and we know that we don’t have perfect memory. If we did, we could call to mind what we had for lunch on any particular day from any time in the past. We sat through these lunches after all; our consciousness was present. If the thoughts of the past didn’t get destroyed, why can’t we remember them?
Along the same lines, we know that our entire dwelling has changed in appearance during the course of our lifetime, yet our identity remained intact. If you look at old pictures of yourself, you’re essentially viewing a different person, someone who will never return. Yet you were present during that time, and since then your identity hasn’t changed. This means that spirit is transcendental to the shifts of matter. The soul continues in existence regardless of what happens to the body. The Vedas say that the changes continue into the next life, for the soul never takes birth or dies.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.20)
If we have information of value, we’d like to keep it safe and secure. Backup strategies are not put into place to store irrelevant data and viruses. Rather, important documents useful towards meeting the interests of the proprietor of the machinery are stored securely. A business establishment backs up their data regularly so that even if their hardware should fail, they have full availability to their critical business information.
To meet this requirement, the concept of cloud computing has really taken off. Instead of hosting your data in just one place, it is dispersed in a cloud, which can represent one or more systems located many miles apart. The benefit of the cloud is that if you should happen to travel somewhere, access to your data will not be limited. Moreover, if just one piece of the cloud should fail, the data is still intact, as the distribution of energy is well maintained. If a large server suddenly fails, as is known to happen, information will not get lost. It will stay safe in the cloud.
The living being’s material desires vanish at the time of death, for the newborn has to become educated and progress through maturity all over again. If at the time of death we are expert poets, in the next life we will not even know how to write in the beginning stages. Therefore physical and mental dexterity are wiped out at the time of death, like information lost in a server that crashes.
There is a higher consciousness, that when developed travels from life to life. It stays safely in a cloud-like environment, where it can be accessed when needed. This is the consciousness that accompanies a spirit soul’s existence. That consciousness is always there, but unless the individual knows how to use it while residing in a material body, it can be forgotten for long periods of time. Think of having millions of dollars in the bank and not knowing it. Obviously you will struggle hard for an existence and worry about financial matters when you don’t have to. The spirit soul is a lover of God fully protected by the Supreme Lord, who is the master of all energies. Forgetful of these facts, the miseries borne of birth, old age, disease and death arrive. The fear of death is itself an indication of ignorance, for why should someone be afraid when they know that they are constitutionally eternal?
When the material consciousness is developed, it remains in existence for as long as the body is safe. As soon as that house crumbles, so does everything within it. The superconsciousness, however, carries over to the next life. If I connect with God in some way during my lifetime, that progress continues in my next birth. This fact has been validated so many times in the past, with Shrila Narada Muni’s travels being one of the most famous examples. In one particular lifetime he had the benefit of eating the remnants of food taken by advanced transcendentalists. Just having their association stimulated an intense interest in spiritual life, to the point that in the next life Narada took birth as a devotee of the Lord capable of travelling to any planet at will. By the Supreme Lord’s grace Narada was able to remember his past experiences, but that wasn’t necessary, as he had the purified consciousness safely secured through his past desires.
This means that if we have valuable information we want to keep, it must involve connection with Lord Krishna, or God. The Supreme Godhead is the heavenly father whose name is certainly hallowed. The Vedas reveal that the father in heaven has forms and names. Krishna is the original form, and His name addresses His all-attractiveness. Connect with Krishna through yoga and you won’t have to worry about losing your maturation in consciousness in the next life.
“The Blessed Lord said: Son of Pritha, a transcendentalist engaged in auspicious activities does not meet with destruction either in this world or in the spiritual world; one who does good, My friend, is never overcome by evil.” (Bg. 6.40)
Shri Krishna personally takes charge of those who try to connect with Him. For the materially developed consciousness, the mind, intelligence and ego somewhat carry over to the next life, but only through the influence they have on the type of body assumed. Whether I’m born as a merchant or an administrator is really of no concern, as the superconsciousness is still not fully developed. With taking to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the consciousness that knows the Supreme Lord carries over to any body type that I assume, and I can continue my devotional efforts from the place I left off in the previous life.
How do I practice bhakti? How do I know that I won’t forget the principles within my own lifetime? How do I know that Krishna’s promise is true? Bhakti is love, so in order to practice love there has to be connection, some type of association. The holy name is all-encompassing in this regard, so reciting it regularly through formulas like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, keeps one connected with God, granting His divine association immediately through the medium of the ears and the tongue. The tongue produces this sacred sound vibration and the ears then relish the sound. From sound comes the necessary intelligence to keep that association going in the future.
It is not that the devotee turns into a robot that just follows a mechanical approach. Rather, the full intelligence belonging to the soul gradually gets uncovered, allowing the individual to be crafty enough to figure out ways to practice yoga in even the most difficult circumstances. As eating can become a distraction, the devotee purifies the behavior by first offering food in the mode of goodness to the Supreme Lord and then eating the remnants known as prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. Something as basic as commuting to work gets purified by hearing and chanting the holy name during the travel. While falling asleep one can recite the holy names within the mind over and over again. To hear nice stories, to spend time contemplating the glorious qualities of others, the devotee reads sacred texts and their commentaries, which describe the intricacies of Krishna-bhakti in detail.
Chanting of the holy name never goes in vain, as one step taken towards Krishna brings the Lord many steps closer to you. After one exits the current body, the devotional attitude is kept safely within the spiritual cloud, where it is again accessed in the next life. Lifetime after lifetime, the individual basking fully in the transcendental light of the pure consciousness remains attached to their eternal occupation, devotional service to Shri Krishna.
Material elements superconsciousness does shroud,
Like the sunlight blocked off by passing cloud.
What you have only for short time is safe,
Upon destruction of dwelling nothing you can take.
By connection with the Lord of all different,
That consciousness continues, it is persistent.
Therefore with no other means take a chance,
Just delight in Krishna and His charming glance.
In the next life divine consciousness continues,
For sustenance holy name’s chant always use.