“According to our activities in this life, we either rise or sink. This life is a preparation for the next life. If we can prepare, therefore, in this life to get promotion to the kingdom of God, then surely, after quitting this material body, we will attain a spiritual body just like the Lord's.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)
“Okay, I need to take my car in to get serviced tomorrow. I’m going on a trip this weekend to my old college, and though it is a only a few hours away, I want to make sure there is nothing wrong with the car. In the past I’ve had issues on road trips; a tire went flat or something in the engine started acting up. It wasn’t fun. I like to be prepared, so I will need to get the oil changed and make sure the tires are in good condition.
“I need to juggle my schedule around a little bit. The best time to bring the car in is the morning of a weekday. But then I have work too. I can work from the car servicing place with my laptop, so I should be okay there. I have no meetings tomorrow, so that should be the ideal day to bring the car in. Then I also want to squeeze a workout in. It keeps me calm to have a short workout on a regular basis. It helps me focus better on other things. But the gym is near the office; not near where I live. So I will have to plan for a long trip to the gym after getting the car serviced.
“Then I want to visit my preferred house of worship in the evening. That too is far away from my home. I will need to figure out how I am going to do this. All of this planning is in relation to my trip for this upcoming weekend. I need to get away every now and then, otherwise the repetition of the weeks starts to get to me. Who wants to feel trapped in endless monotony? No, I would rather make plans; it keeps me excited.”
This is a very common experience. We have to make plans; otherwise we will be left unprepared for so many of life’s situations. Without preparation, dealing with issues becomes difficult. In the swoon of plan-making, it is easy to overlook the obvious fact that we expect to be alive in the future. What is the point to making plans if you won’t be around? There is no guarantee, as death can come at any moment, but we nevertheless assume that our existence will remain going forward. It is a gamble on our part, but one considered safe due to knowledge gathered from past experiences. Using the same mindset, we can prepare for the afterlife.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says that the spirit soul, who is the individual residing within, the vital life force, continues its existence perpetually. As this is a difficult concept to grasp, the analogy is made to the changing of clothes. The body puts on clothes in the morning, wears them throughout the day, and then takes them off at night. At least this is the common practice of those who are hygienically inclined. Young male college students may act otherwise, but even they change their clothes eventually.
In the same way the spirit soul accepts a body, wears it for some time, and then discards it. There is the analogy to the transformation through life as well, such as the change from boyhood to youth. Death is the visible indication of the shedding of the clothes, or body, and birth is the visible mark of a new body being accepted. We don’t change who we are when we change clothes, and in the same way the individual does not come into being at birth nor does it cease to be after death.
Just as we can make plans for what we will do a week from now, we can make plans for how we will act in the next life. This is the objective of the spiritual science, which explains to us about the universe beyond our perception. It is not a place earned through a simple profession. You don’t just sign a contract and enter into the spiritual kingdom. There is a specific mentality of the residents of the spiritual kingdom, and without adopting that mentality, which is more accurately described as consciousness, there is no chance of entering.
The activities planned for next week don’t have to be limited. We can travel to a different country or remain where we are. The choice is ours. In the same way, residence in the spiritual kingdom is not the only destination for the soul who has just shed its clothes. The more likely outcome is rebirth in the present land. Stay where you are, but just with a different body. You don’t have to be in the same species either. You can become a cat, a dog, a monkey, or a tree. You were likely one of these things before. Only in the human species can you take actions that directly influence your next destination.
There is some faith involved in accepting this knowledge and then acting on it, but we already put faith in the higher powers to allow us to remain alive in the future. If I plan on going to lunch at 1 pm today, I am putting faith in other living entities to not destroy me in the meantime. I’m trusting that the forces of nature will not end my life and that no disease will kill me from the inside. Lunchtime isn’t that far away, either, and yet I must rely on these other factors to cooperate. Imagine, then, how much faith is involved in things like marriage, family life, and retirement.
In the spiritual science planning for the next life involves only consciousness. What you think of at the time of death is what you will get. You already think of so many things right now, so it is the collective that reveals your true consciousness. If you think of sex all the time, at the time of death you will be focused on a life full of sex. Therefore you’ll likely get the body of a dog or a monkey in the next life. If you think of money all your life, you’ll get the body of a businessman in the next life. And yes, there is a specific body to a businessman, as certain traits are required for success in profit/loss ventures.
If you think of the spiritual kingdom, that’s the destination you’ll get. As the spiritual science helps us to best plan for the next life, it allows us to change our consciousness. And that change occurs through activities. Instead of planning for how you will enjoy food and wine this weekend, plan for how you will think of God. Plan for how you will serve Him. Plan for how you will associate with people devoted to Him. This association will force you to be God conscious for at least a little while. Hopefully that will inspire you to make plans to maintain that consciousness going forward.
That same association is passed on in the written instructions of the Supreme Lord and His devotees. The speaker of the Bhagavad-gita is the Supreme in His original form, which is a personal one. He has many non-different expansions as well, but even if such a personality is difficult to comprehend, one can hear the Supreme without difficulty. Through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” one feels the divine presence.
Through this sound gradually an attachment develops, and with an attachment one feels the need for more association with God, who is described more fully in texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana, which provide the scientific understanding for His position as God and give details into His pleasurable activities. Those activities await the devoted soul who plans a return trip to the spiritual kingdom.
Even if we are hesitant to accept the concept of rebirth, know that just as there is every likelihood that we will continue to be alive tomorrow, there is every chance that life will continue on after death. Living entities continue to appear in this world, and they are not placed into bodies randomly. They came from somewhere. This means that we will go somewhere after death, and in following bhakti-yoga, the complete spiritual science, we can choose the best “somewhere” to be.
In future living being moving here and there,
Means that still we must be somewhere.
Same concept spiritual science takes,
Teaches how best somewhere to make.
If of God always to know,
Then surely to Him you will go.
Simple declaration not the way,
Must desire for with God to play.