“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)Download this episode (right click and save)
The demons and the demigods. Good and evil. The righteous path and sinful life. These dichotomies have existed since the beginning of time, before anyone can remember. The reason is simple: freedom. Every living being has a small amount of independence granted them by the creator. Indeed, without this independence there would be no existence. Every living thing would be like a robot, preprogrammed to act a certain way. They would be considered dead inside, soulless.
The human life is the chance to consciously choose. There is rational thought. There is a high potential for intelligence. In many ways the human birth is like arriving at a junction or crossroads. Which path should be chosen? What will be the outcome? When you come to the fork in the road, which direction should you go? There are so many such choices made throughout the course of life.
1. School or no school
At first the young child might be excited to go to school. It is a way to get out of the house and meet new people. Discovery is fun. So is imitating the adults, who also leave the house every day. They are going to work, but the child doesn’t really know what that entails.
The child quickly figures out that school isn’t much fun. They force you to sit in a classroom and learn. Learning is difficult. If it were easy, then everyone would want to do it. To go to school is a choice. If the choice is made to skip, then there is little chance of advancing in terms of formal education. The ability to read and write is hinged upon instruction from authority figures. Whether the instruction comes in a formal setting like a classroom or an informal one at home, the result of learning is usually positive.
2. Drugs or no drugs
In the 1980s in America there was a dedicated campaign to curb drug use among young people. The First Lady, the wife of the President of the United States, used a slogan. “Just say no.” If someone asks you to take drugs, don’t even think about it. Don’t give them any excuses. No need for lengthy explanations. Just immediately say that you won’t. This way you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.
Such campaigns are necessary only because so many people say “yes.” There is always a choice, after all. Those who take drugs can get addicted, and from addiction so many bad things can happen. The addiction happens because there is a temporary escape from the senses offered by drugs. Indeed, even those who are not addicted to narcotics might regularly indulge in alcohol, which is also a form of intoxication.
3. Marriage or no marriage
The married man has some humorous advice that he freely offers to the unmarried man.
“Don’t do it. You’ll regret it. You see how much I’m suffering. You see how little enjoyment I have left. I envy you so much. I don’t know who invented marriage, but I can guarantee you that it wasn’t a man. Just turn around and run.”
Married life ideally is a curb on sense gratification, a way to limit sexual desire. Moreover, sex life serves its real purpose: bringing children into the world. That is a whole new set of responsibilities. The human being arrives at this junction in adulthood. They either get married or continue living the single life. Each has its pros and cons, and such a major decision has big consequences for the future.
4. Stay at home or move to a new place
This choice typically comes to the student about to enter college or the professional offered a new job. It is tempting to try living in a new place, but the drawback is that friends and family are left behind. The comfortable surroundings provide a sense of security. At the same time, becoming vulnerable builds character and strength. If I always gave in to my fear of trying new things, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
5. Rebirth or liberation
This is the ultimate choice for the living being. All other choices play a hand in it. The basic difference is material life or spiritual life. Only the human being can consciously make this decision. The animals don’t have the option. Their intelligence isn’t developed enough. They engage only in eating, sleeping, mating and defending.
As spiritual life is vast, complex, and sees years and even lifetimes’ worth of practice, how can this choice be presented so bluntly? Actually, rebirth can stop in a second. The promise is made in the Bhagavad-gita that anyone who thinks of Shri Krishna at the time of death never has to take birth again. Additionally, anyone who knows the transcendental nature of Krishna’s appearance and activities never takes birth again after quitting their body.
“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, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
Of course, the difficulty is in remembering Krishna at the time of death. It is difficult accepting that God exists and can have a transcendental form that is all-attractive. It is difficult accepting the fact that Krishna appears in this world, performs amazing activities, and does so at His own will. It is difficult to focus on spiritual life when there are so many critical decisions to make that distract the mind.
Nevertheless, the promise is there. The choice is one that every person makes, if they are aware of it or not. Rebirth happens due to karma, which is fruitive activity. Karma is driven by personal desire. If the desire shifts to the spiritual realm, where the summit is unmotivated and uninterrupted service to the Divine, then karma stops. When the wheel of action and reaction ceases to spin, so does the cycle of birth and death.
When wheel of consequences no longer to spin,
Boon of no more rebirth to win.
Human life of choices a collection,
Like in work, home, and instruction.
Krishna or not choice ultimately made,
Eternal bliss or in material ocean to wade.
Just know His birth or remember at death’s time,
The right path taken, fulfill this destiny of mine.