“Under the influence of material desire, the entity is born sometimes as a demigod, sometimes as a man, sometimes as a beast, as a bird, as a worm, as an aquatic, as a saintly man, as a bug. This is going on. And in all cases the living entity thinks himself to be the master of his circumstances, yet he is under the influence of material nature.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 13.22 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
“Karma. Reincarnation. Punishment in the afterlife for being bad. Progression towards a better existence. Evolution. How does it all fit in? Are they contradictory or complementary? Are these concepts only Hindu beliefs or is there some underlying scientific explanation that proves universal applicability?”
The foundation of the spiritual science descending from the Vedas is the distinction between spirit and matter. Spirit is the agent of identification. Its presence indicates life. Its departure indicates death. Both events continue in cycles for the same fragment of spirit. That cycle is commonly referred to as reincarnation.
At the time of appearance a certain type of covering manifests, consisting of three base ingredients: goodness, passion and ignorance. These are the three modes of material nature, and the individual fragment of spirit enjoys and suffers for the time being, while residing in that covering. There are many types of coverings, resulting in different ways of life.
The exact type of covering is commonly referred to as a body. Even that body isn’t static; it is constantly changing. Shri Krishna says that a self-realized person, dhira, is not bewildered by the constant changes, which continue through the time of death.
“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)
The modes of material nature influence the way the gross and subtle elements interact. In certain bodies there is more of a specific gross element and less of another. As an example, in the body of a human being fire is more prominent; causing the relatively high internal temperature. Fire is considered a gross element, along with water, air, ether and earth. The three subtle elements are mind, intelligence and ego.
The bird is another type of body, and it can fly. It can take up residence on tree branches. It has this amazing ability to find its home even after travelling away for a considerable distance. It doesn’t require a GPS navigation system to get directions. Some birds have amazing eyesight, and some feast on other living creatures.
In the Shrimad Bhagavatam there is the Sanskrit phrase of jivo jivasya jivanam. The meaning is that one living entity is food for another living entity. Essentially, the concept of a food chain was explained thousands of years ago, before modern science even came into existence. Research wasn’t required, as from the beginning-less one all essential knowledge is passed down.
There is the saying that the early bird gets the worm. This is meant to inspire the human being to rise early and take care of their tasks on time, instead of procrastinating and risking fatigue or waning interest later on.
This saying references the body type just mentioned and also a new one. The spirit soul can enter the body of a worm. The elemental composition is certainly not the same, as the worm cannot fly. It can only slither around within the earth. It does not have hands or legs. It is not large in size, either, which makes it an easy target for other living entities. Human beings can even step on worms accidentally.
Put a human being in water for a lengthy period of time and it can’t survive. It needs assistance from artificial means, i.e. those things that don’t come with the body. Yet some species can survive in the water just fine. There is the saying, “Like a fish out of water.” This was uttered millions of years ago by the younger brother of Shri Rama, to explain the level of devotion both he and Rama’s wife had.
“O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)
The fish can only survive in the water. Its body type is so designed that swimming is made easier. Walking is not possible, nor is reaching for different objects with hands. In the water is found everything necessary for survival. Take it outside for too long and the fish won’t be able to live.
The bug is even smaller than the ant. Some of them are great nuisances, biting people without cause. They can move so quickly that they become difficult to catch. This body type in particular shows the amazing nature of spirit. It is so small that it can fit into the body of the tiniest insect, yet the same fragment gives life to the large elephant. From this we learn that spirit is more powerful than even the largest collection of matter, which is dull and lifeless.
5. Saintly man
The saintly person has the potential for understanding the spiritual science. They know about the nature of enjoyment in a material existence, how it is linked to the type of body inhabited. The saintly man is also a living entity within a body, but the circumstance is auspicious for one specific reason.
“There are an infinite number of living beings, both moving and nonmoving, who have many different abodes, with some residing in the earth, some in the sky, and some in the water. But O helpless Tulsi, for you Shri Rama’s holy name is your only home.” (Dohavali, 37)
A saintly man from several hundred years back wrote that he didn’t mind taking any of the possible births in a material existence as long as he continued to have attachment to the holy name of Rama. Rama is one name for God, so the meaning is that devotion is more important than body type.
By extension bhakti, devotion, is superior to the three modes of material nature, which provide enjoyment and suffering for a conditioned soul. The human birth is considered the most auspicious due to the enhanced intelligence, which is meant for understanding God. Once He is understood the natural subsequent step is to serve Him with love, which then automatically clears the debt of rebirth brought on by acts in karma.
From spiritual world to fall,
Home the material existence to call.
Bird, aquatic, or worm body to get,
Or saintly man in intelligence set.
As long as pure consciousness lacking,
Rebirth, again time body attacking.
Only when the bhakti path to take,
Most of the auspicious birth to make.