“There is no work that affects Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.14)
Question: “I don’t agree that birth indicates that the previous life was a failure. It doesn’t make sense to me because isn’t Krishna reincarnated? Is He a failure then?”
Understanding the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very difficult through mental speculation alone. In fact, it is impossible, as we are limited by the concepts of time and space, both of which are infinite. Travel back in time with your mind and you’ll never reach an end; you’ll never hit a wall, so to speak. The same holds true with travelling forward. That is the meaning to infinity; there is no end. Add to the equation the fact that we can’t remember the past, even that which is pertinent to only our own lives, and you see how it is not possible to have a full range of perception. With a lack of information, how can we ever know someone who, by definition, is the complete whole?
Without authorized information, knowledge that we first accept on authority and then realize through practical application, we will think that God is totally like us. Possibly we won’t understand that He is a personality and that He has spiritual forms. We may think that He is just an energy or a theoretical concept. “Like utopia is a concept where everyone gets whatever they want, whenever they want, so too God must be this idea of a perfect being. If there are ever godly figures on earth, they must operate under the same strict laws of nature that apply to everyone else.”
The Bhagavad-gita tells us otherwise. In this work the first teaching presented is that the living spirit is not their body. Spirit is not matter. Spirit is not the hands, the legs, the face, the stomach, or the ears. Spirit is not the tall building or the computer. Spirit is the vital force that animates the different collections of matter. Why the need to mention the distinction? Why the need to bring this up right away in a book of higher knowledge?
We don’t really know spirit without first hearing about it. We identify with the body that we accept from the time of birth. We identify others based on their bodily features as well. We tend to not think beyond what is immediately visible. Because of this we lament over things that we shouldn’t and overly rejoice over that which isn’t so much of a thing to rejoice over. For instance, we are extremely saddened when others die, forgetting the fact that the vital force within never dies. This must be the case because different parts of the body can malfunction and not cause death. Therefore why should the entire machine’s malfunction indicate that the spiritual force is finished.
“It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.25)
If the soul is eternal, why is there birth and death? From the Bhagavad-gita we learn that just as one takes off clothes and puts them on, so the spirit soul accepts different bodies and then puts on new ones after they are discarded. This occurs both while one is currently “alive” and after they pass on. The term “alive” applies only to our visible reference. We say the sun is out today, but the sun is always out. Sometimes we may not see it because of the cloud cover, but this is our defect, not the sun’s. In the same way, we say that someone is alive because they are visibly manifest before us, but this has no bearing on their existence.
What causes birth and death?
The Bhagavad-gita is a perfect summary of Vedic teachings. The Vedas are the oldest books of knowledge in the universe. They have no inception date because they come from God. Part of the definition of God is an eternal existence, where all the personal features are the same in quality as the individual they belong to. This is not the case with us, as our body decays and is replaced by a new one. This constant change occurs through what is known as reincarnation. In the Vedas it is said that reincarnation occurs only for individual souls who do not want to be with God. The desire is flawed, and so the commensurate residence is flawed as well.
From this we understand that birth indicates a failure from the previous life. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is said that whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, that state they will attain without fail. Putting two and two together, we see that since we attained a human state in the present life, we did not think of a divine state during the previous death. We know there was a previous death because the soul is eternal. We were somewhere else yesterday, though to someone else they might not have known that we existed yesterday. The outsider’s lack of knowledge of a previous existence has no bearing on the existence itself.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)
We may not like the fact that we weren’t perfectly God conscious in the previous life, but just as there is no use in dwelling on past mistakes for too long, in the present life we can use knowledge of the past failure to change our ways. Why not take the current birth as a blessing? No need to be offended by the truth presented in the Vedas; just make the most out of the present opportunity. The animals don’t have this opportunity. They must travel through the spiritual evolutionary chain in order to reach the human life. And then they must be fortunate enough to hear the truths mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita. And then they must be non-envious enough to want to accept the information. And then they must be firm enough to follow through on those teachings. Only then will the life end successfully.
Conviction in knowledge of the truth about birth and death is further strengthened by knowing more about Krishna, which is the name for God that means all-attractive. Krishna is also the original personality, the detail behind the fuzzy picture of a Supreme Lord painted by reliance on mental speculation alone. Krishna describes Himself in the Bhagavad-gita. He says that He does not take birth. He does not die, either. Only the fool thinks He goes through reincarnation. Krishna appears in His own transcendental forms, by His own sweet will.
Reincarnation is driven by work, or karma. Krishna says that He is not under the influence of karma. This is clearly stated in the Bhagavad-gita [4.14]. Anyone who says otherwise either has never read the Bhagavad-gita properly or has intentionally decided to ignore its teachings. In either case, the result is the same: forgetfulness of God. With this forgetfulness there is no chance of a truly successful end to life. On the other hand, one who knows that Krishna is not bound by fruitive results to work also is able to transcend the same results. In simpler terms, if you really know Krishna, you will not be under the influence of karma.
How does that manifest exactly? Someone who knows Krishna doesn’t die?
Actually, the changes to the body still take place, but the results are dictated by Krishna Himself. Normally, responsibility for distributing fruitive results is relegated to higher authorities in charge of nature, but in the case of those who know Krishna, the Supreme Lord Himself takes responsibility. The people who know that Krishna is not affected by karma are known as devotees. Since they know this, they follow devotional service, or Krishna consciousness, which is best practiced in the modern age by chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Those who chant this mantra with full knowledge of the Supreme Lord’s position above karma happily exit their body at the end of life, confident of what awaits them.
As into human body soul to proceed,
Know that in previous life didn’t succeed.
Whether in spiritual form is the test,
For Krishna’s land is destination the best.
Over past failure don’t fret,
In this life Bhagavad-gita wisdom get.
Hear how reincarnation takes shape,
Then shift activities to plan for escape.