“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)
By following bhakti-yoga, the work you do leads to a trip to a destination from which you never have to leave. In all other kinds of work there is no place to stay. This begs the question as to what the work is done for? Why not create a permanent result? Why not go to some place where it is so nice that you’ll never have to leave? All places, including higher and lower planets, feature repeated births and deaths. The lone exception is Krishna’s realm, the home of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
What is repeated birth and death? Does this refer to reincarnation?
It surely can, but you don’t need to extrapolate out that far. The dawn of a new day is a kind of birth. Dusk signals the subsequent death. The positioning of the sun in the sky helps us to understand the passage of time better, but mere analysis does not determine an existence. The sun’s setting in the evening does not mean I have changed. When we talk about the past, we’re simply referring to a certain number of settings of the sun, a specific tally. Thus the past isn’t really any different than the present.
“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)
Shri Krishna explains this better in the Bhagavad-gita. He clears everything up. He says that just as the body of the living individual changes from boyhood to youth to old age in this lifetime, the same soul passes into another body at the time of death. These facts do not bewilder the person who is self-realized, or dhira.
Birth and death accompany anything that is temporary. They apply to work as well. Imagine this situation. You’re on vacation from school. In the summer you get three months off. Though your parents insist that you do some studying to prepare yourself for the next school year, you decide to instead play all day.
This summer you’re playing video games. You particularly like the sports games, so you’re completing entire seasons very quickly. These games feature an “offseason” mode as well, so part of the game is assembling a roster. You get to negotiate contracts, draft players, and even make trades. Let’s say that you’re done playing the regular season and all set for the playoffs. Then your mother enters the room and accidentally trips over the power cord, which causes the game to reset. This particular game doesn’t auto-save, so you’ve lost all the work that you’ve done. Your season that took many hours to complete cannot be recovered.
In another scenario, you’re an adult. You work hard to purchase the home of your dreams. This time you’re able to live there for a long time. But eventually, after many years, the house empties. You realize that it is too big for you and your husband. You want to travel instead. Therefore you convince him that it is a good idea to sell this house and get a smaller dwelling, one more suited for just the two of you.
In another scenario, your work is extensive research on a particular area of the continent. This place is very cold, so you’ve had to make special arrangements for your living there. You can only conduct your research during a particular time of the year. The rest of the time it is too cold to handle even with your special arrangements. Therefore you can’t always stay at the place that seems to interest you the most.
The same Shri Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, says that all planets, from the highest to the lowest, have the same defect. The different planets are like different residences. They are destinations for the spirit soul, who travels to them in accompanying bodies. We need spacesuits and oxygen masks for a brief trip into outer space, but with pious activities we can get a body suitable for such places. With those bodies we can live in other planets for a very long time. With impious behavior we get bodies suitable for life in hellish areas.
Wherever we go, we can’t stay. That is the problem. And our work determines the places to which we travel. This means that the person who remains in their small community all their life is no different than the person who travels all around the world. Both only find temporary residences. This is true of all creatures, large and small, simple and complex.
The individual who works in devotion gets a different kind of destination. They work to please the Supreme Lord. They don’t merely acknowledge His existence. They don’t just profess allegiance to a religious institution and then go about doing every other activity they normally would. Work in devotion leads to a change in consciousness. The person reaching Krishna’s planets is always conscious of Him.
To effect that change, the best method in the current circumstances is the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Chanting this mantra brings effects that never vanish. There is birth and death for the ordinary work that I do, but work in devotion brings permanent results. Even if I forget the Supreme Lord again, I am assured of a revival later on, getting a restart from the position at which I left off.
Why would I want to go to Krishna’s planets? What is so special about His realm?
Happiness in life comes from service. Study human behavior close enough and you’ll realize that this is true. In Krishna’s realm the opportunity for service is always there. There is plenty to do. There is plenty of love to offer. The recipient can accept it from an endless amount of people. Gone are the days of worrying over the direction in life. Gone is the fear of death, as one who reaches Krishna’s abode never has to leave. They get to gaze at the darling child of Yashoda and Nanda. They get to lob abuses in fun at the clever prankster who steals everyone’s butter. They get to run in the fields with the child who is the beloved of the cows and the calves. They get to speak of the pastimes of the savior of the fallen souls, who delights the parrots and deer with His wonderful movements. And all of this takes place perpetually, making it both the one place where we get to always stay and the place where no one wants to leave.
All this work why do I do,
When again to leave this place too?
A permanent residence why not,
Where to entering and leaving cycle to stop?
Such planetary realm existing only one,
Through devotional consciousness it is won.
From service to Krishna supreme delight,
Never having to leave, a future most bright.