“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)
Friend-One: This life is a preparation for the next life.
Friend-Two: Yeah, duh.
F1: How do you know that for sure?
F2: Isn’t that the question everyone is trying to answer?
F1: It’s the great mystery.
F2: You don’t have to make things so complicated, you know. You’re thinking of the next life in terms of the next birth.
F1: Yeah, like what happens after death. Where do we go?
F2: A more detailed presentation of the same question would go something like this: What happens when time influences the individual in such a way that they completely give up their present body?
F1: What does that mean?
F2: The next life is simply the destination for the soul through the changes effected by time. To say that this life is a preparation for the next is really no different than saying that eating oatmeal this morning will keep you from being hungry in the afternoon.
F1: Still not sure I follow.
F2: You go to school so that you can be educated later on. You take the train to the city in order to get to the office. Your work, or karma, leads to a result. That result doesn’t necessarily arrive right away. It may come many years after the fact, but there is still the initial cause.
F1: And so death is no different? Is that what you’re saying? What I’m doing now will affect where I end up after this life ends?
F2: Right. This “life” as we call it is merely a demarcation of time. It is the span between birth and death, but time itself has no bearing on the existence of the individual.
F1: I see. The thing is, right now I can perceive the results to my work. How can I know for sure where I’m going after this life ends? No one has experience of that.
F2: Ah, the thing is, you can’t perceive everything right now. You don’t remember the work your mother put in when you were in the womb. You don’t remember learning to walk. Do you remember what it was like when you didn’t know how to speak? You know that work was put in, because the results show it.
F1: In the same way, the end result of birth in particular circumstances shows that there was work done previously?
F1: Interesting. There’s another issue to think about. People don’t like being told where they’re going to go after they die. They take it as preaching. They don’t want to be told that they’re being sent to hell for sinning.
F2: That’s funny. They don’t see that there’s hell right now.
F1: What do you mean?
F2: Do you think it’s good to form an attachment to someone and then have that person die? Do you think it’s heavenly to see the pain, suffering and misery that goes on in the world? Does it put a smile on your face knowing that so many people are literally killing themselves in order to live? Is it not hellish to spend the majority of your life stuck in an office, never questioning the meaning to your existence?
F1: Never thought of it that way, but it makes sense. So you’re saying that we’re already in hell?
F2: We experience degrees of heaven and hell right now. After death, you can ascend to a more heavenly region or a more hellish one, but the situation will be the same. Death won’t come again until many years, but it will still come. Then you’ll have to find yourself another home.
F1: That seems to differ from the viewpoint of being condemned to hell forever.
F2: And as far as people not wanting to be told about these things, that shouldn’t matter. If we see someone stepping on the wrong train, should we not tell them? If they want to go to Chicago and they’re on the train heading to Montreal, should we not say something?
F1: Right. What are they going to say in return? “Don’t tell me where to go, bro.” [laughing] That would be silly.
F2: So it’s the same way with birth and death. We have the evidence of shastra that life will go on. Whatever state of being you have when quitting your body, that state you will attain without fail. Shri Krishna says this in the Bhagavad-gita [8.6].
F1: Knowing this, you’d obviously want to have the best state of mind while dying.
F2: So the person “preaching” is trying to help create that preferred state of mind. To deny that death will come is silly. To say that everything ends after that is similarly unintelligent. We continue to exist in this lifetime, despite the changes to the body. The body will change completely and we will still go on. The wise person accepts this information and tries to make use of it.
F1: What should that state of mind be? What is ideal?
F2: Well, it depends. What do you want? Do you want to go through the same experience of birth and death? Do you want to start off ignorant and have to gradually increase your knowledge? Do you want to risk appearing in the species of an animal?
F1: Probably not, but what other option is there?
F2: The spiritual consciousness. Become aware of the supreme spirit, understand His position, meditate on His transcendental qualities, and then go to Him after death.
F1: What is life with Him like? Is it better than heaven?
F2: Heaven can’t compare. The enjoyment is completely different. With the supreme spirit, you’re always serving. You’re always trying to make Him happy, and this in turn makes you happy. It is the best situation to find yourself in, and fortunately you can create something similar right now, before death arrives.
F1: How do we do that?
F2: Follow bhakti-yoga. Learn about God, understand who He is, and take up some small service to Him. Gradually build upon that service, with your enthusiasm increasing. Get His association through something as basic as sound, and then spend all your free time with Him. Create that sound by chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
“Your preaching my ears don’t want to hear,
Of eternal damnation I have no fear.”
That already hellish life not seeing,
In relative good and bad are all beings.
Even if right now too blind to see,
A future after this life there will be.
Knowledge to them the compassionate bringing,
Showing path through holy names’ singing.