“The mistake of modern civilization is that man does not believe in the next life. But whether he believes or not, the next life is there, and one has to suffer if one does not lead a responsible life in terms of the injunctions of authoritative scriptures like the Vedas and puranas.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.30.30 Purport)
Maya is that which is not. Therefore it is commonly described as illusion, an energy that tricks an otherwise intelligent person into doing things they shouldn’t. The matching term is Brahman. Brahman is that which is; it is the Absolute Truth. Maya is that which is not Brahman; at least in terms of realization.
The widespread ignorance of the afterlife is one of the signs of maya’s strength.
“After I die, everything is finished. Therefore let me enjoy right now. Why are you fools so concerned with pleasing someone you can’t even see?”
In the Vedic tradition, the aura of mysticism pertaining to the afterlife is removed. The process of dying and going somewhere else is compared to changing clothes. The bodies change, while the individual remains constant. The destination of the individual is determined by their work, which is known as karma.
The transmigration of the soul is a kind of law of the material nature. The spirit soul’s existence is not under any kind of law, but when descending to the material land ruled by maya there is control from a higher nature. Ignorance of the law does not give immunity. If a person drives on the wrong side of the road, the negative reaction will be there regardless of what they know about the rules of driving. Devan was explaining this concept to his friend one day. He related a story from his own life to help get the point across.
It was my second semester at college. In the first semester I was pretty responsible. I brought my old habits from high school, where I went to bed pretty early and did my homework on time. I remember my uncle told me that once I went to college things would change. He said I would start going to sleep a lot later. I didn’t believe him.
Sure enough, in my second semester things started to change. Suddenly, an 8 am class was too early. In high school I had to wake up at around 6 am to get ready, but you can only do that if you go to bed on time. In college, with all the friends around I started going to bed well after midnight.
Anyway, so I had this important physics class at 8 am. For some reason, I started skipping it regularly. It was a big class, with several hundred students in it. I figured I would just study on my own when the time called for it. I really don’t know what I was thinking. The plan was quite foolish. I thought there would be no negative consequences to my actions.
Sure enough, I randomly show up to class one day and there’s a pop quiz. The thing is, it was only “pop” to me. The other students knew about it because the teacher had announced it previously. They were prepared. They had studied. They had attended all the classes. They weren’t surprised. I had no idea about the test because of my consistent absence. Of course there was no getting out of it. I couldn’t ask the teacher to excuse me because I hadn’t been attending. I had to sit there and look at questions that I had no idea the answers to. It was a pretty horrible experience.
Devan explained that death has similarly been announced. It is guaranteed to happen, with the next destination determined by consciousness. Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, confirms this in the Bhagavad-gita.
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
The purpose of religion is to make sure the transition at the time of death is seamless. In ideal circumstances, there won’t be rebirth. The ideal is when the individual is no longer under the sway of maya. If they are Brahman realized, they get the association of the spiritual energy in the next life. Going one step better, if they are Krishna conscious they get a spiritual body used for association with God the person in the next life. The future life is guaranteed to come, whether one is aware of it or not. The wise heed the lessons of the teachers of the Vedic tradition and mold their lives in such a way as to get the best destination in the afterlife.
Like when class regularly forsaking,
And then one day pop quiz taking.
Failure result guaranteed to come,
Forgiveness for ignorance none.
Life after death same way understand,
So proper destination issue at hand.
Consciousness measured at time of quitting,
For devoted soul place and body befitting.