“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)
śarīraṁ yad avāpnoti
yac cāpy utkrāmatīśvaraḥ
vāyur gandhān ivāśayāt
Your computer’s acting a little strange. Suddenly certain programs won’t open. No matter how many times you click the icon for it, nothing happens. The Wi-Fi signal drops out intermittently. You check the task manager and it shows that the CPU is running very high. But there aren’t many programs open. One of the simplest ways to fix any problem is to restart the machine. Reboot and the problems will go away. You try this option.
Big mistake. Now the computer won’t even log in. You try rebooting and again the same problem. You are really in trouble, you think. You bring it to a computer expert. They say that your hard drive is messed up. “What about all my data,” you ask. “Well, you backed everything up, right,” is their response.
An entire industry is burgeoning to address this very issue. If you don’t back up your data, you can lose it in a second. Just because the device works properly every day for years, in one moment it can stop functioning. There is the manual backup that can be triggered whenever desired. There is also the automatic backup. Better still is to have both automatic and offsite backups. This way if something goes terribly wrong, you won’t lose all your data.
What about in spiritual life? Let’s say a person takes an interest in it to deal with the most pressing issue: death.
“What will happen when I die? Where will I go? Where was I before this present birth? Perhaps the answer will solve the first question too.”
Vedic philosophy sheds some light. The fundamental truth of the genuine science of spirituality is that the living entity is not their body. There is a separation between body and individual. This is counterintuitive. The hand belongs to us. So does the leg. The eyes and ears are part of who we are; or so we are led to believe. In fact, the various body parts can go away and our identity remains unchanged. This is true because we are spirit at the core.
The body is a collection of elements, both gross and subtle. The gross elements are earth, water, fire, air and ether. These elements dissociate from the individual as soon as death arrives. We go somewhere after quitting the body, and nothing of the gross variety comes with us. Today, we don’t have any remnants from our previous existence. And there certainly was a previous existence, as the soul remains alive throughout the time continuum and beyond.
na tv evāhaṁ jātu nāsaṁ
na tvaṁ neme janādhipāḥ
na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ
sarve vayam ataḥ param
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)
The subtle elements of the body are mind, intelligence and ego. These do come with us to the future life. In the Bhagavad-gita, the travel is compared to how the air carries aromas. Someone can be cooking barbecue a few houses down, but while seated in our living room with the window open we know what’s going on because of the smell. The gap in distance is made up through the travel of the aroma.
In the same way, wherever the soul ends up in the next life, the consciousness follows. This explains the tendencies found in the infant. Some babies cry a lot. Some are naturally friendly, while others are shy. Some learn how to crawl quickly, while for others it takes a longer time. These qualities are derived from the previous existence. There is karma, or fruitive action, which brings consequences that mature at some point in time. There is also the consciousness that follows, which is shaped from past activities.
As the gross body does not continue forward, it means that any work done for its enhancement has only temporary results. Everything will get lost eventually, no matter how much maintenance is applied. The same is not true of consciousness. Especially if the consciousness is pure or almost pure, the achievement is guaranteed to remain in the future. Shri Krishna explains how this works in the Bhagavad-gita. He says that the unsuccessful yogi gets to continue from where they left off.
tatra taṁ buddhi-saṁyogaṁ
yatate ca tato bhūyaḥ
“On taking such a birth, he again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success, O son of Kuru.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.43)
Real yoga purifies the consciousness. There is no need to fear a wasted effort, as whatever progress is made carries forward into the next life. This system of carrying consciousness is a kind of backup plan, one that is instituted, managed and secured by the Supreme Lord. It is a sign of His causeless mercy. The material nature, which is the shelter for those who have turned their back on God, does not offer the same security. There is no insurance plan for material enjoyment. It is not guaranteed to continue into the future.
The soul who has found the shelter of devotional service to the Lord gets their consciousness purified in the present life, and that progress is secured for the future. Bearing this in mind, only a fool would choose any path except devotion. Shri Krishna has His eyes everywhere, as He lives within every heart as the Supersoul. He witnesses everything, and He keeps a record of devotional activities securely with Him.
So much work on computer lost,
Not retrieved even after great cost.
Backup plan there to protect,
But not for everything to expect.
With devotional life same not to fear,
Since Lord every action to see, every chant to hear.
Records with Him always keeping,
Even into next life reward reaping.