“The Personality of Godhead said: Under the supervision of the Supreme Lord and according to the result of his work, the living entity, the soul, is made to enter into the womb of a woman through the particle of male semen to assume a particular type of body.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.31.1)
स्त्रियाः प्रविष्ट उदरं
striyāḥ praviṣṭa udaraṁ
“This person looks completely different now. Granted, I haven’t seen them in ten years. But still, it is not like going from youth to adulthood. They were in their twenties before and in their thirties today. They are so fit. The face looks more attractive. Muscles bulging in the arms and legs. A complete transformation.”
“This person also looks different. It is the reverse situation. They used to have a full head of hair, a single chin, and clear skin. Today everything is in shambles. Less hair, extra fat on the face, and blemishes here and there. The belly is protruding. What happened?”
Such commentary applies only to physical appearance, but so many changes are known to occur throughout life. In these examples there is an external cause. While we assume that there is no intelligent configuration that goes into the makeup of the body, we see that the application of an influential force is possible.
What we may not notice is that the same ability to influence goes into the makeup of the body type accepted at the time of birth. In Sanskrit the word is karma. In general conversation the word has the connotation of reactions to good and bad deeds. Accumulate good karma by behaving piously and bad karma in the inverse situation.
The root definition is “fruitive activity.” The Sanskrit word for fruit is phala, and it is applied to karma, as well. Action and reaction. Good and bad are essentially relative. If I get my clothes wet, that is not necessarily a bad thing. I may need that to occur in order to clean properly. On the other hand, if I am stuck out in the freezing cold, the wet clothes will only make the situation worse.
The action and reaction sequence is not exclusive to this lifetime, which is defined as the duration between accepting the body and subsequently giving it up; i.e. birth and death. There was karma in the past. There was karma before that. Most likely there will be karma moving forward, but we have a say in that.
It is not only the action that leads to the consequence. There has to be a sanctioning power, someone who created the playing field and instituted the rules. The Sanskrit word is daivi. This refers to Divine forces. The Supreme Lord, God, Bhagavan – whatever the preferred name, someone beyond the cycle of birth and death assures that the proper results arrive to action.
The past is the past, so the time is proper for influencing the best future. Karma can stop. In fact, if a person follows the karma in the meaning of prescribed duties, the reactions are not on the bodily plane, either. There is advancement to a more auspicious future condition. The spirit soul remains unaffected, as it is always distinct from the body regardless.
Bhakti-yoga is known to be free of karma. While we can work to influence the type of body we inhabit in the present birth, and our work combined with consciousness influences the next kind of body we receive, through efforts in devotional service the cycle of action and development ceases.
Not that the individual becomes bodiless. Rather, they receive a transcendental form, known as the svarupa. This is the proper vessel in which the spirit soul should reside. Reassuming that state a person becomes free of the distinction between body and spirit. They become fully transcendental, just like the person they are serving. He made karma, after all, and He can help others escape from it, should they have the desire to.
Just like configuration tried,
And bodily effort applied.
For change in situation to see,
But sanctioning force must be.
Who in the first place created,
Principles in Gita clearly stated.
That easiest way forward to cease,
Bhakti-yoga for karma’s release.