“There are an infinite number of living beings, both moving and nonmoving, who have many different abodes, with some residing in the earth, some in the sky, and some in the water. But O helpless Tulsi, for you Shri Rama’s holy name is your only home.” (Dohavali, 37)
जल थल नभ गति अमित अति अग जग जीव अनेक |
तुलसी तो से दीन कहँ राम नाम गति एक ||
jala thala nabha gati amita ati aga jaga jīva aneka |
tulasī to se dīna kaham̐ rāma nāma gati eka ||
This life will not be the only one. It may seem that way. We get so immersed in the present, over what will occur in the immediate term, that we forget our own past. We were once so small as to fit inside of a womb. We have no memory of that experience, but it certainly happened.
As Shri Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita, we will move on to another place after the completion of this lifetime. The transmigration of the soul. The living entity, the jiva, shifting from one residence to another. Like taking off a set of clothes in exchange for a new set.
वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय
नवानि गृह्णाति नरो ऽपराणि
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्य्
अन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही
vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya
navāni gṛhṇāti naro ‘parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny
anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)
There is no guarantee that the next birth will be a human one. There is potential in every possible direction. The wise understand this and thus immediately assign top priority to influencing the type of birth moving forward.
1. Moving or nonmoving
There is life all-around. Shastra gives the description of sarva-ga. We can go everywhere. We try to enter other areas right now, by brute force, but the easier method is to simply await transmigration. We may have already been in those places in the past; we simply cannot remember.
As a human being, we have the ability to move. Two arms and two legs. There are many species that cannot move. They remain where they are; sometimes for thousands of years. They are as much life as the species which do move.
2. In the sea or on land
We roam the earth and take in oxygen to support life. But this is not the only way. Within the water there is an abundance of life, with a different mechanism for survival. Something like breathing underwater, there is also sufficient supply of food. No planning commissions. No government organization to distribute to the needy. No philanthropy. Nature supplies everything.
3. As a tree or a bird perched on a branch
Part of the nonmoving category, we could take birth as a tree. Tolerate the intense cold of winter. Deal with the steady gusts of wind. Witness the changing of seasons, year after year. Perhaps supply vital food to the human population in the form of fruits.
As we have the potential to take birth as a tree, we could also be one of the birds which sets up a nest on one of the branches. Intelligence in the sense that no GPS device is required. The bird figures out where to return after leaving the nest. They do not get lost. They also can detect the coming shift in weather and move accordingly.
4. As the son of a high court judge or the son of a criminal
There is an often-invoked derogatory label of, “The lucky sperm club.” The idea is that some people are born into wealth, and so they do not have to work for a living. It is not anything that they did. There is no merit identified. They are free of the burdens the majority of the population has to deal with.
In this regard, I could take birth as the son of a high-court judge, and thus be honored within society. Perhaps the path is paved for me to follow in the same line, to one day sit on the bench and be addressed as, “Your honor.”
There is also the potential to be on the other side. Take birth as the son of a criminal. I am so shielded from the proper way of living that I think stealing is righteous. I think everyone else is in the wrong. Like a magnet, I am drawn to law enforcement, facing the local judges so often that they know me by name.
5. A child of a loving mother or one facing a knife in the womb
I could take birth as the son of a loving mother. Someone who takes care of my every need, who always remembers me as the helpless child learning to crawl and walk. No matter how old I get, the love never diminishes.
Since life is constant, since it never actually begins but only gets detected, the person within the womb is as much a person as the one who has survived the birth process. In Kali-yuga, the current age of heightened quarrel and hypocrisy, making it out of the womb alive is an achievement. A knife might be coming at you, and you have no way to defend yourself.
The wise saints of the Vaishnava tradition remain constantly aware of these potential circumstances. Someone like Goswami Tulsidas understands that he could end up anywhere, so he prays to always be attached to the holy name of the Lord.
This is his real home. On land, in the sea, flying through the air, moving or nonmoving – these are temporary situations. The association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead is forever, and so the home created through devotion never gets destroyed: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
In wealth of loving home,
Or in poverty all alone.
Standing tall as a tree,
Or that bird in nest to see.
Possible so many places to go,
But saints only one residence to know.
That of holy name chanting,
That wish forever granting.
Categories: the five