“The living entities, who are residents of the spiritual as well as the material expansions, are His marginal energy (tatastha-shakti), and they are at liberty to live in either of the energies, external or internal. Those who live within the spiritual expansion of the Lord are called liberated souls, whereas the residents of the external expansion are called the conditioned souls.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.6.17 Purport)
The Vedas are unique in that they present a complete picture for spirituality. It is not simply about acknowledging a higher authority and then compelling surrender. It is not about blindly following a particular book or savior. The appeal is towards intelligence, with explanations in every direction.
With a timeline, we can move forwards and backwards. There are the three time periods of past, present, and future. The present is right now. We can easily identify it. The future is what the present will be after a certain passage of time. The past is what the present turns into as time passes.
It may be obvious to identify these three periods, but there is significance with respect to identity. The individual exists within all three periods. Moreover, the different states are relative. My past, present, and future are different from yours.
My ancestors had a different past, present, and future. They appeared in this world prior to my arrival; at least as I remember it. One hundred years ago, they were living in the present. That is the past to me. For my children and grandchildren, right now is the distant past.
न त्व् एवाहं जातु नासं
न त्वं नेमे जनाधिपाः
न चैव न भविष्यामः
सर्वे वयम् अतः परम्
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 Vedas explain that the individual has an eternal existence, nitya. There is never a time when a person does not exist. There will never be a time when they cease to exist in the future. They did not take birth when arriving in this world.
Birth, as we know it, is the meeting of body and soul. The individual accepting a certain covering at a specific time. In the present moment, we still have that covering. In the future, we will part ways. The body gets left behind, like taking off clothes at the end of the work day.
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)
This accepting and rejecting, which is the larger range encompassing the many swings in between, occurs over and over. That cycle can be described as the transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation. The universe has its own shifts, which take place through the configuration of a higher authority. Those changes can span billions of years.
भूत-ग्रामः स एवायं
भूत्वा भूत्वा प्रलीयते
रात्र्य्-आगमे ऽवशः पार्थ
bhūta-grāmaḥ sa evāyaṁ
bhūtvā bhūtvā pralīyate
rātry-āgame ‘vaśaḥ pārtha
“Again and again the day comes, and this host of beings is active; and again the night falls, O Partha, and they are helplessly dissolved.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.19)
The spinning on the cycle of reincarnation began before anyone can recall. It is impossible to trace out the history of this travel. The living being is vulnerable to such movement because of their classification. They are the energy known as tatastha. Because this is something in between spiritual and material, it is described as marginal.
The comparison is to dropping mustard seeds on the edge of a blade. Some of the seeds fall to one side, and the rest of the seeds to the other. The fall is almost by chance; no one can apply any sort of scientific method to explain why a certain seed drops the way that it does.
The living being is sometimes on the side of spiritual life and sometimes in illusion. The vulnerability to conditioned life, the repeated births, is the very reason for the marginal classification.
Even this is a partial explanation, as time continues without end in both directions. There is always a beginning to a beginning. The living being has no birth. Therefore, prior to falling on the razor’s edge there is existence.
The marginal position also explains the relationship to the Divine. He is of a similar nature, in that there is no birth or death. There is perpetual existence, except there is no vulnerability to falling on the sword. God is never in illusion. He is never under the control of any other energy, as all energies belong to Him.
पुनर् आवर्तिनो ऽर्जुन
माम् उपेत्य तु कौन्तेय
पुनर् जन्म न विद्यते
punar āvartino ‘rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)
The distinction extends to His realm. This means that the living being who reaches that realm no longer has to suffer rebirth. This is the true awakening for the human being. That they can be made aware of this other realm and take steps to reach it is the very reason for living.
The entry requirements are simple. Consciousness. Is the living being conscious of the Divine? Do they truly desire His association? Are they actually done with the illusion? Do they really no longer wish to spin on the wheel of suffering caused by rebirth?
That consciousness gets measured at the time of death. To prepare for the proper consciousness, we take the necessary steps today. There is no guarantee, but there is also nothing lost in the process. The more we follow the regulative principles, which have ultimate freedom as their objective, the better we are situated moving forward.
Like seeds on blade to fall,
Liberated or conditioned to call.
History impossible to trace,
Rebirth memory to erase.
Studying situation at hand,
How in this circumstance to land.
The way out Krishna giving,
That when in devotion living.