Friday, May 31, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 12: Free Will (2) and Transmigration of the Soul

(Continued from What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 11: Free Will (1))

7.  Since you and I are living here in the material world right now, it's obvious that we were among the ones who did not decide to go back to Vaikuntha after spending a lifetime in the position of Brahma.  So where did we go next after leaving our deceased Brahma bodies?  I've seen it stated that the next form the soul enters in its travels through the material world is that of a great, wise and powerful sage.  I'm sure this would be because, Lord Brahma being highly advanced/elevated, wise and glorious, while on that level of consciousness we would not feel drawn to anything lower or more degraded.  After our sage-lifetime we would again have had the choice to go upward, back to Lord Brahma's planet and thence to the spiritual sky, or downward to the realm of the demigods -- powerful beings below Lord Brahma in the universal hierarchy.  From a demigod position, yet again we could choose by our actions whether to go back upward or to go further down.  Spiritual progress or sense-gratification?  Peace and self-discipline or passion, recklessness, chaos and suffering?  Which road to go down?  The choice has always been up to us.


The entire material cosmos is a vast place full of many spherical universes, each of which contains several (upper/pious, middle, and lower/sinful) planetary systems filled with a total of 8,400,000 species of life in every state of consciousness, enjoyment and misery imaginable.  In the upper planets of the universe, the resident beings are beautiful, long-lived, and on the whole very broad-minded and dedicated to maintaining peace, order and good behavior throughout Creation.  In the lower planets, although there are also regions populated with beautiful and long-lived beings who have every opportunity to enjoy material life to the fullest, their motivations are more selfish, or at best, centered upon the welfare of their own families or species.  These two groups are respectively called the pious suras and impious asuras.  In the middle are located the earthly or "mortal" realms (so-called because our bodies are relatively quite short-lived here), wherein you can find human beings who partake of both pious and impious natures; on this planet we are at a crossroads where our options are multifarious. 

Our travels as spirit souls from one body to the next (called rebirth, reincarnation, or transmigration of the soul) are driven by our desires, and our choices and actions based on those desires.  The fact that what we mentally dwell on turns into actions and then, when those actions add up, they form our reality is well-known. All kinds of self-help, positive-thinking, and goal-setting gurus have been pointing this out for years, along with older, more sacred sources, like the Bible ("Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" -- Galatians 6:7).

The Vaisnava view is that this process does not stop with the death of these temporary bodies we're living in, but continues forever, because we are immortal souls who will always be having thoughts and desires and will always be acting on them.  Any external situations we ever find ourselves in -- the bodies we have, the families we're in, the things that happen to us, etc. -- are simply manifestations of the journey we're on: where we've been, and where we're at now.  And our choices in the present will determine where we're going next.  There is absolutely no limit to the variety of destinations available to us: 

  • We can choose to commit heinous sins and go to hell (though we'll only stay there for as long as it takes for us to be repaid justly for what we chose to do -- there's no eternal hell for a finite amount of sin in our tradition; though for those who are suffering in hell, it certainly seems eternal). 
  • We can choose to enter any species of plant or animal life in order to enjoy a certain flavor of sense-gratification or acquire some fantastic skills or abilities that we're hankering after.  (Since animals and vegetables are obedient to the laws of nature -- i.e., they always do just what they're supposed to do and are incapable of sin -- when we are in bodies like those we can only progress upward, towards more and more intelligent and advanced forms of animal life, until at last, we get back into a human body.  Getting into one of these forms is thus like stepping onto a very slow, and crowded, escalator.  It eats up a lot of time going up through all these varieties of plant and/or animal life, and your options are limited as long as you're there.)  
  • Of course, we can take another human birth if we desire to and if our actions meet the necessary criteria. 
  • We can choose to behave ourselves extremely well on the material platform -- always being considerate of others, dutiful, responsible, and generous, and doing a lot of good -- and get a super materially-enjoyable destination in our next life.  (I would expect it to be amongst the suras if we were believers in God, and amongst the asuras if we were atheistic/secular humanists.)  
  • When we finally get to the point of seeing the feverish irrationality and pointlessness (for immortal souls like ourselves who want constant happiness) of chasing after the temporary and fleeting sensual enjoyment on offer here, that's usually mixed with suffering and always with the danger of loss, we may begin to seek after the real purpose of life, the spiritual reality that will deeply and permanently satisfy us.  If in our vision of spiritual truth we stress the oneness of all beings but decline to believe in a personal God, we can strive after impersonal liberation, which I've already dealt with at length earlier in this series of posts.  Otherwise, we can engage in bhakti by doing whatever we do out of love for Krsna (or whichever form of the Lord we prefer), remaining in consciousness of Him at all times (or as much of the time as we possibly can), trying to completely absorb ourselves in Him, meditating on serving Him in a particular way, crying and praying with our whole hearts every day for that service -- and then, after doing this with enthusiasm, determination, humility, patience and sincerity for enough years, one day we'll feel His embrace and once again will be able to play with Him just like we did before entering this world.  Constant absorption in thoughts of Him and of service to Him naturally ensures that that will be our destination. 

So "if you can dream it, you can do it" is absolutely a true saying.  We are supposed to pick where we want to go next, learn what's necessary in order to achieve the life we want, and then go after it.  If we fail to seize mastery over ourselves -- if we relinquish our rightful control to the heedless clamor of our emotions, our hungry senses, and the circumstances that relentlessly batter away at us, and cry that we're helpless victims -- then the choice will be made for us.  Our next body will be given to us simply based on what form of life best matches our mentality and level of consciousness and behavior.  The same holds true if we do claim mastery over ourselves but do not believe in an afterlife and consequently behave as though this life is the only one we've got to worry about. 

To be continued...

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