The Next Life: It’s Up to Us
The Yamadūtas continued: “O best of the demigods, we can see three different varieties of life, which are due to the contamination of the three modes of nature. The living entities are thus known as peaceful, restless, and foolish; as happy, unhappy, or in-between; or as religious, irreligious, and semireligious. We can deduce that in the next life these three kinds of material nature will similarly act. Just as springtime in the present indicates the nature of springtimes in the past and future, so this life of happiness, distress, or a mixture of both gives evidence concerning the religious and irreligious activities of one’s past and future lives.
“The omnipotent Yamarāja is as good as Lord Brahmā, for while situated in his own abode and in everyone’s heart like the Paramātmā, he mentally observes the past activities of a living entity and thus understands how the living entity will act in future lives. As a sleeping person acts according to the body manifested in his dreams and accepts it to be himself, so one identifies with his present body, which he acquired because of his past religious or irreligious actions, and is unable to know his past or future lives.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.1.46–49)
Breaking Free of Past, Present, and Future Karma
Here the Yamadūtas point out that the actions and reactions of the three modes of material nature are visible in this life. For example, some people are very happy, some are very distressed, and some are in mixed happiness and distress. This is the result of past association with the modes of material nature – goodness, passion, and ignorance. Since these varieties are visible in this life, we may assume that the living entities, according to their association with the different modes of material nature, will be happy, distressed, or between the two in their next lives also. Therefore the best policy is to disassociate oneself from the three modes of material nature and be always transcendental to their contamination. This is possible only when one fully engages in the devotional service of the Lord, as Kṛṣṇa confirms in the Bhagavad-gītā (14.26):
māṁ ca yo ’vyabhicāreṇa
sa guṇān samatītyaitān
“One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.” Unless one is fully absorbed in the service of the Lord, one will be subjected to the contamination of the three modes of material nature and must therefore experience distress or mixed happiness and distress, depending on the severity of one’s sinful activities.
The Supreme Lord has appointed Yamarāja to decide the proper punishment for those who perform sinful activities. Thus at death each being is awarded a particular body in a particular place, according to his work. As Lord Kapila explains in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.31.1),
striyāḥ praviṣta udaraṁ
“Under the supervision of the Supreme Lord and according to the result of his work, the living entity, the soul, is made to enter the womb of a woman through the particle of male semen to assume a particular type of body.”
We are changing our bodies every day, at every moment. It is called “growth,” but actually it is a change of body. Growing means leaving the old body and accepting a new body. After some years we can see that a child has grown to boyhood, then to youth. That means he has changed his body. Similarly, when we find that the body is no longer inhabitable, we have to give it up and accept another body, just as we have to give up our clothes when they become old and worn.
This change is executed under the supervision of higher authorities (daiva-netreṇa). According to one’s religious and irreligious acts, one has to accept a particular type of body in a particular position and suffer. Our sufferings are classified as ādhibhautika, ādhyātmika, and ādhidaivika. Ādhyātmika miseries are those caused by our own bodies and minds, ādhibhautika miseries are those inflicted by other living entities, and ādhidaivika miseries are those which are inflicted by higher authorities (devas) and which are completely beyond our control – such as earthquake, drought, flood, and famine. We cannot adjust these situations. In the same way, after death superior authorities will offer us a certain type of body, and we cannot say, “Oh no, sir, I do not want this body.” We have to accept it.
Due to repeated birth and death in so many material bodies, we have all forgotten that we are part and parcel of God, that we have an intimate relationship with Him, and that somehow or other we have fallen into this material world. It is very difficult to exactly pinpoint the origin of this forgetfulness. But even though we have forgotten Him since time immemorial, Kṛṣṇa is so merciful that to remind us of our spiritual identity and our oneness with Him as His parts, He comes personally and teaches us what we have forgotten. And when He departs He leaves behind the scripture, especially the Bhagavad-gītā, where He requests, sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: “Please give up all your nonsense and surrender unto Me. I shall give you all protection.” (Bhagavad-gītā 18.66)
Kṛṣṇa is the father of all living entities. He is not happy that all these souls in the material world are rotting like hogs. Therefore He sends His representatives. In the case of Lord Jesus Christ, Kṛṣṇa sent His son. Lord Jesus claimed to be the son of God. Everyone is a son of God, but this son was an especially favorite son, and he was sent to a particular place to reclaim the conditioned souls back home, back to Godhead.
But if the conditioned souls insist on staying here, what can Kṛṣṇa or His servant do? They allow us to go on with our materialistic activities, because the first condition for getting out of the material prison house is that we must desire to get out. When we finally become disgusted with our predicament, we pray, “My dear Lord, I have served lust, anger, and greed for so long, but they are still unsatisfied, and now I have become disgusted with serving them. Now, my dear Lord Kṛṣṇa, my intelligence is awakened, and I have come to You. Please engage me in Your service.”
The living entity is the marginal energy (tataṣṭha-śakti) of the Lord, which means he can choose to be controlled by Kṛṣṇa’s inferior, material energy or His superior, spiritual energy. We devotees have chosen to come to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In other words, we have agreed to surrender to Kṛṣṇa and submit to the protection of His internal, spiritual energy. Surrender to Kṛṣṇa begins with chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. The word Hare indicates the devotional energy of Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa means “the all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead,” and Rāma means “the Supreme Enjoyer.”
But there are many who will not come, because they do not agree to come under the control of Kṛṣṇa’s spiritual energy. But Kṛṣṇa does not interfere. He says, “You may remain in the material world or come to Me – whatever you like.” We have been given minute independence and the intelligence to discriminate between what to do and what not to do.
The ear is the most important organ for learning what is to be done and what is not to be done for our ultimate benefit. We must hear from the superior authority. At night we sleep peacefully, unaware that someone might be coming to chop off our head. However, our sense of hearing is acute, even in the sleeping state. If someone cries out, “Wake up! Wake up! Someone is coming to kill you!” we can be saved. Similarly, we are sleeping under the influence of material nature. We seem to be awake and acting, but prakṛti (material nature) is doing the acting – not us. We are being forced to act according to our association with the different modes of material nature. Although we are in the sleeping condition, our ear does not sleep, and it helps us to rise out of ignorance. If we hear from the right person – the spiritual master – and from the Vedic scriptures, we can awaken to our original, constitutional position as eternal servants of Kṛṣṇa. The first prescription is śravaṇaṁ, hearing about Kṛṣṇa. If we simply hear about Kṛṣṇa, we will automatically wake up. The injunction of the Vedas is uttiṣṭhata jāgrata prāpya varān nibodhata: “Wake up! Get up! Understand the great benediction you have in this human form of life. Now utilize it and get free from the clutches of the material modes of nature.” In the Bhagavad-gītā (7.14) Kṛṣṇa explains how to do this:
daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī
mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante
māyām etāṁ taranti te
“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered to Me can easily cross beyond it.” Surrender to Kṛṣṇa and be Kṛṣṇa conscious. In the human form of life, that is our only business.
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