For thousands of years, the greatest spiritual teachers of India have used historical narrations found in Srimad-Bhagavatam, like the three included here, to illustrate for their disciples the principles of reincarnation.
Srimad-Bhagavatam, an epic philosophical and literary classic, holds a prominent position in India's voluminous written wisdom. The timeless knowledge of India is expressed in the Vedas, ancient Sanskrit texts that touch upon all fields of human understanding. Known as "the ripened fruit of the tree of Vedic literature, Srimad-Bhagavatam is the most complete and authoritative exposition of Vedic knowledge.
The scientific principles of reincarnation do not change with the passage of time; they remain constant, and these timeless stories are as relevant to the modern seeker as they were to those who sought enlightenment in bygone ages.
THE PRINCE WITH A MILLION MOTHERS
Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.
-- Bhagavad-gita 2.29
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting," writes British poet William Wordsworth in his famous "Intimations of Immortality." And in another poem, he addressed the following lines to an infant:
Oh, sweet new-comer to the changeful earth
If, as some darkling seers have boldly guessed,
Thou hadst a being and a human birth,
And wert erewhile by human parents blessed,
Long, long before thy present mother pressed
Thee, helpless stranger, to her fostering breast.
In the following historical narration from Srimad-Bhagavatam, King Citraketu's son reveals his previous births and instructs the King and Queen about the imperishable nature of the soul and the science of reincarnation.
King Citraketu had many wives, and although he was capable of producing children, he did not receive a child from any of them, for his beautiful wives were all barren.
One day the mystic sage Angira came to Citraketu's palace. The King immediately stood up from his throne and, as was the Vedic custom, paid his respects.
"O King Citraketu, I can observe that your mind is disturbed. Your pale face reflects your deep anxiety. Have you not achieved your desired goals?" the sage inquired.
Because he was a great mystic, Angira knew the cause of the King's distress, but for his own reasons he questioned Citraketu, as if in need of knowledge.
King Citraketu replied, "O Angira, because of your great penances and austerities, you have acquired complete knowledge. You can understand everything, both external and internal, about embodied souls like myself. O great soul, you are aware of everything, yet you ask why I am in such anxiety. Therefore, in response to your order, let me disclose the cause of my suffering. A starving man cannot be satisfied with a garland of flowers. In the same way, my vast empire and immeasurable wealth mean nothing, for I am bereft of a man's true wealth. I do not have a son. Can you not help me to become truly happy and arrange for me to have a son?"
Angira, who was very merciful, agreed to help the King. He performed a special sacrifice to the demigods and then offered the remnants of the sacrificial food to the most perfect of Citraketu's queens, Krtadyuti. "O great King, you will now have a son who will be the cause of both jubilation and lamentation," Angira said. The sage then vanished, without waiting for the King's response.
Citraketu was overjoyed to learn that he would finally get a son, but he wondered about the sage's last words.
"Angira must have meant that I will be greatly happy when my son is born. That is certainly true. But what did he mean by the child being the cause of lamentation? Of course, being my only son, he will automatically become the heir to my throne and kingdom. Therefore, he might become proud and disobedient. That might be a cause for lamentation. But a disobedient son is better than no son at all."
In due course of time, Krtadyuti became pregnant, and a son was born. Hearing this news, all the inhabitants of the kingdom rejoiced. King Citraketu could not contain his joy.
As the King carefully raised his infant son, his affection for Queen Krtadyuti increased daily, and he gradually lost affection for his barren wives. The other queens continuously lamented their fate, for a wife who has no sons is neglected at home by her husband, and her co-wives treat her exactly like a maidservant. The barren queens burned with anger and envy. As their envy increased, they lost their intelligence, and their hearts became hard like stone. They met secretly and decided that there was only one solution to their dilemma, one way to regain the love of their husband: poison the child.
One afternoon, as Queen Krtadyuti walked in the courtyard of the palace, she thought of her son sleeping peacefully in his room. Because she loved the child dearly and could hardly bear to be without him for a moment, she ordered the nurse to awaken him from his nap and bring the boy to the garden.
But when the maidservant approached the child, she saw that his eyes were turned upward, and there were no signs of life. Horrified, she held a swab of cotton beneath the boy's nostrils, but the cotton did not move. Seeing this, she cried out, "Now I am doomed!" and fell to the ground. In great agitation, she struck her breast with both hands and wept loudly.
Some time passed, and the anxious Queen approached the child's bedroom. Hearing the nurse's wailing, she entered the room and saw that her son had passed from this world. In great lamentation, her hair and dress in disarray, the Queen fell to the ground unconscious.
When the King heard of his son's sudden death, he became nearly blind with grief. His lamentation grew like a conflagration, and as he ran to see the dead child, he repeatedly stumbled and fell. Surrounded by his ministers and court officers, the King entered the boy's room and collapsed at the child's feet, his hair and dress scattered in all directions. When he regained consciousness, he was breathing heavily, his eyes were filled with tears, and he was unable to speak.
When the Queen saw her husband merged in great lamentation and again viewed the dead child, she began to curse the Supreme Lord. This increased the pain in the hearts of all the residents of the palace. The Queen's flower garlands slipped from her body, and her smooth jet-black hair became tangled. Falling tears smeared the cosmetics beneath her eyes.
"O Providence! During the lifetime of the father, you have caused the death of his son. You are certainly the enemy of the living beings and are not at all merciful." Turning to her beloved child, she said, "My dear son, I am helpless and aggrieved. You should not give up my company. How can you leave me? Just look at your lamenting father! You have slept for a long time. Now please get up. Your playmates are calling you to play. You must be very hungry, so please get up immediately and take your lunch. My dear son, I am most unfortunate, for I can no longer see your sweet smiling. You have closed your eyes forever. You have been taken from this planet to another place, from which you will not return. My dear son, unable to hear your pleasing voice, I can no longer maintain my life."
The King began crying loudly with an open mouth As the mother and father lamented, all their followers joined them, bemoaning the untimely death of the child. Because of the sudden accident, all the citizens of the kingdom were nearly unconscious with grief.
When the great sage Angira understood that the King was almost dead in an ocean of sorrow, he went there with his friend, Saint Narada.
The two sages found the King, overwhelmed by lamentation, lying like a dead body beside the corpse. Angira addressed him sharply, "Wake up from the darkness of ignorance! O King, what relationship does this dead body have with you, and what relationship do you have with him? You may say that you are now related as father and son, but do you think that this relationship existed before his birth? Does it truly exist now? Will it continue now that he is dead? O King, as small particles of sand sometimes come together and are sometimes separated due to the force of the ocean's waves, living entities who have accepted material bodies sometimes come together and are sometimes separated by the force of time." Angira wanted the King to understand that all bodily relationships are temporary.
"My dear King," the sage continued, "when I first came to your palace, I could have given you the greatest gift -- transcendental knowledge -- but when I saw that your mind was absorbed in material things, I gave you only a son, who caused you jubilation and lamentation. Now you are experiencing the misery of a person who has sons and daughters. These visible objects like wife, children, and property are nothing more than dreams. Therefore, O King Citraketu, try to understand who you really are. Consider where you have come from, where you are going after giving up this body, and why you are under the control of material lamentation."
Then Narada Muni did something very wonderful. By his mystic power, he brought the soul of the King's dead child into the vision of everyone. Immediately the room became effulgent with a blinding brightness, and the dead child began to move. Narada said, "O living entity, all good fortune unto you. Just see your father and mother. All your friends and relatives are overwhelmed with grief because of your death. Because you died untimely, the balance of your life still remains. Therefore, you may reenter your body and enjoy the remainder of the years allotted to you in this body with your friends and relatives, and later you may accept the royal throne and all the opulences given by your father."
By Narada's mystic power, the living entity reentered the dead body. The child who had been dead sat up and began to speak, not with the intelligence of a young boy, but with the full knowledge of a liberated soul. "According to the results of my material activities, I, the living being, transmigrate from one body to another, sometimes going to the species of the demigods, sometimes to the species of lower animals, sometimes incarnating among the vegetables, and appearing sometimes in the human species. In which birth were these two people my father and mother? No one is actually my father and mother. I have had millions of so-called parents. How can I accept these two people as my father and mother?"
The Vedas teach that the eternal living being enters a body made of material elements. Here we find that such a living being entered a body produced by King Citraketu and his wife. Actually, however, he was not their son. The living entity is the eternal son of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but because he wants to enjoy this material world, God gives him a chance to enter various bodies. Yet the pure living being has no true relationship with the material body he gets from his father and mother. Therefore, the soul who had taken the body of Citraketu's son flatly denied that the King and Queen were his parents.
The soul continued, "In this material world, which is like a swiftly flowing river, all people become friends, relatives, and enemies in due course of time. They also act neutrally and in many other relationships. But despite these various transactions, no one is permanently related."
Citraketu was lamenting for his son, who was now dead, but he could have considered the situation otherwise. "This living entity," he could have thought, "was my enemy in my last life, and now, having appeared as my son, he is prematurely leaving just to give me pain and agony." Why should the King not consider his dead son his former enemy and instead of lamenting be jubilant because of an enemy's death?
The living being in the body of Citraketu's child said, "Just as gold and other commodities are continually transferred from one place to another through buying and selling, so the living entity, as a result of his karma, wanders throughout the universe, being injected into various bodies in different species of life through the semen of one father after another."
As explained in Bhagavad-gita, it is not by any father or mother that the living entity is given birth. The living entity's true identity is completely separate from the so-called father and mother. By the laws of nature, the soul is forced to enter the semen of a father and be injected into the womb of a mother. He cannot directly control the kind of father he will get; this is automatically determined by his activities in previous lives. The laws of karma force him to go to different fathers and mothers, just like a commodity that is bought and sold.
The living entity sometimes takes shelter of an animal father and mother and sometimes a human father and mother. Sometimes he accepts a father and mother among the birds, and sometimes he accepts a demigod father and mother in the heavenly planets.
As the soul transmigrates through different bodies, everyone, in every form of life -- be it human, animal, tree, or demigod -- gets a father and mother. This is not very difficult. The real difficulty is to obtain a spiritual father -- a bona fide spiritual master. Therefore, the duty of a human being is to search out such a spiritual master, for under his guidance one can become free from the cycle of reincarnation and return to his original home in the spiritual world.
"The living being is eternal," the pure soul continued, "and has no relation with so-called fathers and mothers. He falsely accepts himself as their son and acts affectionately. After he dies, however, the relationship is finished. Under these circumstances, one should not be falsely involved with jubilation and lamentation. The living entity is eternal and imperishable, he has no beginning and no end, nor does he take birth or die. The living being is equal in quality to the Supreme Lord. Both are spiritual personalities. But because the living entity is so small, he is prone to be illusioned by the material energy, and thus he creates bodies for himself according to his different desires and activities."
The Vedas tell us that the soul is responsible for his lives in the material world, where he is trapped in the cycle of reincarnation, material body after material body. If he likes, he can remain suffering in the prison house of material existence, or he can return to his original home in the spiritual world. Although God arranges through the material energy to give the living beings the bodies they desire, the Lord's true desire is that the conditioned souls get off the punishing merry-go-round of material life and return home, back to Godhead.
Suddenly the boy became silent, as the pure soul left the body of the child, and the body fell lifeless to the floor. Citraketu and the other relatives were astonished. They cut the shackles of their affection and gave up their lamentation. Then they performed the funeral ceremony, cremating the body. Queen Krtadyuti's co-wives, who had poisoned the child, were very much ashamed. While lamenting, they remembered the instructions of Angira and gave up their ambition to bear children. Following the directions of the brahmana priests, they went to the bank of the sacred river Yamuna, where they bathed and prayed daily, atoning for their sinful activities.
Because King Citraketu and his queen had become fully cognizant of spiritual knowledge, including the science of reincarnation, they easily gave up the affection that leads to pain, fear, grief, and illusion. Although this attachment for the material body is very difficult to overcome, because they severed it with the sword of transcendental knowledge, they were able to give it up very easily.
A VICTIM OF AFFECTION
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.
In the first century B.C., the Roman poet Ovid penned these verses describing the fate of an unfortunate person, who, by his actions and desires slid a few notches down the evolutionary scale.
I am ashamed to tell you, but I will tell --
I had bristles sprouting on me.
I could not speak, but only grunting sounds
Came out instead of words.
I felt my mouth grow harder.
I had a snout instead of a nose,
And my face bent over to see the ground.
My neck swelled up with great muscles,
And the hand that lifted the cup to my lips
Made footprints on the ground.
Srimad-Bhagavatam, composed some three thousand years before Ovid's time, contains the following unique story that dramatically reveals the principles of reincarnation in action. India's great and pious monarch, King Bharata, due to his extreme attachment to a deer, had to spend one life in a deer's body before again attaining a human form.
King Bharata was a wise and experienced maharaja who one might have thought would rule for hundreds of years. But while in the prime of life, he renounced everything -- his queen, family, and his vast empire -- and went to the forest. In so doing, he was following the advice of the great sages of ancient India, who recommend that one devote the latter part of one's life to self-realization.
King Bharata knew that his position as a great monarch was not permanent; therefore, he did not try to keep the royal throne until death. After all, even a king's body ultimately becomes dust, ashes, or food for worms and other animals. But within the body is the imperishable soul, the real self. Through the process of yoga, the self can be awakened to its true spiritual identity. Once this occurs, the soul need not spend another term of imprisonment within a material body.
Understanding that the real purpose of life is to free oneself from the cycle of reincarnation, King Bharata journeyed to a sacred place of pilgrimage called Pulaha-asrama, in the foothills of the Himalayas. There, the former king lived alone in the forest along the bank of the Gandaki River. Instead of his royal dress, he now wore only a deerskin garment. His hair and beard grew long and matted and always appeared wet, because he bathed three times a day in the river.
Each morning Bharata worshiped the Supreme Lord by chanting the hymns given in the Rg Veda, and as the sun rose he recited the following mantra: "The Supreme Lord is situated in pure goodness. He illuminates the entire universe; by virtue of His different potencies He maintains all living beings desiring material enjoyment, and He bestows all benediction upon His devotees."
Later in the day he collected various fruits and roots, and as recommended in the Vedic scriptures, he offered these simple edibles to Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and then took them for his food. Even though he had been a great king, surrounded by worldly opulence, now, by the strength of his austerities, all his desires for material enjoyment vanished. Thus he became free of the root cause of bondage in the cycle of birth and death.
By his constant meditation upon the Personality of Godhead, Bharata began to experience symptoms of spiritual ecstasy. His heart was like a lake filled with the water of ecstatic love, and when his mind bathed itself in that lake, tears of joy flowed from his eyes.
One day while Bharata was meditating near the bank of the river, a doe came there to drink. While she drank, a lion in the forest nearby roared loudly. The doe was pregnant, and as she jumped in great fear and ran from the river, a baby deer fell from her womb into the swiftly flowing waters. The doe, shivering in fright and weak from the miscarriage, entered a cave, where she soon died.
As the sage observed the fawn floating down the river, he felt great compassion. Bharata lifted the animal from the water and, knowing it to be motherless, brought it to his asrama. Bodily differences are meaningless from the viewpoint of a learned transcendentalist: because Bharata was self-realized, he saw all living beings with equal vision, knowing that both the soul and the Supersoul (Supreme Lord) are present within the bodies of all. He daily fed the deer with fresh green grass and tried to make it comfortable. Soon, however, he began to develop great attachment for the deer; he lay down with it, walked with it, bathed with it, and even ate with it. When he wanted to enter the forest to collect fruits, flowers, and roots, he would take the deer with him, fearing that if he left it behind, it would be killed by dogs, jackals, or tigers. Bharata took great pleasure seeing the deer leap and frolic in the forest like a child. Sometimes he would carry the fawn on his shoulders. His heart was so filled with love for the deer that he would keep it on his lap during the day, and when he slept, the deer would rest upon his chest. He was forever petting the deer and would sometimes even kiss it. Thus his heart became bound to the deer in affection.
Being attached to raising the deer, Bharata gradually became neglectful of his meditation upon the Supreme Lord. He thus became distracted from the path of self-realization, which is the actual goal of human life. The Vedas remind us that the human form is obtained only after the soul undergoes millions of births in lower species of life. This material world is sometimes compared to an ocean of birth and death, and the human body is compared to a solid boat designed to cross this ocean. The Vedic scriptures and the saintly teachers, or spiritual masters, are compared to expert boatmen, and the facilities of the human body are compared to favorable breezes that help the boat ply smoothly to its desired destination. If, with all these facilities, a person does not fully utilize his life for self-realization, then he commits spiritual suicide and risks taking his next birth in an animal body.
However, even though Bharata was aware of these considerations, he thought to himself, "Because this deer has taken shelter of me, how can I neglect it? Even though it is disturbing my spiritual life, I cannot ignore it. To neglect a helpless person who has taken shelter of me would be a great fault."
One day, as Bharata was meditating, he began, as usual, to think of the deer instead of the Lord. Breaking his concentration, he glanced around to see where the deer was, and when he could not discover it, his mind became agitated, like that of a miser who has lost his money. He got up and searched the area around his asrama, but the deer was nowhere to be found.
Bharata thought, "When will my deer return? Is it safe from tigers and other animals? When shall I again see it wandering in my garden, eating the soft green grasses?"
As the day wore on and the deer still did not return, Bharata became overwhelmed with anxiety. "Has my deer been eaten by a wolf or a dog? Has it been attacked by a herd of wild boars, or by a tiger who travels alone? The sun is now setting, and the poor animal who has trusted me since its mother died has not yet returned."
He remembered how the deer would play with him, touching him with the points of its soft, fuzzy horns. He remembered how he would sometimes push the deer away from him, pretending to be annoyed with it for disturbing his worship or meditation, and how it would then immediately become fearful and sit down motionless a short distance away.
"My deer is exactly like a little prince. Oh, when will he again return? When will he again pacify my wounded heart?"
Unable to restrain himself, Bharata set out after the deer, following its tiny hoofprints in the moonlight. In his madness, he began to talk to himself: "This creature was so dear to me that I feel as though I have lost my own son. Due to the burning fever of separation, I feel as if I were in the middle of a blazing forest fire. My heart is now blazing with distress."
While frantically searching for the lost deer along the dangerous forest paths, Bharata suddenly fell and was fatally injured. Lying there at the point of death, he saw that his deer had suddenly appeared and was sitting at his side, watching over him just like a loving son. Thus, at the moment of his death, the King's mind was focused completely on the deer. In Bhagavad-gita we learn, "Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail."
King Bharata Becomes a Deer
In his next life, King Bharata entered the body of a deer. Most living entities are not able to remember their past lives, but because of the spiritual progress the King had made in his previous incarnation, he could, even though in the body of a deer, understand the cause of his taking birth in that body. He began to lament. "What a fool I was! I have fallen from the path of self-realization. I gave up my family and kingdom and went to a solitary holy place in the forest to meditate, where I always contemplated the Lord of the universe. But due to my foolishness, I let my mind become attached to -- of all things -- a deer. And now I have justly received such a body. No one is to blame but myself."
But even as a deer, Bharata, having learned a valuable lesson, was able to continue his progress in self-realization. He became detached from all material desires. He no longer cared for the succulent green grasses, nor did he give a thought to how long his antlers would grow. Similarly, he gave up the company of all deer, male and female alike, leaving his mother in the Kalanjara Mountains, where he had been born. He returned to Pulaha-asrama, the very place where he had practiced meditation in his previous life. But this time he was careful never to forget the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Staying near the hermitages of the great saints and sages, and avoiding all contact with materialists, he lived very simply, eating only hard, dry leaves. When the time of death came and Bharata was leaving the body of the deer, he loudly uttered the following prayer: "The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the source of all knowledge, the controller of the entire creation, and the Supersoul within the heart of every living being. He is beautiful and attractive. I am quitting this body offering obeisances unto Him and hoping that I may perpetually engage in His transcendental loving service."
The Life of Jada Bharata
In his next life, King Bharata took birth in the family of a pure, saintly brahmana priest and was known as Jada Bharata. By the Lord's mercy, he could again remember his past lives. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna says, "From Me come remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness." As he grew up, Jada Bharata became very much afraid of his friends and relatives, because they were very materialistic and not at all interested in making spiritual progress. The boy was in constant anxiety, for he feared that by their influence, he would again fall down into animal life. Therefore, although he was very intelligent, he behaved just like a madman. He pretended to be dull, blind, and deaf, so that mundane people would not try to taIk to him. But within himself, he was always thinking of the Lord and chanting His glories, which alone can save one from repeated birth and death.
Jada Bharata's father was filled with affection for his son, and in his heart he hoped that Jada Bharata would someday become a learned scholar. Therefore he tried to teach him the intricacies of Vedic knowledge. But Jada Bharata purposely behaved like a fool so that his father would abandon his attempts to instruct him. If his father told him to do something, he would do exactly the opposite. Nevertheless, Jada Bharata's father, until the time of his death, always tried to instruct the boy.
Jada Bharata's nine stepbrothers considered him dull and brainless, and when their father died, they abandoned all attempts to educate him. They could not understand Jada Bharata's inner spiritual advancement. But Jada Bharata never protested their mistreatment, for he was completely liberated from the bodily concept of life. Whatever food came his way, he would accept it and eat, whether it was much or little, palatable or unpalatable. Since he was in full transcendental consciousness, he was not disturbed by material dualities like heat and cold. His body was as strong as a bull's, and his limbs were very muscular. He didn't care for winter's cold, summer's heat, wind, or rain. Because his body was perpetually dirty, his spiritual knowledge and effulgence were covered, just like a valuable gem covered by dirt and grime. Each day he was insulted and neglected by ordinary people, who considered him to be nothing more than a useless fool.
Jada Bharata's only wages were the small portions of unpalatable foodstuffs provided by his brothers, who made him work like a slave in the fields. But he was unable to perform even simple tasks satisfactorily, because he did not know where to spread dirt or where to make the ground level. For food, his brothers gave him broken rice, rice chaff, oil cakes, worm-eaten grains, and burned grains that had stuck to the bottom of the cooking pots, but Jada Bharata gladly accepted all this as if it were nectar. And he never held any grudges. He thus displayed the symptoms of a perfectly self-realized soul.
Once a leader of a band of thieves and murderers went to the temple of the goddess Bhadrakali to offer in sacrifice a dull, unintelligent human being resembling an animal. Such sacrifices are nowhere mentioned in the Vedas and were concocted by the robbers for the purpose of gaining material wealth. Their plan was foiled, however, when the man who was to have been sacrificed escaped, so the chief robber sent his henchmen out to find him. Searching through fields and forests in the darkness of night, the robbers came to a rice field and saw Jada Bharata, who was sitting on high ground guarding the field against the attacks of wild boars. The robbers thought Jada Bharata would be a perfect sacrifice. Their faces shining with happiness, the robbers bound him with strong ropes and brought him to the temple of the goddess Kali. Jada Bharata, because of his complete faith in the protection of the Supreme Lord, did not protest. There is a song by a famous spiritual master that reads, "My Lord, I am now surrendered unto You. I am Your eternal servant, and if You like You can kill me, or if You like You can protect me. In any case, I am fully surrendered unto You."
The robbers bathed Jada Bharata, dressed him in new silk garments, and decorated him with ornaments and garlands. They fed him a sumptuous last meal and brought him before the goddess, whom they worshiped with songs and prayers. Jada Bharata was forced to sit before the deity. Then, one of the thieves, acting as the chief priest, raised a razor-sharp sword to slit Jada Bharata's throat so they could offer Kali his warm blood as liquor.
But the goddess could not bear this. She understood that the sinful thieves were about to kill a great devotee of the Lord. Suddenly, the form of the deity burst open and the goddess herself appeared, her body burning with an intense, intolerable effulgence. The infuriated goddess flashed her blazing eyes and displayed her fierce, curved teeth. Her eyes, crimson orbs, glowered, and she appeared as if she were prepared to destroy the entire cosmos. Leaping violently from the altar, she quickly decapitated all the rogues and thieves with the very sword with which they had intended to kill the saint Jada Bharata.
Jada Bharata Instructs King Rahugana
After his escape from the Kali temple, Jada Bharata continued his wanderings, remaining aloof from ordinary, materialistic men.
One day, as King Rahugana of Sauvira was being carried through the district on a palanquin resting on the shoulders of several servants, the men, who were fatigued, began to falter. Realizing they would need another carrier to help them cross the Iksumati River, the King's servants began searching for someone. Soon they saw Jada Bharata, who appeared to be a good choice because he was very young and strong as an ox. But because he saw all living beings as his brothers, Jada Bharata could not perform this task very well. As he walked, he kept stopping to be sure that he wasn't stepping on any ants. According to the subtle but precise laws of reincarnation, all living entities must remain for a specific length of time in a particular body before being promoted to a higher form. When an animal is killed before its time, the soul must return to that same species to complete its encagement in that type of body. Therefore, the Vedas enjoin that one should always avoid whimsically killing other living beings.
Unaware of what was causing the delay, King Rahugana shouted, "What's going on? Can't you carry this thing properly? Why is my palanquin shaking like this?"
Hearing the threatening voice of the King, the frightened servants replied that the disturbance was being caused by Jada Bharata. The King angrily chastised him, sarcastically accusing Jada Bharata of carrying the palanquin like a weak, skinny, tired old man. But Jada Bharata, who understood his true spiritual identity, knew that he was not his body. He was neither fat, nor lean, nor thin, nor did he have anything to do with the lump of flesh and bones that comprised his body. He knew that he was an eternal spirit soul situated within the body, like a driver within a machine. Therefore, Jada Bharata remained unaffected by the King's angry criticism. Even if the King were to order him killed, he would not have cared, because he knew that the soul is eternal and can never be killed. As Lord Krsna says in the Gita, "The soul is not slain when the body is slain."
Jada Bharata remained silent and kept carrying the palanquin as before, but the King, unable to control his temper, shouted, "You rascal, what are you doing? Don't you know that I am your master? For your disobedience I shall now punish you!"
"My dear King," said Jada Bharata, "whatever you have said about me is true. You seem to think that I have not labored hard enough to carry your palanquin. That is true, because actually I am not carrying your palanquin at all! My body is carrying it, but I am not my body. You accuse me of not being very stout and strong, but this merely shows your ignorance of the spirit soul. The body may be fat or thin, or weak or strong, but no learned man would say such things about the real selt within. As far as my soul is concerned, it is neither fat nor skinny; therefore you are correct when you say that I am not very strong."
Jada Bharata then began to instruct the King, saying, "You think you are lord and master, and you are therefore trying to command me, but this is also incorrect, because these positions are ephemeral. Today you are a king and I am your servant, but in our next lives our positions may be reversed; you may be my servant and I your master."
Just as the waves of the ocean bring pieces of straw together and then break them apart, the force of eternal time brings living entities together in temporary relationships, such as master and servant, and then breaks them apart and rearranges them.
"In any case," Jada Bharata continued, "who is master, and who is servant? Everyone is forced to act by the laws of material nature; therefore no one is master and no one is servant."
The Vedas explain that the human beings in this material world are like actors on a stage, performing under the direction of a superior. Onstage, one actor may play the role of a master, and another may play the role of his servant, but they are both actually the servants of the director. In the same way, all living entities are the servants of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna. Their roles as masters and servants in the material world are temporary and imaginary.
After explaining all this to King Rahugana, Jada Bharata said, "If you still think that you are the master and that I am the servant, I shall accept this. Please order me. What can I do for you?"
King Rahugana, who had been trained in spiritual science, was astonished to hear the teachings of Jada Bharata. Recognizing him as a saintly person, the King quickly descended from his palanquin. His material conception of himself as a great monarch had been obliterated, and he fell humbly to the ground, his body outstretched, offering obeisances, his head at the feet of the holy man.
"O saintly person, why are you moving through the world unknown to others? Who are you? Where do you live? Why have you come to this place? O spiritual master, I am blind to spiritual knowledge. Please tell me how I may advance in spiritual life."
King Rahugana's behavior is exemplary. The Vedas declare that everyone, even kings, must approach a spiritual master in order to gain knowledge of the soul and the process of reincarnation.
Jada Bharata replied, "Because his mind is full of material desire, the living entity takes on different bodies in this material world, to enjoy and suffer the pleasures and pains brought about by material activity."
When one sleeps at night, one's mind creates many dreamlike situations of enjoyment and suffering. A man may dream that he is associating with a beautiful woman, but this enjoyment is illusory. He may also dream that he is being chased by a tiger, but the anxiety he experiences is also unreal. In the same way, material happiness and distress are simply mental creations, based on identification with the material body and material possessions. When one awakens to his original, spiritual consciousness, he sees that he has nothing to do with these things. One accomplishes this by concentrating one's mind in meditation upon the Supreme Lord.
If one fails to constantly fix one's mind on the Supreme Lord and render service to Him, he must undergo the cycle of birth and death described by Jada Bharata.
"The condition of the mind causes births in different types of bodies," Jada Bharata said. "These bodies may be those of many different species, for when one uses the mind to understand spiritual knowledge, he gets a higher body, and when one uses it only for obtaining material pleasure, he receives a lower body."
Jada Bharata compared the mind to a flame in a lamp. "When the flame burns the wick improperly, the lamp is blackened with soot. But when the lamp is filled with clarified butter and the flame burns properly, the lamp produces brilliant illumination. The mind absorbed in material life brings endless suffering in the cycle of reincarnation, but when the mind is used to cultivate spiritual knowledge, it brings about the original brightness of spiritual life."
Jada Bharata then warned the King, "As long as one identifies with the material body, one must wander throughout the unlimited universes in different species of life. Therefore, the uncontrolled mind is the greatest enemy of the living being.
"My dear King Rahugana, as long as the conditioned soul accepts the material body and is not freed from the contamination of material enjoyment, and as long as he does not conquer his senses and his mind and come to the platform of self-realization by awakening his spiritual knowledge, he is forced to wander in different places and in different forms in this material world."
Jada Bharata then revealed his own past lives. "In a previous birth, I was known as King Bharata. I attained perfection by becoming completely detached from material activities. I was fully engaged in the service of the Lord, but I relaxed my control over my mind and became so affectionate to a small deer that I neglected my spiritual duties. At the time of death I could think of nothing but this deer, so in my next life I had to accept the body of a deer."
Jada Bharata concluded his teachings by informing the King that those who desire freedom from the cycle of reincarnation must always associate with self-realized devotees of the Lord. Only by associating with exalted devotees can one attain the perfection of knowledge and cut to pieces the illusory associations of this material world.
Unless one has the opportunity to get the association of the devotees of the Lord, he can never understand the first thing about spiritual life. The Absolute Truth is revealed only to one who has attained the mercy of a great devotee, because in the assembly of pure devotees, there is no question of discussing material subjects like politics and sociology. In an assembly of pure devotees, there is discussion only of the qualities, forms, and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is praised and worshiped with full attention. This is the simple secret by which one can revive his dormant spiritual consciousness, end forever the vicious cycle of reincarnation, and return to a life of eternal pleasure in the spiritual world.
After receiving lessons from the great devotee Jada Bharata, King Rahugana became fully aware of the constitutional position of the soul and gave up completely the bodily conception of life, which chains the pure souls to the endless cycle of birth and death in the material world.
VISITORS FROM BEYOND
Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.
-- Bhagavad-gita 8.6
As the soul sets out on its mysterious journey after death, it may, according to the traditions of the world's great religions, meet with beings from other levels of reality -- angels who help it, or judges who weigh its good and evil deeds on the scales of cosmic justice. A variety of religious art objects, spanning the entire range of man's cultural history, depict such scenes. A painting on a fragment of Etruscan pottery shows an angelic figure attending a fallen warrior. A Christian mosaic from the Middle Ages shows a grim St. Michael, the scales of justice in his hands. Many people who have had near-death experiences often report encountering such beings.
In the Vedic scriptures of India we learn of the servants of Lord Visnu, who appear at the time of death to accompany the pious soul on its way to the spiritual world. The Vedas also tell of the fearsome agents of Yamaraja, the lord of death, who forcefully arrest the soul of a sinful man and prepare it for its next incarnation in the prison of a material body. In this historical account, the servants of Visnu and the servants of Yamaraja dispute the fate of the soul of Ajamila, deciding whether he should be liberated or reincarnated.
In the city of Kanyakubja, there once lived a young saintly brahmana priest named Ajamila, who fell from the path of spiritual life and lost all of his good qualities when he fell in love with a prostitute. Giving up his priestly duties, Ajamila now made his living through robbery and gambling and passed his life in debauchery.
By the time he was eighty-eight years old, Ajamila had fathered ten sons by the prostitute. The youngest, a baby, was named Narayana -- one of the names of the Supreme Lord, Visnu. Ajamila was very attached to his young son and derived great pleasure watching the child's early attempts to walk and talk.
One day, without warning, the time of death arrived for the foolish Ajamila. Terrified, the old man saw before him gruesome figures with fierce, twisted faces These subtle beings with ropes in their hands had come to forcibly escort him to the court of Yamaraja, the lord of death. Seeing these ghoulish creatures, Ajamila became bewildered, and out of affection for his beloved child, who was playing a short distance away, he began to cry loudly, "Narayana! Narayana!', With tears in his eyes, weeping for his young son, the great sinner Ajamila unconsciously chanted the holy name of the Lord.
Hearing their master's name chanted with great feeling by the dying Ajamila, the order carriers of Visnu, the Visnudutas, arrived within a second. They appeared just like Lord Visnu Himself. Their eyes were exactly like the petals of a lotus flower; they wore helmets of burnished gold, glimmering silk garments the color of topaz; and their perfectly formed bodies were decorated with garlands of sapphire and milk-white lotuses. They appeared fresh and youthful, and their dazzling effulgence illuminated the darkness of the death chamber. In their hands they held bows, arrows, swords, conchshells, clubs, discs, and lotus flowers.
The Visnudutas saw the servants of Yamaraja, the Yamadutas, snatching Ajamila's soul from the core of his heart, and with resounding voices they cried, "Stop!"
The Yamadutas, who had never before encountered any opposition, trembled upon hearing the Visnudutas' harsh command. "Who are you? Why are you trying to stop us?" they asked. "We are the servants of Yamaraja, the lord of death."
The agents of Visnu smiled and spoke in voices as deep as the rumbling of rain clouds: "If you are truly the servants of Yamaraja, you must explain to us the meaning of the cycle of birth and death. Tell us: Who must enter this cycle, and who must not?"
The Yamadutas replied, "The sun, fire, sky, air, demigods, moon, evening, day, night, the directions, water, land, and the Supersoul, or the Lord within the heart, all witness the activities of everyone. The candidates for punishment in the cycle of birth and death are those who are confirmed by these witnesses to have deviated from their religious duties. In proportion to the extent of one's religious or irreligious actions in this life, one must enjoy or suffer the corresponding reactions of karma in the next."
Originally the living beings exist in the spiritual world as eternal servants of God. But when they give up the service of the Lord, they must enter the material universe, comprised of the three modes of nature -- goodness, passion, and ignorance. The Yamadutas explained that the living beings who desire to enjoy this material world come under the control of the modes and, according to their specific relationship with these modes, acquire suitable material bodies. A being in the mode of goodness obtains the body of a demigod, one in the mode of passion takes birth as a human, and one in the mode of ignorance enters the lower species.
All of these bodies are like the bodies we experience in dreams. When a man goes to sleep, he forgets his real identity and may dream that he has become a king. He cannot remember what he was doing before he went to sleep, nor can he imagine what he will do upon waking. In the same way, when a soul identifies with a temporary, material body, he forgets his real, spiritual identity, as well as any previous lives in the material world, although most souls in a human body have already transmigrated through all 8,400,000 species of life.
"The living entity thus transmigrates from one material body to another in human life, animal life, and life as a demigod," the Yamadutas said. "When the living entity gets the body of a demigod, he is very happy. When he gets a human body, he is sometimes happy and sometimes sad. And when he gets the body of an animal, he is always fearful. In all conditions, however, he suffers terribly, experiencing birth, death, disease, and old age. His miserable condition is called samsara, or transmigration of the soul through different species of material life.
"The foolish embodied living entity," the Yamadutas continued, "unable to control his senses or his mind, is forced to act according to the influence of the modes of material nature, even against his own desires. He is like a silkworm that uses its own saliva to create a cocoon and then becomes trapped in it. The living entity traps himself in a network of his own fruitive activities and then can find no way to free himself. Thus he is always bewildered and repeatedly dies and is reborn.
"Because of his intense material desires," said the Yamadutas, "a living entity takes birth in a particular family and receives a body like that of either the mother or the father. That body is an indication of his past and future bodies, just as one springtime is an indication of past and future springtimes."
The human form of life is especially valuable, because only a human can understand the transcendental knowledge that can free him from the cycle of birth and death. But Ajamila had wasted his human life.
"In the beginning," the Yamadutas said, "Ajamila studied all the Vedic literatures. He was a reservoir of good character and conduct. He was very mild and gentle, and he kept his mind and senses under control. He was always truthful, knew how to chant the Vedic mantras, and was very pure. Ajamila always showed proper respect to his spiritual master, guests, and the elderly members of his household -- indeed, he was free from false prestige. He was benevolent to all living beings and never envied anyone.
"But once, Ajamila, following the order of his father, went to the forest to collect fruits and flowers. On the way home, he came upon a very lusty, low-class man shamelessly embracing and kissing a prostitute. The man was smiling, singing, and enjoying himself as if this were proper behavior. Both the man and the prostitute were drunk. The prostitute's eyes were rolling in intoxication, and her dress had become loose, partially exposing her body. When Ajamila saw this prostitute, the dormant lusty desires in his heart awakened, and in illusion, he fell under their control. He tried to remember the instructions of the scriptures, and with the help of his knowledge and intellect he tried to control his lust. But because of the force of Cupid within his heart, he was unable to control his mind. After that, he always thought of the prostitute, and within a short time he took her in as a servant in his house.
"Ajamila then gave up all of his spiritual practices. He spent the money he had inherited from his father for presents for the prostitute and even rejected his beautiful young wife, who came from a respectable brahmana family.
"This rascal Ajamila got money any way he could, legally or illegally, and used it to maintain the prostitute's sons and daughters. Before death, he did not undergo atonement. Therefore, because of his sinful life, we must take him to the court of Yamaraja. There, according to the extent of his sinful acts, he will be punished and then returned to the material world in a suitable body."
After hearing the statements of the Yamadutas, the servants of Lord Visnu, who are always expert in logic and argument, replied, "How painful it is to see that those in charge of upholding religious principles are needlessly punishing an innocent person. Ajamila has already atoned for all of his sins. Indeed, he has atoned not only for sins performed in this life, but for those performed in millions of previous lives as well, because he chanted the holy name of Narayana in a helpless state of mind at the time of death. Therefore, he is now pure and eligible for liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.
"The chanting of the holy name of Lord Visnu," the Visnudutas said, "is the best process of atonement for a thief or a drunkard, for one who betrays a friend or relative, for one who kills a priest, or for one who indulges in sex with the wife of his guru or another superior. It is also the best method of atonement for one who murders women, the king, or his father, for one who slaughters cows, and for all other sinful men. Simply by chanting the holy name of Lord Visnu, such sinful persons may attract the attention of the Supreme Lord, who therefore considers, 'Because this man has chanted My holy name, it is My duty to give him protection.' "
In this present age of quarrel and hypocrisy, one who wants liberation from reincarnation should chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, the great mantra of deliverance, because it completely cleanses the heart of all material desires that keep one trapped in the cycle of birth and death.
The Visnudutas said, "One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins, even if he chants jokingly or for musical entertainment. This is accepted in the scriptures and by all learned scholars.
"If one chants the holy name of Lord Krsna and then dies in an accident or is killed by a deadly animal, from disease, or by a weapon, one is immediately freed from having to take birth again. As a fire burns dry grass to ashes, the holy name of Krsna burns to ashes all of one's karmic reactions."
The Visnudutas then said, "If a person unaware of the potency of a medicine takes that medicine or is forced to take it, it will act even without his knowledge. Even if one does not know the value of chanting the holy name of the Lord, the chanting will still be effective in liberating one from reincarnation.
"At the time of death," said the Visnudutas, "Ajamila helplessly and very loudly chanted the holy name of the Lord, Narayana. That chanting alone has already freed him from having to take birth again for his sinful life. Therefore, do not try to take him to your master for punishment by another term of imprisonment in a material body."
The Visnudutas then released Ajamila from the ropes of the servants of the lord of death. Ajamila came to his senses and, free from fear, paid his heartfelt respects to the Visnudutas by bowing his head at their feet. But when the Visnudutas saw that Ajamila was trying to say something to them, they disappeared.
"Was this a dream I saw?" Ajamila wondered. "Or was it reality? I saw fearsome men with ropes in their hands coming to drag me away. Where have they gone? And where are those four radiant persons who saved me?"
Ajamila then began to reflect on his life. "Being a servant of my senses, how degraded I became! I fell down from my position as a saintly brahmana and begot children in the womb of a prostitute. Indeed, I gave up my chaste and beautiful young wife. What's more, my father and mother were old and had no other friend or son to look after them. Because I did not take care of them, they lived with great pain and difficulty. It is now clear that a sinful person like myself should have been forced in his next life to suffer hellishly.
"I am such an unfortunate person," said Ajamila, "but now that I have another chance, I must try to become free from the vicious cycle of birth and death."
Ajamila immediately renounced his prostitute wife and journeyed to Hardwar, a place of pilgrimage in the Himalaya Mountains. There he took shelter at a Visnu temple, where he practiced bhakti-yoga, the yoga of devotional service to the Supreme Lord. When his mind and intelligence were fixed in perfect meditation on the form of the Lord, Ajamila again saw before him four celestial beings. Recognizing them as the same Visnudutas who had saved him from the agents of death, he bowed down before them.
There at Hardwar, on the banks of the Ganges, Ajamila gave up his temporary, material body and regained his eternal, spiritual form. Accompanied by the Visnudutas, he boarded a golden aircraft and, passing through the airways, went directly to the abode of Lord Visnu, never again to reincarnate in this material world.