(Excerpts from the writings of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)
One Life Is Just a Flash in Time
From time immemorial the living entity travels in the different species of life and the different planets, almost perpetually. This process is explained in Bhagavad-gita: under the spell of maya, everyone is wandering throughout the universe on the carriage of the body offered by the material energy. Materialistic life involves a series of actions and reactions. It is a long film spool of actions and reactions, and one life span is just a flash in such a reactionary show. When a child is born, it is to be understood that his particular type of body is the beginning of another set of activities, and when an old man dies, it is to be understood that one set of reactionary activities is finished.
You Get the Body of Your Choice
The living entity creates his own body by his personal desires, and the externalenergy of Lord supplies him with exact form by which he can enjoy his desires to the fullest extent. The tiger wanted to enjoy the blood of another animal; therefore, by the grace of the Lord, the material energy supplied him the body of the tiger, with facilitied for enjoying blood from another animal.
Death Means Forgetting Your Last Life
After death one forgets everything about the present bodily relationships; we have a little experience of this at night when we go to sleep. While sleeping, we forget everything about this body and bodily relations, although this forgetfulness is a temporary situation for only a few hours. Death is nothing but sleeping for a few months in order to develop another term of bodily encagement, which we are awarded by the law of nature according to our aspiration. Therefore, one has only to change the aspiration during the course of this present body, and for this there is need of training in the current duration of human life. This training can be begun at any stage of life, or even a few seconds before death, but the usual procedure is for one to get the training from very early life.
The Soul Takes a Human Form First
Originally the living entity is a spiritual being, but when he desires to enjoy this material world, he comes down. We can understand that the living entity first accepts a body that is human in form, but gradually, due to his degraded activities, he falls into lower forms of life -- into the animal, plant, and aquatic forms. By the gradual process of evolution, the living entity again attains the body of a human being and is given another chance to get out of the process of transmigration. If he again misses his chance in the human form to understand his position, he is again placed in the cycle of birth and death in various types of bodies.
The Science of Reincarnation Is Unknown to Modern Scientists
This science of transmigration is completely unknown to modern scientists. So-called scientists do not like to bother with these things because if they would at all consider this subtle subject matter and the problems of life, they would see that their future is very dark.
Ignorance of Reincarnation Is Dangerous
Modern civilization is based on family comforts, the highest standard of amenities, and therefore after retirement everyone expects to live a very comfortable life in a well-furnished home decorated with fine ladies and children, without any desire to get out of such a comfortable home. High government officers and ministers stick to their prize posts until death, and they neither dream nor desire to get out of homely comforts. Bound by such hallucinations, materialistic men prepare various plans for a still more comfortable life, but suddenly cruel death comes without mercy and takes away the great planmaker against his desire, forcing him to give up the present body for another body. Such a planmaker is thus forced to accept another body in one of the 8,400,000 species of life, according to the fruits of the work he has performed.
In the next life, persons who were too much attached to family comforts are generally awarded lower species of life on account of sinful acts performed during a long duration of sinful life, and thus all the energy of the human life is spoiled. In order to be saved from the danger of spoiling the human form and being attached to unreal things, one must take warning of death at the age of fifty, if not earlier. The principle is that one should take it for granted that the death warning is already there, even prior to the attainment of fifty years of age, and thus at any stage of life one should prepare himself for a better next life.
"And Unto Dust Thou Shalt Return"
When we die, this material body composed of five elements -- earth, water, air, fire, and ether -- decomposes, and the gross materials return to the elements. Or, as the Christian Bible says, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return." In some societies the body is burned, in others it is buried, and in others it is thrown to animals. In India, the Hindus burn the body, and thus the body is transformed into ashes. Ash is simply another form of earth. Christians bury the body, and after some time in the grave, the body eventually turns to dust, which again, like ash, is another form of earth. There are other societies -- like the Parsee community in India -- that neither burn nor bury the body, but throw it to the vultures, and the vultures immediately come to eat the body, and then the body is eventually transformed into stool. So in any case, this beautiful body, which we are soaping and caring for so nicely, will eventually turn into either stool, ashes, or dust. At death, the finer elements (mind, intelligence, and ego) carry the small particle of spirit soul to another body to suffer or enjoy, according to one's work.
The Path of Perfection (p. 101 )
Astrology and Reincarnation
Astronomical calculations of stellar influences upon a living being are not suppositions, but are factual, as confirmed in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Every living being is controlled by the laws of nature at every minute, just as a citizen is controlled by the influence of the state. The state laws are grossly observed, but the laws of material nature, being subtle to our gross understanding, cannot be experienced grossly.
The law of nature is so subtle that every part of our body is influenced by the respective stars, and a living being obtains his working body to fulfill his terms of imprisonment by the manipulation of such astronomical influences. A man's destiny is therefore ascertained by the birth time constellation of stars, and a factual horoscope is made by a learned astrologer. It is a great science, and misuse of a science does not make it useless.
This suitable arrangement of astral influences is never a creation of man's will, but is the arrangement of the superior management of the agency of the Supreme Lord. Of course, the arrangement is made according to the good or bad deeds of the living being. Herein lies the importance of pious acts performed by the living being. Only by pious acts can one be allowed to get good wealth, good education, and beautiful features.
[Editors' note: The term "learned astrologer" in this selection refers to one fully learned in the exacting Vedic science of astrology, in comparison with which modern popular astrology is a foolish exercise in sentimentality compounded with error.]
Your Thoughts Create Your Next Body
That subtle forms exist in the ether has been proven by modern science by transmission of television, by which forms or photographs of one place are transmitted to another place by the action of the ethereal element. Within the Srimad-Bhagavatam is the potential basis of great scientific research work, for it explains how subtle forms are generated from the ethereal element, what their characteristics and actions are, and how the tangible elements, namely air, fire, water, and earth, are manifested from the subtle form. Mental activities, or psychological activities of thinking, feeling, and willing, are also activities on the platform of ethereal existence. The statement in Bhagavad-gita that the mental situation at the time of death is the basis of the next birth is also corroborated in many places in the Bhagavatam. Mental existence transforms into tangible form as soon as there is an opportunity.
Why Some People Can't Accept Reincarnation
There is life after death, and there is also the chance to free oneself from the cycle of repeated birth and death and attain a life of immortality. But because we have been accustomed to accepting one body after another since time immemorial, it is difficult for us to think of a life that is eternal. And the life of material existence is so troublesome that one may think that if there is an eternal life, that life must be troublesome also. For example, a diseased man who is taking very bitter medicine and who is Lying down in bed, eating there and passing stool and urine there, unable to move, may find his life so intolerable that he thinks "Let me commit suicide." Similarly, materialistic life is so miserable that in desperation one sometimes takes to a philosophy of voidism or impersonalism to try to negate his very existence and make everything zero. Actually, however, becoming zero is not possible, nor is it necessary. We are in trouble in our material condition, but when we get out of our material condition we can find real life, eternal life.
Teachings of Queen Kunti ( p. 107)
Just a Few More Years!
Karma is the aggregate fruitive activities conducted to make this body comfortable or uncomfortable. We have actually seen that when one man was about to die he requested his physician to give him a chance to live four more years so that he could finish his plans. This means that while dying he was thinking of his plans. After his body was destroyed, he doubtlessly carried his plans with him by means of the subtle body, composed of mind, intelligence, and ego. Thus he would get another chance by the grace of the Supreme Lord, the Supersoul, who is always within the heart. In the next birth, one acquires remembrance from the Supersoul and begins to execute plans begun in the previous life. Situated on the vehicle given by material nature and reminded by the Supersoul within the heart, the living entity struggles all over the universe to fulfill his plans.
Sex Change Without Surgery
A man gets his next life's birth according to what he thinks of at the time of death. If someone is too attached to his wife, naturally he thinks of his wife at the time of death, and in his next life he takes the body of a woman. Similarly, if a woman thinks of her husband at the time of death, naturally she gets the body of a man in her next life.
We should always remember, as it is stated in Bhagavad-gita, that both the gross and subtle material bodies are dresses; they are the shirt and coat of the living entity. To be either a woman or a man involves only one's bodily dress.
Dreams and Past Lives
In dreams we sometimes see things that we have never experienced in the present body. Sometimes in dreams we think that we are flying in the sky, although we have no experience of flying. This means that once in a previous life, either as a demigod or astronaut, we flew in the sky. The impression is there in the stockpile of the mind, and it suddenly expresses itself. It is like fermentation taking place in the depths of water, which sometimes manifests itself in bubbles on the water's surface. Sometimes we dream of coming to a place we have never known or experienced in this lifetime, but this is proof that in a past life we experienced this. The impression is kept within the mind and sometimes becomes manifest either in dream or in thought. The conclusion is that the mind is the storehouse of various thoughts and experiences undergone during our past lives. Thus there is a chain of continuation from one life to another, from previous lives to this life, and from this life to future lives.
Comas and the Next Life
A living entity too much absorbed in material activity becomes very much attached to the material body. Even at the point of death, he thinks of his present body and the relatives connected to it. Thus he remains fully absorbed in the bodily conception of life, so much so that even at the point of death he abhors leaving his present body. Sometimes it is found that a person on the verge of death remains in a coma for many days before giving up the body.
A person may be enjoying the body of a prime minister or a president, but when he understands that he will be forced to accept the body of a dog or hog, he chooses not to leave the present body. Therefore he lies in a coma many days before death.
Ghosts and Suicide
Ghosts are bereft of a physical body because of their grievously sinful acts, such as suicide. The last resort of ghostly characters in human society is to take shelter of suicide, either material or spiritual. Material suicide causes loss of the physical body, and spiritual suicide causes loss of the individual identity.
Changing Bodies: Reflections of Maya
The moon is stationary and is one, but when it is reflected in water or oil, it appears to take different shapes because of the movements of the wind. Similarly, the soul is the eternal servant of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but when put into the material modes of nature, it takes different bodies, sometimes as a demigod, sometimes a man, a dog, a tree, and so on. By the influence of maya, the illusory potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the living entity thinks that he is this person, that person, American, Indian, cat, dog, tree, or whatever. This is called maya. When one is freed from this bewilderment and understands that the soul does not belong to any shape of this material world, one is situated on the spiritual platform. As soon as the living entity returns to his original, spiritual form and understanding, he immediately surrenders to the supreme form, the Personality of Godhead.
Politicians Are Reborn in Their Countries
At the time of death, every living entity worries about what will happen to his wife and children. Similarly, a politician also worries about what will happen to his country or his political party. A politician or so-called nationalist who is inordinately attached to the land of his birth will certainly be reborn in the same land after ending his political career. One's next life will also be affected by the acts one performs during this life. Sometimes politicians act most sinfully for their own sense gratification. It is not unusual for a politician to kill the opposing party. Even though a politician may be allowed to take birth in his so-called homeland, he still has to undergo suffering due to his sinful activities in his previous life.
What's Wrong with Animal-killing?
Ahimsa [nonviolence] means not arresting the progressive life of any living entity. One should not think that since the spiritual spark is never killed even after the killing of the body there is no harm in killing animals for sense gratification. People are now addicted to eating animals, in spite of having an ample supply of grains, fruits, and milk. There is no necessity for animal-killing... The animals are also making progress in their evolutionary life by transmigrating from one category of animal life to another. If a particular animal is killed, then his progress is checked. If an animal is staying in a particular body for so many days or so many years and is untimely killed, then he has to come back again in that form of life to complete the remaining days in order to be promoted to another species of life. So their progress should not be checked simply to satisfy one's palate.
Bhagavad-gita As It Is (16. 1-3)
Evolution: The Soul's Journey Through the Species
We see that there are so many forms. Where do these different forms come from? The form of the dog, the form of the cat, the form of the tree, the form of the reptile, the forms of the insects, the forms of the fish?
There may be evolution, but at the same time all the different species are existing. The fish is existing, the man is existing, the tiger is existing, everyone is existing.
It is just like the different types of apartments in any city. You may occupy one of them, according to your ability to pay the rent, but all types of apartments are nevertheless existing at the same time. Similarly, the living entity, according to his karma, is given facility to occupy one of these bodily forms. But there is evolution also. From the fish, the next stage of evolution is to plant life. From plant forms, the living entity may enter an insect body. From the insect body, the next stage is bird, then beast, and finally the spirit soul may evolve to the human form of life. And from the human form, if one becomes qualified, he may evolve further. Otherwise, he must again enter the evolutionary cycle. Therefore, this human form of life is an important junction in the evolutionary development of the living entity.
Consciousness: The Missing Link, (p. 5)
Maya's illusion is like the foam
Which mixes again with the sea.
No one is mother, father, or relative;
Like the sea foam, they remain a short while only.
And, as the sea foam merges into the sea,
This precious body of five elements disappears.
Who can say how many ephemeral forms
The embodied soul has taken?
Bengali poem by His Divine Grace
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada