Has it occurred to you that transmigration is at once an explanation and a justification of the evil of the world ? If the evils we suffer are the resu/t of sins committed in our past lives, we can bear them with resignation and hope that if in this one we strive toward virtue our future lives will be less afflicted.
-- W. Somerset Maugham
The Razor's Edge
Two children are born at the same time on the same day. The parents of the first are wealthy and well educated and have anxiously awaited the arrival of their first-born for years. Their child, a boy, is bright, healthy, and attractive, with a future full of promise. Surely destiny has smiled upon him.
The second child enters into an entirely different world. He is born to a mother who was abandoned while pregnant. In her poverty she feels little enthusiasm to rear her sickly new offspring. The road ahead is fraught with difficulties and hardships, and to rise above them will not be easy.
The world is full of disparities like these, blatant inequalities that often provoke questions: "How could Providence be so unfair? What did George and Mary do to have their son born blind? They're good people God is so unkind!"
The principles of reincarnation, however, allow us to view life with a much broader perspective -- from the standpoint of eternity. From this point of view, one brief lifetime is seen not as the beginning of our existence, but as nothing more than a flash in time, and we can understand that an apparently pious person who may be suffering greatly is reaping the effects of impious activities performed in this or previous lives. With this broader vision of universal justice we can see how each individual soul is alone responsible for its own karma.
Our actions are compared to seeds. Initially they are performed, or planted, and over the course of time they gradually fructify, releasing their resultant reactions. Such reactions may produce either suffering or enjoyment for the living being, and he may respond by either improving his character or by becoming increasingly animallike. In either case, the laws of reincarnation operate impartially to award each living being the destiny he has earned by his previous actions.
A criminal chooses to enter prison by willful transgression of the law, but another man may be appointed to sit on the Supreme Court by dint of his excellence of service. In the same way, the soul chooses its own destiny, including the selection of a specific physical form, based on past and present desires and actions. No one can truthfully lament, "I didn't ask to be born!" In the scheme of repeated births and deaths in this material world, "man proposes and God disposes."
Just as a person selects an automobile based on personal driving needs and purchasing power, we ourselves determine, by our own desires and actions, what kind of body material nature will arrange for us next. If a human being wastes this valuable form of life, which is meant only for self-realization, by engaging solely in the animal activities of eating, sleeping, sex, and bodily defense, God will allow him to be placed in a species with more facility for such sense pleasures, but without the disturbing inhibitions and responsibilities experienced in the human form.
For example, a gluttonous person who indiscriminately gorges himself on vast and varied quantities of victuals may be offered by material nature the body of a pig or goat, a form which allows him to indiscriminately savor garbage and refuse.
This liberal system of reward and punishment may appear shocking at first, but it is perfectly equitable and compatible with the conception of God as an all-compassionate being. For the living being to enjoy the sense gratification of his choice he needs an appropriate body. For nature to place the living entity in the body he craves is the proper fulfillment of that individual's desires.
Another common misconception dispelled by the clear logic of reincarnation concerns religious dogma claiming that everything rests on our performance in this one lifetime only, warning that if we lead a vicious or immoral life, we will be condemned to eternal damnation in the darkest regions of hell -- without a prayer of emancipation. Understandably, sensitive, God-conscious people find such a system of ultimate justice more demoniac than divine. Is it possible that man can show mercy or compassion toward others, but God is incapable of such feelings? These doctrines portray God as a heartless father who allows His children to be misled, then witnesses their endless punishment and persecution.
Such unreasonable teachings ignore the eternal bond of love that exists between God and His intimate expansions, the living beings. By definition (man is made in the image of God), God must possess all qualities to the highest degree of perfection. One of these qualities is mercy. The notion that after one brief life a human being can be consigned to suffer eternally in hell is not consistent with the conception of a supreme being possessing infinite mercy. Even an ordinary father would give his son more than one chance to make his life perfect.
The Vedic literatures repeatedly extol the magnanimous nature of God. Krsna is even merciful to those who openly despise Him, for He is situated within everyone's heart and gives all living beings the opportunity to realize their dreams and ambitions. Actually, the Lord's mercy knows no end; Krsna is unlimitedly merciful. And His mercy is also causeless. We may not be deserving, due to our sinful activities, but the Lord loves each and every living being so much that He repeatedly gives them opportunities to transcend the cycle of birth and death.
Kuntidevi, a great devotee of Krsna, tells the Lord, "You are the Supreme Controller, without beginning and end, and in distributing Your causeless mercy, You are equal to everyone." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.28) If anyone, however, does remain forever away from God, it is not because of vengeance on the part of God, but because of the individual's own repeated choice. As Sir William Jones, who helped introduce Indian philosophy to Europe, wrote nearly two centuries ago, "I am no Hindu, but I hold the doctrine of the Hindus concerning a future state [reincarnation] to be incomparably more rational, more pious, and more likely to deter men from vice than the horrid opinions inculcated by Christians on punishments without end."
According to the doctrine of reincarnation, God recognizes and preserves even a small amount of good done by an otherwise evil person. It is rare to see anyone who is one-hundred-percent sinful. Therefore, if a living being makes some slight degree of spiritual progress in his present life, then in his next life he is allowed to continue from that point. The Lord tells his disciple Arjuna in Bhagavad-gita, "In this endeavor [Krsna consciousness] there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the greatest type of fear [returning in a lower-than-human form in the next life]." The soul may thus develop its inherent spiritual qualities through many lives, until it no longer has to reincarnate in a material body, until it returns to its original home in the spiritual world.
This is the special benediction of human life -- even if one is destined to suffer terribly for impious acts performed in this and previous lives, one can, by taking up the process of Krsna consciousness, change his karma. The soul in a human body stands at the evolutionary midpoint. From here the living being can choose either degradation, or liberation from reincarnation.