Accepting Krsna’s words in the Bhagavad-gita helps us transcend birth and death
Lord Krsna, in the Second Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, gives us a powerful example of changing bodies. “As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change” (Bg. 2.13). On a morning walk in Europe in 1974, Srila Prabhupada challenged his followers, asking if they had any objections to this argument. I played the devil’s advocate and said the statement was an analogy and did not prove that we change bodies at death. Prabhupada then gave another example to show that we actually experience the change of bodies. When we are asleep, we dream that we are in a different body, but when we awake, we change back to our body of awakened consciousness. I replied that that experience applied to dreams but did not prove that we change bodies at death. Srila Prabhupada then changed his tack. He said we have to accept the statement of Bhagavad-gita(2.13), because it is spoken by Krsna, and His authority cannot be questioned. I did not dare to play the devil’s advocate any longer and remained silent.
The analogies are convincing tools for understanding, but finally we have to accept sastra, the word of Krsna. I am satisfied with that. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as accepted in the Tenth Chapter of the Gita by Arjuna, who cites the sages Asita, Devala and Narada. He knows the mysteries of birth and death, and the devotees are always pleased to hear His direct words, and they accept them. The nondevotees can gradually come to understand Krsna as He is by reading the Bhagavad-gita and accepting the words of spiritual masters in disciplic succession from Krsna. We can guide them by many analogies and arguments to come to the right conclusion regarding the existence of the permanent soul and the nonpermanent body, and regarding the body and the owner of the body. But those who are obstinate due to bad association and sinful activities in their past lives may never come to accept the words of Krsna or take up devotional service to the Lord. They have no faith and are encouraged by other faithless persons to take up activities based on the misunderstanding that the body or the mind is the self and there is no life after death. They do not think they are accountable for their actions in this lifetime and break the laws of God, not knowing this will lead them into further implications in the cycle of life, death and rebirth. They do not believe they can degrade themselves into lower species of life and so indulge in acts of slaughtering animals, illicit sex, intoxication and gambling. They think there is only void after death and that the law-abiding devotees of God are restraining themselves unnecessarily from life’s “natural” pleasures based on religious dogmas that have no foundation. Who is right, the theist or the atheist? Does it matter?
The philosopher Pascal said that he preferred to believe in the existence of God because, even if you consider it a gamble, the consequences of being wrong and denying God and His laws are too great a loss in comparison to choosing to not believe and having to face, in the words of the Catholic act of Contrition, “the loss of heaven and the pains of hell.” Krsna allows each human being a minute amount of free will, because we are His parts and parcels and share, in quality, His infinite freedom of will. If we misuse our free will, we create acts of karma; that is, we become subject to the laws of cause and effect that exist in the material world. The laws of karma are inalterable and inescapable. If you touch fire, you will be burned. In the present age of Kali, the millennium of quarrel and disagreement, ninety percent of the people are entangled in acts of karma. Any selfish activity performed for sense gratification and not offered as sacrifice to God creates karmic reaction, good or bad. Good karma will result in getting promotion to a better body in the material world in the next life, but it will not bring liberation. Bad karma simply plunges one into more painful situations in the material world, which is certified by Krsna as “temporary and miserable.”
But Krsna always remains active in trying to save the living entities from repeated birth and death. In Bhagavad-gita, He states, “Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion at that time I descend Myself” (Bg 4.7). In his purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada writes, “It is not a fact that the Lord appears only on Indian soil. He can manifest Himself anywhere and everywhere, and whenever He desires to appear. In each and every incarnation, He speaks as much about religion as can be understood by the particular people under their particular circumstances. But the mission is the same to lead people to God consciousness and obedience to the principles of religion. Sometimes He descends personally, and sometimes He sends His bona fide representative in the form of His son, or servant, or Himself in some disguised form” (Bg. 4.7, purport). Approximately five hundred years ago, Krsna appeared in West Bengal, India, in the form of His pure devotee, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, to teach an easy form of purification and God consciousness. He taught the process of chanting the names of God and leading a saintly life. He particularly taught the maha-mantra, or great chant for deliverance, Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, as the panacea to all ills. This chant contains the names of God, and when sincerely sung in congregation or spoken on beads, it enables one to actually contact Krsna on the tongue and with the ear. Other forms of meditation, sacrifice or yoga are really not possible to perform in this age, but the chanting is accessible to anyone. Anyone who takes up spiritual life under the direction of a spiritual master and chants the Hare Krsna mantra can come to realization of God consciousness and break the cycle of birth and death. More importantly, he or she can become transformed into a pure devotee and act just for the pleasure of Krsna.
Satsvarüpa Dasa Goswami is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada. He is a former editor of BTG.