This series systematically explains some of the important philosophical concepts that form the foundation of the Vedic culture and the Krsna consciousness movement.
PART II: Lord Krsna explains reincarnation in the beginning of the Bhagavad-gita (2.13): "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." Each of us once had the body of a baby, and now we have the body of an adult. But these two bodies are entirely different. They don't look alike, and all the chemical ingredients have changed. Nonetheless, our mothers still know us as the same person.
When we are thirty or forty years older, again our body will look different. But we will remain the same person. So what is it that remains the same? It is our real self, the spirit soul. In this way we can observe reincarnation to a certain extent even in this lifetime.
When a person dies, we generally say, "He's gone," even if he's lying right next to us. Why do we say he's gone? Who has gone? And where has he gone? Because the body is still lying there, we should understand that it is the soul that has left. The person we thought we knew was never identical with his body. In fact, no one had ever seen the real person.
A beautiful actress may be adored by millions, but as soon as she is dead, no one will be attracted to her, although her body still looks the same. Obviously, her body was not the real object of attraction.
Even if you try to inject certain missing chemicals into the body, you can never make it alive again once the soul is gone. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (2.20, 22),
For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.
As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.
Now, a scientist or a hard-core materialist may ask, "But where is the evidence for the soul and reincarnation? No one has ever observed these directly."
This challenge presumes that all scientific "facts" have been directly observed. This, of course, is not true. Millions of children are taught that life comes from matter, that it all started with the "big bang" or the "primordial soup." Then by chance, chemicals began to organize themselves and gradually evolved into the highly sophisticated human form.
We can confidently state that no one has ever observed this process, since supposedly it took place before any human observers existed, and certainly no one lives the billions of years necessary to witness such a process. The theories that life has evolved from chemicals have never been proven. No one has ever observed matter producing life.
We can, however, observe daily how living creatures produce matter: hair, perspiration, fingernails, and so on. Therefore, reincarnation is more compatible with observable phenomena than is the theory of chemical evolution. Matter is clearly dependent on spirit. We can see the body changing while the person remains the same, and we can see life producing matter.
Misled by theories of modern science, people have no knowledge of the soul and the universal laws of reincarnation. They think that death is the end of our existence, and that therefore we should try to enjoy this life as much as possible. This kind of philosophy encourages cruelty, selfishness, crime, and irresponsibility. People don't know that while they may get away with cheating worldly authorities, and in this way avoid reactions for their activities, they cannot escape the subtle law that every action produces a reaction.
Understanding reincarnation can inspire us to lead more responsible lives of morality, honesty, and love for our fellow human beings, because we know that we will be held responsible for our activities in our next life.
Reincarnation explains many puzzling phenomena. For example, how was Mozart able to melt people's hearts with his piano playing when he was only five years old, whereas someone else cannot play nicely despite many years of practice? The answer is simple: Mozart had been practicing in at least one lifetime before.
This argument may not be strictly scientific, but it makes more sense than to say that our abilities come about by chance. Of course, some people refuse to accept reincarnation without empirical proof. To this we can say that reincarnation is not something that can be verified in a laboratory. Many other accepted phenomena cannot be explained that way either. Love, remorse, resentment altruism these cannot be verified in the laboratory, but we all know they exist.
To flatly reject reincarnation is a dogmatic attitude. At least a person should admit that he simply doesn't know whether it exists or not. After all, there is no proof that it does not exist.
If a materialist takes the chance of living a life against universal laws, against the injunctions of holy scriptures, against the advice of self-realized persons, he runs the risk of having to take birth as an animal or in some other undesirable circumstances. And even if everything is finished at death, he cannot guarantee that he will be happy by living irresponsibly, with no concern for his future life.
In the Bhagavad-gita (16.23) Lord Krsna gives this advice:
He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.
A devotee, however, cannot lose. If reincarnation is a fact, he is assured of a better destination in the next life. And even if reincarnation were not true, the life of a devotee is still a happy life.
Besides these considerations, devotees understand that Krsna consciousness is a spiritual science that enables one to realize the truth of the philosophy. By practicing bhakti-yoga, the devotee becomes free of all doubts concerning the nature of the soul and its activities. And his realizations are confirmed by the authoritative Vedic scriptures and the testimonies of thousands of great saints and sages.
Human life is a crossroads, a chance to either elevate or degrade ourselves. After millions of births in lower species, it is the greatest misfortune to spoil the unique opportunity human life awards us: to once and for all stop the cycle of birth and death and attain our original, blissful position in the spiritual world.