The eternal cycle of birth and death
The philosophy of reincarnation affirms that if we carefully observe our world, we will see that everything is in a constant state of change and motion. Every living being is active, from the lowest life form to the most evolved. If you are endowed with an intellect, you can't remain mentally inactive even for a single moment.
Regardless of who we are and the type of actions we perform, we all work with the same ultimate aim: happiness. But at some point, the machinery of this human body will break down and stop working. We call that situation "death".
In Hinduism, the philosophy of reincarnation tells us that life and death are not absolute starting and stopping points, but a continuum of beginnings and endings. Death is just a transition for new life, and life will one day transition into death.
Who lives? Who dies?
In the Bhagavad Gita, one of the first teachings that Krishna gives to his disciple Arjun is the philosophy of soul. He explains the soul is an eternal Divine energy that is a part of God. The soul has inherited the quality of life from God, so it, too, is imperishable.
At the time of death, the soul leaves the body, and the material aspects of your personality cease functioning: body, mind, senses, intellect. The soul immediately enters a new life form. This is reincarnation. The Bhagavad Gita compares it to discarding a set of worn-out clothes and replacing it with the new set.
Similarly, at a pre-ordained time, the soul discards the old body and enters a new one, and the cycle of reincarnation continues.
How and when a soul leaves a body, and where it goes, is determined by the science of karma. The word karma simply means 'action'. As we learned earlier, one of the exclusive gifts of a human body is the ability to perform karmas.
Every life form undergoes the consequences of karmas, but only in the human form can we generate new karmas. This implies that no matter which of the 8.4 million life forms a souls is presently in, that was acquired due to actions done in a human birth.
At some point, with God's grace, every soul re-enters a human form.
Mind: The performer of karmas
Actions are of two kinds:
The mind is considered the performer of action, not the physical body. The body is merely the humble servant of the mind. This means our thoughts and motivations alone, or our motivations and their corresponding physical actions are karmas.
There are three types of karmas:
- Vikarma - bad action
- Karma - good action
- Karma yoga/karma sanyas - devotional action
Bad actions yield negative material consequences, good actions yield, positive material consequences, devotional actions yield Divine consequences, which means liberation from the cycle of birth and death and the attainment of perfect happiness.
Free will and destiny
Because your mind is active every moment, every moment you are producing karmas. A human life is only for a limited time. Karmas are uncountable, even from one birth. The balance of karmas that have not fructified in the current birth are carried forward into your next birth.
Consequences that bear fruit in your current birth from your past life are called 'fate' or 'destiny'. You must undergo these effects. They may be positive or negative. They affect your physical or mental well being in the form of positive or negative events or as moods that temporarily affect the mind.
Even while you are undergoing the effects of actions from past lives', simultaneously you have free will in the present. So karmas fall into three categories:
- Kriyaman karma - new actions performed in the present with free will
- Sanchit karma - the stored consequences of past actions
- Prarabdha karma - past consequences we must undergo in our present birth
We are always free to choose to perform any kind of action, but never free from the consequence of that action. The responsibility to choose wisely is ours.
Strongest force in the universe
Gravity is considered one of the strongest forces in the universe. The collective karmas of all the uncountable souls in the universe is an even more powerful non-physical energy than gravity.
Just as an individual's destiny is governed by his own self-generated karmas, so the collective karmas of all the individual souls on the earth affects the earth's destiny; the collective karmas of all the souls in our galaxy affects the destiny of our galaxy; the collective karmas of the uncountable souls in the universe, affects the universe's destiny.
If only for the sake of global or universal wellbeing, it is even more incumbent on us to be aware of the science of karma and reincarnation. Understanding based in spiritual philosophy is our best guide.