Beyond Birth and Death
Some say that the Unborn is born for the glorification of pious kings, and others say that He is born to please King Yadu, one of Your dearest devotees. You appear in his family as sandalwood appears in the Malaya Hills.
Because the Lord’s appearance in this material world is bewildering, there are different opinions about the birth of the Unborn. In the Bhagavad-gītā the Lord says that He takes His birth in the material world, although He is the Lord of all creations and He is unborn. So there cannot be any denial of the birth of the Unborn, because He Himself establishes the truth. But still there are different opinions as to why He takes His birth. That is also declared in the Bhagavad-gītā. He appears by His own internal potency to reestablish the principles of religion and to protect the pious and annihilate the impious. That is the mission of the appearance of the Unborn. Still, it is said that the Lord is there to glorify the pious King Yudhiṣṭhira. Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa certainly wanted to establish the kingdom of the Pāṇḍavas for the good of all in the world. When there is a pious king ruling over the world, the people are happy. When the ruler is impious, the people are unhappy. In the age of Kali in most cases the rulers are impious, and therefore the citizens are also continuously unhappy. But in the case of democracy, the impious citizens themselves elect their representative to rule over them, and therefore they cannot blame anyone for their unhappiness. Mahārāja Nala was also celebrated as a great pious king, but he had no connection with Lord Kṛṣṇa. Therefore Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira is meant here to be glorified by Lord Kṛṣṇa, who had also glorified King Yadu by taking birth in his family. He is known as Yādava, Yaduvīra, Yadunandana, etc., although the Lord is always independent of such obligations. He is just like the sandalwood that grows in the Malaya Hills. Trees can grow anywhere and everywhere, yet because the sandalwood trees grow mostly in the area of the Malaya Hills, the name sandalwood and the Malaya Hills are interrelated. Therefore, the conclusion is that the Lord is ever unborn like the sun, and yet He appears as the sun rises on the eastern horizon. As the sun is never the sun of the eastern horizon, so the Lord is no one’s son, but is the father of everything that be.
In the Bhagavad-gītā (4.6) the Lord says:
bhūtānām īśvaro ’pi san
prakṛtiṁ svām adhiṣṭhāya
“Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in every millennium in My original, transcendental form.”
Kṛṣṇa is unborn, and we are also unborn, but the difference is that unlike the Lord we have been entangled in a material body. Therefore we cannot keep our position as unborn, but have to take birth and transmigrate from one body to another, with no guarantee of what kind of body we shall receive next. Even in this life, we are obliged to accept one body after another. A child gives up his childhood body and accepts the body of a boy, and the boy gives up his boyhood body to accept a youthful body, which he then gives up for an old body. Therefore it is natural to conclude that when one gives up one’s old body, one will have to accept another body; again one will accept the body of a child.
This is a natural cycle of this material world. It is similar to changes of season. After spring comes summer, and after summer comes fall and then winter, and then spring again. Similarly, after day comes night, and after night comes day. And just as these cyclic changes take place one after another, we change from one body to another, and it is natural to conclude that after leaving the present body we shall receive another body (bhūtvā bhūtvā pralīyate).
This conclusion is very logical, it is supported by the śāstra, the Vedic literature, and it is also affirmed by the greatest authority, Kṛṣṇa Himself. Therefore why should we not accept it? If one does not accept this – if one thinks that there is no life after death – one is foolish.
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.
Because we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, who is aja, beyond birth and death, we are also aja. How could we be otherwise? If my father is happy and I am the son of my father, why should I be unhappy? I can naturally conclude that I shall enjoy my father’s property just as my father is enjoying it. Similarly, God, Kṛṣṇa, is all-powerful, all-beautiful, all-knowledgeable, and complete in everything, and although I may not be complete, I am part and parcel of God, and therefore I have all the qualities of God to a partial extent.
God does not die, so I also shall not die. That is my position. That is explained in Bhagavad-gītā (2.20): na jāyate mriyate vā kadācit. Describing the soul, Kṛṣṇa says that the soul is never born (na jāyate), and if one is not born how can he die? There is no question of death (mriyate vā). Death is for one who has taken birth, and if one has no birth he can also have no death.
Unfortunately, however, we do not know this. We are conducting scientific research, but we do not know that every living entity is a spiritual soul, with no birth and no death. This is our ignorance. The soul is eternal, everlasting, and primeval (nityaḥ śāśvato ’yaṁ purāṇo). The soul does not die with the annihilation of the body (na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre). But although the soul does not die, it accepts another body, and this is called bhava-roga, the material disease.
Since Kṛṣṇa is the supreme living entity (nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām),we are exactly like Kṛṣṇa, the difference being that Kṛṣṇa is vibhu, unlimited, whereas we are aṇu, limited. Qualitatively, we are as good as Kṛṣṇa. Therefore whatever propensities Kṛṣṇa has, we have also. For example, Kṛṣṇa has the propensity to love someone of the opposite sex, and therefore we have this same propensity. The beginning of love is present in the eternal love between Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. We are also seeking eternal love, but because we are conditioned by the material laws, our love is interrupted. But if we can transcend this interruption, we can take part in loving affairs similar to those of Kṛṣṇa and Rādhārāṇī. Our aim should therefore be to go back home, back to Kṛṣṇa, because since Kṛṣṇa is eternal, we shall there receive an eternal body.
Kuntī says, kecid āhur ajaṁ jātam: the supreme eternal, the supreme unborn, has now taken His birth. But although Kṛṣṇa takes birth, His birth is not like ours. That we should know. The Lord says in Bhagavad-gītā (4.9):
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ’rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.”
It is described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that when Kṛṣṇa first appeared, He did not take birth from the womb of Devakī; rather, He first appeared in the majestic four-armed form of Viṣṇu, and then He became a small child on Devakī’s lap. Therefore Kṛṣṇa’s birth is transcendental, whereas our birth takes place by force, by the laws of nature. Kṛṣṇa is not under the laws of nature; the laws of nature work under Him (mayādhyakṣeṇa prakṛtiḥ sūyate sa-carācaram). Prakṛti, nature, works under the order of Kṛṣṇa, and we work under the order of nature. Kṛṣṇa is the master of nature, and we are servants of nature. Therefore Kuntīdevī says, kecid āhuḥ: “Someone may say that the unborn has taken birth.” It may appear that He has taken birth just like us, but in fact He has not. Kuntīdevī distinctly says, kecid āhuḥ: “some foolish persons may say that He has taken birth.” Kṛṣṇa Himself also says in Bhagavad-gītā (9.11), avajānanti māṁ mūḍhā mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritam: “Because I have appeared just like a human being, those who are rascals think that I am also just like an ordinary human.” Paraṁ bhāvam ajānantaḥ: “They do not know the mystery behind God’s taking birth like a human being.”
Kṛṣṇa is everywhere. The Lord is situated in everyone’s heart (īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ hṛd-deśe ’rjuna tiṣṭhati). And since He is within us and is all-powerful, why should it be difficult for Him to appear before us? When the great devotee Dhruva Mahārāja was engaged in meditation on the four-handed form of Viṣṇu, all of a sudden his meditation broke, and he immediately saw before him the same form upon which he had been meditating. Was it very difficult for Kṛṣṇa to appear in this way? Of course not. Similarly it was not difficult for Him to appear before Devakī in the same four-handed form. Therefore Kṛṣṇa says, janma karma ca me divyam: “One must understand My transcendental birth and activities.” Kuntīdevī has this understanding. She knows that although to some fools Kṛṣṇa appears to take birth, in fact He is unborn.
But why should Kṛṣṇa perform the pastime of taking birth? Kuntīdevī replies, puṇya-ślokasya kīrtaye: to glorify those who are very pious and very much advanced in spiritual understanding. Kṛṣṇa comes as the son of Devakī to glorify His devotee Devakī. Kṛṣṇa becomes the son of Yaśodā to glorify Yaśodā. Similarly, Kṛṣṇa appears in the dynasty of Mahārāja Yadu, His great devotee, just to glorify Mahārāja Yadu. Thus Kṛṣṇa is still known as Yādava, the descendant of Mahārāja Yadu. Kṛṣṇa has no obligation to take His birth in a particular family or country, but He takes birth to glorify a certain person or a certain family because of their devotion. Therefore His birth is called divyam, transcendental.
The Lord is not obliged to take birth, but we are obliged to do so. That is the distinction between our birth and the birth of Kṛṣṇa. If by our karma, or activities, we are fit to take birth in a good family in human society or demigod society, we shall do so, but if our activities are low like those of animals, we shall have to take birth in a family of animals. That is the force of karma. Karmaṇā daiva-netreṇa jantor dehopapattaye (Bhāgavatam 3.31.1). We develop a certain type of body according to our karma.
The human form of life is meant for understanding the Supreme, the Absolute Truth (athāto brahma jijñāsā). But if we do not endeavor for this, if we misuse this opportunity and simply remain like animals, we shall return to an animal form of life. Therefore the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is trying to save people from going down to animal life.
The appearance of Lord Kṛṣṇa is compared to the growth of sandalwood trees in the Malaya Hills (malayasyeva candanam). There are two Malayas – the Malaya Hills and the part of the world now known as Malaysia. The candana tree, or sandalwood tree, can grow anywhere – there is no rule that it has to grow in Malaysia or the Malaya Hills – but because this sandalwood grows in large quantities in those parts of the world, it is known as malaya-candana. In the Western countries there is scented water known as eau de cologne. It can be manufactured anywhere, but because it was originally manufactured in the city of Cologne, it is known as eau de cologne. Similarly, sandalwood can grow anywhere, but because it was originally very prominent in Malaysia and the Malaya Hills, it is known as Malayan sandalwood. Kuntī offered this prayer five thousand years ago, and this indicates that sandalwood was growing five thousand years ago in Malaysia. “Malaysia” is not a new name; it was known thousands and thousands of years ago to the followers of the Vedic culture. Nowadays, of course, Malaysia is growing rubber trees because there is a good demand for rubber, but formerly Malaysia grew sandalwood on a large scale because there was a great demand for sandalwood, especially in India.
Because India is a tropical country and sandalwood is very cooling people in India use sandalwood pulp as a cosmetic. Even now, during the very warm days of the summer season, those who can afford to do so apply sandalwood pulp to their bodies and feel cool all day. In India it was the system that after bathing and sanctifying the body by applying marks of tilaka, one would offer obeisances to the Deity, take some candana-prasāda from the room of the Deity, and apply it as a cosmetic to the body. This was called prasādhana. But it is said that in Kali-yuga, the present age, snānam eva prasādhanam (Bhāgavatam 12.2.5): if one can even bathe nicely, that is prasādhana. In India even the poorest man will take an early morning bath every day, but when I came to America I saw that even taking one’s daily bath may be a difficult thing and is often not the practice. In India we are accustomed to see people bathe thrice in a day, but in New York I have seen that one may have to go to a friend’s house to bathe because one may not have facilities to do so at home. These are symptoms of Kali-yuga. Snānam eva prasādhanam. In the Kali-yuga it will be very difficult even to take a bath.
Another symptom of Kali-yuga is dākṣyaṁ kuṭumba-bharaṇam (Bhāgavatam 12.2.7): one will be famous for his pious activities simply if he can maintain his family. The word dākṣyam, meaning “famous for pious activities,” comes from dakṣa, which means “expert.” In Kali-yuga one will be considered expert if he can maintain a family consisting of himself, his wife, and one or two children. In India, of course, the traditional family is the joint family, consisting of a man and his wife, their parents and children, their in-laws, and so on. But in Kali-yuga it will be difficult to maintain a simple family of oneself, one’s wife, and a few children. When I was living in New York, among the people coming to our classes was an old lady who had a grown son. I asked her, “Why doesn’t your son get married?” She replied, “Yes, he can marry when he can maintain a family.” I did not know that maintaining a family was such a difficult job here. But this is described in the Bhāgavatam: if one can maintain a family, he will be considered a very glorious man, and if a girl has a husband she will be considered very fortunate.
It is not our business to criticize, but the symptoms of Kali-yuga are very severe, and they will grow more severe. The duration of Kali-yuga is 432,000 years, and although 5,000 years of it have passed, already we find so many difficulties, and the more we grow into this Kali-yuga, the more the times will be difficult. The best course, therefore, is to complete our Kṛṣṇa consciousness and return home, back to Godhead. That will save us. Otherwise, if we come back again for another life in Kali-yuga, we shall find difficult days ahead, and we shall have to suffer more and more.