Found in Sanga, Sanga 2006.

Q. It is difficult for me to understand how life forms lower than human beings, such as plants, insects, and amphibians, could have souls. Could you shed some light on this?

A. In Hinduism human life is differentiated from other species in that it provides the opportunity to directly pursue God consciousness. God consciousness is the goal of life, and human consciousness affords the opportunity to realize this. This unique position of humanity, however, evolves over lifetimes. Who is evolving? It is consciousness, or the eternal soul. Hinduism equates consciousness with the spark of life that animates matter and as that which has divine potential. Wherever there is consciousness, there is life.

When consciousness identifies with matter through desire and subsequent attachment, it forms an identity that is distinct from itself, a false or material identity. Thus the many forms of life are all a product of consciousness identifying through desire in one way or another with matter. When an individual spark of consciousness evolves to human life, it has reached the doorway to divine life. Thus in Hinduism all sentient beings have the potential to realize God, while the most suitable vehicle to do so from is the human form of life. Exactly where one is situated on the ladder of life is determined by karmic rule.

Q. If the enjoyment and suffering of human beings is the result of their karma, what determines the enjoyment and suffering of animals?

A. Embodied souls pass through many species of life, but only as human beings do they accrue karma, as only in that condition is one’s free will fully manifest. With free will comes responsibility. Humans who misuse their free will have to lose their free will, at least for a time. Chapter sixteen of the Bhagavad-gita says that such human beings will have to take birth in lower species of life. Thus some souls in human dress later wear the dress of an animal and the degree of suffering or enjoyment they have in animal life is directly related to what they did in human life. Animals cannot create new karma because they are completely controlled by their nature. Similar to criminals being incarcerated by the state, souls wearing animal bodies serve out their karmic sentences until they are again eligible for a human form of life, where they will have another chance to act responsibly and progress toward liberation.

Q. What would a human being have to do to be reincarnated as a chimpanzee, as opposed to being reincarnated as a human or higher?

A. The general rule is that one’s future birth is determined by desire. In accordance with one’s desires, material nature gives one the body one deserves, a body that best facilitates the satisfaction of those desires. For example, the body of a hog facilitates gluttony much more than the human body does, and a chimpanzee in his or her natural habitat has the capability to enjoy unrestricted sexual activity far beyond that of a human being. Human life is best suited for spiritual pursuit. Indeed, this is what sets it apart from other species. If in human dress one does not care for this opportunity and simply pursues that which another species are best suited for, material nature provides one the facility-the appropriate body-to satisfy those pursuits.

In regard to determining one’s future destination, Bhagavad-gita says that a predominance of tamas (ignorance/indolence) in one’s psyche, manifesting in human life as the proclivity for overindulgence in sensual enjoyment, pushes one downward in the next life. A predominance of rajas (concern for material improvement) keeps one perpetually in the human condition, and the predominance of sattva (goodness/virtue) propels one upward in the spiritual direction.

Q. What determines how an animal is reborn after it dies?

A. The entire life of an animal, including its next birth, is determined by what that entity did in its previous human life. In human life one can act such that one’s karma involves taking a number of births in lower species of life before returning to human life. As the Gita says, mudha janmani janmani: a person may have to take birth after birth in lower species of life if they spend their time in human life foolishly.

Q. The other night we accidentally killed a cat with our car. What type of karmic arrangement was this? Was it our bad karma that we should do this to another living being or was it just the cat’s time to change bodies? Is there anything that we can do to avoid karmic reactions such as this? Being practicing devotees, this concerns us.

A. It is nearly impossible to sort out the details of one’s karmic entanglement, as there are so many factors involved. However, the Padma Purana discusses five stages of karmic reactions beginning with unmanifest karma (aprarabdha), that which is not presently bearing fruit, to manifesting karma (pararabda), that which is appearing in one’s life at present. The Padma Purana says that karmic reactions from previous lives appear in one’s present life first in the form of a subtle psychological disposition (kuta) that bias one toward a particular type of action. This is followed by the appearance of a desire (bija) to act in particular way. When one acts on this desire, one’s karma is bearing fruit (phalonmukham) and is then fully manifest. These actions in turn create further unmanifest karma and thus the karmic cycle of action and reaction is perpetuated. The root of all of these stages of karmic repercussion is ignorance (avidya). Bhakti has the power to uproot one’s ignorance and destroy all of these stages of karmic reactions.

At the time of diksa, one becomes equipped to deal with these reactions. Indeed, it is said that diksa itself destroys them inasmuch as it involves the imparting of divya-jnana (divine knowledge) in the form of the diksa mantra and its explanation. Diksa takes time to fully manifest. It falls under the heading of sambandha-jnana, which for the sadhaka involves acquiring an appropriate conceptual orientation to life, one that fosters hearing and chanting about Bhagavan. One’s sambandha-jnana is complete and realized at the time one graduates from sadhana bhakti and enters bhava-bhakti. At this time, in the devotional stage of asakti, one no longer suffers from karmic reactions.

When Sri Krishna formally enters into our life through diksa, karma’s influence over us is altered and we become like a debtor who has declared bankruptcy and has taken shelter of the court. While karma still remains, as we act in devotional service under the guidance of Sri Guru, we cease from implicating ourselves further in karma. Moreover, our bhakti destroys our unmanifest karma, changes our disposition, and eradicates our desire to act contrary to that which is favorable to bhakti. Ultimately, Bhakti Devi destroys our prarabdha and transforms our sadhaka deha (practitioner’s body) into one that is cid-ananda mayi, filled with Sri Krishna’s svarupa-sakti. Thus the life of a sadhaka is not a life under the rule of karma, nor is it one that is entirely free from karma’s influence, at least not until one’s sadhana is mature.

Naturally you feel some responsibility for your role in the death of the cat. However, you should try to see this as an incident in which your manifest karma coincided with the manifest karma of the cat. Your will was not directly involved. Life is full of such incidents. Indeed, even lighting a fire to cook causes death to some species. Even our breathing kills. No material action is free from fault. However, this does not mean that we should cease from acting. Sri Krishna in Bhagavad-gita (18.56) encourages us thus: “Even though engaged in all kinds of activities (karmani), the person who takes refuge in me attains my eternal imperishable abode by my grace.” Therefore, center your life on guru-guided bhakti. When your spiritual progress is complete, you will be liberated from karma and the cycle of birth and death, and everyone who comes in contact with you (even the cat) will be benefited through the grace of Sri Krishna.

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