The Process of Transmigration
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on February 26, 1989)

Life is a series of mutations, not only of species but also of individual characters, a circumstance necessitated by the very structure of the universe. The maintenance of the balance or the equilibrium of the cosmos may be said to be the ultimate purpose of the phenomena of creation, preservation and transformation, or we may call it destruction.

The movement from our point of view may be said to be onward, forward, in the direction of a lesser and lesser necessity for self-mutation, leading finally to a cessation of the mutation of characters in a condition we may call Universal Being. This is a great ideal indeed but infinitely remote as the stars are from us, considering the involvement of consciousness in material vestures. The materiality quantum determines the length of the process of evolution. That is to say, the extent of the pressure exerted by material forces upon consciousness decides how much time it will take for an individual to reach the ultimate state of total freedom from involvement of every kind.

Here is a question which has to be decided by oneself individually, by a process of self-assessment, because the extent of material pressure upon one’s consciousness is known to oneself only. It cannot be mathematically gauged or observed through any kind of scientific instrument through the sense organs. We cannot, through mere external observation, gauge the status of a person or an individual. One can know oneself only. A self-determination spiritually rules the life of all spiritual seekers, and a total disentanglement from connection with matter is the aim of this process of mutation, one condition landing itself in another condition, one condition ceasing for the birth of another condition, the rebirth of a new system of life transcending and subsuming the early processes.

The series of these mutations is what we call the process of transmigration, the cycle of births and deaths. ‘Births’ and ‘deaths’ are crude words from the point of view of their basic connotation. What actually happens is an inner transmutation of constituents for the purpose of a readjustment of parts of the individual towards the betterment of that state of individuality in the light of the need to become wider and wider in the dimension of consciousness, so that simultaneously it is also a gradual diminution of the entanglement of consciousness in matter.

This physical body is a specimen of material weight upon our intelligence. We, each one of us, has some idea as to what extent we are bodies, how we measure the values of life in terms of physical amenities, in terms of bodily existence. We do not always think that we are bodies because we take it for granted, as consciousness involved in matter, that we are just that. The body, when it presses hard upon consciousness, refuses to be considered as an object of observation. We cannot go on thinking that there is a thing called body and we are basically consciousness in our nature, because the more is the pressure of this bodily structure upon the thinking principle, the basic consciousness in us, the less is the chance given to us even to know that there is a body at all. The body has engulfed the consciousness to such an extent that it has stifled it to death almost. Such persons, in the language of the Isavasya Upanishad, are called ātmahano janāḥ (Isa 3): those who have committed spiritual suicide, who have killed their soul, which means a practical annihilation of there being such a thing called a soul at all in one’s life and a satisfaction being derived entirely from matter in terms of the body, which one not merely possesses but which one seems to be one’s own self.

We are the body, and we do not seem to feel that we possess a body, and to such an extent, we are enslaved continuously by material pressures. But satyameva jayate nānṛtam (Mundaka 3.1.6): Truth triumphs, never untruth – the truth finally being the infinity of consciousness. It struggles to survive in the midst of these hurdles of material pressures. This struggle of consciousness to be free more and more in the future stages of the evolution of its individual characters is actually the process of metempsychosis, births and deaths.

What happens to a person when one dies? Questions of this kind occasionally arise in the minds of people. Nothing happens except a fructification of the potentialities of thoughts and feelings enshrined in one’s life as a common denominator, as it were, a kind of average that is struck of all the thoughts and feelings, and even actions thought and felt and committed in one’s life.

It is said that the last thought is the seed sown for the kind of life that one has to take in the future. The last thought is the fruit of the tree of life. The maturity of the tree through long ages of growth gradually produces the quintessence of its sap which becomes the fruit, so that the fruit is not a sudden eruption mechanically projecting itself after several years, but is a gradual ripening of the conditions of the very essence of the tree into that final formation we call the fruit. The last thought is such a fruit, which does not suddenly arise in the mind of a person totally contrary to all the thoughts and feelings entertained by a person earlier throughout life. That is to say, the last thought is not independent of the way in which one lived in the world.

The manner in which one thinks day in and day out, and the emotions one entertained throughout one’s life, all these internal constituents of the psyche – thought, feeling, volition, etc. – get churned as milk is churned for the sake of obtaining butter. This churning process takes place at the time of the extraction of the prana from the body at the time of departure. Here we stand naked, as they say, before the great judge of things, with no advocates to argue our case, and no friends to come with us; not even a broken needle can be taken by us. Totally helpless, we may say in one sense. Frightening, we may say in another sense, because we never lived a single, independent, isolated, solitary life. We have been always social animals. If we are alone to ourselves for a few days, we feel miserable. We want to go here and there to the bazaar or a teashop, or to a hotel or a cinema, or shake hands with some people and chat, so that the social instinct continuously presses upon us not to be alone and compels us to be miserable if we are left alone.

The thoughts and feelings and all the emotions and the inner psychic phenomena assume their true form, and tell us at the final moment that we have lived wrongly and we lived with a thorough misconception of the whole meaning of life. We had no friends, but we thought we had many friends. We had no enemies, but we thought there were many enemies. We thought we had property, but actually there was no property. In the manner we came with open hands, open palms, in that manner we go with open mouths.

The next stage in the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavadgita stands described in a manifold manner. Usually the common masses of mankind, we may say, will certainly have another birth because usually no one can be so confident as to have freed oneself totally from material entanglements, no one can be so sure that all desires have melted away, no one can be so sure that one has lived a truly godly life. Hence, it is also a matter of doubt if everyone and anyone can be given a permit to enter into the infinite domain of ultimate freedom. Until that stage is reached, there is a preparation in the form of what is called a purgatorial existence, which means a series of existences in transmigratory life by which we are chastened, burnished, educated and disciplined for the purpose of living a future state of existence which is less encumbered by material involvement.

Death, therefore, is not a curse. It is a necessity arisen on account of it being incumbent upon every individual to put on a new form with a greater preponderance of consciousness and a lesser involvement in physical matter in the form of the physical body. The Bhagavadgita tells us that those who have lived a life of non-attachment, who have not harmed people or injured the existence of living beings, those who have not exploited or played cunning and have lived an honest life in the light of the dharma that rules the cosmos will be reborn under conditions which will propel the soul to go further on, spontaneously, as it were, in the direction of a larger spiritual experience.

Or one may be blessed enough to be born in the cottage of a great saint and sage, which would be a greater blessing than merely being born under good conditions and circumstances with a lot of facilities. Athavā yoginām eva kule bhavati dhīmatām etad dhi durlabhataraṁ (Gita 6.42): Very difficult to get is this kind of birth.

Normally, ordinary birth in the body takes place to reap the fruit of the actions that one performed or committed in one’s life. No one can go scot free. But there is something more about the future of a soul, apart from its rebirth under ordinary conditions of involvement in desire and attachment to the body and material amenities. The greater is the purity of the spirit, the greater is the chance of movement in a direction that the Upanishads call devayana marga, the path of the gods. It is also known as the path of progressive salvation, a systematic upward promotion granted to the soul, with no retrogression and no chance of it, a continuous movement upward, rocket-like, as it were, further and further onward and onward, upward and upward through, according to the scripture at least, the sun or the solar orb, the surya principle. Surya, the sun in the sky whom we see every day, seems to have some important spiritual role to play in the kingdom of human life, and the soul becomes subtle enough to be able to move through these rays of the sun as if it is a beaten track, and touch the orb, where a divine being receives the soul as a guest come from the lower regions. This is the uttara marga, as it is called, the northern path or the path of the gods, the devayana path.

Several stages of ascent are mentioned. It is not a sudden jump but a stage-by-stage movement, and perhaps these stages correspond to the experiences of the denizens of the seven lokas. Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Swargloka, Maharloka, Jnanaloka, Tapoloka, Satyaloka are the higher regions. Above Bhuloka, or the Earth plane, are the higher ones – Bhuvarloka, etc. The inhabitants of these higher worlds seem to be the hosts of this guest soul rising upward through the sun. In a mysterious manner the Upanishad tells us that at the tenth stage, when the eleventh stage is touched, the borderland is reached and some wonder takes place. Some being who is not human in nature comes – amanava purusha – not looking like a human being. Someone divine in nature comes and takes care of the soul, takes charge of the soul.

Up to the tenth stage the soul is supposed to be conscious of itself. The soul loses self-consciousness after the tenth stage. It has no individuality consciousness, and yet there is a remnant of self-existence that has to be taken upward by some diviner force, leading onwards to the realm of universal creativity, which the scripture calls Brahmaloka.

Those who live a good life only from the social point of view but not necessarily spiritually – great people who have done a lot of charity, built hospitals, dug tanks, planted trees, given lots of donations and earned the merits and the goodwill of people – also go to a better world, but they will not go to the sun because a good life is distinguished from a spiritual life. We know very well what a good life is to some extent, but it is hard to understand what a spiritual life is. It is beyond the concept of good and bad. It is not ethically, morally, socially, politically conditioned. It is conditioned by the characteristics of soul only, and inasmuch as we mostly do not think in terms of soul, we will find it hard to assess ourselves purely from a spiritual point of view. Our judgments are mostly outwardly conditioned. Such souls also go to higher regions, but only up to that point where the momentum which pushed them upwards by their good deeds lasts. As a potter’s wheel runs fast even after a potter stops using it, due to the push that he has given to it, the good deeds that a person has performed in this world will give a push, and the momentum of that push will be the determinant of the state or the stage which the soul will reach. When the momentum ceases, the soul will come back to the Earth and live the life that it lived earlier, and once again it has to struggle hard with its own extra meritorious deeds for going upwards.

The scriptures also mention a third condition, which is not the blessing either of the purely spiritual or the immensely good, but of sinners who have done only bad. They have hurt people, and done nothing for the welfare of others. They have exploited and killed. They receive a third condition, the characteristics of which are described in the Chhandogya Upanishad and some sutras of the Brahma Sutras in pitiable terms.

Spiritual seekers, therefore, have to keep all these factors in mind, and it would not be quite enough if we are well off only in the public eye. We should be well off in our conscience also, because the conscience is supposed to be the voice of God. It will tell us what actually we are. It tells us that this is okay and that is not okay, though many a time we do not listen to that voice due to the din and bustle created by the sense organs in terms of objects outside.

Meditations have to be continued till this body is dropped or until Self-realisation is reached, says the Badarayana Vedanta Sutra. Our duty, finally, is to tirelessly work for steadying our mind – or consciousness, we may say – for the purpose of giving it a satisfaction independently, alone by itself, not in terms of contact with objects of sense but merely by its self-existence. The more we feel satisfied in our own selves independent of contact with things, the more is the likelihood of our being spiritual in the sense of the soul’s requirement. Each one has to test oneself by being alone. Go for a retreat, live in a temple or in distant places like Uttarkasi, or somewhere where distractions are not likely to disturb your composure of mind, and analyse yourself.

In the midst of many people, in large societies when there are other kinds of satisfaction available, the inner potentialities of the mind are not always revealed. When everything is gone and nothing is available from outward sources, when there is no chance of someone coming and giving us a helping hand, and we have to mind our own business, the mind will rise up to the occasion with all the potencies inside, and tell us our history right from our birth. Like the series of pictures in a cinematographic projection, all that we were right from our birth will be reeled before us when external pressure is lifted by freedom from connection with society. Otherwise, the pressure is there and the mind is not permitted to reveal its inner contents. It is promised a false satisfaction.

We sometimes get frightened when we are alone, on account of our inner being having many latent impressions that are likely to cause us disquiet. We are our own saviours, and if there is any sorrow or difficulty that we have to confront, that also has been bargained for by our own selves by erroneous adjustment of our personality.

It is said that mumukshu tattva is the greatest virtue that a spiritual seeker can hope to develop, and all other virtues come afterwards. The longing for the freedom of the soul in the infinite existence will decide the kind of life that one lives in the world, one’s conduct in society, one’s behaviour, and therefore, no wrong can be done. A person who keeps the mind fixed in a clear concept of what the ultimate goal is cannot go wrong in one’s duties in actions and in any kind of performance. But if the goal is missed and there is an aimless drudgery of existence, a desultory way of living and perfunctory performances, just doing this thing now and something else afterwards for no specific reason whatsoever, if that kind of distracted life unconditioned by a conscious aim is lived, there will be abundant chances of one’s going wrong in one’s conduct and behaviour.

Mumukshutva is the primary virtue. The longing for the unity or the communion of the soul with the Infinite should take possession of us to such extent that no other interest can attract us because the sweetness, the beauty, the extent of satisfaction and perfection that is inherent in the very notion of this great ideal will, nectar-like, bathe us inwardly in an experience that we shall have even during our meditations, and not merely at the time of Realisation. Even the initial meditational procedure conducted correctly with a clear concept of the aim of life will have a tinge of that great experience. Jijñāsur api yogasya śabdabrahmātivartate (Gita 6.44). Even an intense aspiration is supposed to be enough because spiritual aspiration, being a condition of the total rising of all the things that we are made of, will suffice in its own self to promise us a satisfaction that nothing in the world can give us. But if the meditation is conducted in a slipshod fashion, with only the mind thinking something – which meditation is not – then that satisfaction may not be with us. We will be bored with sitting for a long time, imagining that we are doing meditation.

Even within a few minutes of a correct adjustment of thought, and with a mustering of all the forces that we are, it will make us so composed in ourselves that we would not even know the passing of time. Otherwise, if only the conscious level of the mind is thinking and the lower levels are sleeping, there would be an intense consciousness of the passing of hours, of time moving, and there would be a desire to cut short the practice because in this wrongly adjusted kind of spiritual practice which is only mind thinking and not the whole soul rising up – which is not meditation – there will not be the promised satisfaction. If joy is not present in a thing, we will not go for it. Even if we have to work hard, we must be promised some kind of satisfaction out of doing that work. Who will work merely for the sake of work that brings nothing in return? It brings a remote joy at least, a satisfaction that we hope to reach after some years of work. But if that hope is not there, the work becomes a mechanical movement with no soul force and no joy in it.

Spiritual meditation is itself a joy. It is not a work. It is not an ordinary performance. It is the soul trying to return to itself. It is now moving in the midst of many things other than its own self. There is a meandering of the soul consciousness in objects, in physical things, in concepts and notions, which are like building castles in the air. The mind alights on these imaginations and peculiar hopes, conceptual objects and physical things, losing its basic mooring in its own house, which is the root. From these exteriorised movements of consciousness it has to be brought back to its own source, which is called pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and the like.

There are four destinations for a soul after it leaves the body. I mentioned three: the one that takes the soul along the godly way of the devayana path through the region of the sun up to Brahmaloka and then finally liberation; another that takes the soul only up to a certain limit of the force generated, apurva, or the force generated by the good karmas that one performs, after which there is a coming back; and the third one is a wretched existence. The fourth one is immediate salvation called sadyo-mukti, which is different from the three stages mentioned. There is no going either this way or that way, neither to the north nor to the south – no movement, because movement involves space and time. It is a meditation on a spaceless and timeless existence, if it could be conducted cautiously for a protracted period. Na tasya prāṇā utkrāmanti, brahmaiva san brahmāpyeti (Brihad. Up. 4.4.6). The Upanishad statement is that the prana will not go anywhere because there is no ‘anywhere’ for that soul – neither anywhere nor anywhen. It will dissolve there itself, like the drop dissolving into the ocean. Here just now, where we are seated, we will melt into the Absolute. There is no need of going to the sun and all the stars and all the planets or the stages mentioned.

It is always good to aspire for first class in the exam. We should not think that we are only second class or third class, as then we may become fourth class. It is a good thing for every one of us to enshrine in our hearts a desire to melt now itself. It may be possible or it may not be possible, but it shall be possible if the hope or the expectation is genuine and one is confident that there is nothing that a person has done to contradict it. We can put a question to our own self: “What prevents me? What mistake have I committed in this world that I should not be granted this great blessing?” Let us strike a balance sheet of our own performances right from the time of our coming into this world, as far as possible, and see if we have committed any great blunder that can act as a tremendous hindrance in our achieving this great aspired goal of dissolution in the universe. If we are face to face with the consciousness of a great mistake that we have committed, it has to be set right. Whatever mistakes each one has committed should be known to one’s own self and it should not be hidden, at least from a Guru, it is said.

Many a time Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to query brahmacharis coming to the ashram. After staying for a few days, they put on a sorry face. “What mistake have you committed? Why are you putting on a long face?” The boy would not say anything, and would simply look blank. “Go and prostrate yourself in front of the altar of mahamantra sankirtan in the Bhajan Hall. All your sins will be destroyed. Foolish boy, prostrate yourself.” I myself witnessed this kind of scene one day. “Whatever be the sin that you have committed, you are not wanting to tell me? Doesn’t matter. Prostrate yourself. Do ashtangam namaskaram before this divine altar where the akhanda mahamritu sankirtan is going on. All your sins will be destroyed,” said Sri Gurudev.

It is not essential to run after the pleasures of the physical world. We neither want large bungalows, nor do we want the joys that material gadgets can give us; and if we feel that perhaps the material world can give us some joy, to that extent we are not up to the mark. All that we need is in our own selves. We have only to bring it up. Upasthiti is the ultimate aim. Yoga aims at this. We shall have the northern path opened before us or we shall dissolve ourselves here itself, if that could be possible. But we do not want to do some imaginary good work that will just take us up – a few kilometres up – and then bring us back; and we should do nothing wrong.

The prescription of maintaining a daily spiritual diary, writing down our resolutions – I shall do this only and I shall not do that – which Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj advocated for every person, and maintaining a daily routine, will keep us abreast of the conditions through which we are passing every day. It will act as a self-check. They call it the trishul of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. The three-pronged attack on our own selves for assessing our spiritual status is through maintaining a spiritual diary, maintaining a resolve form and having a meticulously calculated daily routine under the guidance of a spiritual teacher. Through this we will reach God in this very birth.