Now if you’ve been following this and maybe accepted it a little bit the question might arise, “Well, gee, how does it work? I mean, who controls all of this? Who decides what body I get?” In other words, there are many bodies, aren’t there? The Vedas tell us there are eight million four hundred thousand different species of life. So we can go into another human body, animal body, an insect body, plant body, whatever. There are so many. So the question is, is it an accidental thing? Is it a random thing? Is it like the lottery? Do I simply win a particular body? Or is there a higher authority up there making this decision? “Okay, this lifetime you will be a dog. You’ll be a fish. You’ll be a human”. Is there anything I can do about it? Do I have any control over this situation?
And fortunately enough, there are answers to all these questions. There are three main factors that control reincarnation. The first is material desire. Second, material attachment. And the third, karma. So we’re going to look at each one of these and see what role it plays.
1. And we also must understand that the soul by nature has many inherent qualities. Qualities that are always present. You cannot separate them from the soul. For instance, wetness is an inherent quality of water. Here is water in the glass. I haven’t touched it but I know it’s wet. Why? Because all water is wet. Whether it comes from the sky, from the tap, from the river, it doesn’t matter. Water is wet. Inherent characteristic. Heat and light are inherent characteristics of fire. So in the same way the soul has many inherent characteristics.
One of these is desire. We all have our desires. In fact, if I gave you a paper and a pencil and I said, “Just write down your desires”, very quickly somebody would say, “You got any more paper?” So many desires. And these desires take us through our life. We’re always trying to follow these desires, satisfy these desires.
For instance, we’re all here. Why? Because you had a desire to hear about reincarnation and that desire brought you here. But there are a lot of other people who had other desires that took them other places. Some people to the library, some people to the movies, some people to the bar, some people at home watching television, in the restaurant, whatever.
And as we follow these desires, other desires appear. And we follow them, and other desires. So it’s ever expanding, ever increasing.
For instance, there’s a young guy in his apartment, six o’clock in the evening. He gets a little hungry, it’s time to eat, no problem. There’s a lot of food in the apartment. But at that moment he gets a message from his mind and from his tongue, “I don’t want this food. I want a pizza”. So being very subservient to the demands of the mind and the tongue, he gets up and begins to walk to the restaurant.
And along the way he’s doing a little innocent window shopping. Now, there’s no such thing as innocent window shopping. That’s why they put the good stuff in the window. So he is looking and he sees a display of watches. Immediately he stops because he is one of those people that always looks at watches. And quickly he sees one watch that catches his eye. He likes the way it looks, he likes the features, and out of nowhere comes the desire, “I want that watch”. But it’s late, the shop is closed. It’s an expensive watch, he can’t afford it.
So he continues on down to the restaurant, goes inside, sits down, orders the pizza and thinks about the watch. “How am I going to get that watch? I know, my friend owes me money, I’m going to collect that money. Oh, and this watch is not so bad, I’ll sell it on the internet”. You know how we do? We arrange our finances.
And as he is thinking like this, a very beautiful young lady comes in and sits at the table right next to his. Hmmm… He has a new desire. “I want to meet that young lady”. So then he starts thinking about, “Ooohhh, what is the best approach?” So about this time the pizza arrives, “Oh, pizza! I forgot about the pizza”. So, anyway, to make a long story short, he invites her to join him for dinner and she accepts. And they have a fantastic evening: so easy to talk to each other, they have so many things in common. Gee, it’s like they knew each other before. And so by the end of the evening, they’ve exchanged contacts and even arranged for a meeting next week. Next week they meet as planned, and another fantastic evening. After a few such meetings he has a new desire, “I want to marry this lady”. So he gets married. Then he has a desire for a house. He gets the house. Then he has a desire for kids, and he gets the kids. Then he has the desire for the kids to grow up like this, to grow up like that, to go to this university, to that university, etc. And it all started with a pizza – and that’s life. (laughs)
We go through our whole life like this and we come to the end of our life with our desires. Now, those desires go with us into our next life. When we leave our body at the time of death, the only thing we leave behind is the gross physical body. We are still covered by the subtle, mental body. And the mental body is the body of desire. And according to our desires, that body has a certain shape. For instance, our hand has a certain shape and a glove is designed to fit the shape of the hand. So in the same way, according to the shape of our mental body, our next physical body will fit perfectly over that body.
Another example is the sport of hang-gliding. I think everybody knows the sport, where you climb up to a high place, put a mechanical wing on your back, jump off, and hope for the best. And if all goes well, it’s great; amazing views, so fantastic. Freedom? Ah, never had such freedom. Riding the air currents, everything is great. And from that moment you never look at a bird in the same way again. You’re always looking at birds: how they take off, how they land, how they ride the air currents. And you realize quickly, of course, “They do this a lot better than I do”. And you know there is one thing you always have that they never have, and that’s fear. You always know in the back of your mind, if not in the front of your mind, “If something goes wrong, I’ve got a big problem”. But you know birds aren’t thinking like that. I mean, how many birds you ever see crash? (makes falling and crashing sounds)
And so some of these guys even start talking about which bird they would like to be. Of course, they all want to be eagles. Nobody says, “Yeah, I think I’d like to be a crow”. So you come to the end of your life with these desires, no problem. Next lifetime, you peck your way out of a shell. Your body is covered with feathers and you fly your whole life. As man proposes, God disposes.
I was a surfer for many years. And we realized that the dolphins, those guys do it really good. They don’t get cold. They don’t have to go in when it’s dark. It’s not too crowded for them. And so on and so on. So, many of those dolphins are ex-surfers. (laughs)
And it makes sense. You get what you want. So that’s the idea. Our desires keep us on the wheel of birth and death. As long as we have these desires, we will get another material body to fulfill those desires.
2. Second factor was material attachment. And certainly, we’re all attached. We develop attachment so quick, you know? And why? Because it’s the inherent nature of the soul to be attached. And these attachments are like ropes that bind us to the wheel of birth and death. They are like anchors that hold us here.
You go for a little walk one day and out of nowhere here comes a nice little dog. And it’s like the dog knew you or something. He just follows you, always looks back at you, stays beside you, rubs against your leg, and, by the time the walk is over, you are attached to this guy. “Gee, I’d like to take him home but no, I don’t have any place in my life but…” you know. You park in the same parking place two nights in a row. Come back the third night, somebody is there, “Who’s in my parking place?” Attachment is like that.
And there are different categories of attachments. One, we can be attached to things. You know, we can be attached to money, and cars, and houses, and positions, and fame, and so on. And they can be very strong. But we know the really strong attachments are personal attachments – attachments to another person.
For instance, let’s say you have a new car, and you go out from work one day and you find that somebody stole your car. And because of this attachment, immediately you’re angry, you’re frustrated, “My car!” But, hey, it’s just a car, you can buy another one. And if you’ve got insurance, they’ll even pay for it. But if you go home that night and find that somebody stole your wife, that’s another whole story. Of course, somebody might say, “Oh, thank you very much” (laughter). Actually I knew one old man who said, “You know, I’ve been waiting fifty-five years for somebody to run off with my wife, and they never have”, and actually they never did – he died first.
There is a young soldier getting ready to go into a very dangerous battle and he knows, “Gee, I might not come back”. So he takes the picture of his girlfriend out of his pocket, he looks at it one last time, feels that attachment and goes into battle and gets killed. Big, big effect on his next life. Keeps him on the wheel of birth and death. So material attachments also keep us here.
3. And third is karma. I’m sure everybody’s heard of karma. But I remember many, many years ago when I heard the word, I didn’t even know what it meant, “Karma. What is that?” Now, you know, they use it in all kinds of ways. There’s a surfboard named Karma Surfboards and many things. But really what karma is, is one of the laws of material nature. It’s not a new law. It’s been around the duration of the material existence. In the material world there are many laws of material nature and they control us. We’re under the control of these laws. On the Earth planet there is the law of gravity. You can say, “Ah! I don’t believe in gravity, there’s no such thing”. Okay, no problem. But please, climb up to the top of the building and jump off, and immediately you discover gravity, “Gee, it’s real!” It was there all the time. So karma is like that.
The word “karma” means action. So really we could say the law of karma is the law of action. And it’s been mentioned in various scriptures, you know, always. In the Holy Bible it says, “As you sow, so shall you reap”. “What goes around, comes around,” popular saying. “Everything you do is going to come back on you”, another popular saying.
So how does it work exactly? Karma means action. So we could say it’s the law of action. Now, another characteristic of the soul. The soul is always active by nature. Everywhere you find the presence of the soul, you’ll find activity. Even in seemingly immovable objects like a tree. “Oh, trees never move except when the wind blows”. But, of course, we learn in our biology classes, our botany classes, there’s a lot of activity in a tree. There’s nutrition drawn from the ground, there’s sap rising, there’s photosynthesis taking place at the leaves, fruit is produced, etc. Why? Because there’s a person inside that body. Dead trees don’t do any of these things. That activity is an indication of the presence of the soul.
So the law of karma states: if the activity that I perform affects the life of another living entity (and notice I’m saying living entity here, not just humans – any life form), if I affect the life of another living entity in a negative way, somehow I cause them some pain, suffering, hardship, death – I’m responsible for that. So in the future, I will have to experience pain, suffering, hardship, death. That will be my punishment. Bad action, bad results, bad karma. But if the activity I perform affects the life of another living entity in a positive way, somehow I make their material life a little better: I help a sick person, I feed a hungry person, I’m saying kind words even, I do charity work, welfare work, do some work with animals, whatever it is, you see – that’s a good thing. That’s a good action. So I will be rewarded for that in the future. Good things will come back to me. That’s called good karma. Good action, good results, good karma.
So we go through our whole life creating karma. We come to the end of our life with our karmic picture, and that karma goes with us into our next life also. If we have any karma, even if it’s all good – and good luck on that – we will still have to take another material body to get our rewards. So as long as I have any karma, I will have to stay on the wheel of birth and death to get the results.
So there we have it. If I have karma, attachment or material desire, I will remain on the wheel.