(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on Monday, 23 June 2003.)
WILLIAM GLADSTONE (1809-1898), four-time Prime Minister of Great Britain, is said to have become a horse. A visitor who came to see him was told to wait. After an hour impatience took hold, and when the visitor was alone he peeked through a door to see what was preoccupying the Prime Minister. Gladstone was on his hands and knees, and his grandson was sitting on his back playing the horserider.
It's also said that in their next lives people become their pets, ornithologists birds, big game hunters lions and tigers, lepidopterists butterflies, naked yogis monkeys, ivory poachers pachyderms, and surfers fish. The Gita states that whatever we're thinking of at the time of death determines our next body (8.6).
Unfortunately human life, although endowed with advanced brainpower and other faculties, is unstable and precarious.
Human life is a precious gift for which there is no guaranteed continuation after death. If used for the right purpose, it's a blessing; if misused, a curse, says the Gita.
Sometimes children discard old and worn out dolls or toys that were once coveted presents. But at other times, childish playthings endure for years, and are treasured throughout life.
American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst supposedly at the time of his death uttered the brand name of a snow-sled given to him one Christmas. It was his only happy memory.
Maybe he became 'the abominable snowman!'
Those with spiritual intelligence might ask 'what is human life for? or 'how can I keep this human form?' Even more advanced would be to ask 'what can I do to maintain my humanity after this life, but without misery, disease and death?
Given the abilily to think things over, one might wonder why human life appears to have a beginning and an end and why the onslaught of danger and uncertainty never stops.
Humans have the capacity to gain a non-physical existence that is free from birth, death, disease and old age - neither human nor subhuman. This is possible in this day and age through bhakti.
Fortunately, devotion can be practiced by anyone, anytime and anywhere.
One develops devotion through acting according to the Lord's Instructions, obtaining an existence that is superconscious, above human and animal. It's easy and sublime, but we have to make a start.
(The writer Is emeritus member of lSKCON Governing Body Commission)