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Material Body - Changing Dress For The Soul
Reincarnation - Internal and External
Can you believe that the same youthful body you now have was just 20 years ago a small baby that could be contained in the two palms of your mother? Is it not a fact that this same youthful body is going to grow old and there are going to be wrinkles, all senses are going to become weak and performing any activity is going to become difficult? In principle, then, even within one lifetime as the body changes from infancy to old age, the living being, or 'atma', actually passes through many bodies (like infant, youth, aged) of various ages and levels of consciousness. Thus the body changes, but the eternal living being within the body - the soul - remains the same. Biological science confirms this. In his book, 'The Human Brain', John Pfeiffer points out, "Your body does not contain a single one of the molecules that it contained seven years ago." When the movie frames are moved rapidly past our eyes at a rate of 16 frames/sec, it appears to be one continuous movie; we fail to notice that every frame is different. In the same way our body changes at every moment irreversibly, but because the change is continuous and gradual, we fail to notice it. This movement of the soul through numerous bodies within one lifetime - something we can all verify by a little introspection - can be termed internal or continuous reincarnation.
At the time of death the soul passes to a new body. The Lord explains this, "Just as the embodied living entity passes, in one body, from boyhood to youth to old age, so the living entity similarly passes into another body at death" (Bhagavad-gita 2.13). "Just as a person puts on new garments, giving up the old ones, similarly the individual living entity accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones" (Bhagavad-gita 2.22) Lord Krishna further explains the principle underlying all reincarnations, "Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail in his next life" (Bhagavad-gita 8.6). So the soul in a man's body could go into the body of an animal, a bird, an insect, a plant, and so on in the next life. This journey of the soul into different bodies can be referred to as external reincarnation or discontinuous reincarnation.
The Six Transformations of the Material Body
Every living body in this material world undergoes six changes: (1) birth (2) growth (3) maintenance (4) production of byproducts (offsprings, chemicals) (5) diminution and (6) death. These changes happen to all living bodies, whether they be plants, animals or human beings. For example, a flower is born as a bud, it grows, remains fresh for two or three days, produces a seed, gradually withers, and is then finished. Sometimes people think that by scientific advancement man will become immortal. We cannot even stop these six changes in the body, where then is the question of stopping death?
The Changing Body And the Permanent Soul
But through all these changes, the spirit soul remains unchanged. There is no birth or death for the soul, because he is eternal. For example, the moon appears to be absent on an 'amavasya' (no moon) day, then through 'prathama', 'dviteeya', 'triteeya'.... the moon goes on waxing till the full moon day. Then the moon starts waning till the 'amavasya' (no moon) day. This cycle goes on. But is the moon changing? No. It is only because of our relative position that we see the moon as full, half, crescent, absent etc. Similarly, we identify ourselves with the changing body as it passes through childhood, to boyhood, to youth, to old age, to death and then to a plant's body, an animal's body and so on. We identify ourselves with all these different phases of material existence,but actually we are unchanging souls observing our bodies going through all these changes.