Progression of Births and Species

Question: We are aware that there are 8.4 million species in this material world. Does the jīva have to pass through all these species, one by one, to attain a human form of life? Or does it depend on the guṇa to which it is associated?

Answer:  Birth depends on past karma. It is not necessary that one has to go through 8.4 million species to attain human life. It is not that there is a linear progression of births from lowest upwards. Kṛṣṇa gives hints of these in Bhagavad Gītā (8.6, 14.14,15)

yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ   tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya   sadā tad-bhāva-bhāvitaḥ

O son of Kuntī, whatever object one thinks of while dying, that and that only he attains, being constantly absorbed in thoughts of it. (8.6)

yadā sattve pravṛddhe tu   pralayaṁ yāti deha-bhṛt
tadottama-vidāṁ lokān   amalān pratipadyate

If an embodied being dies when sattva is predominant, he attains the pure worlds reached by people of knowledge. (14.14)

rajasi pralayaṁ gatvā karma-saṅgiṣu jāyate
tathā pralīnas tamasi mūḍha-yoniṣu jāyate

If one is under the influence of rajas when one dies, he takes birth among those attached to work; similarly, if one dies when tamas is predominant, he is born from the wombs of the ignorant species of life. (14.15)


Question: I read the following statement, “Generally, souls emanate from the brahmajyoti which is living and growing. The first position of a soul in the material world will be like that of Brahmā, the creator.” Could you please shed some light on this?

Answer:  I have not read anything like this anywhere in the śāstra. I do not know what the source is of such knowledge. 


Question: Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and Garbhopaniṣad say that the citta is completely manifested by the seventh month while the baby is in the womb. Does citta mean the “unconscious mind” of the subtle body or does it mean just “consciousness?”

Answer: Citta means the unconscious mind. 

Question: I think consciousness would already be there before the seventh month because if not. how could the embryo sustain life?

Answer: Yes. Consciousness is already there. The word for consciousness is cit, not citta. 

As an aside, it is helpful to give an exact reference. I have a collection of about 290 Upaniṣads but it does not include the Garbhopaniṣad.

Question: I thought that there were only 108 Upaniṣads. How many Upaniṣads are there in total and how many are authentic? 

Months ago, I remember asking a knowledgeable person from the Śrī-sampradāya and he said that only the texts quoted by their ācāryas are authentic—this consists only of the principal Upaniṣads and a few others.

Answer: There are supposed to be 1130 Upaniṣads, as per the statement of Patañjali in his Mahābhāṣya. This is also stated in Kūrma Purāna (52.19.20) and Yāñjvalkya Smṛti. But most of these are not available at present. Ten or eleven Upaniṣads were commented upon by Śaṅkarācarya and these came to be known as Principal Upaniṣads. Everyone accepts them. Among the remaining available Upaniṣads, different sampradāyas accept different Upaniṣads as authentic. 


Question: In your translation and commentary on Śrī Paramātma Sandarbha, Anuccheda 1.2, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī quotes Bhagavad Gītā 13.22 and explains anumantā as tat-tat-karmānurūpa pravartaka, i.e., “He who inspires the living beings in accordance with their past actions.” Could you kindly explain the meaning of this and how is it applied to the jīva’s conditioned will?

Answer: Every jīva has its prārabdha-karma. Our life is based upon situations we are put into due to prārabdha-karma and upon the decisions we make under those circumstances. When we are due to suffer or enjoy a particular karma, the desire comes into the mind propelled by that karma. The time at which a particular karma will manifest a particular desire is arranged by Paramātmā. Being influenced by that desire, you make the choice and get the bhoga. This is the meaning of tat-tat-karmānurūpa pravartaka. Also see BG 15.15 in this context.


6 thoughts on “Progression of Births and Species”

  1. “Being influenced by that desire, you make the choice and get the bhoga.” – This reaction (bhoga) to the past karma (action) in turns sows the seed for future karma (reaction). Is that right? For instance if the bhoga I get now is engaging in drinking, then this will result in a future reaction.

  2. Hare Krishna Maharaj, Dandavats. A question on the Jivas position as Brahma first. The following are the 2 places where we encounter such a description can you please throw further light on this?

    Srila Prabhupada confirms in his purport to SB 9.24.58

    “Both the Lord and the living entity, being qualitatively spirit soul, have the tendency for peaceful enjoyment, but when the part of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, unfortunately, wants to enjoy independently, without Kṛṣṇa, he is put into the material world, where he begins his life as Brahmā and is gradually degraded to the status of an ant or a worm in stool.”

    This is also confirmed by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur in his book, Brahmana and Vaishnava (Second Chapter), when the living being first enters the material world, he often appears in the form of Lord Brahma:

    At that time the living entity considers himself the king of enjoyers, and being situated in the mode of passion, he takes the position of Brahma and creates progeny.

    1. I have nothing to comment on these references, except that they are the realizations of Srila Bhaktisiddhanata Sarasvati Thakur and Srila Prabhupada.
      I have not come across any such statement anywhere else.

  3. I think first linear progression happens from unicellular to human than after reaching to human than karmic reaction stars

  4. I noticed that your article references an outdated stat. You mentioned that there are “8.4 million” species in the World. Based on our most recent data, these figure has been updated, and The Estimated Number of Animal Species in the World Is 2.16 Million, From the Total Species Population of 8.7 Million.

    As one of the leading organizations in advocacy, It’s the World Animal Foundation’s utmost duty to ensure such statistics are current, not just on our platform but also on other relevant platforms.

    Having recently revised our article with the newest statistics, I wanted to share this so you might consider a similar update, or if you are considering to write on this topic in the near future.

    For your reference and to verify the new statistics, please visit our page: https://worldanimalfoundation.org/advocate/how-many-animals-are-in-the-world/

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