Transmigration of the self from one body to another—often known as reincarnation—is something we all experience, all the time, but may not be aware is happening. It’s like this: during a single lifetime, our bodies change from infant to child to adult to elderly, but our conscious awareness stays the same.

Of cours our minds change over time, and we certainly don’t see things the same way as adults as we did as children, but the same sense of being—conscious existence—remains consistent throughout our lives.

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This conscious self, atma, always exists – before, during, and even after this life. It never dies. When one body deteriorates to the point where living in it becomes impossible, the self moves on to another. The Bhagavad-gita describes the process in detail.

Our activities and desires in this life determine what kind of body we get in the next; If I live like a dog or a hog now I may very well inhabit the body of a hog or dog in my next life. If I consistently act on spiritual principles, I may be eligible to advance to a more elevated existence. Depending on the quality of our karma, work, we may find ourselves in any one of millions of species.

This cycle of birth and death (samsara) goes on as long as we’re addicted to temporary sense pleasure. Temporary pleasures require temporary bodies to “enjoy” them with, but the self isn’t temporary. It’s spiritual, and meant to experience spiritual pleasure, perpetually.

Transmigration is painful, inconvenient, and foreign to our spiritual nature. It’s incompatible with our desire to live in perfect health forever, in a body of our own choice. So, in His explanation of transmigration in the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna also presents the means by which to avoid repeated birth and death entirely; anyone who remembers the Supreme Person at the time of death is immediately transferred to the spiritual world and is exempt from any future births in material bodies.