by His Holiness Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami
CERTAIN PSYCHOLOGISTS and folklorists imagine that the womb was a very nice place—a comfortable, warm home where food .and shelter were provided without our effort. Some even say that throughout our adult lives, we unconsciously desire to return to that protection and security, “floating undisturbed in the warm, dark, quiet world of unparalleled intimacy with the beloved mother.” By the scientific method of hearing from Vedic literature, however, we get the actual account of a human being’s conception, his pre-natal condition, and his birth. Contrary to what our psychologists and folklorists have imagined, life in the womb is among the most painful and miserable of human experiences.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam, a 5,000-year-old spiritual classic containing the essence of Vedic knowledge, gives the following vivid description of the living entity’s experience from the point of conception to the time of birth: “Under the supervision of the Supreme Lord (Sri Krishna) and according to the results of his work, the living entity, the soul, is made to enter the womb of a woman through the particle of a man’s semina to assume a particular kind of body. On the first night, the semina and ovum mix, and on the fifth night the mixture ferments into a bubble. On the tenth night it develops into a form like a plum, and after that it gradually turns into a lump of flesh. In the course of a month, a head is formed, and at the end of two months, hands, feet and other limbs take shape. By the end of three months, the nails, fingers, toes, body hair, bones and skin appear, as do the organ of generation and the other apertures in the body, namely, the eyes, nostrils, ears, mouth and anus. Within four months from the date of conception, the seven essential ingredients of the body (lymph, blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow and semina) come into existence. At the end of five months, hunger and thirst make themselves felt, and at the end of six months the fetus begins to move in the abdomen—on the right side if the child is a male and on the left side if female.”
The actual experience of the fetus, however, cannot be known by mere medical observation. For this information we must go to the Vedic scriptures, which give us direct knowledge of events beyond our normal experience. The Bhagavatam continues, “Deriving its nutrition from the food and drink taken by the mother, the fetus grows and remains in that abominable residence of stool and urine, which is a breeding place for all kinds of worms. Bitten again and again all over his body by these hungry worms in the abdomen itself, the child suffers terrible agony because of his tenderness. He thus becomes unconscious moment after moment. When the mother eats bitter, pungent foods or food that is too salty or too sour, the body of the child incessantly suffers pains that are almost intolerable. Placed within the amnion and covered outside by the intestines, the child remains lying on the side of the abdomen, his head turned toward his belly and his back and neck arched like a bow.” An adult would be unable to endure such a difficult confinement. The child’s pain is beyond our conception, but because his consciousness is yet undeveloped, he is able to tolerate it.
As adults, we have forgotten all this suffering and absorbed ourselves in trying to become happy in material life. Life in the womb may seem remote; no one has ever .told us before about its actual nature, and it has not concerned us. Writing on this topic, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada comments, “It is an unfortunate civilization in which these matters are not plainly discussed to make people understand the precarious condition of material existence.”
Astounding Remembrance. At the end of seven months in the womb, the child remains just like a bird in a cage unable to move freely and suffering without relief. At that time, if the soul is fortunate, he gains one astounding facility: he can remember all the troubles of his past one hundred lives. The vision of his wasted attempts to be happy makes him grieve wretchedly. While in the womb, the living being realizes that he has unnecessarily entered the material world. In this frightful condition, he prays with folded hands, appealing to the Lord, who has put him there.
Sometimes a woman in labor promises herself that she will never again become pregnant and suffer such severe pain. Or a man on the operating table may promise himself that he will act in such a way as to never again become diseased and undergo surgery. Similarly, the child, deeply repentant, prays to the Lord that he will never again commit sinful activities and be forced into another womb. He prays as follows: “I take shelter of the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who appears in His various eternal forms. I, the pure soul, appearing now to be bound by my activities, am lying in the womb of my mother by the arrangement of the Lord’s illusory energy. I offer my respectful obeisances unto Him, who is also here with me, but who is unaffected and changeless. He is unlimited, but He is perceived in the repentant heart.”
The child in the womb, praying out of bewilderment and repentance, realizes he is not independent or supreme. He seeks shelter from the Supreme Lord, perceiving that the Lord in his heart is the supreme master and that he is subordinate. By the grace of God, the child in the womb can understand his actual relationship with the Supreme Lord, and he realizes that he has been reduced to his abominable condition because of his forgetfulness of God. He wants to get out, but he understands that he can do so only by the mercy of the Supreme Lord, and thus he asks for the Lord’s blessings.
After nine months, however, the child in the womb makes an extraordinary request to the Lord: “Although I am living in a terrible condition, still I do not wish to depart from my mother’s abdomen to fall again into the blind well of materialistic life.” The child foresees that the trauma of birth will destroy his clear knowledge of the miseries of material life and his remembrance of Lord Krishna. If he forgets the ordeal in the womb and again assumes the false position of an enjoyer, it would be better for him never to be born. Although bitten and burned and surrounded by blood and urine, at least in the womb he is able to remember Krishna. The thought of his future miseries makes him reluctant to take birth, but of course he cannot possibly live in the womb much longer. While he thus extols the Lord, the wind that helps parturition propels him forth with his face turned downward. Pushed down suddenly by the wind, the child comes out with great trouble, breathless and deprived of his memory due to severe agony. He cries piteously, having lost his superior knowledge in the ordeal of birth.
We should not take lightly this account of life in the womb. One may say, “I cannot remember such pain in the womb. I am not suffering now, so why worry? Besides, I don’t care.” According to this way of thinking, ignorance is bliss. But it is only a temporary illusion of bliss. Although we now have no idea of the suffering in the womb, by reading such scriptures as the Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Bhagavad-gita, we can understand the terrible condition there and learn how to act in such a way that we will not suffer again. We learn from the Bhagavad-gita that, as individual souls, we are never created, but are eternal, fragmental parts of the Supreme Lord. By misusing our small independence, we desire to be supreme and are thus cast into the material world. Then we wander, according to our material desires, from body to body in each of the different species, until we finally evolve to the human form of life. All this happens under the supervision of the Supreme Lord. As Sri Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita (18.61), “I am seated in everyone’s heart, and I direct the wanderings of all living beings.” If, upon reaching the human form of life, we do not utilize the opportunity for self-realization, we will again be forced to enter a womb and undergo repeated tortures there. We should therefore thoughtfully reflect, “What can we do to avoid such miseries?”
Repeated acceptance of material life is due to forgetting our true identity as eternal loving servants of the Supreme Lord, Krishna. Therefore reviving our relationship with Krishna is crucial because that is the only means for the soul to escape the cycle of repeated birth and death. The primary method for doing this is chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, an incarnation of Krishna who appeared five hundred years ago in Bengal, India, recommended that everyone take up this Great Chant for Deliverance to awaken his dormant Krishna consciousness. We should also follow the instructions given by Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-gita (9.27-28): “All that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me. In this way you will be freed from all reactions to good and evil deeds, and by this principle of renunication, you will be liberated and come to Me.” By chanting Hare Krishna and acting in this way, the conditioned soul cleanses his mind of the false notion that he can enjoy this material world separate from Krishna. He gradually becomes completely surrendered to the Supreme Lord, and at the end of life liberation from the miseries of repeated birth and death is assured. Krishna not only speaks the Bhagavad-gita for our guidance. He also manifests Himself internally as the Supersoul within our hearts and externally as the spiritual master to instruct us how to avoid the repeated miseries of material existence. If one is anxious to get out of the material entanglement, Krishna will direct him from within the heart how to approach a genuine spiritual master. By following the instructions of a spiritual master, one can perfect devotional service and be transferred to the spiritual world, which is completely free from birth and death.
We are all eternal spirit souls, but death and rebirth are great dangers for us as long as we remain in conditioned, material existence. We must pray to the Lord, as did the child in the womb, to realize our eternal relationship with Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But we should not wait until it is too late. Preparing for the next life is a proposal for thoughtful human beings, a proposal we are meant to act on by following spiritual authorities while we are still healthy in this lifetime.
Overruling the Supreme Court
According to the 1973 United States Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, only in the last twelve weeks of pregnancy does the growing fetus have a right to live despite the mother’s wish to abort him. This decision supports the claim of those who favor abortion that killing a human embryo after a few weeks or months is not murder because , human life has not yet developed. They say that not until a full six months after conception does the fetus become “viable,” or able to sustain itself outside the womb. Until that time, the embryo is supposedly nothing but a lump of flesh, and is therefore “abortable.”
According to Vedic wisdom however, the right to life is determined by laws that even the Supreme Court cannot overrule. It is the law of karma, working under the direct supervision of the Supreme Lord, that determines when an individual spirit soul will be placed in a human womb. Thus to deny a spirit soul a human birth due him by the laws of karma is to defy the will of God in a most heinous fashion.
The Vedas tell us that anyone who prevents a spirit soul from entering the mother’s womb by contraception, or who destroys a developing fetus, is subject to severe punishment after death. In the case of abortion, both the person performing the abortion and those sanctioning it are forced at the time of death to enter wombs where they themselves become victims of the same ‘vicious act. Thus those who are anxious to enjoy sexual pleasure, yet wish to avoid the responsibility of having children, should soberly consider the severe consequences of contraception and abortion, which are grave transgressions of the laws of nature. Unlike the edicts of the Supreme Court, there is no escaping their strict enforcement.