According to the Vedas, there are 8.4 million species of life and the conditioned soul is continuously passing through the different species according to their karma, under divine supervision. The Bhagavad Gita (2.22) says that just as one gives up an old shirt to put on a new one, the soul gives up an old body to acquire a new kind of a body (vasāmsi jirnāni yathā vihāya). Thus there are 8.4 million (84 lakh) types of bodies, out of which the soul assumes a body at the time of death.
If one spends their lifetime in sense gratification, then one may become a cat or dog. If one is attached to eating meat, he gets the body of a tiger wherein he gets full facility for eating flesh without the encumbrance of cleaning and cooking the meat. If one’s stock of pious activities is high, then he gets elevated to the heavenly planets, where he gets the body of a demigod (devatā). However all the bodies within the ambit of the 8.4 milion species, including that of the demigods, are subject to birth and death. All such bodies have a limited period of life, after which one has to give it up to assume a new body. This process of giving up one type of body and assuming a new one is called death. It is pertinent to note that it is the body that dies and not the spirit soul, who is occupying the body.
We are not the body but individual spirit souls occupying our respective bodies. I am occupying my body and you are occupying your body, just as you are residing in your house and I am residing in my house. This does not mean that I am the house. I am different than my house. Similarly I am not the body but I am the spirit soul, who is residing within the body. When the body becomes old, I (the spirit soul) have to leave the body just as I have to leave my house, when it is destroyed, to occupy a new one.
The new house that I will occupy will depend on the bank balance that I possess – if I have huge amount of money I can buy a palace or I may have to contend with a lowly hut if I have a meager sum. Similarly, the body that we will get after giving up the present body will depend upon our stock of past karma (activities). If we have a stock of sinful activities we will have to assume an animal’s body or even lower forms whereas if we have a stock of pious activity we may get a human or a super-human body. When the house is destroyed, it does not mean its residents are also dead; they leave the old house and occupy a new house. Similarly, when the body is dead (destroyed), the soul is not destroyed. It leaves the dead body and occupies a new body. The spirit soul is eternal and immortal, i.e. it neither dies nor takes birth (na hanyate hanyamane sarire: Bg. 2.20)
We get information from the Padma Purana that the 8.4 million species of life are divided into six groups, namely acquatics, trees, insects, birds, animals and humans. There are nine hundred thousand (9 lakh) types of acquatics, two million (20 lakh) types of trees, 1.1 million types of insects, a million types of birds, three million types of animal bodies and four hundred thousand types of human bodies. These aggregate to 8.4 million.
All the bodies within the ambit of the 8.4 million species are sure to degenerate and ultimately die. Therefore one who is really intelligent understands the futility of all the activities that one carries out during his lifetime, the results of which will be finished at the time of death. Therefore a person tries to understand the real purpose of human life and when he makes such an enquiry, God, Who is seated within his heart, guides him on the transcendental path, where he understands that one has to get out of this cycle of 8.4 million species of life.
Liberation (mukti) means putting a stop to the journey within the cycle of 8.4 million species. When one breaks this cycle, one is liberated from repeated birth and death, and is transferred to the spiritual sky, where he gets an eternal body. This body that he gets in the spiritual world is free from birth and death, because it is made of sat (eternity), cit (knowledge) and ananda (bliss). Once we reach the spiritual realm, there is no chance of our falling back into the miserable cycle of 8.4 million species of life [yad gatva na nivartante: Bg. 15.6]
Hence Moksha is considered as the ultimate goal of human life. There are many paths within Hinduism to attain this goal. “The Truth is One, but the paths are many.”
For related Articles by Raaz Kashyap you can click the following link: Raaz Kashyap Archive (Spirituality Ireland.org)