From The Essence of Self-Realization,
by Paramhansa Yogananda

A newcomer to the teachings: “Why must we reincarnate? If we all came from God, then, after death, why don’t we simply merge back into Him?”

Paramhansa Yogananda: “If our individuality were dissolved by death we would do so indeed. But the ego forms the physical body. It is the cause, not the effect, of physical birth.

“The ego is an element of the astral body, which is retained after physical death. The physical body is merely the ego’s projection into the material world.

“God cannot be attained by so simple an act as merely dying! To die is easy, but it is very difficult to attain that high level of consciousness in which the soul can merge back into Infinity.

“What, indeed, would worldly people do if they found themselves confronted with such a possibility? What would they do, for that matter, even in heaven? They would complain about everything, and go on arguing and fighting among themselves, just as they did on earth. And in the process, they’d only turn heaven itself into another kind of hell!

“After death, the basic tendencies of a person’s nature remain just what they were on earth. Al Capone, the gangster, didn’t suddenly become an angel by departing this plane of existence! Criminals retain their evil tendencies until they themselves work them out, perhaps after incarnations, and after many hard lessons: until their avarice, for example, has been transformed into a desire to help others; their lawlessness into a desire to uphold the law; and their cruelty into kindness to all.”

Newcomer: “What causes the ego to reincarnate?”

Yogananda: “Desire. Desire, you see, directs energy. As long as a person desires the things of earth, he must come back here, where alone his desires can be fulfilled. If he longs for cigarettes, or motor cars, or money, the astral world can’t provide those things. He will have to return to earth, where such things can be obtained.”

A disciple: “Must every desire conceived on earth be fulfilled here also?”

Yogananda: “Not pure desires—not, for example, the longing for beautiful music, expansive scenery, or harmonious relationships. Such desires can be fulfilled better in the astral world than on this imperfect material plane.

“In many cases, the desire to create beauty here on earth is due to deeper-than-conscious memories of the beauty and harmony one experienced in the astral world.”