This human birth is rare. The Shastras tell us that one must go through 8,400,000 births before a human birth is obtained. Having been born as a human being, it is a shame if one wastes this golden opportunity, because only as human beings are we able to reach our full potential to attain the highest state of consciousness.
Evolution of Life
According to the prevailing view of today’s scientists, all life began from simple single-celled organisms. Over time, life evolved into more complex forms, branching out into different species, one of which evolved into the human species of today. This view is not completely at odds with the Shastras; however, we could say that it is ‘backwards’, or even ‘upside down’.
Without getting into a lot of detail, we will give our view as formed from direct experience, deep meditation, reliable testimony of others, and our own little knowledge of the Shastras.
The Shastras compare this Creation (in which we all take birth, reside, and die), to a tree with its roots upward and branches downward. Thus, the Tree of Life according to us, begins ‘from above’ and not from below. That is, life originates not in matter, but in consciousness. Inert matter does not ‘somehow’ become conscious after millions or billions of years as some misinformed persons may believe. Consciousness exists in the beginning, and before the beginning. Consciousness exists now, and will exist even after this Creation no longer exists.
Inorganic and Organic Matter
Over time, some inorganic matter (inert matter) evolves into organic matter (such as bacteria, viruses, vegetation, etc.) by means of the interaction of the Cosmic Forces or GUNAS. This occurs due to the presence of PRANA (Life Force) which pervades everything, and is guided by the Creative Intelligence inherent in it. This Creative Intelligence is the manifestation of the Original Consciousness (Supreme Consciousness, GOD), which is the Source of all consciousness.
Organic matter (living matter) is not sentient, or conscious, but it is still alive. It is matter infused with life force. Though absent the active consciousness, it is nevertheless permeated with intelligence. Every single cell in our body has intelligence, just as every living cell in the universe, whether in the form of microbes, yeast, vegetation, etc., also has intelligence. 
This living matter (in the form of fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.) obtains its material for sustenance from the inorganic matter (air, water, light, etc.). Higher life forms (those which form the living bodies of conscious beings) are sustained by both organic and inorganic matter.
Sentient (Conscious) Life
A human being is the highest life form of a conscious
being. There are of course many, many other life forms: fish, cow, bird,
insect, etc. These lower life forms are perhaps evolved in a manner similar
to that described by
Where Did We Come From?
So where did we come from if we didn’t evolve in the same way as other life forms? You and I, and all of us, were born from other human beings, and so on and so forth all the way back to some point in time where there existed a number of original human beings, the first human beings. Where did they come from?
In the Beginning and Before the Beginning
In the beginning of this Creation, all of us existed, but without any form other than pure energy (that is, we existed as conscious beings embodied in energy). Before the beginning of this Creation we were still present as conscious entities (ATMAN), but in an unmanifested state. Consciousness is eternal, as is the energy associated with it. Each of us is Eternal: we are immortal beings. 
When the Creation poured forth from Hiranyagarbha (the Source of Lustrous Light), all of us souls also came forth, embodied in PRANA, life force, and as the Cosmos cooled and inhabitable regions were formed, we began to take birth in various life forms according to our Karma. Some souls at this time (in the Beginning)  remained in an awakened (conscious) state, enjoying the Cosmic Light Show, while others resided in a semi-awake dream-like state, and still others started this journey of life in a comatose-like state (again, all based on the law of action and reaction, i.e., KARMA, from previous cycles of Creation).
The first human beings to be born were born according to their own sweet will. These beings were the purest of the pure, possessing Atam-Shakti, or soul power, of the highest order; which is to say that they were liberated souls, who took it upon themselves to begin the great experiment of humanity, this Yajna of human existence, this sacrifice of divine love and divine wisdom.
In all probability, the original human beings numbered in the thousands; they took ‘birth’ as fully grown adults in the prime of life. Their ‘birth’ was not by sexual means but by the power of Yoga. These great souls are our ancestors: we are all the offspring of sages, and not of monkeys!
As time passed, more and more souls were embodied in various living forms  , each bringing their own unique experiences, mental composition, and peculiar traits. As the Ages continued, the drama of this Creation continued to unfold, and continues to unfold today. Just as now, in a godly family there might be born a saintly person, an ordinary person, and a wicked person; even so, in ancient times (millions and millions of years ago) there were born the very good, the good, the not-so-good, the bad, and even the very bad.
Why Are Some Souls Born As Humans and Others As Animals?
Some souls are born as human beings because they have reached the expiry of the round of births in non-human form, and are thus born as human beings according to the law of nature (Prakriti Dharm). Others souls are born as human beings because their actions in previous human lives determined (according to the law of Karma) that they had to be born again (as human beings) in order to resolve their previous actions; in other words, to reap the reward (painful or pleasurable) for actions performed in earlier human births it became necessary that they be born again as a human being. These two are the common lot of human beings that are born in this day and age. Along with these, there are countless other souls that are born in sub-human (i.e., non-human) species (animals, insects, etc.) also according to the two criteria described above: for example some creatures are moving up the evolutionary scale, for instance, from an insect to a bird, while at the same time there are some human beings who are moving down the scale (as per their actions performed in a human life) and may take birth as a dog, cat, pig, spider, fly, etc. 
You and I. . . .
Besides all of the beings described above, there are those fortunate souls  who, according to their good karma (accumulative effect of actions done in previous human births), and by the unfathomable grace of GOD (the Supreme Consciousness), are born as human beings whose intelligence has led them to seek to know the Truth and to realize without any doubt who they really are. In other words, they are very unique human beings who really want to know what this life is all about. They really want to make a difference; they are not content to just accept things as they are. They want to know what Real Happiness is, what Real Love is, and what is the ultimate purpose in being alive. 
If you are reading this article right now, then you are a very unique human being. This human birth, YOUR LIFE, is a golden opportunity. So, vibrate with joy every moment of your life! Don’t waste even a single moment in self-pity, self-indulgence, self-glory, or any other form of self-involvement.
A person who is wrapped up in himself (or herself) makes a very small package. Instead of being self-involved, let us make a gift of our life and give it to God (keep raising our consciousness). When we come close to that Supreme Being, that Divine Friend will open the gift of our life and remove all the wrappings of mind, body, and ego, and we will be Liberated.
Question: According to your view, you seem to be saying that all souls begin the journey of life as microscopic creatures and work their way up the ‘evolutionary’ ladder until they are born as human beings. Can you explain this in more detail?
ATMAN is eternal. Atman is never born. However, it is the nature of Atman to manifest through its inherent life force, or PRANA, whenever the Oversoul (Supreme Being, Paramatman, GOD) manifests this Universe by His own inherent Life Force, or PRANA. These cycles of manifestation of ATMAN and the Universe (that is, Paramatman, Atman, and Prakriti) are without beginning or end. That is, there is no first manifestation of the Universe, nor will there ever be a last. Similarly, there is no first manifestation of ATMAN nor will there ever be a last.
The Universe is the manifestation of PRAKRITI, the eternal substance, or energy/matter out of which all things are created. The PRAKRITI is moved by the power of ATMAN (PRANA), and this (movement) appears as the primordial energy. Essentially, all matter is energy, and all energy is matter; it is all a matter of the frequency of the vibration (movement).
ATMAN manifests as the Spirit, the conscious Life Force. The Supreme Spirit (universal Life Force) is the manifestation of PARAMATMAN, the Supreme Soul. The Supreme Spirit completely pervades all the universes, after universes, after universes. Even so, this manifestation of the Supreme Soul, the Supreme Being, the Absolute, is not even a fragment of His Magnitude or Greatness, as there is absolutely no measure of His Being, as He is known as ASEEM, or Boundless.
The manifestation of ATMAN, which said manifestation is known as the Spirit Self, is greater than even the Universe. That is, the Spirit Self pervades the entire universe. Every soul is the center of the universe. There are multiple universes---as many souls, that many universes there are, and that number is uncountable, i.e., there are innumerable universes and innumerable souls.
When the Spirit Self (PURUSH) is joined with Nature (PRAKRITI), the JIVATMAN (living Soul) is conceived. Some call this seed the Causal Body. The JIVATMAN (or simply, Jiva, or embodied soul) begins the journey of life in the simplest life form and passes through countless bodies according to the Laws of Nature, until it is embodied in human form. As a human being, the Jiva (or at this point, we will simply say, ‘soul’), has accumulated the impressions (samskaras) from the experiences of countless lives in countless life forms. All of these various impressions exist in the mind of the soul, and not in the soul itself. The impressions entered the mind via the senses, which gathered sense experiences through the sense organs associated with the various life forms previously inhabited by the soul.
Every living soul has acquired innumerable impressions over their innumerable lifetimes. When the soul is born as a human being, these various impressions create tendencies (Vasanas) and thought patterns (Vrittis, such as thoughts and attitudes), which prompt the soul to behave in a predetermined manner (that is, as a consequence of the impressions, tendencies, and thoughts-patterns) present in the mind. However, as a human being, the soul is endowed with a unique intelligence, which causes the soul to question its thoughts and actions and decide what to do. Through the process of living intelligently, the soul realizes that essentially it (this jivatman) is the sum total of the choices one makes.
No human being is perfect. Everyone is fallible and everyone makes mistakes. But no one wants to make mistakes, because we have learned that our mistakes cause pain and suffering (to ourselves and others). Everyone desires to remove all pain and suffering, and eventually everyone realizes that the only way to end suffering is to stop making mistakes, and the only way to stop making mistakes is to remove one’s ignorance.
As the soul evolves, i.e., as one goes on increasing one’s awareness (that is, expanding or raising one’s consciousness), one becomes more and more free from all pain and suffering. In the end, one would love to be completely free, and this TOTAL FREEDOM is called MOKSHA, or Salvation, or Liberation.
The embodied soul that has not made up his (or her) mind  lives in a state of dichotomy, constantly pulled between the ‘spirit and the flesh’, that is, between the inner qualities of the Self (Purush) and the outer qualities of the world (Prakriti). Human beings are constantly influenced by both: the ego, intellect, mind, etc., are both PURUSHIK and PRAKRITIC; that is, we are both spiritual and material in nature. [No one is born from a single parent, we all have the traits of both our parents; similarly, we all have both spiritual and material characteristics and tendencies.]
How we behave in this world is our own choice. Granted, we are faced with different choices, but it is WE who choose (God does not choose for us). All of us are faced with similar challenges at different times of our seemingly endless journey of existence (through many, many lifetimes). Not everything that happens to us is simply the effect of a previous cause, because there is also the element of CHANCE.  This should not be difficult to accept if we understand that this drama of Existence, this Life, is really a Sport or Game, or Play (LILA). A game is not a game if there is no element of chance. Indeed, art is no art, and music no music, and love no love if everything is already known or figured out. Ask yourself. . . Is it true love when two people communicate with each other by reading a script? Is it art to draw a picture just by connecting the dots? Can a musician really produce music just by reading a musical score? The answer to all three questions is No, No, No.
We can never know for certain what is going to happen next. If, during this test of life, we knew all the answers to all the questions, then the test would be no test, and we would never realize our full potential. To realize our full potential is the purpose of Life. Our full potential is to be completely free from all selfishness, to become completely egoless, to merge with the Supreme Self in the state of Absolute Ecstasy [this is YOGA].
The journey of the soul begins in the infinitesimal form of life and takes us all the way to the Infinite. In the end, we realize that the Supreme Presence is ever-present, ever-aware, and all-loving. We have never been separated from THAT, because THAT is our Essence (the essence of ATMAN). 
ATMAN is changeless, eternal, unborn, never miserable, never selfish, never subject to pain or suffering in any form whatsoever. ATMAN is never bound, and never liberated, because ATMAN is EVER-FREE. Atman is ever-full, indivisible, and unimaginable.
The manifestation in the gross is not the ATMAN, just as manifestation of this Universe is not GOD (Paramatman). It is the Jivatman that is born, that has qualities of happiness and unhappiness, pleasure and pain, ignorance and wisdom, bondage and Liberation. The Jivataman is riding the chariot of the body (ego, intellect, mind, gross body, etc.) and is traveling to its eternal abode, the God Lord of the Universe. When the jivatman attains MOKSHA it become Jivamukta, a liberated soul. That liberated soul is never born again; even as the same Creation is never created again, though it has many of the same characteristics of previous Creations. When the last chapter of the novel is read, and we read that the lover and beloved “Lived happily ever after”, then it is absolutely so. But it doesn’t mean that we will never read another novel, and that there will never be another ending with the exclamation “they lived happily ever after”. In the same way, each of us is the author of our own Destiny. Again and again we will play this Divine Drama of Life. Just as actors play in many different dramas, but they remain essentially a non-actor; that is, they never stop being who they really are even though they play different roles in different acts, in the same way, we remain ATMAN, at all times, forever.
Liberated souls are never born again to go through the wombs of various creatures. The liberated souls do not somehow become ignorant again, or selfish, and become subject to the pains and pleasures of this world. Is there anyone who could imagine that Lord Krishna, or any extremely high soul could lose their character and become an ordinary self-involved mortal? No. But there are very few who attain to that height. So long as one is not Liberated, one is still liable to falter and err in one’s judgment, and can therefore certainly move down the ladder. But those who have ascended to the Supreme State of Consciousness are no longer on the ladder; they are firmly grounded in the Absolute. That dynamic soul (Jivamukta) merges in the dynamo of Supreme Consciousness. As many sparks emerge from the fire (ATMAN), only to merge back into the fire, in the same way, many sparks of life emerge from ATMAN in the form of the jivatman, over and over, again and again, and ultimately merge into the Supreme Self.
 This is not to imply that organic and inorganic matter possess Buddhi, or intellect. It only means that the Creative Intelligence is all-pervading and due to its presence and influence all matter behaves intelligently.
 We are eternal but we are NOT infinite. We are present (SAT) forever and we are conscious (CHIT) forever, but our presence is not infinite nor is our consciousness. The soul is eternal but finite. The Supreme Soul (GOD) is eternal and infinite, that is why we say that GOD is One Without a Second, because only that Supreme Being is Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent. Only GOD is All-conscious, All-knowing, and All-powerful. Our awareness, although unimaginably great, cannot be compared with the Incomparable; our knowledge, although incomprehensible to the mind, cannot be compared with the Incomparable Wisdom of the Absolute; and our power (to feel, to love, to create) although unreachable (and only partially expressible) by art, science, or religion, can never be compared to the Incomparable Bliss (Ananda) of the Supreme Being.
 The phrase, ‘in the Beginning’, as used here refers to the period after the Big Bang, but before any regions of the Universe had evolved sufficiently to create habitable regions (for example, Earth planets, or Pritthivi) that could sustain conscious life forms. Thus, ‘in the Beginning’ all of us existed only in the Causal body.
 By means of physical reproduction, just all things are born today.
 Thus, according to our view there are basically four types of embodied beings: (1) Those souls, who, after having completed the process of passing through the thousands and thousands of different animal life forms, beginning as a simple microscopic organism and eventually reaching to the higher life forms like that of a lion, a deer, a horse, a dog, etc. are finally embodied as human beings. (2) Those souls who are born as human beings as a result of actions performed in a previous human birth. (3) Those who are born as animals, insects, etc., in the process of the soul’s evolution through the myriad life forms. (4) Those who are born as animals, insects, etc., as a result of bad karma (wrong actions) performed in previous human births.
 Of the second type (2) described above.
 In this Kali Yuga, people who are truly REAL, who really want to attain the Highest State of Consciousness (GOD), and refuse to accept the status quo or dogma, are very unique; that is to say, there are not very many of these people in existence during these times of thick darkness (severe ignorance, arrogance, and self-centeredness). Whereas in the Satya Yuga (Golden Age, or Epoch of Truth), such sincere and earnest people are in the majority, as they are in the Treta Yuga. In Dwapara Yuga there is a balance between the number of ordinary and extraordinary persons.
 In other words, who has not attained the royal state of YOGA.
 We can say that everything is a matter of cause and effect, but only if we accept that the element of CHANCE is also a cause.
 The essence of ATMAN is that which pervades it, and THAT is PARAMATMAN, the Supreme Soul.