What they offer and what they cannot?
As a devotee of Lord Krsna, I hardly read newspapers because I have to struggle hard to find something of value in them. Whenever I get a newspaper in my hand, I make sure I don't spend too much time with it, lest my mind gets filled with useless garbage. One morning when going through an Indian daily, I came across the obituary section showing a list of deceased people who were being fondly remembered by their close relatives and friends. The interesting thing to note was that each departed soul was given the title svargavasi, a resident of heaven. Although modern atheistic education system does not teach anything about life on other planets they hardly have any information about it I was surprised to see how people still had faith that their departed relative had attained to heaven. I began to wonder: Has this person really gone to heaven? Was he qualified to enter heaven and enjoy the heavenly delights and
pleasures? What if he was a criminal or a butcher-could he still go there?
HEAVEN AND HELL-MYTH OR REALITY?
Modern scientists would have us believe that heaven and hell are simply mythical concepts found in religious scriptures. They feel such ideas were propagated so that people will be encouraged to lead moral lives hoping they can attain to heaven after death. However, when scientists are asked to explain the nature and cause of this unlimited universe and its diversities , they fail to provide any satisfactory answer. It is quite reasonable to believe in the existence of heaven and hell within this universe. We find that even on this planet earth, different living conditions exist in different parts of the world extreme poverty in parts of Africa and unlimited luxury in Europe and America. So why should a similar disparity not exist within the universal creation?
The Vedic scriptures give us a detailed account of life on other planets, including heavens. They tell us that there are fourteen levels of planetary systems in the universe and the heavenly planets, Svargaloka, forms one of them. They are above Bhuloka, the earthly planetary system. Above Svargaloka , there are still higher planets, the topmost being Satyaloka or Brahmaloka where Lord Brahma, the chief engineer of this universe, resides.
The h appiness and pleasures experienced by the denizens of heaven are immensely superior to the happiness found on earth. The chief of the administrative demigods, Indra, is the king of heaven. In lndraloka, the planet where Indra resides, there are Nandanakanana gardens where one can associate with angelic, beautiful women and enjoy a profuse supply of soma-rasa wine, a celestial beverage. There are magnificent palaces, huge gardens with aromatic flowers, beautiful landscapes, etc. There are gandharvas, celestial beings, who sing melodious music all the time. These are the pleasures in the paradise of lndraloka. As one goes further above, beyond lndraloka into the different celestial realms, the senses and their objects become more subtle and the quality of sense enjoyment becomes greatly refined. In contrast to those heavenly planets, the sense enjoyment on planet earth is insignificant and is experienced on an extremely gross level.
Another feature of the higher planets is the difference in time scale. Modern scientists also agree that the timing arrangement in other planets is different from that of earth. Six months on earth is equal to one day (twelve hours) on the heavenly planets. The duration of life there is ten thousand years by our calculation.
The heavenly planets are inhabited by demigods like Indra, Candra, Varuna, and Vayu. People residing there are mostly in the mode of goodness, not very much affected by the lower modes of passion and ignorance. They are all great devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, highly pious and strict dherents of Vedic religious principles.
Heavenly planets are not places where anyone can barge in freely, without restriction. Today's scientists are seen attempting to enter various planets of outer space, and they claim to have succeeded in putting man on moon. Although this is yet to be verified and the issue remains debatable, the Vedic scriptures reject such human attempts as simply childish . Just as there are restrictions on foreign nationalities to enter a particular country, so there are restrictions on people from other planets to enter heavens. To enter the heavenly planets, one must have accumulated immense pious credits by performing many virtuous acts on earth. Sacrifices such as asvamedha and jyotistoma are also recommended for one desiring to go to heaven. These sacrifices are described in great detail in the karmakanda a portion of the Vedas.
TEMPORARY AND MISERABLE NATURE OF HEAVENLY PLANES
It is interesting to note that, in spite of all the comforts and luxuries available on the higher planets, the Vedas do not encourage us to go there in fact, many times they discourage us. Heavenly planets, being a part of the material creation, are temporary by nature and will be annihilated after a certain period of time. Although this duration of time may appear infinitely great when compared to the time duration on earth, when compared to eternity, it is simply insignificant.
And the miseries of this planet earth birth, old age, disease and death exist even there. In the Bhagavad gita (8.16), Krsna says,
a-brahma-bhuvanal lokah punar avartino 'rjuna: "From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place." The Srimad Bhagavatam describes various incidents wherein the demigods are frequently attacked by powerful demons, and in the ensuing war manytimes the demigods lose the battle. As a result they lose their prestigious positions as controllers of the universe and are in constant anxiety. Srila Prabhupada compared this material world to a prison house. In a prison house there are different grades of cells for different criminals. Depending on the severity of the crime, the criminal is put into a certain cell most horrible cells for the severest crime committed. Similarly this universe acts like a prison house where the rebellious living entities are sent to reform themselves and rectify their mistakes. Depending on his past activities, he is put into a certain living condition where he enjoys or suffers the results of his acts. For extremely pious acts, he is sent to heaven where he enjoys godly delights. For sinful acts, he goes to hell and suffers there.
FORCED TO RETURN TO EARTH
The sad thing, however, is that even if someone becomes qualified to enter heaven , he will not be allowed to stay there permanently. Once his accumulated pious credits are exhausted, he is forced to return to earth and start ove r again. Lord Krsna explains this point in the Bhagavad gita (9.21):
te tam bhuktva svarga-lokam visalam
ksine punye martya-lokam visanti
evam trayi-dharmam anuprapanna
gatagatam kama-kama labhante
"When they have thus enjoyed vast heavenly sense pleasure and the results of their pious activities are exhausted, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus those who seek sense enjoyment by adhering to the principles of the three Vedas achieve only repeated birth and death."
THE SPIRITUAL WORLD
Krsna therefore encourages us to come to His own abode, the spiritual world, which is full of eternity, bliss and knowledge, as opposed to the temporary and miserable nature of tile material world. In Bhagavad gita (15.6), He gives us a glimpse of the nature of His abode so that we may feel attracted to go there:
na tad bhasayate suryo
na sasanko na pavakah
yad gatva na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama
"That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world." In the spiritual world, there are unlimited Vaikuntha planets, and all of them are selfluminous. So there is no need of sunshine, moonlight, fire or electricity. Here in the material world, we see how the all powerful time controls everything and gradually brings everything to an end. Such debilitating effect of time is not present in the spiritual world. In that atmosphere, the lower material modes of ignorance and passion are completely absent. Everyone is on the platform of suddha-sattva, pure goodness. The Supreme Lord is the chief leader there and all the inhabitants are simply assisting in His loving service. There is no competition for leadership, and the people are all followers of the Lord.
Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to Bhagavad gita (9.21): " .. .instead of being elevated to the spiritual world, from which there is no longer any possibility of coming down, one simply revolves in the cycle of birth and death on higher and lower planetary systems. One should better take to tile spiritual world to enjoy an eternal life full of bliss and knowledge and never return to this miserable material existence."
PURPOSE OF HUMAN LIFE
Human life, as opposed to animal life, is endowed with greater responsibility. Rather than focus our energy on how to obtain better facilities within the material world, we need to focus on how we can bring a permanent solution to the real problems of life, namely birth, old age, disease, and death. Otherwise we will simply keep going up and down the material world,as if situated on a Ferris wheel.
Tri-dasa-pur akasa-puspayate. Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati, a great devotee of Lord Caitanya , considers the heavenly planets and the position of the demigods as phantasmagoria something imaginary like flowers in the sky. A pure devotee is never allured by such heavenly opulences. Indeed, for a devotee engaged fully in the service of the Lord, external situations do not matter at all. As Lord Siva explains in the Srimad Bhagavatam (6.17.28),
"Devotees solely engaged in the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, never fear any condition of life. For them the heavenly planets, liberation and the hellish planets are all the same, for such devotees are in terested only in the service of the Lord."
In a situation of extreme comfort and luxury, as provided in the heavens, one can get carried away by various sensual pleasures and forget the Lord. Being conscious of this danger, a devotee focuses all his energy to achieve the eternal spiritual world. He does not want to be called a svargavasi a resident of heavens, when he passes away; but a Vaikunthavasi a resident of Goloka, the spiritual world.
Mukunda Mala Dasa has a degree in electronics and telecommunication and serves full time in ISKCON Mumbai. He is part of India BTG team and teaches Krsna consciousness to students.