“The modern scientists who are trying to travel in space are having difficulty going even to the nearest planet, the moon, to say nothing of the highest planets within the universe. There is no possibility that they can go beyond the material sky, enter the spiritual sky and see for themselves the spiritual planets, Vaikuntha. Therefore, the kingdom of God in the spiritual sky can be understood only through the authentic descriptions of the Vedas and Puranas.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.15.15 Purport)
From just limited association with an organized religion, one gets a basic familiarity with the concept of heaven. “You do good in this life in order to find a better lot in the next. If you are a good person, you are rewarded. If you are a bad person, you get punished.” At first glance, this concept is very easy to dismiss. For starters, no one is sure of the afterlife. Tomorrow is the after of today. We can try to predict what will happen tomorrow, but we are never entirely accurate. I can think about what I am going to eat tomorrow, which restaurant I will visit for lunch. But when tomorrow comes, something could change the plans. I might even change my mind, wanting to eat something else instead. If we can’t predict the next day, which occurs relatively soon, how can we know for sure what the afterlife is?
This uncertainty contributes strongly to the widespread disregard of religious doctrine. But this needn’t be the case, as the pursuit of a better future takes place always. Without really understanding God, man thinks he can find heaven using his own effort. Through difficult physical work, he seeks to travel to new territories, hoping that life will be better there than in the present land. And yet all the difficult work proves fruitless, for the same problems of birth, death, old age and disease are present. Work applied in genuine spiritual life yields a much better result, and the effort isn’t nearly as difficult. Travelling many thousands of miles isn’t required, just a shift in consciousness.
Consider man’s innate yearning to explore. In more recent times, this has taken him to outer space and to areas within it like the moon. Despite the acclaimed space travel, under a sober analysis one would have to face some serious questions. “So you’ve gone into outer space, but what have you gained? Did you prolong your life? Did you find a fountain of youth or something? Did you find a way to prevent death? Did you discover the cause to birth?”
The answer to all of these questions is ‘no.’ Man worked very, very hard to get into outer space, which is the heavenly realm to the godless. We know that it took a lot of work based on the amount of money that was spent. Even if the government funded the exploration, and one thinks that it didn’t cost them anything personally, those funds had to be raised from somewhere. Taxation is nothing but the lawful confiscation of the fruits of one’s labor. If you spend billions of dollars to create mechanisms to go into outer space, it means that people did the labor equivalent of those billions of dollars. They went to the office or place of business for many days and generated enough profit, all to be spent on a small number of expeditions.
Despite all the work that went into the travel, nothing tangible was learned about man and his purpose to life. From ancient Sanskrit texts like the Bhagavad-gita, we learn that man finds heavenly and hellish conditions all the time, without having to travel far. Indeed, because of duality what is hellish for one person may not be so for another. To me, having to watch daytime television is the greatest punishment. I can’t stand the talk shows that are nothing more than fluff, having no substance to them. To another person, the same television programming is enjoyable. These pleasant and miserable conditions appear and disappear at regular intervals, like the changing of seasons.
“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
So you can find heaven in a cave, in a bottle of whiskey, or in a space capsule that took millions of dollars to create. Wherever your heaven is, the experience is still temporary. This is also the case when reaching the heavenly realm described in scriptural texts. The religious tradition we inherit at the time of birth may not apprise us of this fact, but in accepting the more complete information that is Vedic literature, we learn that residence in any material realm is temporary. The enjoyment doesn’t last forever, and neither does the misery.
The eternal spiritual realm, the only true heaven, cannot be found through physical travel. It is not the distance that makes this realm difficult to reach. The sole requirement for entry is purity in consciousness. The desire of the individual indicates the level of purity. In the impure state, I think I can find heaven on my own, just by travelling somewhere. I think I can make up my own do’s and don’ts, a system of right and wrong, to find lasting happiness. I think I can ignore God, denounce Him, or usurp His authority. Instead of worshiping Him, I can get others to worship me.
In the pure consciousness, I want only to serve Him. I cannot conquer over the material nature. Those who follow the Vedic tradition but still don’t want to serve God inherently understand this limitation. Therefore they pray to Goddess Durga to make their stay in the difficult material land a little less miserable. Still, I can’t always get what I want. I am not God because if I was, I would never be frustrated in my desires.
In the pure consciousness, I always get what I want. This is because the only thing I want is to serve the Supreme Lord. He then takes the reins and creates the conditions that allow that service to not only take place, but flourish as well. He reveals His transcendental form to me so that I can contemplate upon His divine features without end. He suddenly transforms me from a stuttering fool to an eloquent poet who can put phrases and sentences together very nicely, all to describe His features and activities. He removes the obstacles from my path and brings people into my life who will strengthen my devotion. Most importantly, when the time is right He brings me back to His eternal home, where I get to serve Him without restriction. The entry fee is the right consciousness, and that can be found not through billions of dollars or a lifetime of difficult labor. It can be found right here, today, right now, through the pure chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Since of God you do not know,
Think by yourself to heaven can go.
Millions of dollars airplane to make,
Then long and difficult journey to take.
But what new knowledge have you found?
Is not destiny still to be dust in the ground?
From Vedas get knowledge of heaven real,
Reach it when pure love for God to feel.