“O Partha, happy are the kshatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.32)
Friend1: I was listening to the radio the other day.
Friend1: It’s a pretty decent show in that the host gets you thinking about things. I like that radio appeals to the intellect, versus images and how they appeal to emotion.
Friend2: That is so true. It explains why a certain kind of talk radio never succeeds. You can easily spread hate and misinformation through images, but if you have to substantiate such positions through spoken word, where people can only hear, then it is more difficult.
Friend1: You might be correct about that.
Friend2: This is why the Vedas are known as the shrutis. The highest wisdom is passed down in an aural tradition at first. Don’t even get to the written word, which is basically the same thing. Hear from an authority figure, remember, and then pass on to others.
Friend1: I’ve heard it said that people used to remember better back in the day.
Friend2: You mean the capacity for memorization was enhanced in ancient times, when man was supposedly a Neanderthal, who didn’t know anything except grunting?
Friend1: Haha, yes.
Friend2: Well, you’ve heard the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”?
Friend2: If there is no written word, think of how valuable memory becomes. People could memorize precisely because they had to. You don’t have to trust just the Vedas and people like Vyasadeva. It is said that Homer, the Greek poet, used to recite his lengthy works from memory.
Friend1: I remember learning that.
Friend2: So it’s the same concept. If you have a smartphone with you wherever you go, when will you get the chance to practice using your memory?
Friend2: Anyway, what did you hear on this radio program?
Friend1: Oh, okay. I thought this was interesting. Somehow the host got into the subject of religion. Well, not religion so much but more like the meaning of life. It was an interesting discussion, as the host revealed that he certainly believes in God, especially because of the amazing complexity found in this world.
Friend2: Any sane person would admit that. The “I don’t believe in imaginary people” argument is a silly excuse to avoid the awesome responsibility of being able to shape your afterlife.
Friend1: At the end of the segment the host said something about achieving heaven. When he gets back from commercial break, he immediately corrects himself. You can tell that people started hounding him. He said something like, “Of course I know that you can’t achieve heaven. Only faith gets you there. Good works will not do it.”
Friend2: Ah, so he got pressured by followers of a particular religion?
Friend1: I definitely want your take on this.
Friend2: On what?
Friend1: About achieving heaven versus getting there through faith.
Friend2: Come on. This is an easy one. You really have to ask me?
Friend1: Because it will provide a good knowledgebase to consult if ever this argument should arise in the future.
Friend2: First of all, this has nothing to do with me. The knowledgebase is the Bhagavad-gita. You can argue that I have my book and you have yours, but no other book in the world gives information like mine.
Friend1: The true identity of the individual, the travels of the soul, the inferior nature of matter, reincarnation, past and future lives, the different kinds of worlds, consciousness, the dangers of succumbing to lust.
Friend2: And so on and so on. This isn’t even my book. Bhagavad-gita is for everyone. Anyway, so you get information about heaven and hell from Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He says that every planet from Brahma’s on down is part of the material world. That is to say they could all be called martya-loka.
Friend1: The planet of death.
Friend2: Paired with death is birth. Birth and death mean rebirth. Rebirth only happens in the material world. Whether death occurs after a day or billions of years makes no difference; the nature is the same. Heaven is thus simply a place where death occurs after a longer period of time.
Friend1: With enhanced material enjoyment.
Friend2: And hell is the opposite. More suffering. You already get experiences of both while living on earth.
Friend1: Okay but what about achieving the two places?
Friend2: Are you kidding me? Will faith get you to Chicago? If I have strong faith that I want to change my location from Los Angeles to Chicago, will I automatically reach my destination?
Friend1: Of course not.
Friend2: Action is required. You have to move. These are works. It is absurd to say that you can’t achieve Chicago.
Friend1: Right, but how do I guarantee achieving heaven? Isn’t there an element of faith involved?
Friend2: How do you know that the train will go to where it says it will? How do you know that the plane will land in Chicago? There has to be faith. When you get to the desired destination, you rely on faith to validate the location.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: Just because the city signs say Chicago doesn’t mean that you are in the right place. There is some faith there, as well.
Friend1: It’s work only, then? That is how you get to heaven?
Friend2: It’s the reward for pious deeds. In one sense you don’t even have to believe in God. Just do the right things and the destination is automatically achieved. Krishna implies this when discussing fighting in a war. He reminds Arjuna that by fighting valiantly, the doors to heaven will be opened. Even if there is a loss, by fighting under the principles of dharma a person achieves heaven.
Friend1: What about faith, then? Is religion a waste of time if you can just do good works to get to heaven?
Friend2: Spiritual heaven is different. The only way to get there is consciousness. Actually, the other destinations are through consciousness, also, but that is influenced by work. Whatever state of being one has at the time of death, that state they achieve in the next life [Bg 8.6].
Friend1: Religion is for changing consciousness, then?
Friend2: For loving God. That’s it. Nothing else. The rules, regulations, attire, books read, words spoken – everything is for changing consciousness from material to spiritual. It may take a while for the change to manifest, but the goal is unchanged. You can certainly achieve the spiritual land of Vaikuntha, where reincarnation stops, through changing consciousness. If you want to give credit to faith, then have it for the spiritual teacher and the person they represent. Faith actually means something. It’s not just certification from an established institution. It is not just showing up at a specific place on a regular basis. Genuine faith is part of consciousness, which influences every aspect of life.
Heaven through works to achieve,
Or simply from faith to believe?
When boarding the plane,
Reaching destinations the same?
Some work required,
Not only belief inspired.
Better for spiritual heaven to claim,
From consciousness through holy name.