“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 interested only in the service of the Lord.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.17.28)
न कुतश्चन बिभ्यति
na kutaścana bibhyati
1. Heavenly planets
Known as svarga-loka in Sanskrit, this collection of planets within a specific region is the slated destination for the pious. A reward of sorts, the final stop after the travel from this life to the next. The individual does not cease to exist after death. They simply move on to another place, in the same way that they arrived here from somewhere else.
The distinction with svarga-loka is the living experience. Compare to an arcade or amusement park for children. It is the opposite of school. No one forcing you to stay and learn. Fun, only. Just like those places for children, there is an allotted time of enjoyment. Often there is a way to measure.
However many points you purchase on the card determines how long you can keep playing. With svarga-loka, the equivalent is the accumulated pious credits from the previous lifetime on earth. This explains the many yajnas performed within Vedic culture. Follow this ritual on that day, instituting this restriction, with that intention in mind.
Each observance has associated punya, or pious credits. As Shri Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita, while the enjoyment is enhanced, with the desire trees, desire cows, and the intoxicating beverage known as soma-rasa, eventually a person has to leave.
ते तं भुक्त्वा स्वर्ग-लोकं विशालं
क्षीणे पुण्ये मर्त्य-लोकं विशन्ति
एवं त्रयी-धर्मम् अनुप्रपन्ना
गतागतं काम-कामा लभन्ते
te taṁ bhuktvā svarga-lokaṁ viśālaṁ
kṣīṇe puṇye martya-lokaṁ viśanti
evaṁ trayī-dharmam anuprapannā
gatāgataṁ kāma-kāmā labhante
“When they have thus enjoyed heavenly sense pleasure, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus, through the Vedic principles, they achieve only flickering happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.21)
2. Hellish planets
Follow pious behavior and reach svarga-loka. Dying and going to heaven. There is an equivalent on the reverse side. Insist on impious behavior and be condemned to naraka. The large accumulation of papa, demerits, guarantees such a fate.
Shrimad Bhagavatam goes into vivid detail about the variety of suffering enforced within the hellish planets. Each corresponds to the particular sinful activity indulged in while on earth. While the punishment seems harsh, each one fits the crime. Karma is entirely fair.
Like svarga-loka, a person does not stay in the hellish region forever. There is no such thing as eternal condemnation. It may seem that way to the person undergoing the stress, but since these planetary systems are part of the material world, they are themselves destined for destruction at a future date in time.
Known as mukti in Sanskrit, this is the enjoyment of release from the cycle of birth and death. We also find variety corresponding to this achievement. That is to say there isn’t only one type of mukti. You can be free of reincarnation and live in a truly spiritual way, with a spiritual body instead. Liberation is preferred to heaven, hell, or earth.
Yet pure devotional service, bhakti-yoga, is so wonderful that the person immersed in it loses interest with specific destinations. They could live in hell, even, as long as they get to continue to chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Shrimad Bhagavatam explains this in terms of devotion to Narayana, which is a name for the personal God. Maharishi Valmiki confirms in the Ramacharitamanasa, in a direct conversation with God, in His personal form of Shri Rama.
Assessing the different options, the wise person chooses the path where they no longer have to keep an eye on the hourglass of time, where they don’t have to be in a fool’s paradise or seek temporary enjoyment. Better to stay with the one who has limitless glories and who shares His transcendental greatness in a way that we will never run out of justification for being devoted.
Heavenly planets to find,
From yajna credits in kind.
Or to hellish region to fall,
Where pain and suffering tall.
Liberation possible to see,
But devotee content to be.
Since Bhagavan always standing,
Protector no matter where landing.
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