“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
“Does not the threat of eternal damnation concern you in the slightest? No one can validate with visual evidence; I will concede that. We do not have video confirmation of the suffering in the hellish region for ignoring the call to accept a certain savior. We won’t even cover the people who never get the chance to make that choice, where life gets in the way and they don’t live long enough to even contemplate the opportunities available to them.
“Yet I can certainly understand why people might capitulate. What do they have to lose, is the thinking. Sit in a specific house of worship for a few hours, on one day in the week. The ceremonies usually take place before any other engagements would interfere. In other words, you can still watch the big game on television. Religion is not completely ruining your life.
“What is the corresponding teaching to the people who have given in? The ones that are following out of fear, who have a healthy respect for the man upstairs. They can’t describe what He looks like, but they would rather not risk a meeting with Him in this lifetime; lest there be locusts, floods and famine.”
From the point of view of shastra, the simplest refutation is to consider the horrors we already experience. There are four miseries, in particular, and one would be surprised to learn that the first is birth.
For the people already in this world, it appears to be a joyous occasion. A brand new person, extending the family. A repository for love and affection. A way to meaningfully pass the time. Repaying the debt owed to the people who came before us, the ancestors.
The truth is that birth is miserable. The experience is so dangerous that sometimes the mother does not survive. Science and medicine take every precaution necessary, but the reality is that pregnancy always carries a threat to the life of the mother.
Shastra explains that the person taking birth suffers inside of the womb. It is not a natural state to be forced to curl up into a ball. This is worse than incarceration, as there is barely room for movement. The soul inside promises to remember devotional service, but the birth process is so traumatic that they forget the entire experience that preceded their arrival into the world.
2. Old age
One day a person is doing just fine. They play sports. They drive a car. They speak on the telephone with friends. They cook dinner. They read books.
Over the course of time, their abilities diminish. They can do less and less. Pretty soon, they can barely make it up and down the stairs in the home. They require constant supervision. This change is neither expected nor welcome, but it is a harsh reality of life.
Accompanying old age is the increased vulnerability to disease. There could be such a strong attack within the body that a person no longer remembers who they are, what they are doing in this world, and who the people around them are.
In many cases, it is more difficult to take care of an afflicted adult than a small child. The adult may wander here and there in the house, touching electrical outlets, walking in the middle of the road, using scissors in places that aren’t necessary.
This is one of the horrors of disease, which every person is vulnerable to. Contagious respiratory illnesses with the potential for lethal damage didn’t magically appear within the last year. They have been around since the beginning of time.
Those people locking themselves in the home for months on end to avoid a virus should know that there is always some kind of disease lurking. If every person were tested for every virus in the asymptomatic state, the number of reported “cases” would be breathtaking.
After having gone through one misery after another, there is the final blow. This awaits every person. No one can avoid it. The only way of prevention moving forward is to stop birth altogether. Death is harsh and cruel and it plays no favorites. It does not care what work needs to be completed or how much longer a person wants to remain in this world.
In the face of these four miseries, what can a threat of eternal damnation really do? We face the horrors right now, today. If a certain kind of religious system wants to appeal to me, it should bring a change in consciousness. That is to say, I shouldn’t have to wait on a future promise, where I can’t validate until after death.
Shrimad Bhagavatam explains that a person who has found genuine religion no longer cares about a future destination. They are fine living in heaven or hell. If they gain liberation from the cycle of birth and death, which is a reward superior to even finding the heavenly region of the material world, they are not overly concerned.
This is because they always see the smiling face of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They are always ready to serve Him, to continue in devotion. They follow dharma to satisfy His desires; not to avoid punishment. This superior state of living is available to every person, and it meets every inquiry or doubt a person may have.
With inherited faith obeyed,
Since by threat made afraid.
Of eternal damnation finding,
Daily this potential reminding.
But the wise seeing already,
Suffering’s presence steady.
Better an alternative how,
Spiritual bliss giving now.