“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)
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
Friend1: I follow religion because I want to go to heaven.
Friend1: When do I follow religion? Always. When do I want to go to heaven? After I die.
Friend1: Because I don’t want to go to hell.
Friend2: What is wrong with hell?
Friend1: Eternal damnation. Punishment for sins. Sort of like being sentenced to prison. No one wants to go there.
Friend2: What about heaven?
Friend1: It’s an either/or proposition. As I don’t want to go to hell, the only other choice is heaven.
Friend2: You can’t stay here?
Friend1: How? That is death. You can’t live forever.
Friend2: After death, you go to either heaven or hell?
Friend1: That is my understanding.
Friend2: Are you sure you can’t stay here?
Friend1: There is no staying. Get it through your head. The foolish atheist thinks they will live forever, despite witnessing death for so many others, including within their own family.
Friend2: Where were you prior to birth?
Friend1: I have no idea.
Friend2: Why not?
Friend1: I have no recollection beyond this lifetime.
Friend2: When did that recollection begin?
Friend1: Sometime during childhood.
Friend2: Did you exist prior to that?
Friend1: Prior to when?
Friend2: When the recollection started.
Friend1: Obviously. I was within the womb. There was the birth process.
Friend2: But you don’t remember those occurring?
Friend1: No one does. You take it on higher authority, from people who witnessed. You also use logical deduction, based on the same occurring elsewhere. Basically, birth is the only mechanism of entry into this world.
Friend2: Again, entry implies travel. From where did the person come?
Friend1: I have no idea.
Friend2: Because you can’t remember.
Friend2: But you can’t remember birth, either.
Friend2: But birth took place.
Friend1: Of course.
Friend2: Then why couldn’t you have had a previous birth?
Friend1: It is always possible.
Friend2: And if that birth were in the same place, it means that the previous death was not limited to only two options, heaven and hell.
Friend1: Okay, I see what you are saying.
Friend2: If heaven were the only other option, instead of hell, what would you do there?
Friend1: Be happy?
Friend1: I have no idea.
Friend2: Anything in particular you would want?
Friend1: Eternal life.
Friend2: But what kind of life?
Friend1: I don’t know.
Friend2: The Vedas provide additional details. Heaven is another aspect of a material existence. It features the same defects relating to time.
Friend1: In what respect?
Friend2: A beginning and an end. That with which we already have experience, how there is excitement and enthusiasm at the beginning, and after experiencing the enjoyment there is sadness and despair.
ये हि संस्पर्श-जा भोगा
दुःख-योनय एव ते
न तेषु रमते बुधः
ye hi saṁsparśa-jā bhogā
duḥkha-yonaya eva te
na teṣu ramate budhaḥ
“An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kunti, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.22)
Friend1: What is the evidence? Some will say that heaven is eternal life.
Friend2: We have to accept the information on authority. At least in the beginning. We experience heaven and hell already, and the planetary systems designated as such are merely larger environments of the same.
Friend1: Is there the option to stay here?
Friend2: Rebirth. If you go up, you must come down. If you go down, you can rise to the top again. You can also stay in the same place, which is direct rebirth.
Friend1: There is no eternal life in heaven, then? At least according to the Vedic understanding.
Friend2: The eternal life is liberation. It is no more rebirth, in any of the three worlds. But you must know that there is a certain kind of living. The description is not vague. There is not a lack of details on the experience.
Friend1: What is it, then? What is eternal life?
Friend2: The life in liberation is devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, effected through surrender. True liberation is always remaining close by, serving in some capacity.
Friend1: Is there not a beginning and an end to such an experience? Will not that feature the same ups and downs of excitement and despair?
Friend2: The experience is transcendental because of the nature of the interaction. There is still living, as we know it, but with a different effect. Because of this subtle change, it is entirely possible to be liberated even prior to death.
Friend1: You mean we don’t necessarily have to die to go to heaven?
Friend2: Kill off the material consciousness. Destroy the spell of illusion hovering around. Make a change in consciousness and experience liberation right now, today. Then remain in that path and be steady in the liberated state, which will be protected from the effects of time.
Protected by effects of time,
That liberated life of mine.
By Shri Krishna created,
Into dharma reinstated.
Such that for heaven not to care,
Of temporary nature aware.
Rather wherever to stay,
Continuing in Divine way.