“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
“It makes sense to me. The appeal is rational. You can understand why a person would be drawn in that direction. Particularly if they keep in mind the many trials and tribulations from the current experience. The stinging defeats, the heartbreaking losses, the chronic depression, the state of affairs of the world around them.
“I am speaking of wanting to go to heaven. Let that be my destination in the afterlife. I acknowledge imminent death. Even if it arrives one hundred years from today, that is like a split second when compared against the entire timeline of creation.
“Why would I want to suffer? If it is an either-or proposition, I certainly don’t want to be on the losing side. I would rather win, attaining the highest achievement. I would rather choose correctly and wisely. There are enough warning signs to give pause.
“To want heaven is natural, but what exactly does such a person want to do there? What do they expect upon reaching that destination? They claim that so and so died for their sins, and that the only route to heaven is through that person, submitting to the establishment that was originally created in their honor.
“Okay, if I were to agree with that assessment, what exactly will heavenly life be like? What constitutes the higher plane? How is it any different from the experience at present, where living beings come and go, with birth and death compared to waves pounding the seashore and then quickly retreating.
“Is there any information from Vedic literature? Are there further details on this heavenly experience? Is there only one place? Are only members of one religion privy to the location? Are they the only ones with the secret password to open the door?”
As there is a continuous existence at present, with periods of life broken down by time, which has divisions based on the rising and setting of the sun, so the existence in the future must continue in the same way.
न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्
नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतो ऽयं पुराणो
न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ‘yaṁ purāṇo
na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
If I am so desperate to reach heaven, I should know the nature of that realm. I should have an idea of what life will be like. As there is activity now, with beginning, middle and end, so the same sequence must continue in the afterlife.
Vedic literature provides the eye-opening detail about the material side to the heavenly realm. That is to say, svarga-loka is another planet. It is just like the earthly realm, except with subtle differences in terms of living.
Whereas today the extent to the duration of life may be one hundred years, in svarga-loka the average time of residence might be thousands of the same years. While there is limitation at the moment in terms of eating and satisfying desires, in the heavenly realm you might be able to see a desire materialize as soon as it comes to mind.
You can approach a tree and ask for something. These are desire-trees, so their gifts are as plentiful as the many leaves on the branches. There is the best beverage to consume, the finest food to eat, and the most beautiful bodies to inhabit for the travelling spirit soul.
There is still travel involved. Just as the individual soul changes its circumstances from the time of birth to the time of death, so the resident of the heavenly realm eventually has to leave. Usually, the departure corresponds to the amount of pious credits that led to the initial launch.
That is to say, if I am good in my earthly life, I get to stay in heaven. There is a certain amount of time based on the accumulation of pious credits. When that time runs out, I fall back down to earth, which is the place of birth and death.
Eternal living in the sense of a heavenly attainment relates to the concept of Vaikuntha. This is the spiritual world, and there is not a singular path. It is not that only members of a certain religious group are eligible. To claim such a restriction would be as silly as saying that only certain populations experience hunger, disease, elation, happiness, growth, and so forth.
The ascension to Vaikuntha is known as liberation. It is eternal living in the sense that there is no forced exit. There is a nature to the living. The individual soul offers service to the Supreme Lord in a continuous manner. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, gains and losses, but in a transcendental sense.
Time exists, but it lacks a debilitating influence. The entire basis for residence is desire. It is not simply enjoying for the self at the expense of others. It is not forgetting the interests of another, but rather always remembering the origin of everything and seeing to His pleasure first.
First to His pleasure seeing,
When liberation state freeing.
In the Vaikuntha realm to reach,
Based on desire of individual each.
Such that when wanting to stay,
Continuing in that way.
Glimpse of eternal life to gain,
Eligible all to attain.