“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
1. You die and go to heaven
“That is the gist of it. You have to be a believer, though. Don’t ask me the specifics on what makes the qualification. I think you have to profess your faith in front of others. You have to admit that there is no other savior, that there is no other valid religion. Show up to church. Be a good person. That sort of thing.
“Yes, I know that the same individual might have been addicted to drugs and alcohol within the same lifetime. But they turned things around, you see. They did so in time. As a result, they go to heaven. That is just the way it is.
“What is heaven like? It is heavenly. What else can I say? All of your troubles are gone. You are always happy. At least that is what I have heard. I am not necessarily sure what you do there, but why does that matter? You are in heaven. Stop being so skeptical. The process is simple. Sign the sacred pact.”
2. You change your consciousness
“There is a corresponding travel, for sure. There is the promise of a better future. You move to a place that is free of anxieties. It is called Vaikuntha. You live a life of liberation, which is not necessarily identical for every person. It is based on personal desire, i.e. the kind of liberation that you want.
“The thing is, you can be liberated even prior to quitting the body. Everything rests on consciousness. That determines whether you are in the transcendental state or not. You already find heaven and hell within this world. We all have experience with both extremes.
“The Vaikuntha consciousness is something different. It has accompanying activity that is so full of bliss and taste that there is never any exhaustion. You never want to retire from it.”
The story is common to successful performers from a previous generation. In their time, there was no such thing as the internet. There was television, but that was reserved mostly to the local areas. There were something like regional territories, with their own promoters, their own venues, and their own schedules.
In order to rise to the top and stay there, in order to wield the widest influence possible, the performers had to do what they did best: perform. That meant constant travel. As soon as one performance ended, it was time to hop on a plane and go to another city.
Sometimes there would be multiple performances in the same day. Tallying up at year-end, the total would sometimes eclipse the number of days in the year. With so much going on, where was the time to check in with home?
The wife. The children. The house. Family vacations. The first day of school. Graduation. Tournaments for youth sports. The practices. The visits to the doctor. The parent-teacher conferences.
When looking back on that time, the children of these performers wish that things were different. Their father sent them many gifts. There were sufficient resources for living. The home was large enough to be considered a mansion. A good neighborhood. Safety and security.
But the children would have traded all of that for more time spent with their father. While the audiences benefitted from the constant cycle of performing, the family suffered. No amount of financial incentive could compare to the direct association.
We can think of bhakti-yoga in the same light. It is changing consciousness. It is rewarding the individual through controlling the mind. Instead of travelling in the wrong direction, through a constant replay of negative events, personal offenses, and opportunities missed, the mind turns into the best friend.
बन्धुरात्मात्मनस्तस्य येनात्मैवात्मना जित: ।
अनात्मनस्तु शत्रुत्वे वर्तेतात्मैव शत्रुवत् ॥
bandhur ātmātmanas tasya
anātmanas tu śatrutve
“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.6)
The mind is friendly because it associates with transcendence. As the Supreme is all-pervading, there is not a space in the universe which lacks His presence. Everywhere are His eyes. He sees everything. He hears every plea, whether made in desperation, kindness, or firm resolve.
As explained in Bhagavad-gita, in the case of dying and going to heaven there is no permanent stay. The length of time corresponds with the accumulation of pious credits. Like filling a bank account with good deeds, to be withdrawn at a later date, eventually there is a return to the land of birth and death.
अनन्याश् चिन्तयन्तो मां
ये जनाः पर्युपासते
योग-क्षेमं वहाम्य् अहम्
ananyāś cintayanto māṁ
ye janāḥ paryupāsate
yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham
“But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form – to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.22)
Whereas the devotees of Shri Krishna can always stay in Vaikuntha, either through physical travel or in consciousness. There is nothing lacking precisely because Krishna fills in the gaps. There is no need for concern of missing out, because if we have Krishna as the best friend in constant association, there is nothing else we need.
If to heaven sent,
How the time spent?
If from Supreme apart,
Then again to depart?
Whereas in bhakti’s way,
With Shri Krishna to stay.
Like everywhere a Vaikuntha face,
Whether here or another place.
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