What is heaven and hell?

The following is an excerpt of the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Radhikaji from her forthcoming book to be published in 2017. This article summarizes verses 20-34 from Chapter 9 of the Bhagavad Gita. 

Verses 20-22: Heaven and hell

There are three planes of existence: the celestial world, the human plane of existence and the netherworlds. Just as there are three states of consciousness, waking, dreaming and deep sleep, there are three worlds or planes of existence. The three states of consciousness are at the level of the microcosm, while the three planes of existence are at the level of the macrocosm.

When you are sleeping you experience pleasurable dreams or you experience nightmares. Imagine that you die, while you are dreaming. You would not be aware that you died. You died unconsciously and therefore just continue to dream, even thought you have no body any more. This is what happens to the jivatman, that separates from the body. This is a disembodied experience of the dream state. When the dreams or that state is pleasurable, then it is experienced as heaven or Paradise and when it is unpleasant, like nightmares, it is hell. Imagine the worse nightmares that you have had, surrounded by poisonous snakes, experiencing tortures, being utterly unwanted and lonely.  All the scriptures of the world from all the different traditions of the world, they describe heaven and hell similarly. If you are surrounded by gorgeous flowers, sparkling streams, beautiful people, lovely lights, it is heaven. These are your own samskaras that you experience, when you are disembodied. 

However, when your merit is exhausted, desire brings us back to the earthly plane and that cycle of birth, death and rebirth continues.

Verses 23-25: Result of Incorrect Worship

The Vedic scriptures appease the gods and ask for favors, but the yogic scriptures are uncompromising, since it is important to recognise that even the celestial beings are bound by the same laws of duality that you are bound by. The only one which is beyond this is the non-dual Universal Self. Those, who make offerings to deities do not recognise this and therefore they cannot attain liberation. They are doomed to suffering through birth, death and rebirth. If you settle for celestial planes of existence which are pleasurable, then you go to those planes until your samskaras pull you to come back to the earthly plane. 

If you watch a movie or television at night, just before you go to bed and you watch something very disturbing, for example you watch a movie about a serial murderer, what kind of dreams will you get?  It is likely that you will get some nightmares, you will be full of fear and have a poor sleep. If you surround yourself with unsavoury characters, strengthen your dark thoughts and live in a negative  atmosphere, then it is not going to be different when you die. Those are the samskaras you take with you when you die. These are the nether worlds. 

Heaven and hell sounds fatalistic to most people but from a yogic perspective, what you are going to experience is very much in your own hands. You create your own heaven or your own hell. You are the architect of your own destiny. This is not a fatalistic outlook that encourages escapism. Your destiny is in your own hands and you can change it now. Those who want to be liberated focus on going beyond the dualities by purifying their minds and establishing themselves in Pure Consciousness.  

The mystery of heaven, hell and the human plane of consciousness has been revealed in these verses. Perhaps you do not believe in heaven and hell. You do not have to. Depending on your personality, you have already made your life into heaven or hell. You are completely unaware of your dreams. You get up in the morning and you say you had no dreams, but your partner tells you, that you were screaming, tossing and turning in your sleep, because you were experiencing some terrible dreams. You do not remember it the next morning. This is exactly what happens when you are reborn, you do not remember what happened in that state between death and birth. This is why sleep is called the little sister or sahodara of death.

Verses 26-28: Intensity of Devotion

Neither do you have to do long, complicated practices nor do you need lots of lots of time. What matters is the Bhava, the intensity of desire. 

Sage Narada thought he was the greatest devotee of Sri Krishna, because he was continuously chanting the Lord's name. He got puffed up with pride. He went to Sri Krishna and arrogantly claimed that he was Sri Krishna’s greatest devotee, that there is no other greater than him. Sri Krishna looked doubtful much to Sage Narada’s surprise. Sri Krishna offered to take Narada Muni to his greatest devotee. Narada Muni was eager to meet the devotee that Sri Krishna thought was the greatest. Sri Krishna took Narada Muni to a humble farmer, who was very busy the whole day toiling in the field and the rest of the time taking care of his family. The farmer had no time at all for sadhana and in the entire day he said the Lord's name only twice. Narada Muni was shocked, “How can you consider this householder to be your greatest devotee? He said your name only twice, while I am repeating your name all the time.” Sri Krishna replied, “True, but whenever he has a free moment he thinks of Me and nothing else.” 

Whatever you offer, however little, it is accepted if offered with devotion.

Verses 29-33: Universal teachings

However bad your conduct may have been, it is still not too late to start on the path of dharma or righteousness. Even if you have been a dishonest and manipulative person, a liar, thief or murderer, you can return to the path of dharma. If you are devoted and one pointed then you will progress very quickly. The devotion is not to be understood in the sense of superficial worship; this is about deep devotion or bhava. It is the intensity of the bhava that is important.

Vedic knowledge was, and to an extent, still a privilege of the male members of the higher castes. Atma jnana, knowledge of the eternal Self is not restricted to anybody. This wisdom is for all who long for it, irrespective of birth, gender, social status. This verse makes the Bhagavad-Gita a tantric text. 

Verse 34: Systematic meditation, the short cut

Constant remembrance is also known as ajapajapa. This means doing japa without doing japa; this is being conscious all the time and witnessing everything. 

Constant awareness does not come instantly. It is a long process of systematic meditation, that may take years of practice, purification of the mind to attain eternal wisdom. There are no shortcuts. In fact, systematic meditation is the shortcut. You need to go through certain processes in ourselves and integrate these energies before you attain. For all those who have been doing their practice but are impatient, you need to understand that when the fruit is ripe it will fall. It takes nine months for a baby to develop, you cannot speed up the development. It takes a certain amount of time for the food to cook. Turning on the heat in the effort to cook it faster, results in burnt food. 

Daily practice and a systematic method can speed up the process, but there are certain constraints and you have to live with those constraints. You have come in the world with a certain baggage of samskaras and you have to deal with these. Keep your mind fixed and focused  and meditation will bear fruit, this too is the law of karma. In this case the law of karma works in your favor.

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