“The preliminary instruction in the Bhagavad-gita is that one should know that the identity of the individual living entity is not lost even after the end of this present body, which is nothing but an outward dress only. As one changes an old garment, so the individual living being also changes his body, and this change of body is called death. Death is therefore a process of changing the body at the end of the duration of the present life. An intelligent person must be prepared for this and must try to have the best type of body in the next life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.1.15)Download this episode (right click and save)
After I pass on, where will I go? Is this life the only one we get? If so, what is the meaning? If everything ends at death, what is the difference between a person who works hard and a person who doesn’t? Why bother putting in the effort? Will there be a board to judge my actions? Will they determine whether I am going to heaven or hell?
There is speculation on all sides of the issue. One viewpoint is that you must worship so and so or suffer eternal damnation. You will go to hell and stay there forever. This human life, with the circumstances chosen at random, is your one chance to get it right. If you screw up you are out of luck. If some accident, something out of your control, prevents you from making the rational decision in adulthood, then we’re not sure what happens to you.
Another viewpoint says that heaven is just a fairytale. The concept is a coping mechanism, for explaining that which cannot be explained. Better to make advancements in science, as thus far science has debunked so many myths forwarded by established religions. Better to prolong life as much as possible, as the end is just that, the finishing point.
The spiritual science that is the Vedas provides clarity on the issue. The teachings descend from authority; they are not simply devised in the mind. There is enough nuance and detail to challenge the thinking capacity of the amazing human brain. There is some faith extended as well, but that is the case when accepting any important information.
1. The present is not fake
You are living right now. So am I. Both of us are real. We know this based on sense perception. Sight is not everything, either. A blind person knows they are alive just as much as someone with functioning eyes. We may not remember things from the past, but the lack of memory isn’t sufficient grounds for disqualifying the past existence altogether. Just as we are living now, we will continue to live in the future.
2. Today is the future to some point in the past
We’ve established that the present is not fake. The Mayavadi philosopher’s arguing otherwise is a separate issue, touching on illusion and the reality of the spirit soul, who is Brahman. The present is actually the afterlife to some point in the past.
Let’s pretend today is a Saturday. Someone tells me that they’re going to have to go back to work on Monday. I challenge them that Monday is a fairytale, some dream of an afterlife. They think that I am crazy. Monday has not come yet, but it is the future nonetheless. Saturday was the afterlife a few days ago. It arrived. This means that the future is not a fairytale. The afterlife is simply a point in time in the future.
3. The soul lives on through different changes
This is the fundamental truth of the science of self-realization. The living being is spirit and not their body. The body changes, but the spirit does not. This truth is told by Shri Krishna using the comparison of the different stages of life for the human being.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
The conclusion is that the soul passes on into another body at death. That is the issue disputed by the less intelligent. They consider the final passing to be a fairytale. But we know that the first part is not. The soul has already continually passed within this lifetime. I have a completely different body today compared to when I first emerged from the womb. Yet my identity has not changed. Indeed, the identity never changes, despite what happens to the body. The reason is the constant factor that is the soul. The sober person, dhira, is not bewildered by such a change, which continues at the time of death.
4. We already have experience with variations of heaven and hell
The fairytale claim takes particular aim at the concept of heaven, which is supposed to be a place superior to earth. Heaven is eternal bliss, though there aren’t many details provided. The picture is cloudy, so to speak. Hell is supposed to be the opposite; no fun at all.
The Vedas provide the complete picture. Heaven and hell are realms, just like the earth. The difference is in experience pertaining to material life. Heaven is full of delights, while hell is full of suffering. Residence in either place is not permanent. Pious activities buy you time in heaven, and sin earns you a term of punishment in hell.
Yet there are tastes of heaven and hell already available on earth. It is heavenly to drink a cold glass of water when thirsty on a hot summer day. It is hellish to suffer the bitter cold of winter. Association of close friends and family is heavenly, while losing them forever is pain and torture. The afterlife, which is nothing more than the soul moving to a different body and a different location, is a continuation of the life in duality. The good life is heaven and the bad hell, but either way the soul must again change bodies. It may end up in the earthly realm again.
5. Krishna says so, and He has been right about so many other things
Shri Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead; God in the flesh. His word on all matters is sufficient, including in establishing authority. Krishna is purna, or complete, which means that His teachings go beyond anything else that is taught. His direct teachings are found in the Bhagavad-gita, which reads like a transcript of a conversation. Krishna and Arjuna are the participants.
Krishna explains the afterlife, but also much more. We don’t know the future, so we can’t be certain about it. We know that Krishna is correct about the changing of bodies. We have personal experience to use as proof. We know that He is right about lust leading to anger and loss of intelligence; that explains why people do stupid things. We know that He is right about the benefits of working with detachment, for we know that attachment leads to misery even when there is success.
There has to be some faith extended; otherwise no one would live. We trust the news reports. We trust the testimony of others contained in books. There is always a risk in extending faith, so the safest path is to put faith in people who have been right, i.e. authority figures. Shri Krishna is the supreme authority figure, and He says that the afterlife is real. He provides details about it. He also says that bhakti-yoga, devotional service, which brings among other things full knowledge of Himself, stops rebirth. The afterlife for the yogi in devotion is the association of Shri Krishna. Just as the living entities are eternal, so is Krishna, which means that the liberation involving His association lasts forever. It is the final afterlife.
Afterlife just another fairytale we’re told,
No proof, no way to witness it unfold.
Better on advancements of science to rely,
Than on reaching heaven to try.
Truth of the matter from Vedas getting,
That changing body, at time of death resetting.
Future just another point in time,
Today soon the past, identity same to find.