“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)Download this episode (right click and save)
Seven up and seven down. The people studying are in the middle. Fourteen planetary systems in total, consisting of conditions in duality when taking up residence. The living entity is known as sarva-ga, which means it can live anywhere.
“There are an infinite number of living beings, both moving and nonmoving, who have many different abodes, with some residing in the earth, some in the sky, and some in the water. But O helpless Tulsi, for you Shri Rama’s holy name is your only home.” (Dohavali, 37)
The spirit soul is distinct from the body. The same fragment of spirit can reside in the body of an elephant or in a snake. It can live on earth, in the air, or in water. The sky is the limit, as they say. Actually, the limit is the material elements.
Within those planetary systems are three basic regions. Though they have different characteristics, one quality is shared. There is also another region, which is above everything else.
In Vedic literature many times references are made to the three worlds. Such and such king is so powerful that he is feared throughout the three worlds. When Shri Rama, an incarnation of God, lifted the bow of Shiva and broke it to win the hand of Sita Devi in marriage, the praises were sung throughout the three worlds.
“’Today Rama will definitely lift the bow, and the three worlds will sing of the supreme auspiciousness of the marriage with excitement.’” (Janaki Mangala, 71)
One of those worlds is the hellish region. Most people are familiar with the concept of hell. It’s where you go for punishment in the afterlife. Be a good person, or else. Believe in such and such and you’ll be spared eternal damnation.
There is speculation here and there, but the Vedas provide the most clarity on the issue. Hell is a region consisting of planets. There is punishment, for sure, commensurate with the overall nature of the impious deeds. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, the ripened fruit of Vedic literature, gives details on the different kinds of punishment offered on the different planets in the hellish region.
Since the soul is eternal in its existence, any sort of material condition cannot remain forever. Time is always operating, after all. It is the great destroyer, of both good and bad. This means that even the worst offender, after many years in the hellish region, gets a chance to move back up.
This is the opposite of hell. It’s the reward for pious behavior. Pious in this regard translates to activities in the mode of goodness. The mode of ignorance leads to regression, i.e. going backwards. Every person tries to behave in a certain way, after all, to meet some sort of objective. The mode of ignorance is where no tangible objective is met.
If you are good, you go to heaven. The Vedas say that heavenly life involves enhanced comforts and enjoyments. You get to live for a long time. You get the body of a deva, or god, which is special. You are able to do amazing things. The trees fulfill any desire immediately; hence they are known as desire trees.
Just like with punishment in hell, the enjoyment of heaven doesn’t last forever. It’s like accumulating points on a rewards card. Once you use up the points the balance goes back to zero. In a similar manner, the meritorious credits diminish as more time is spent in heaven. Then there is a fall.
The descent is towards the earthly region. We are familiar with this area because it is where we reside at present. This is actually not that different from heaven or hell, since there are good and bad conditions encountered on a daily basis. The earthly region is known as Martyaloka, since it is the land where death is guaranteed.
“As far as we, the followers of Vedic civilization, are concerned, we accept the Vedic history of the whole universe, which consists of different planetary systems, called Svargaloka, or the higher planetary system, Martyaloka, or the intermediary planetary system, and Patalaloka, or the lower planetary system.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality Of Godhead, Preface)
In the mode of passion a person remains where they are. We can think of it like playing sports. If you win the championship, the next season everything starts over. Pretty soon your victory is a distant memory. The same goes for a traumatic failure. This sort of life is also referred to as chewing the chewed; the same experience, repeating, with diminishing enjoyment.
As Shri Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, from the highest planet to the lowest there is repeated birth and death. That is how the transfer in residence takes place. At the time of death the pious person goes to the heavenly region, the sinner to the hellish planets, and those in between take birth again on earth.
The spiritual abode is the only place where birth and death stop; no more travel. It is not material; hence no more distinction between spirit and body. The features on the individual are spiritual in nature. Since the region is free of anxieties, it is known as Vaikuntha.
In the Vaikuntha region the Supreme Lord resides in different personal manifestations. There are different moods of interaction on the different planets, with Krishnaloka being unique. This is where Shri Krishna, the all-attractive one, resides. The experience is so blissful that no one wants to leave. Time still exists, but it lacks a negative influence.
It is due to the personal association of God that rebirth stops in Vaikuntha. The wise thus make it their goal to reach that place right now, even before death arrives. The Divine incarnates through something as basic as sound, which immediately acts to relieve the burdens of material existence and clear the consciousness for the higher, more blissful spiritual life: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Vedas referring to worlds numbering three,
Like in heavenly region enjoyment to see.
In hell deserved punishment getting.
Land of death in earthly place setting.
But only in Vaikuntha with anxieties free,
No more spinning in reincarnation to be.
Can get a taste right now, even death before,
Comes quickly when chanting more and more.