A friend asked a very relevant question through a personal message. He asked: “Hi, what is true- The theory of rebirth sanctioned in Vedas & Geeta, or the Eternal Life after death in paradise/ hell is true?”
A similar question was asked more than a year back. The question asked was: “Dear Mr. Alvi, I have a question from you. Muslims have a concept of heaven where there are houris (female attendants), alcohol, milk and all luxuries. At the same time, they talk of a hell where there is fire and punishment. This concept is altogether different from the concept of Hindus who believe in Moksha and a final re-union of Aatma with Paramatma. Aren't the Muslims trying to get all that they didn't get in this life, in heaven?”
The answer that Mohammad Alvi had given is as follows:
This is a good question! I have heard several people speak like this. Sometime back, I heard a speaker on a religious channel saying similar things. He said Hindu religion is far better as it talks of a union with the Manifest Self (Paramatma) while Muslims will be indulging in all those activities which were forbidden to them on earth. He even went on to say that while Muslims have a concept of heaven and hell, Hindus have a far loftier concept of moksha (i.e. union with the Ultimate).
Let us begin with a quote of Ali which said: “The love of the world is the root of all troubles.” In this, Ali is talking of the need to refrain from materialistic desires. In other words, he is talking of restraint from seeking the pleasures of our organs of senses and mind. Likewise, there are detailed chapters in the Upanishads which say that a yogi (aspirant of the path to God) should make his senses inward looking, thereby detaching them from the material afflictions outside. Ali even said that “The world is the bridge leading to the next.”
If you ask a general Muslim, he will say that there is no concept other than that of heaven and hell that has been told to them. If you ask a general Hindu, he will say that there is no concept other than that of moksha (union) that is known to them. Truth is far from this.
Let us first see whether a concept of heaven and hell is found in the Hindu scriptures. Heaven is repeatedly mentioned in Gita and it is made clear to Arjuna that the ultimate goal is a place in heaven. Read this verse, which clearly says that anyone who fights on Krishna’s side will ensure will be ushered through “an open door to heaven”.
Happy the Kshatriyas who obtain such a fight that comes unsought as an open door to Heaven.
Slain, you will obtain heaven; victorious, you will enjoy the earth. Therefore stand up, O son of Kunti, resolved to fight.
Here too, Krishna is authenticating the presence of heaven. Does this not suggest that in spite of clear wordings talking of going to heaven - as a consequence of waging the righteous war - the learned commentators have deliberately ignored the significance of these verses and have tried to negate the concept of heaven and hell? Was it because they couldn’t understand?
Gita is even talking of those who commit sin.
But if you will not wage this righteous warfare, then casting away your duty and honour, you will incur sin.
Taking as equal pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, engage yourself in battle. Thus you will incur no sin.
Naturally, those committing sin will end up in hell.
Arjuna says in Gita:
I cannot visualize either what could rid me of this distress which dries up the senses in this way – even should (it transpire that) I obtain unrivalled dominion of the earth’s plenty or overlordship of the devatas in heaven too.
Again we reiterate that heaven is nowhere negated in Gita but for reasons best known to them, the commentators keep on saying that Arjuna and Krishna do not believe in the concept of heaven and hell. Wherever some reference to heaven has come, they say it is of incidental importance only, or of relativist value, or for purpose of methodology. For reasons best known to them, they cling to this view in spite of repeated utterances in this regard. They say so even though mythology is full of descriptions of heaven, of devatas residing in heaven, and even talk of apsaras (houris) and a special drink called soma being served there. Mahabharata not only confirms the concept of heaven but also of hell towards the end when it shows that the Kauravas went to heaven instead of hell. It is apparent from Mahabharata’s description of heaven that it is a description of a material heaven, with dwarapalas (gatekeepers).
But when the Quran talked of heaven and hell, of houris and a drink called Aab-e-Kausar in heaven, it is ridiculed by the knowers of Gita. This is in spite of the fact that Gita talks of Indra’s heaven and Muslim traditions talk of Mohammad’s heaven being the loftiest level of heaven. Interestingly, SAHNi Bharati, in his book ‘God Rediscovered’ has shown explicitly that Indra Deva and Mohammad are one and the same with the only difference that Indra Deva was the name given to noor (light) state of existence in heaven and when the same noor descended in human form in the desert of Arabia, it was given the name Mohammad.
The commentators of Gita probably get confused because of the concept of Moksha (salvation) abundantly described in various Upanishads and also in Gita. We must remember that Gita aspires to make us Purushottama (the best among humans). Moksha (salvation) is reward for those who attain this level. But what about those who are unable to attain this highly cherished level???
Gita is of opinion that mere birth of a child or the death of a man does not mean life and death. Soul in the body, the presence or non-presence of which in the body signifies life and death, is a part of the Manifest Self of God; it has remained forever and will continue to remain forever.
Further, never was I non-existent, nor you nor these chiefs of men; neither shall we, all of us, ever cease becoming hereafter.
As there is here in the body for the embodied, childhood, youth, old age, so also the passing on to another body in the same manner; those firm in mind are not thereby bewildered.
Just as the physical body undergoes transition, similarly the spirit, which is eternal, goes through various stages. Upon salvation it becomes one with the Manifest Self and therefore permanently dwells in the heaven.
Does this not show that Gita is saying that our spirit is eternal? From this, the scholars have falsely concluded that each of us is destined to get united with the Manifest Self (i.e. attain salvation). Gita is itself saying that immortality (salvation) is not for each of us. See II,15:
That man indeed of firm mind who is unaffected by these, O best of Men (Arjuna), equal-minded in joy as well as pain, he is destined for immortality.
Gita wishes to stress that since the spirit has a permanent existence, it is necessary that we give it a permanent abode. That permanent abode, where the spirit gains a permanent stay in heaven and gets freed from the continuing cycle of birth, death and rebirth, is called immortality.
In other words, Gita is saying that those men who understand the aforesaid point and treat pain and pleasure as equal only qualify for immortality (i.e. salvation). This is in spite of the fact that our spirit is eternal. Thus, it can be safely concluded that all will not attain salvation. Question arises where will the rest of those who are unable to attain salvation go?
As per teachings of Gita, the soul has been sent to earth and its ultimate destination is to get out of this world and unite with the Manifest Self (attain salvation and thus a permanent place in heaven). Until the soul reaches that desired level of purity (that will enable it to get out of this world and attain unity), it will continue to pass through cycle of birth, death and rebirth. That is to say, the soul will continue to take body after body until it is pure enough to attain salvation.
But there is one question that still remains unanswered. What if after repeated or even continuous movement from one body to another, the soul is still unable to reach a level of salvation. Matsya Purana states that that one Brahma Day or Divine Day is equivalent to 1000 creations. After this, entire cosmos is dissolved. This is followed by the Divine Night, which is equivalent to the Divine Day (span of 1000 creations). Thereafter, God creates a cosmos again for another 1000 creations. The Purana even states that this is the 994th creation of this Divine Day, thereby indicating that after this creation elapses, there will be 6 more creations and then the cosmos will be dissolved and the Divine Night will commence.
To summarize, man has been given a mind which enables him to have a free choice as regard to his actions. Those who cling to the right path become immortal. The Absolute Men (Purushottam of Gita and Ashraful Makhluqat of Muslim traditions) are immortal as their spirits, instead of going to heaven or hell, get united with the Paramatma directly and thus continue to live even when this creation gets terminated and another Brahma’s Day commences. Gita even talks of them living in heaven, which indicates that our ultimate destination is heaven (though its level may differ) and those who attain salvation may dwell in the highest levels of heaven.
But one question remains unanswered. What if the soul continues to pass from one body to another and is unable to attain salvation and the time to end this creation comes. Where will the soul go in such a case? It is explicitly stated in various Upanishads and Puranas that it will be difficult to attain salvation in the Kali Yuga (this last age), as souls that could have easily attained salvation, have already done so. Scriptures dear to both Hindus and Buddhists have given the answer to this mystery but the commentators have not understood it truly.
Scriptures dear to the Muslims (Quran) too gives an answer to this! As per Muslims, Mohammad had arrived to culminate the teachings of all previous Prophets (Avatars) on earth. The time when Mohammad took birth, Kaliyug had already begun. Kaliyug is the last age, at the end of which this creation of this Adam will be wound up. Though some commentators claim to give a very long duration to this kaliyug, truth is that we are not sure exactly how long will this kaliyug last? It is possible we are already living in the end times. Therefore, while Gita and other scriptures emphasized more on the need to attain salvation, it was imperative that Mohammad, who was coming on earth as the last Prophet before the termination of this creation, also tells what to expect if our souls were unable to attain salvation even until the time the termination of this creation takes place. Thus the concept of Day of Judgment was put forth, which will be only for those souls who didn’t attain the level of salvation till that time. It is also stated in traditions that Mohammad at the time of Ascent to Heaven known as Meraj (which is an event described in Quran), was given a special gift as per which his people (ummat) were freed from becoming maskh (Muslims believe that maskh is transformation of person into another body, be it that of animals like monkey, ant, fish, etc.). Maskh is a least understood term among Muslims and it has been proved by SAHNi Bharati in ‘God Rediscovered’ that it actually means rebirth into another form. Thus, Prophet Mohammad was given a special gift as per which those who would become his followers will not have to undergo rebirth. This was done because this creation was to be terminated soon. But as I have said, even as per Mohammad and Quran, the most desired state, too is salvation.
As per Quran and the traditions of Prophet Mohammad, the highest level is that of nijaat (freedom), which is exactly the same as salvation. Quran says that one who attains this level never dies (becomes immortal) and gets sustenance directly from God. Verses in Quran explicitly state that if man had been told of the ways (right and wrong), why didn’t he climb the steep ascent? The steep ascent is the ascent of the soul towards the level that enables him to reach salvation. This salvation is attained when the soul, at the time when it leaves the human body, is in such a state of purity that it is worthy of attaining the desired union. One of the Ahlulbayt (Devatas’ descent in human bodies) have described this ascent to purity as a dot inside us, which continues to whiten with good deeds. A certain level of whiteness ensures salvation i.e. immediate entry into highest levels of heaven and a permanent stay there. Sins reduce the whiteness or blacken this dot. The moment this dot becomes black, it reaches the nadir (extreme depth) and from that state there is no coming back. This means a permanent stay in hell the moment the soul leaves the human body.
Just as Hindus have elaborately understood the concept of salvation but couldn’t understand clearly what will happen if this creation is terminated and the soul is unable to attain salvation by that time, Muslims have been told of both salvation and what will happen when they are unable to attain salvation at the time of termination of this creation, but they continue to remain in dark regarding several basic facts. A cursory glance at the scriptures dear to the Hindus would have given them the insight but why would they read those scriptures? Each of us grow up considering that his religion is the best without thinking for a moment that all divine religions are actually presenting the same path to attain salvation and ultimate bliss and there are certain vital clues that go missing if we only study one scripture and leave the scriptures given to others.
Gita has talked of each of these states. Fact is that it has even hinted that there is no rebirth for those who come on the path of devatas (even when a person is unable to attain salvation). Muslims wrongly believe that all those who die (including those who will attain salvation) will have to pass through the Day of Judgment, where it will be decided who will go heaven and who to hell. In the same manner in which the Hindu commentators talk of merely incidental importance or relativist value, or for purpose of methodology, whenever description of heaven comes, Muslim scholars fail to note from Quran the descriptions of immediate ascent to heaven for one who attains salvation or immediate sending to hell for one who reaches the nadir (even though Quran explicitly talks of the subject).
Surah Waqiyah of Quran talks of three types of people; one who moved ahead, one who carries his deeds in his right hand and the one who carries the deeds in left hand. No Muslim commentator has understood this description in true sense. Those who move ahead have been highly praised in Quran and it is stated that the best rewards are reserved for such people. They are the same as those who attained nijaat (salvation) in the light of Mohammad’s tradition. They are the ones whose soul was at a certain level of purity at the time when it left the human body and hence their soul was immediately sent to heaven, at the time when it left the human body. Quran has even given an incident when a person was sent instantly to heaven after his death (see people of Antakia description in Surah Yasin), even before God’s wrath was sent on his people. Unfortunately, here too, owing to their failure to understand the implied meaning, Muslim scholars say that the true meaning of what has been said in Quran should not be taken and derive their own meaning out of it, despite the fact that the Quranic verse is explicitly stating that the person was immediately sent to heaven.
There is description of two other types of people in Quran. These will be the people who will not be able to attain salvation at the time of death. Since there will be no rebirth for Mohammad’s people, such people will have to wait till the Day of Judgment, until their fate will be decided. Such people will be of two type viz. those who did good deeds but failed to attain salvation (are those who will carry their deeds in their right hand) and those whose bad deeds overburden the good deeds (are those who will carry their deeds in their left hand). Whereas those who attain salvation will enjoy a permanent stay in the highest levels of Indra’s (Mohammad’s) heaven, those who will carry their deeds in right hand will be sent to lower levels of heaven and those who carry their deeds in left hand will be sent to hell.
However, as per the Upanishads and even Buddha’s teachings, the stay in heaven or hell will not be a permanent one for people who failed to attain salvation (who carried their deeds in right or left hand). Once the merits of their deeds get exhausted, they will be sent once again to this earth (in the next creation) and since as per Hindu belief, the soul is eternal, this cycle will continue until the soul attains moksha (salvation). Unfortunately, by then it would have undergone punishment or rewards a lot many times (given to them on the Day of Judgment that takes place after termination of each creation, as per Muslim belief).
Since the highest rewards are for those who attain salvation (both as per Hindu and Muslim belief), it is still time that we begin aspiring for that level so that we attain the cherished goal in this life itself.