The story of the great seer, Saint Mudgala, related in India’s masterpiece epic, the Mahabharata, offers insights into the possibilities between earthly lives.
I supported my family in an honorable way known as Uncha Vritti. This is a process whereby I routinely worked in the fields collecting grain left over after the harvest was taken by the owner. On the full Moon, my family prepared a meal with the unclaimed grain collected between the new moon and full moon. We prepared our next meal on the new moon, after collecting grain between the full moon and new moon. My family fasted except for these two meals.
Rumors surrounding me intrigued a bad-tempered sage who planned a severe test to see what manner of man I really was.
Durvasas presented himself as a guest just as our family set the dinner table. The sage demanded, “Food, food. Give me food. I am dead hungry.” I offered a generous portion, but the sage devoured our entire meal.
Durvasas returned in a similar fashion on six separate occasions. Not once did he ruffle our temper. At the end of the test, Durvasas lauded me, “Saint Mudgala. though I caused the worst irritation, you never became distressed. You have conquered the tongue, a nearly impossible feat. More than that, you have conquered hunger. Giving up food when your family was in dire need is the greatest self-sacrifice and highest charity. Due to your virtues, I offer you a special boon.”
Within moments, a celestial airplane filled with heavenly beings descended from the skies.
A messenger stepped out and greeted me: “Saint Mudgala, your accumulated merits are so great that our Lord sent me to fetch you. Come with your wife and children and enjoy heaven’s pleasures. To attain heaven with a physical body is rare indeed.”
I saluted the messenger of the gods: “I am blessed to be in your benevolent presence. I thank the gods for the affection showered upon me. Before I accept, please tell me the benefits of heavenly life.”
The messenger described regions of subtle matter composed of beautiful lights, sounds, and colors, “Mudgala, you can live like a god with a lustrous, shining body adorned with fine ornaments, garlands of unfading flowers, and excellent dresses. Every object, every being, you look at will be beautiful. You can change the seasons at will. Usually it is Spring with perennial sunshine. If you desire Winter, then snow when it falls, is peaceful and beautiful, and not at all cold. And if you desire rain, a shower will descend gently, as myriad-colored lights.
Desire-granting trees fulfill every wish. Pleasure gardens extend 30,000 square miles for sport and pastimes. Golden airplanes transport you anywhere you wish. There is no hunger, thirst, worry, trouble, decadence, disease, or old age. Special angels watch over each realm which has a sun, moon, ocean, and mountains.”
I thanked the messenger, but wondered, “Does heaven have any defects?” He explained, “Saint Mudgala, because you are a good man, I will answer you. Heavenly life is delightful, yet it is temporary. Souls dwell with the gods for varying periods depending upon their merits. Like you, they have accumulated credit through charity and sincerity, or they have lost their lives in righteous battles. But once someone’s merit is diminished, he must be reborn into another womb. You can’t accumulate good merit there.
Earth is the place for doing actions. Heaven is where you reap the good fruit.
But let us not waste any further time. Come to heaven. Let us go now.”
I replied: “Thank you, but keep heaven for yourselves. There are two kinds of heaven. Your heaven is transitory and cannot compare to the super-transcendental Heaven, the abode where souls merge with God and never again appear in the world of suffering. Even when the heavens and lower worlds are destroyed, such souls experience the everlasting freedom and supreme bliss of liberation. This bliss is one trillion times the maximum happiness which any human experiences on Earth.
“Granted it is true that suffering and limitation dominate human life. At the same time, spiritual progress is fastest. The human body has the sushumma nadi [energy channel] along the chakras [seven energy centers along the spine] which allow realization of perfection. Humans are the greatest beings in the universe. Only a human nervous system supports transformation from human to divine. Even angels do not have this dispensation to realize the ultimate truth. As the Ramayana teaches, the gods and the goddesses of celestial abodes desire to come to Earth in human form so that they can be liberated.
“I have a rare privilege on Earth, a thousand times greater than your offer. Leave me to my fate. I regret my inability to oblige your invitation.”
The messenger saluted me: “Your high ideals are rare in the world, Saint Mudgala. I am jealous. I take leave of you and will report the matter to the Lord in heaven.”
Through prayer and meditation, Saint Mudgala and his family attained sayuja mukti, where the astral body dies away and there is total extinction of all envelopes and impressions of the soul.
The soul becomes one with God in the same way flowing rivers disappear into the ocean. Without an astral body, no movement is possible.
Ancient Scriptures of India describe where the soul abides in the state prior to biological conception. Read about the seven upper worlds and seven lower worlds (called “lokas”) in Cosmic Cradle, Souls Waiting in the Wings for Birth; Vedic Conception of the Soul, Endless Lokas in Chapter 17.