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What do the vedas say about heaven and values?

A healthy approach towards any religious tradition is to examine what it says with an open mind. If a sacred text claims that it is revealed, then it should fulfill the definition of a means of knowledge. That means, first it has to give me access to knowledge that I can not have access to with the means at my disposal, such as perception, perception based inference and reasoning. Second, what is arrived at by this revealed knowledge can not be contradicted by other means of knowledge such as reasoning. Lastly, it should present some knowledge that is useful or desirable to me.
Now, let us examine some common views with reference to heaven and values:

There is a heaven to which one can go to and stay eternally.
How valid is this statement? The existence of heaven in some place in the universe is certainly attractive and desirable, but it is a non-verifiable belief. I cannot prove the existence of heaven nor can I disprove that it exists since my perception and reasoning has no access to it. Therefore, I cannot verify its existence in this life.

However, the second part of the statement, that there is an eternal heaven or that it is a place where one will stay for eternity, contradicts reasoning. First, because there is no place in the universe which is eternal. Every place that exists in space and time is changing and not permanent. Second, if going to heaven is a result of one's actions, then since any action is limited, it can bring only a limited result. That means a limited series of good actions or millions of prayers can only have a limited result.

Thus an eternal heaven does not meet the second criteria of the definition of a valid means of knowledge, that is to be not contradicted by other means of knowledge. That means, while existence of heaven is a possibility, eternal heaven is logically contradicted.

In this regard, the Vedas talk about heaven as a desirable place where one can go, as a result of one's good actions. However, heaven is seen as a place where one can enjoy temporarily some pleasures, until one's results of good actions that brought one to heaven are exhausted. One then has to come out of it. Therefore, eternal heaven is not accepted by Vedas and is also not considered to be the ultimate goal of human life.

Moreover, if the criterion of going to heaven is set as one's following a given tradition rather than one's ethical conduct, that too contradicts reasoning. This is because the contention that just belonging to a given tradition is enough reason to go to heaven is fallacious. For example, if person belongs to a given tradition, but if he/she has led an unethical life, involving cheating, lying, indulging in violence, etc, it is not reasonable to think that he/she will go to heaven.

Religion is the origin of ethical values
In many traditions, the set of code of conduct is given to humanity in the form of dos and don'ts. There is an understanding that religious traditions are the source for teaching moral values.

The view of the Vedas is quite different. Vedas acknowledge that values are universal in nature but differ from other traditions with reference to how these values are known to human beings. Unlike other traditions which believe that the religion is the source, Vedas reveal that values are available to every human being through common sense. That is, whether one is born in India, USA, Africa or Europe, each individual understands intuitively that hurting someone, lying, etc. is not appropriate. That means, according to Vedas, one need not belong to any particular tradition to know values and to live an ethical life. 

The Veda points out that like physical, biological, psychological orders prevailing in the universe, there is also an order that governs the actions and its results. This order is called ‘the law of karma’. The law of karma (actions-results) is connected to ‘dharma’ (universal values) in that an ethical action results in some form of pleasure here or in the future; and unethical action brings pain either here or at a later time. Even though the existence of law of karma and dharma is non-verifiable, one can not negate it as impossible, as it does not contradict ones reason. Moreover, it gives one a sense of responsibility, as one understands that nobody can finally escape experiencing the results of actions. This way, one is able to live a dynamic and alert life where one constantly attempts to understand what is to be done in a given situation and acts appropriately.


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