Does everyone who dies on a battlefield attain heaven?

The Bhagavad-gita (02.32) declares that warriors who die while fighting a righteous war attain heaven. Some readers ask, “Isn’t this statement similar to the extremist propaganda that those dying in a religious war will attain a perennial, virgin-rich paradise — propaganda that impels suicide bombers?” 

Not at all. Because this Gita statement needs to be seen in conjunction with its two other important teachings: 

Accountability according to the principle of karma: The Gita accepts as a bedrock truth the principle of karma: everyone has to bear the consequences for their actions. All Gita statements need to be seen in coordination with that principle, not in isolation from it. By that principle, killing of innocent civilians by armed warriors is heinous, inviting severe karmic consequences. 

What is the karmic logic for the Gita statement that martyrs attain heaven? Warriors are meant to guard civilians even to the point of death. If they attain martyrdom, that heroic sacrifice earns them good karma, just as it may earn them posthumous awards from the national government. That good karma can take them to elevated post-mortem destinations such as heaven. 

The non-eternality of heaven: Whereas many religious ideologies consider heaven to be eternal, the Gita emphasizes that heaven is temporary (09.20-21). It is like a delightful mountain resort where one can enjoy as long as one has the requisite currency of good karma. 

Even if martyrs go to heaven, they can’t escape their previous bad karma; once the good karma from their martyrdom runs out, they will have to account for their remaining karma. Thus, in no way does the Gita sanction anything remotely resembling suicide bombing. 

One-sentence summary:

The Gita’s statement that martyrs attain heaven harmonizes with its core teaching: act virtuously and courageously according to our social positions to attain a brighter future. 

Think it over:

  • What is the karmic fate of murderers?
  • Soldiers who become martyrs attain heaven — how does this make karmic sense?
  • How does the Gita statement about religious martyrdom differ from extremist promises of paradise? 


02.32: O Partha, happy are the kshatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.

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1 Comment

  1. Hell is worry,Heaven is wisdom.

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