Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
I saw Heaven. In my dream, I was sitting on a bank of a snaking river. On the other side were houses made from large stone blocks. They resembled medieval castles. They had crenellations, too, but they had never been besieged. The Gods were frolicking there. It was an enchanting scene. I sat alone, with a wide open field behind me.
My hand rested on the grass. In Heaven, they eat the grass, along with a variety of flowers and other flora. The soil can also be eaten, and tastes something like a buttery chocolate. All the Gods are vegetarian. They never eat meat. The grass has, in all its various shades, different subtle flavours. Even the sunshine in heaven has a delicious taste to it, too.
In the distance, a golden trumpet sounded out across this utopia, growing louder and louder until my head rang full of its clarion call.
I awoke to the droning of my alarm clock, and fumbled around to turn it off. There was, after all, no trumpet, no idyll, and no Gods whose skin radiated a golden light. My mind was back in the earthly reality of the everyday world. I showered, shaved, ate breakfast, and went to work.
The day passed uneventfully, but I was in luck again at night. As I lay asleep, the dream continued. I saw that the Gods had a game they liked to play. One of them would climb a tree, and some other Gods would wait below, with their hands outstretched. The God at the top of the tree would gather some leaves from the branches, and drop them. The Gods at the bottom would try to catch them.
It was, of course, a banal game by an adult’s standards, but the Gods found their own innocent amusement in it. Most of the Gods had garlands of flowers around their neck. There was one God, Surti, who gathered up some of the leaves that had fallen to the ground. He had spotted something unusual.
One of the petals from his garland had shaken loose, and fallen to the ground along with the leaves. This seemed to cause him considerable anxiety. When the other Gods left to play another game, Surti remained behind. Secretively, he gathered up his petal, put it in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed it. It tasted bitter. When he inspected his sarong, he saw that the white garment had a patch of mud on it. He wiped it frantically until the stain was gone. This seemed to be a deepening cause of concern for him.
That was all I recall from the night. The dream seemed more vivid this time. When I woke up I went about my usual daily activities: morning ablutions, commute to work, and so on. Now that I had seen heaven, or at least what my imagination told me was heaven, I had a mounting sense of dissatisfaction with my normal everyday life. I longed to re-experience the heavenly world.
A couple of days passed, and I had no dreams that I could recall. I was beginning to think that that was the end of the matter until, once again, I had a dream of that heavenly world. It was about Surti again. As is the way of dreams, I identified with him as if he were me. The flowers on his garland had withered visibly. The stain on his sarong had returned, and was a little larger this time.
Intuitively, I understood why: although Gods appear as being eternally youthful, none of them actually live forever. There still exist marks and signs that they are ageing. The Gods do not count their age in years the way we humans do, but count through a succession of “stages” of their lives. Surti was, in fact an elder God. He had even begun sweating, something that deities generally never do. His time was drawing near.
Surti went to the Akkhana. It was a circular shallow pool, almost as wide as a God is tall. It was only an inch deep, and filled with magical water. Gods have many supernatural abilities; being able to hear sounds far away, walk through walls, fly, to name a few. Surti peered into the Akkhana. It enhanced his divine sight.
He wished to know where he would be reborn after he died. As he stared into the pool, the water’s reflection warped and swirled. The water became inky. Momentarily, an image crystallised on its surface. Surti saw his fate, and wailed in anguish. The horror of the hell that he would eventually encounter was plain for him to see.
I awoke from the dream, troubled deeply. It was still the small hours of the morning, and I needed to get some sleep for the day ahead, for it was still a workday.
I sat glum-faced at the office that day. As I plodded through my paperwork, I glanced out the window. There was a tree outside, and the winter sun shone through the leaves, dappling the light. I looked at the sun, and a strange waking dream overtook me.
In heaven, there is a special garden for the dying Gods. Gandharvas, celestial musicians, play sweet harmonies continuously, and the garden is particularly beautiful, even by heaven’s standards. It distracts the ageing Gods from the distress they feel at the prospect of their own demise.
Surti’s halo flickered, like the sun through the leaves in the tree that I saw outside, or a light bulb that is about to burn out. In an instant, Surti’s body disappeared from the heavens, like a ghost vanishing before one’s eyes. None of the other Gods noticed, for heaven is a place of revelry, not for the contemplation of mortality.
Surti felt a giant mist surround him, and cosmic winds howled all around. His senses were stripped from him, his mind faded, and all that he had been, no longer was. Up ahead was a light, which pulled him in as a magnet to steel. It was a portal to the next world. He crossed its threshold, and then … nothing.
Outside my office, the tree shook in the wind, leaves were blown from their branches, and they danced in the breeze. There was no God at the top of the tree dropping them down, however, nor expectant Gods at the bottom waiting excitedly to catch them.
Then it dawned on me. The dreams of mine were a vestigial memory, a glimpse of my past. I returned to the paperwork in front of me, now understanding the vision of hell that Surti has seen in the Akkhana.