Q. Tthe Srimad-Bhagavatam, Third Canto, Chapter 30, verses 19–31, explains the plight of the sinful soul after death, after it leaves the material body on earth. The dreadful account can’t be true, because the soul cannot reap the fruit of his actions, bad or good, until he gets a material body again. The subtle soul will never suffer any hardship, as explained in Bhagavad-gita2.22–25.
Whereas the Bhagavatam describes the punishment of the sinful person in hell, the Gita states that after leaving the material body, the soul gets another material body. I find a lot of variance between the two books. Please elucidate the correct position. Both cannot be right.
A. Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, present the same teachings in essence, but the Bhagavatam elaborates points discussed briefly in the Gita. The Gita (7.4) explains that besides the gross material body, the soul also inhabits a subtle material body, made up of the mind, intelligence, and false ego. It is this subtle body that undergoes punishment in the hellish planets. While it is true, as the Gita says, that the soul goes on to another body, it is also true, as the Bhagavatam says, that the sinful soul first of all undergoes punishment in hellish planets. Because the suffering takes place on a subtle plane, the time duration seems very long, when in fact it is brief. (Researchers tell us that although episodes in dreams seem to last a long time, they are actually very short.)
We can understand how the subtle body feels pain by considering what happens in our dreams. During the day we identify with our gross, physical body, and at night we identify with our subtle body, in dreams. When we dream, the experience seems real. If something harms us in a dream, we “feel” it. We might, for example, wake up screaming because of pain or fright. This is an indication of how the subtle body is punished in the hellish planets.