Celestial Realms - Heavens and Hells
Welcome to key 12, discussing the topic of the afterlife according to various religions. This is a tricky topic to discuss, since it's quite speculative and subject to different interpretations. This topic also delves into similar topics such as death, judgment and spiritual abodes. This blog post will cover all of these to some degree, with a focus on the afterlife. First, it is necessary to understand the distinctions between various religions concerning this topic. In doing this, we can better form our own conclusions.
Judaism - depending on the branch of Judaism, there is little to no mention of an afterlife, but rather, a day of resurrection when humankind is raised from the dead for judgment of works or actions during life. Kabbalistic interpretations of Judaism seem to embrace the notion of an eternal soul that reincarnates, similar to Aryan religious views, particularly Hinduism. Kabbalah also mentions four realms, with Atziluth being the highest one, possibly alluding to heaven.
Christianity - presents a clear and contrasting version of heaven and hell, with heaven portrayed as the abode of a supreme deity with Jesus as the governing demigod. The Christian view of heaven is strikingly similar to the Islamic view of heaven, with a sovereign deity granting humans - especially males - their heart's desire in heaven.
Zoroastrianism - the ancient, pre-Islamic religion of Persia is ironically the source of the English word and notion of paradise. Unlike the former religions mentioned above, Zoroastrianism states that everyone will eventually attain this paradise to various degrees after first crossing a bridge in the spirit realm, with hell as a purifying process for many.
Hinduism - generally embraces the concepts of an eternal soul, reincarnation, and the ultimate liberation from our illusory, material existence. Hinduism teaches that only through realization we can find heaven internally, rather than externally.
While I've only highlighted four, major religious views here, obviously there are many others with their own, unique interpretations. What we find in common through these interpretations above is the theme of karma - our actions - which determine our destiny. As a person thinks, he / she speaks. As a person speaks, he / she acts. We can also conclude that heaven is a place, or state of being, where suffering ceases. In contrast, hell is a place, or state of being, where suffering increases. An aspect of Hinduism which I find fascinating teaches that there are four types of karmic consequences, such as immediate or long term, resulting from the present life or actual past lives. As a devout yogi and follower of Satguru Kabir, I have a personal bias for Hindu belief systems, but we can decipher a lot about this topic from the words of avatar Jesus and his sayings from a gnostic perspective.
As is the case in many religions, Jesus actually said some things that contradict mainstream Christian interpretations of heaven and hell. By declaring "my Father has many mansions", it seems very possible that Jesus was referring to various levels of heaven or celestial realms. In fact, Hinduism also contains this concept of realms and abodes of deities. For example, the realm of lord Brahma is called 'Sat-lok', which roughly translates to "realm of truth". Considering how expansive the universe is and the possibility of countless planets, solar systems and dimensions, the idea of various heavens isn't too far-fetched. Jesus also declared that "the kingdom of God is within you", echoing words of famous Hindu and Sufi saints.
In terms of hell, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man as told by Jesus is clearly the most revealing in terms of an afterlife, the effects of our deeds and various realms. In summary, a beggar named Lazarus dies as well as a certain wealthy man who always ignored the beggar's pleas for help. Lazarus goes to a heavenly realm where the soul of prophet Abraham resides, and the wealthy many goes to a realm of suffering, where he is constantly thirsty, so much so that he begs Abraham to place a drop of water on his tongue and also warn his siblings of this terrible place. Abraham, in his mercy, tells the tormented soul that although he would like to help him, there is a chasm between them ! In other words, they were in separate realms or dimensions.
In Sikhism - which stemmed from Hinduism - the first guru Nanak describes the world like "a terrible ocean" to be crossed, alluding to the Hindu concept of samadhi - escaping the endless cycles of birth and death. There are many non-religious people who declare that "hell is on Earth", and to some extent, they're right ! We experience all manner of suffering and death on Earth, and aside from accounts of those who had near-death experiences, nobody has substantiated a post-life heaven or hell. Nonetheless, Physics teaches us that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only converted from one form to another. On Earth, our physical bodies are prone to deterioration and death, but science and spirituality both confirm that we are all more than a physical body.
In conclusion, despite all the speculation and controversy this topic stirs up, it also displays what makes humans so distinct among other species - our yearning to understand and transcend the physical realm. We look into the sky, and ponder what lies beyond the flickering stars. Is heaven another dimension ? A state of consciousness ?... "Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head."