Source : Google photo of heaven and hell
Synopsis: People always talk about heaven and hell but most pay only lip service to the words when mentioned by the religionists. I think one should try to understand what it really means and how one can make a heaven or hell for himself right here in this world.
Long before the advent of organized religions, the primitive people had the notion of Divinity and all that it meant in their daily life. They had a vague idea of the Divinity that had its origin in the wonders of the nature and the awe the primitive man felt when the nature showed its immense power through lightning, thunder, flood or earthquakes.
He did not understand why the nature was so powerful but he understood its benevolence as well as its destructive powers so he started to attribute it all to a higher power he started to call the Divinity. Literally this was the start of the concept of religion that took hold on the humanity in ways no one had ever foreseen.
Later as the religions got organized, they developed different ways to celebrate the Divinity but would never come to a consensus on what was the fundamental religion of the humanity. They vouched for their brand and fought those who did not go along with their brand. This has caused great loss of human lives since antiquity that continues even today as I write this blog. So the humanity split up between various ideologies and their followers who dug in their heels when it came to define what religion was and why it was important.
Then people started to think of the rewards and the penalty aspect in all religions and came up with the idea of heaven and hell. If you were a good religionist, you went to heaven after your death and if you were not then you went to a terrible place called hell where you were tormented for ever for not being a good practitioner of your brand of religion.
This concept of heaven and hell spread to all organized religions and became the foundation on which they built their belief system because a belief system was necessary to propagate the brand they adhered to. It also served as a lure or enticement to join particular brands because it offered all sorts of rewards in this life or the afterlife to those who joined but offered hell for those who did not. The Inquisition in the middle ages took it further and created hell in this world for those whom they persecuted, tortured and burned alive.
In Islam they came up with the concept of 72 houris or celestial nymphs who would attend to all your needs in heaven if you were a good Moslem and died serving your faith that often meant killing the infidels and getting killed in the process as well. They promoted terrorism in the name of their belief but called themselves martyrs who went to heaven and were attended to by no less than 72 celestial virgins who took care of all their needs. This idea of getting served by 72 beautiful nymphs in the heaven was so attractive that it made numerous young people commit to violence and become martyr whom others call them with pejorative names like terrorists.
The primitive people at first did not have a written language because they felt no need for it but they too felt a need to express what they felt not only verbally but in other ways as well. So they painted on the walls of deep caves what they saw thousands of years ago. For paint they only had what they could extract from plants or the soil but they left behind their legacy in dazzling colors and art that would put to shame any modern artist. You can still see such paintings on cave walls in France and in many other countries that will mesmerize you with their originality and beauty.
Later our ancestors took to carving rocks to leave behind their message but by this time they had developed a written language some in the form of hieroglyphs and others in Cuneiforms or the Chinese script in which they recorded their history, wars, famine, epidemics, harvests or how to build pyramids. Hammurabi left his edicts in stone. By this time their religion and belief system was well developed creating their first organized religion like in Egypt or Mesopotamia where they wrote on papyrus or on stone their concept of their religion and various rituals they practiced. Their painted murals in underground crypts in the Valley of the Kings and Queens in Luxor will dazzle you with their beauty and grandeur that have not faded in thousands of years.
Their religion was in the process of evolution meaning that it changed when a new Pharaoh or king came to power but they described what was heaven where their souls went and what happened to bad people whom their God of death punished in what was the equivalent of hell. It terrified people so much that they tried to live a life of virtues to avoid such punishment. But the evil people were not impressed by the punishment aspect of their religion so the idea of hell had minimum impact on them just like it is now.
But a religion could not be established unless it had developed a written set of rules to live by and a prophet who showed people what to do and what not to do by giving example the way Jesus, Buddha or Ram did. Moses chiseled his ten commandments on stone tablets in Mt. Sinai while others like Mohamed who was illiterate had a scribe to write down what he said. So all religions have their own Bible or Koran or Ramayana. The Sikhs have their Granthasahib and the Buddhists have the words of Buddha written in numerous wood blocks like in Tibet. The Hindus claim to have the world’s oldest written religious texts written thousands of years ago that are now available in the form of Vedas , Upanishads etc. that have been translated into many languages and spread all over the world.
The Aztecs, Incas and the Mayas developed their own religions that dictated to them the rules by which to live while the Native Americans and the Native Australians developed their own religions and the set of rules to live by but they all had in common the idea of heaven or hell that perhaps varied from one set of people to another like it does even today but they failed to develop a book like the Bible or the Koran.
A lot of African tribes worshipped different Gods and still do but they too failed to write it all down as a book of rules because their languages and history were only oral that the bards passed on to them generation after generation through story telling or songs . This is still the practice among many African tribes so the foreign missionaries and mullahs worked hard on them to make them Christians or Moslems. People in Africa, South America and other continents are impressed by the efficacy of the organized religions that now present their religious books into their native languages for the first time.
Similarly a single old monk from India who went to spread Hinduism in America and later in many countries wrote in English many religious books that he himself translated from Sanskrit or other texts. This was the start of the Krishna Consciousness movement worldwide that we are now quite familiar with. The followers number in millions who have collected large amount of money to build huge Krishna temples in many countries.
The Hindus in general do not dwell on the concept of heaven or hell as much as others do but believe in Karma. If you live a virtuous life and do many good karmas like helping others, feeding others, treating their illness for free or building orphanages etc. you get rewarded in your next life or you may even get the coveted freedom from the cycle of life and death so your soul become free. But those who are evil and do bad things to others are punished by a higher authority in this life or the next so the idea of heaven or hell or purgatory etc. is less emphasized.
But the Christians are obsessed with the idea of sin so they have ritualized in their sermons the idea of sin and who goes to the purgatory or who doesn’t. They say that we are all sinners in some way so we should ask for forgiveness. You see this in the mafia movies where a man goes to confess to his priest that he has sinned and has done many bad things so he seeks forgiveness. The Priest then says- you are forgiven. Just pray and say Hail Mary a thousand times so that it can wipe off from the slate every bad thing you have done. The Mafioso kneels, asks for forgiveness and says Hail Mary but goes out to commit more crimes. The religion does not change him but he uses it to clean his slate once it is full every now and then.
I live in a country where most people are Catholic Christians who go to their churches to confess their sins now and then but in reality some of them are the meanest, vilest, unworthiest people who are toxic in their behavior. I used to think that a religion should have a good impact on people so that they live a life of virtues but I now see that it does not change some of them. It is no wonder that the young people in many countries are disillusioned about the organized religions so they protest and say that the moral corruption in the churches or Moslem religious schools called madrasas give very bad examples to people. In India some Hindus use religion to get rich and spread immorality and corruption. ( Read Fake gurus here )
The fundamentalism in any religion gives it a bad name. Most people tend to shy away from it but there are fringe groups that promote and actively recruit people like them who in the name of their brand of religion spread hate and violence worldwide.
So where is Heaven? Where is it located? Is it real or just a made up idea to make people feel good? Basically it is based on a belief that God will give you a place there if you follow his commandments but he will punish you if you are a bad person. I do not know if this argument sounds very persuasive to the bad people because there are so many bad people everywhere who are not at all bothered by what they do.
If you believe that you have the power to create your own heaven right here or your own hell then perhaps the notion of heaven or hell as preached through the pulpits may not hold much water. I think we all can do it if we are honest to ourselves and have a conscience that guides us to do what is right and never do what is wrong. Some of the nicest people I have ever met are atheists who live a very moral life and are always ready to help those in need while some of the nastiest people I have also met are the Bible thumpers who are mean and who never help anyone. (Read Why do we make our own demons? )
If a religion keeps you straight and on the path of virtue then I say- go for it. But if it makes you racist, intolerant of others, mean and a dishonest person then all I can say to them is – try to become a better person and create your own heaven here. Just don’t be tempted by the 72 houris to do “good” deeds.
Emperor Jahangir (a Mughal king in the 17th century) had rightly said, if there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here. It is apparent when you visit the garden he created that it was not a gross exaggeration. You do not have to be a king to create your own heaven. Between heaven and hell, I will always choose heaven whether here or in the outer world. No one really wants to live in hell.
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