Heaven and Hell

Heaven and Hell (Swarga and Narak), like Abrahamic religions is an important concept in Hinduism too. It is said that if you do good things in this life you will be sent to Heaven after you die, and if you do bad things you will end up in Hell. Heaven is a place where you will get to enjoy endless pleasures, while in Hell you will have endless torchers . There are explanations in various pauranic literature like Garud Puran, shivlilamrut, where it is explained in detail how good the pleasures would be and how bad the torchers would be.

But, this is where the similarities between Abrahamic religions and Hinduism end. While getting into heaven is the goal of life for Abrahamic religions, for Hinduism it is not. While no one wants to go to Hell, going to heaven too looked as a inferior goal of life. In order to understand this, we need to understand philosophy Karma a bit.

Quick overview What is Karma:

According to the philosophy of karma, what a person does comes back to him, more like newton’s third law. What we get in life is earned by us; part of it is from this life and remaining from earlier lives. As learned people say, we take birth to spend the karma accumulated in earlier lives and while spending accumulated karma we end up creating new ones. And to spend this newly created Karma, we need to take additional births.

In short, Hinduism believes in cycle of birth and death, where what we have got is not God’s wish but rather earned by us, either in this life or earlier lives.

Karma on Heaven and Hell:

Life on the earth is always a mix of good and bad, where people gets varying degree of good/bad depending upon karma they accumulated in this and earlier life. It would be impossible for someone to get only-good or only-bad things in life, due to nature of our bodies and environment around us. If someone has done a lot of good things in earlier lives, they can not really spend that on earth. In those cases that person would go to heaven for sometime until that accumulated good karma is spent. Same is true for someone doing lot of bad things in life, as they can not spend that on earth, and they would have to live in Hell until that bad karma is spent.

A very apt explanation of heaven is given by Sant Jnaneswar in his ‘Jnaneswari’. He compares heaven to a brothel where one is treated royally until one has money. Once money is over, the person is thrown out. In the same way when the accumulated good karma is over, one is thrown out of heaven back to the cycle of birth and death in Mrityuloka (life on earth is called Mrityuloka, as everyone has to die having born here).

Just to understand with examples, we see lot of social workers doing good things in life, but while they have good intentions in mind, they are expecting either prize, fame or honors in return. Also, There are many people doing charity in order to get punya in return. This way there are many people do good in their life, with expectations of something in-return in their mind. While some expectations get fulfilled in the this life, some are not. In order to spend that good karma, these people need to spend sometime in Heaven in order to get pleasures/good-things in return of good things they have done in earlier lives.

In summary, given that, Heaven and Hell are not permanent resting places, but rather transient places, going to heaven is considered inferior goal for life, instead it’s suggested to have much bigger goal of knowing your true self, called “Self Realization”, which will give one indefinite peace of mind, during this life and afterlife.