Heaven, Hell & Purgatory

Heaven, Hell & Purgatory
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Heaven, Hell & Purgatory

Highlights

It is not as though heaven or hell exist only in the hereafter

Most major religions of the world preach that the virtuous, who have done good deeds in their lifetime, will spend the hereafter in heaven, while those who have committed crimes or inflicted pain and suffering on others will go to hell, as a measure of punishment.

While Judaism has no specific doctrine about afterlife, it does, however, have a mystical and orthodox tradition of describing hell. Perceived as a 'waiting room' or 'entry way' for all souls, for a period not exceeding twelve months, where souls are purified for their eventual ascent to 'Olam Habah' or the Jewish heaven. 'Kabbalah,' or received knowledge, even describes seven compartments of Hell just as the seven divisions of heaven in Christianity.

Purgatory in the Christian Holy Bible, however, is described as the process of purification or temporary punishment where the souls, of those who died in a state of grace, are made ready for heaven, by getting their souls purified through a period of temporary punishment.

The Christian concept of heaven is the location of the throne of God and the abode of the righteous in afterlife, where Mary, mother of Jesus, is venerated as the Queen. It is also called as the seventh Heaven, to be in which is generally understood as being in a state of ecstasy or extreme happiness.

The seventh Heaven is also called Cabala and extolled in the Holy Qur'an. The Holy Qur'an, however, specifies certain qualities to inhabit Jannat or heaven, which include dutifulness, doing good things, being truthful and penitent, and having faith in God's revelations. The source of Islamic thought, perceives Heaven or (Jahannum) as a testimony to God's sovereignty, to justice and as a warning to individuals and countries to make the right choice between fidelity, righteousness, life and their opposites namely infidelity, iniquity and death.

According to Vedic philosophy, the proper performance Vedic Prescription and sacrifices grants a man the right to prosper in life and to join one's ancestors in the sky in afterlife.

The Vedic equivalent of hell is usually perceived to be South of the universe and beneath the earth. All living beings go there to be judged by Yama (the Presiding Deity of Narakaloka). Depending on the verdict of Lord Yama, the virtuous go directly to heaven, parameters of favouring that decision being that they have been charitable, donors of food and eternally true speaking. So do war heroes.

Sinners, however, are tormented and suffer various types of punishments, the type depending on the nature and extent of their sins.

According to Buddhist faith, no Divine being makes decisions about destinations in afterlife. No such things as Heaven or Hell exist which are merely illusory consequences of thought, word and deed which we call 'karma.'

Africa is a large region. A diverse and complex continent of considerable genetic, linguistic, cultural and phenotypic diversity, it has as many as 59 religions. The faiths vary from complete belief in afterlife, Heaven and Hell to rejecting such concepts altogether.

Tiän is one of the oldest Chinese terms for heaven in mythology, philosophy and religion. While there is a broad belief in western culture that sinners have to suffer in hell, the Chinese version of hell is more of a purgatory, where souls are able eventually to leave and be reincarnated back into the world once they have done their time. One of the most remarkable features of Chinese religion is that it knows no revelation, no miracles, no divine interferences. It is only a belief in destiny, Ming, which is known only when it is accomplished.

In Japanese Buddhism, hell is ruled over by Emma-ö who judges the dead by consulting a register in which all their sins are entered. And Heaven is a lofty and sacred world.

And it is not as though heaven or hell exist only in the hereafter. Even when one is alive, and very much on earth, there are places one can visit which are endowed with qualities which compare very favourably with what one can expect there. The Lord Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam is the only temple in the whole world, known as Bhooloka Vaikuntham, and is a replica of Lord Vishnu's highest abode, Vaikuntham or heaven. There are also beliefs that Tirumala (the abode of Lord Venkateswara) is the heaven as also the Kailash (the abode of Lord Siva).

The Darwaza Gas Crater is a burning natural gas field near Darwaza in Turkmenistan. Known as the Door to Hell or Gates of Hell, it is a burning natural gas field collapsed into a cavern.

Since James Hilton, author of Lost Horizon, imagined Shangri – La, a host of Himalayan areas have laid claim to that earthly Eden.

And then there is Kashmir, about which Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, during a visit, said, "Gar Firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast." Freely translated it means 'If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.'

Having noted all this, one needs to understand that the ultimate sin is to cause suffering or pain to others, and the greatest virtue, to provide succor to those suffering or to make a person smile. So long as life is carried on with this underlying principle as the guide to thought, word and deed, one can expect to live happily in peace and harmony, no matter what awaits one in afterlife.

Custom requires the Vice President of India to attend the national days of the various countries in their missions at New Delhi. It would be embarrassing for the Foreign Minister to attend, and the Prime Minister going is out of the question. I was Secretary to the Vice President of India and Justice Hidayatullah was occupying that distinguished office. On 7 October falls the Russian Revolution Day. Hidayatullah went to the Russian Embassy separately with yours faithfully in tow.

As required by protocol, the National Anthem of the country is played first, followed by the national anthem of India. As Janaganamana was being played out, the record got stuck. The Vice President, already all of 76, began to sway, switch on his feet unsteadily as the repair took time. Just as I was getting worried, someone set it right and the anthem was duly played out. As we were walking into the Embassy, the Russian Ambassador to India, red-faced and extremely flustered, began to offer profuse apologies. Hidayatullah, smiling, said to him:

"There is a story about a tourist party going round hell. They found sinners being burnt for their sins in a burner. One was Russian made and the other American. There was a long queue at the Russian one. Curious, a tourist party member asked St. Gabriel what the reason was. Gabriel's reply was, 'That one is made in Russia and breaks down frequently!' And only a mechanic from Russia has to come to repair it"

That Hidayatullah should have chosen that moment to relate the story to the already embarrassed Ambassador was really a show of sense of humour, and an effort to put the host's mind at ease.

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh) (The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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