This is a tough article to write, mostly because we do not know anything about heaven. Sure, we all have our theories, hypothesis, beliefs and ideas, but they remain just that- theories and ideas without any tangible proof. So what is it that we do know about Heaven? What can we deduce from various systems of belief? The concept of what Heaven looks and feels like differs from religion to religion, but the basic premise remains the same- it is the place where people who have passed on live happily ever after.
We know it is a good place- common sense dictates as much. According to all religious beliefs, we either go to Heaven or to Hell after we die. Oh, and the Christians believe in a middle-ground Purgatory. So if you have been good and not committed any murders in your lifetime and brushed your teeth every day, you will land up in Heaven and enjoy eternal bliss. If, on the other hand, you have been not-so-good and committed sins and lived a life of vices, you will presumably end up in Hell- the place reserved for bad souls- and roast on the eternal fire of damnation. So if we go by that belief, it is only logical to assume by this binary that people who have been good in their lifetime will reap the benefits of the goodness by going to a wonderful place after death. According to the Bible, Heaven is a place where there is no suffering, sickness, deaths or evil. People who lead a virtuous life, are not ‘heathens’ and believe in God go to this beautiful place. This is also the reason that the Britishers used while colonizing- they wanted to save the souls of the heathens by converting them to Christianity so they would end up in Heaven and not dwell in Hell.
It is the dwelling place of God
God resides in Heaven. So does Jesus. According to the Bible, God created the world and everything in it and he rests in Heaven. To save humanity, he sent his son Jesus to Earth. If you have studied in a convent or a Christian Missionary school like me, your morning prayer probably began with “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name..” Heaven is therefore the place where God resides, along with His son Jesus. What else do we know about Heaven? We know that St. Peter guards the pearly gates of Heaven to make sure that undeserving souls do not go in. We know that Sigmund described God as sitting on a throne of gold in his book ‘My Time in Heaven.’ We know that it is because of God that Heaven is a wonderful place. His absence is what makes Hell the dreadful place it is.
No one set place? In Christopher Marlowe’s Faustus, the devil Mephistohilis loudly proclaims that Hell is not circumscribed in one self place, but is rather a state of mind. Many systems of belief believe that it is the same with heaven. Just like the Devil’s Hell is in his eternal torment because of his separation from God, something that he can not escape “Why this is Hell, not am I out of it”, similarly, Heaven is not so much a place as a state of mind. To a man with a guilt-free mind, Heaven is wherever he is. A mind tormented by sins will never experience the bliss of Heaven. Heaven is not, then, a beautiful place that you go to when you die, but rather a wonderful state of mind that you will always experience.
Many religions believe that we never gain freedom from the cycle of birth and death, and that after we die, we are not accorded the luxury of eternal bliss in Heaven but have to go on to an afterlife. Most such religions and sects who believe in the concept of afterlife will also tell you that in order to find peace and contentment in your next life, you must do good deeds in this one. We often see people exclaiming that their misfortune is a result of their sins of their previous birth. Perhaps the closest thing to heaven, according to this theory, is an afterlife full of happiness and joy. Jainism believes that there are eighty four species of animals into which we keep taking birth as one or the other animal. Jainism and Hinduism believe in the concept of afterlife, while Christianity and Islam believe that our souls rest in heaven. The concept of afterlife and the cycle of birth and death is also associated with one more belief- that of ‘moksh.’ It is believed that when you rise above worldly pleasures and the materialistic desires of earth, you reach a freedom or ‘mukti’ from this cycle of life and death. This release is called ‘moksh.’
It is a place for rewards– The Bible tells us that we will be rewarded for our good deeds in Heaven. According to Matthew 25:23 (NIV), Jesus is said to have spoken of heaven to his follower as “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” Heaven is then, presumably, a place where you will be rewarded for your faithfulness to God and the good deeds that you have committed on earth. It is also this promise of rewards in Heaven that prompts most people to do good without any expectations on earth. ‘Neki kar aur dariya me daal’ might just earn you bigger and better rewards in Heaven, so do good! This concept of rewards for good deeds is also closely aligned to the idea of good rebirths for virtuous people.
The concept of Heaven in Islam is closely allied to the Christian concept. According to the Quran, Heaven has eight doors- one each for people who were (i) punctual in prayer (ii) participated in jihad (iii) gave to charity (iv) fasted (v) went to the holy pilgrimage (vi) forgave others (vii) had the virtue of faith and trust in Allah, and (viii) remembered God zealously and constantly. People rest in their graves until the time for their Judgment by God, whereby they are allotted a place in either Jannah (Heaven) or Jahhanam (Hell) according to how good or bad they have been. It is a story in Islam that the peacock was a bird of Heaven that was sent to earth because he made the mistake of letting the Devil inside Jannat.
A place of angels
All of us have been told at one point or the other that Heaven is the place where angels reside with God. The Bible seems to agree to as much. The angels do the bidding of the Lord their God. Satan was actually the brightest angel of Heaven- Lucifer- who made the mistake of revolting against God and thereby fell from Heaven. In his book ‘My Time in Heaven’, Richard Sigmund describes being escorted around Heaven by two angels who were not as pleasant as conventional tales would like us to believe. Angels are as integral a part of Heaven as God himself. Angels are traditionally described as pretty things robed in white with halos around their head and wings on their back.
Heaven is the place where our dead loved ones live and look down upon us. I would like to believe that the people I have loved and are no longer with me on earth are looking down from Heaven and taking care of me. It is a comforting thought to have- a place high up above where people who suffered on earth can spend their days in contentment and leisure. A place where the people we loved on earth are now reaping the benefits of their goodness .