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Some refer to heaven and hell as places where the soul goes, others understand that they are a state of spirit. Some locate hell and heaven inside one’s mind while others believe that they exist outside.
No matter what is the religion, every culture has a point of view on paradise and purgatory.
But when comparing different religions, language and contexts have to be taken into account to understand the real meaning behind the terms. The result is more than simply fascinating – in essence, they are all saying the same thing and yet, people fight over the small differences.
According to Christian religions, once a person dies, his or her soul will be judged by God and sent to heaven or hell depending on the actions of the person. If a person was “good” and lived by the Biblical teachings, heaven is granted.
However, if a person was “bad”, he or she might be sent to hell. Descriptions of hell include fire, beasts, pain and suffering for a long period of time, in fact, eternity.
Although believers today find it very obvious that the faith in Jesus and being a Christian is a requirement to reach heaven, the primitive Christianity (which refers to the Bible before it was modified and edited in the many councils, including the Council of Nicea and Constantinople) suggested that believing in the figure of Jesus was unimportant as it was said that every being is judged by their actions and intentions rather than their beliefs and the principles of good actions are present in every single religion.
Even though Spiritism is a Christian religion, in the sense that it understands that the Bible contains valid teachings that synthesizes the divine, Spiritists argue that the biblical teachings were misinterpreted throughout history and that hell and heaven described in the Bible refer to another reality – the many possible destinations of the spirit depending on his vibration, which is a result of feelings and intentions.
Being reincarnationists, Spiritists believe that after death, the spirit is attracted to spiritual colonies of similar vibration and stay there until they need to be born again in the physical world.
There are many spiritual colonies in different levels of energy. They can be as bad as the hell described by other Christian religions, including pain and suffering, they can be calm and similar to life in the physical world including schools, hospitals and some entertainment, or they can be what people would call a paradise – a peaceful place where there’s no pain and no despair, where all the difficulties of the physical life are left behind. There are as many different kinds of colonies as there are different levels of spiritual evolution.
According to Spiritism as well as some other reincarnationist religions, heaven and hell aren’t eternal as it is still possible to evolve after death – since life continues without the physical body, one has always the chance to continue to grow and therefore, the chance to go to a better place until another incarnation is needed.
The Tibetan Buddhism understands that there are different levels of consciousness which define the experience of the afterlife.
The more attached the consciousness is to the physical world, the more painful the experience of the deceased person will be. The Tibetan book of the Dead explains the stages that consciousness goes through after the physical body is dead.
The first impact is to face the highest level of consciousness. The light that involves this stage is called Dharmakaya and merging with this light is the most pleasant and rewarding sensation that one could experience. This corresponds to heaven, or nirvana.
However, the consciousness that is very attached to the physical world and has a strong sense of individuality will be scared to merge with the light, as merging means becoming one with that energy, and will move away from this possibility.
Then, the deceased person will face the projections of his own mind. If during the physical life, the person cultivated love, tenderness, wisdom and compassion, he will spend the rest of his experience in peace until the next incarnation.
On the other hand, if during the life in the physical body, the person cultivated bad feelings such as anger, jealousy, selfishness, exaggerated sensuality and resentments, these feelings will take shape and haunt him, transforming the experience into a hell.
Finally, when one is unable to understand that the angry figures are projection of his own mind, his consciousness will start judging his actions through a final judgement in which it is established in which place – or lokas – the consciousness will stay until a new incarnation is necessary.
In total, there are six lokas, the lowest levels are said to be atrocious, while the intermediate lokas are mild and the highest levels are heavenly – called Devachan.
The main difference between eastern and western concepts of heaven and hell, is that in the west, the paradise and the purgatory are places that exist outside while for eastern philosophies, hell and heaven are inside one’s mind.
For eastern religions, the only thing that judges a person is his own consciousness and not an external being.
Some scholars suggest that in primitive Christianity, which would derive from eastern schools of thought, the differences between western and eastern thinking were even smaller.
When Christianity was modified for political purposes during the councils, it was established that “God is outside” as a way to offer redemption through the Church.
No matter the culture or nation, the heart of every religion is the same – all of them say that a person will face the consequences of actions, thoughts and intentions and that cultivating love and wisdom is the path for happiness, be in the physical world or in the afterlife.