The idea of heaven and hell exists in some form or another
in all religions. This gives the religions a great hold
upon the masses keeping them completely under their sway,
inducing them to do good and to keep from evil. Without
this it would be almost impossible, for man is always being
tempted to evil, and great difficulties stand in his way
when he attempts to do good, since the wicked seem to possess
the kingdom of the earth, while the righteous look to the
mercy of God. If no such promise had been given, no other
reward, however great, would ever have united mankind in
the religion of faith.
The reward that God gives is quite different from any
earthly comforts and riches, but in early times, and even
with most people now, it could only be expressed in the
form of earthly rewards. That is why the Apostles received
the power to speak to every man in his own language.
The early scriptures were given at a time when the evolution
of the world was such that people were eager for whatever
material comfort was obtainable. If it had been at this
time, something else would have been promised. They were
told, 'If you will keep from sin, then you will be amid
thornless lota trees and banana trees laden with
fruit, the shade of them spreading over you, with water
flowing and couches set up. Under them shall walk youths
ever-blooming, and bright ones with large eyes like hidden
pearls. There shall be created for you a new creation, and
maidens young and beautiful, with golden goblets and ewers
and a cup of flowing wine. Brows ache not thereat nor do
the senses fail. And fruits of what you like best, and flesh
of birds, whatever you desire. Ye shall hear therein no
vain talk nor sin, only the cry, 'Peace, peace!''
When a child is told, 'If you do this, you shall have
candy,' however great the sacrifice is, he will do it, for
he thinks, 'I shall have candy.' The words in the scriptures
about the reward of good deeds in heaven were spoken in
a manner suited to the evolution of that time. The promises
were made as an older person makes promises to a child and
says, 'Do not take another person's apple. I will give you
another apple, even sweeter than this. Don't take another
child's doll. I will give you another doll even better than
This was the only way of keeping unevolved people from
In the same way mankind was threatened with punishment,
such as being burnt by a scorching fire, made to drink from
a fountain boiling fiercely, having no food but thorns and
thistles, as a mother says to her child, 'You will get a
whipping if you do so.'
The Prophet once said, 'Hell is for the wicked, and heaven
is striven for by the fools.'
Each religion has pictured heaven and hell according
to familiar scenes upon earth, in whatever part of the world
it might be.
The heaven of the Hindu is an opera house. In it are
the Apsaras and Gandharvas, the singers and
dancers, and in their hell are snakes and scorpions, filth
In the Christian heaven the blessed become angels robed
in white, with white wings. They hold golden harps. They
are in the blue sky, seated on white clouds, singing the
praise of God, and their joy is in knowing God and in the
communion of the blessed. The Christian hell is a blazing,
fiery furnace with lakes of brimstone and burning sulfur,
where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. The
devils goad the damned with the red-hot prongs of their
pitchforks. They are parched with thirst, and there they
remain either forever or until they have paid the debt of
their sins to the uttermost farthing.
In the Muslim heaven there will be Huris and
Malaks to wait upon the inhabitants of Jannat,
the heavenly attendants, whose faces will be luminous and
radiant with heavenly beauty and incomparably more handsome
than the fair ones of the earth. Milk and honey flow in
streams, and jewels and gems roll underfoot. Cooling drinks,
the bracing breeze, and all fruits, and delicious foods
will always be ready, and fountains of Kauthar, the
divine wine, will run. Every person who enters Jannat,
be he a child or aged, will be young there. There will be
the association of the holy, and the divine atmosphere will
be felt throughout everything. Hell in the Muslim tradition
is said to be like a raging fire, hotter beyond comparison
than any fire on earth. There will be the company of those
crying and shrieking, calling for water with flames in their
mouths. Melancholy, miserable, helpless, and feeble will
be the surroundings, and darkness, confusion, horror, and
ignorance will be felt all around, while a devilish atmosphere
will overwhelm all.
One might ask why the different religions have given
differing accounts of heaven and hell. But the prophets
never spoke what is not true, so that if we take the philosophical
view, we see that the meaning is that whatever we have idealized
we shall have.
The Hindus had idealized music, singing, playing, and
dancing; therefore this was their heaven.
In Christianity, because from its foundation the thought
of the distinction of sex was avoided, the holy place was
held to be one where there are angels, sexless, singing
to the God in the heavens above the clouds.
In Arabia, in the hot sand, a person wishes for a cooling
drink every moment, and the climate makes the people emotional
and gives them the desire to admire youth and beauty.
Hell, in almost all religions, has been described in
some way or other as the place of torment, where all sources
of torture are to be found.
The picture of heaven or hell had its origin in the simplest
revelation as it came to the mind of the Prophet: a great
horror at the idea of sin and a sense of joy and beauty
at the sight of virtue. It expresses itself first in artistic
imagination before it comes to the lips. The thought of
horror at once brings pictures of fire, especially in the
deserts and hot sand of Arabia, where water is the one salvation
of all creatures, and fire is always the chief element of
destruction. When the thought of joy and beauty comes, it
at once pictures the beauty of the opposite sex, which has
charmed the soul from the first day of creation and will
do the same forever. Then all delights which appeal to the
senses and all sights which one longs to see, stood before
the Prophet's artistic view, and were expressed in the language
that his listeners were capable of appreciating. While the
Sufi penetrates to the source of this idea, the simple believer
revels in the words.
All that the traditions say is understood literally by
the faithful, but the Sufi perceives them differently. To
him Huris are the heavenly expressions of beauty
appearing before the eye which was open on earth, admiring
the divine immanence on earth. 'God is beautiful and he
loves beauty,' as it is said in the Hadith. The whole
creation was made that the beauty within the Creator might
manifest in His creation, that it might be witnessed. The
same tendency is working throughout the whole circuit. God's
eye sees the heavenly beauty through the godly on their
way towards the eternal goal. 'No soul knows what is reserved
for them, what joy will refresh their eyes as a reward for
what they have done,' says the Quran.
Honey is the essence of all flowers. The essence of the
whole being is wisdom. Wisdom is the honey which is found
in heaven. Milk is the pure and essential substance prepared
in the breast of the mother. The essential substance of
our being is the spirit, which is pure like milk, and by
spirituality we drink that milk on which our soul is nourished.
It is said in the Bible, 'Man doth not live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'
The earthly treasures such as gems and jewels, which the
godly have renounced in their life upon earth, are rolling
like pebbles, worthless, beneath their feet.
To the seer earthly wealth, which man pursues all his
life, becomes in the end like pebbles rolling under his
feet. Kauthar, wine, means the intoxicating influence
of spiritual ecstasy, which is hidden in the heart as love.
This purifies the mind from all impressions made upon it
during the life on earth, thus preparing the soul for the
at-one-ment with God.
There is a different heaven and hell for each person,
in accordance with the grade of his evolution. What is heaven
to one person may be hell to another. A poor man will think
it heaven to have a comfortable house to live in and a carriage
to drive in. If a king were made to live in the house of
a rich merchant, with one or two carriages, and a few servants
to wait upon him, he would think it hell. A click of the
tongue is more painful to the horse than ten lashes on the
back of a donkey. This shows that the hell of a horse and
of a donkey cannot be the same.
There is a story told of a Padishah before whom
four persons were brought, arrested for the same crime.
He looked at one and said, 'Hang him.' He looked at another
and said, 'Lifelong imprisonment.' He looked at the third
and said, 'Banish him.' Then he saw the fourth and said,
'Shame! How dare you show your face to me? Go, and never
come before me again.' The one who went to be hanged killed
a few more on his way to the gallows. The exiled one went
away and started his trade and roguery still more prosperously
in another country. The imprisoned one rejoiced shamelessly
with friends in the prison. But he who was exempted from
all punishment went home and committed suicide. To him the
Padishah's bitter words were worse than a bowl of
It is not that God from His infinite state rewards us
or punishes us, or that there is one fold or enclosure called
heaven, in which the virtuous are allowed to be, and another
called hell, in which all the sinners are penned. In reality
we experience heaven and hell in our everyday life all the
time. But here we experience both states, the dream and
the physical life. There is always the possibility of change.
If we experience hell now, tomorrow it may be heaven. If
our experience today is heaven, then there is the chance
that tomorrow it may be hell. But when we return from this
world of variety we do not progress in experience. Our heaven
and hell do not change much.
Let us take first the hell and heaven that each person
makes for himself here. When a person does an action with
which his conscience is not pleased, the impression remains
with him, torturing him continually and keeping before his
eyes the agonies that his self experiences. We see in the
world people in high positions, in luxurious surroundings,
possessed of wealth and power, yet whose evil deeds keep
up a blazing fire within them. Sometimes their life shows
outwardly what their inward state is. Sometimes it does
not, and people think that they are happy, but they themselves
find they are in hell. And yet it is partly hidden from
their eyes, because of the continual variety of their experiences.
This is the vague sight of their hell, which they will in
the future experience fully.
When a person does some deed which his conscience likes,
it approves him. It says, 'Bravo! Well done!' His soul is
glad of his deeds. In however bad an environment he may
be placed, the inner joy still suffices to keep him happy.
When by his righteous deeds he has satisfied his conscience,
the God within is pleased. However bad his worldly situation
may be, he is happy within himself. The world, perhaps,
may deem him unhappy, but he is happier than kings. This
is his heaven, and the same experience continues uninterruptedly
on the higher plane of existence, which is heaven and hell.
Every person creates his own heaven and hell. A disciple
once asked his murshid, 'Pray, Murshid, let
me see heaven in a vision.' The murshid said, 'Go
into the next room, child, and sit and close your eyes and
you will see heaven.' The mureed went into the next
room and sat in meditation. He saw in his vision a large
area but nothing else. There were no rivers of honey and
seas of milk, nor bricks of ruby, nor roofs of diamonds.
He went to his murshid and said, 'Thank you, Murshid.
Now I have seen heaven, I should like to see hell.' The
murshid said, 'Very well; do the same again.' The
disciple went into the next room and sat in his meditation,
and again he saw a large area, but nothing in it, no snakes,
no fire, no devils, nor cruel animals, nothing. He went
to the murshid and said, 'I saw an area, but again
there was nothing in it.' The murshid said, 'Child,
did you expect that the rivers of honey and the seas of
milk would be there, or the snakes or the fire in hell?
No. There is nothing there. You will have to take everything
from here. This is the place to gather everything, either
the delights of heaven or the fires of hell.'
'Heaven is the vision of fulfilled desire, and hell the
shadow of a soul on fire,' says Omar Khayyam.
Our self, in reality, is heaven if blessed by divine
mercy, and it is our self which is hell if cursed by the
divine wrath. The seven gates spoken of in the Quran
are the seven openings of our senses, through which gates
we experience our heaven or hell, and the seven pinnacles
mean the seven planes of man's existence, which have each
its peculiar heaven and its peculiar hell.
Things appear to us as we make them appear. If we are
tolerant with our surroundings and contented with whatever
we have, enduring unavoidable discomforts and inconveniences,
and if we acquire knowledge of our being, if we see the
divine immanence around us, and if we develop within us
the love on which the whole world is sustained, our life
becomes a preparation for heaven and our hereafter its full
expression. Such is the state of the godly. As it is said
in the Quran, 'The pious enter therein in peace and
security... They shall touch them therein no worry, nor
shall they be cast out.' If they are covered with rags,
if lying on the dust, that dust becomes the throne of Suleyman,
and their turban of rags becomes Khusru's crown.
Our discontent with what we have in life, our intolerance
of our surroundings, and lack of endurance of those conditions
that we cannot avoid, our weakness in giving way to our
passions and appetites, our lack of sociability, our ignorance
of our true being and our blindness to the vision of God
manifest in nature, are the torment of life here and the
blazing fire in the hereafter.
Heaven is for the pious whose virtues were for this end,
and hell is for the wicked who themselves have kindled its
fire. The Sufi says, 'I am beyond both. Happy in the arms
of the eternal peace. Neither can the joy of heaven tempt
me, nor can the fire of hell touch me, for I have embraced
the bliss and have kissed the curse, and have been raised
above life's joys and sorrows.'
Of course, no soul will remain in heaven or hell forever.
It is a gradual process of dissolving in the ocean of the
eternal Being the remainder of the individual being. It
is this state which is called Pul-sirat, or purgatory.