A place or state of bliss or happiness. Every religion teaches some kind of heaven during the after-death state or a state of consciousness even during one’s life. Thus, St. Paul spoke of himself as having entered into the “third heaven” while still living. The particulars of the teaching of heaven, however, differ widely. In general, heaven is considered as the abode of the holy or the just after death.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Old Testament word for heaven is shamayin, which refers to the sky, thus it does not refer to an after-death state of happiness. At most, it refers to the abode of the Lord. Judaism does not place a strong emphasis on the afterlife and opens up varieties of opinion on the destiny of the soul after death. For example, Jewish Kabbalists include reincarnation in their belief system. The Torah itself has no explicit teachings about heaven.
In the New Testament, the word derives from ouranos, which also means sky, but is used to refer to a place or state where the soul will go if it is righteous. In later doctrinal statements, Catholics believe that the soul in heaven will see or perceive God or the Divine Essence intuitively, called the Beatific Vision. Those good souls who are not completely pure but who do not deserve hell will go through an intermediate state called purgatory, where the sins are cleansed before entering heaven (see HELL). To later theologians, heaven is not a place but a relationship with Christ, thus acquiring a mystical element.
In ISLAM, heaven is called suma’ in Arabic, and is distinguished from Paradise or al-Jannah, a garden of delight to those who are to be rewarded. There are also seven paths or stages to Heaven in Islam. One hadith (tradition) assigns various biblical characters such as Jesus, Adam, Joseph, Moses, Abraham, etc., to each of the heavenly levels.
Hinduism and Buddhism. In view of eastern belief in reincarnation, the various heavens are regarded as temporary states of the afterlife, and are different from the permanent state of liberation, the moksa of the Hindus, and NIRVANA of the Buddhist. In Hinduism, the equivalent of heaven is svarga, while in Buddhism it is sukhavati. In addition there are seven divine lokas or abodes, as opposed to the seven talas or infernal regions.
Theosophical Views. Theosophy agrees with the Buddhist view of DEVACHAN as a blissful afterlife state but which has a limited time span. This heaven is hence different from the Christian view of heaven as a place of eternal happiness and a beatific vision of God. The happiness comes from the subjective realization of the aspirations of the Ego in Devachan. It is therefore like a dream where the dreamer is absorbed in one’s own subjective experience. In this state, the Ego has no contact with the physical world except when a living embodied person can raise one’s consciousness to the higher mental level.
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