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Heaven and Hell are closer than you think
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
17 min
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Acharya Prashant (AP): The best thing would have been a non-dual state in which no association holds any meaning. There exists nobody else to associate with. There is nobody else at all and that state is blissful beyond all imaginations of the best of heavens. Even heaven is confined by the depiction and definition of what heaven means.

Therefore, liberation is a place higher and better than heaven. Heaven has a depiction and definition and therefore heaven has its boundaries and where there are boundaries there is sorrow. Liberation has neither depiction nor definition and liberation is freedom from all boundaries and therefore all sorrow.

Theoretically, it is possible to be liberated even from hell but difficult. Therefore, this is a graded approach; Heaven, and above heaven is... and below heaven is? Hell. We live in? Hell. We live in hell; we are being told how to graduate to heaven and if you make good use of heaven then you'll be liberated even from heaven.

What is heaven? The company of holiness is heaven. Company of holiness is heaven. Be with someone who will not solve your problem but will demonstrate your problem to be false. That is heaven. Heaven is a place where you get no sympathies for being problemed. Hell is a place where your problemed self is ratified. Do not think of hell as a place where you would be cruelly dealt with. All the usual, comic book depictions of hell are exactly that. A kid’s fantasy or nightmare. Immense scoundrels, full of boiling oil, and slaves being dealt with whiplashes. Right? Monsters out to suck your blood that’s what we think hell is. Hell is not that.

Hell is a place where you get a lot of sympathy, consolation, condolence, commiseration. You're told that we agree that you are in a miserable state. Your neighbor comes to you, puts his hand on your shoulder, and with a grave face tells you that you are indeed in deep trouble. That's hell. What has been done? Your belief in your problemed existence has been deepened. Your problem is not that you have problems. Your problem is that you think you are the one who can have problems and these two are very different things. Very different things.

It is one thing to have problems. It is another thing to mistake your identity so much that you start imagining yourself as being problemed. In hell, your belief in your problemed identity is reinforced. Hell is full of people ready to offer you a shoulder to sob on. You go to someone and tell him “You know, I am so weak and I am a victim of circumstances. And I am ignorant and sick. Luckless and weightless.” And the other fellow would be very quick to not only accept what you are saying but actually return to you, reflect back to you, and exaggerated version of what you are saying. You tell him “I am feverish; I have 101.” He will put his palm on your face and say, “No! you have 103.” That’s hell. The fact is you’re 98.4. Are you getting it?

Heaven is where your problems are not solved. Heaven is where your problems are dismissed. To solve a problem is to honor a problem. Heaven is a place where problems are not admitted. Hell is the place where you are not admitted if you don’t have problems.

So, heaven is the company of people who will not pay attention to what you have because all that you have is problems. Heaven is the company of people who will pay attention to what you are because when you pay attention to what you are then you have very little respect left for what you have. And the more attention you pay to what you have the easier it becomes for you to turn oblivious to what you are.

Hell focuses on what you have. Heaven reminds you of what you are and once you clearly remember who you are then you don’t even need heaven. Then what you have is ‘liberation’.

These are three ways of living you know. The most common way of living is, "What do I have?" 990 of 1000 people live constantly worrying and wondering what do I have, how much do I have, how long will it last, how can I have more. Then some 9 people, maybe, they bother to look at what they are. “What is the quality of my mind, thought, consciousness, life?” Quality that is not measured through possessions, because all possessions are ultimately sources of problems. Either they are explicitly problems or they are problems waiting to manifest. They are lyingly latent, dormant.

I am not so much concerned about what I have, the more concern I pay to what I have the more I am empowering my problems. I am rather much more concerned about what I am.

And if you pay sufficient and honest attention to who you are then you are liberated of even the need to ask who you are. That’s the fruit of constantly enquiring and wondering about your fundamental existence.

You could either worry about all the miscellaneous things which most people do or you could keep aside all the miscellaneous worries and focus your mind on this one question or concern or worry which is “How I am doing? What’s the quality of my existence? Who am I to be worrying so much?”

Needless to say, all the three are meaningful only with respect to one’s mortal existence: ‘Hell, heaven and liberation’. None of these relate to any kind of afterlife or places that one reaches after death.

Hell is a way of living; heaven is another way of living and liberation is royal life itself.

You are not consigned to hell. You are not rewarded a heaven. Hell, and heaven are both choices. Your own sovereign choices. No angel, no record-keeper, no god outside of you decides whether you would be in heaven or hell. Give up that excuse. You decide whether you want to be in heaven or hell.

Heaven gives you one kind of happiness; hell, too, offers you a particular kind of happiness and what liberation gives you is the ultimate happiness. So, it’s not about foregoing happiness. Getting it?

Unfortunately, the lowest kind of hellish happiness prevails and dominates so much that hellish happiness has become synonymous with happiness itself. Are you getting it? There is a funny repercussion, therefore. The repercussion is that those who are not in hell often start wondering whether they are happy at all. You might actually be blissful that you can easily admit “Yeah…I have a silent, gentle, bliss about me.” But if you’re asked, “Are you happy?” You will have a problem quickly and conclusively asserting yourself. Because happiness has been monopolized by the citizens of hell. Laughing, shrieking, yelling, loud, glitzy, blingy happiness. Are you getting it?

So, it’s important to realize that when you rise from hell you don’t give up happiness. You just rise to a higher level of happiness. Getting it? Similarly, liberation is not liberation from happiness really. Liberation is the ultimate level of happiness. Why I am talking about this? I am talking about this because if you are not convinced that you are graduating to a higher level of happiness then heaven can feel like a place with no happiness. Because heaven does not have happiness of the kind that is found in hell and if your very definition of happiness gets dictated by the citizens of hell. If you start buying into and believing in the definitions they create, then hell will become very attractive and heaven will look very dull to you and that will pose a danger.

Even if you are offered hell, even if you gain admission to hell, even if you wisely choose heaven; even if you do gain admission to heaven, you'll have an unfortunate inclination to slip back to hell. Why? Because heaven will appear quite an unhappy place.

Therefore, the one who graduates to heaven, the one who elevates himself to liberation must be very clear that he is not forsaking happiness, he is reclaiming happiness. And reclaiming happiness is very-very important; you cannot allow happiness to be monopolized by...

Questioner (Q): Inhabitants of hell

AP: The inhabitants of hell. The ones who are in heaven, they are the ones who really-really deserve to be happy. The ones who are liberated must be infinitely happy. But you see what we have done. We have abandoned the word “happy” to be used by the worldly folk and for the liberated state we have felt obligated to coin another word- “bliss” or “joy”. What are you saying? You are saying “We have bliss, we have joy, and what the hell! Who has happiness?" Exactly that: hell. You have bliss who has you have joy, but who has happiness? Hell has happiness. Indirectly you have declared that you are not happy, indirectly you have declared that you have joy and bliss and all that but you don’t have….

Q: Happiness

AP: It’s a very puritan way of putting things but it is also harmful. It is not harmful when you are already liberated. But when you are in hell it’s a very-very harmful way of putting things. You have to understand this.

You are in hell so what does your ego really crave for? Happiness. Right? Your ego wants happiness and you’re telling the ego, "Happiness is found in hell. In liberation, you can have bliss." The Ego says, “Who wants bliss? I want happiness so I’ll very happily stay put in hell”, and that's what happens. That’s what happens.

In the hell state of its existence, the ego has very little respect for bliss or Ānanda . All that it cares for is Sukha or happiness and you’re telling the ego that you cannot have happiness if you graduate beyond hell, so the ego refuses to graduate beyond hell. The ego says, “I’ll stay here I’m happy. Because this is where, this is only place rather, where you find happiness so I’ll not go to heaven or liberation.”

You have to tell yourself that which is found in hell is the lowest and the most polluted, the most diluted, most corrupted kind of happiness. It is no happiness at all! I really want to be happy therefore I am giving up this place, therefore I am venturing out, therefore I am rising high. Are you getting it?

So those on the spiritual path must take special care to be happy. As we said the spiritual seeker must reclaim happiness otherwise you are letting happiness go to the dogs literally.

You are allowing such people to monopolize and misuse the word happy as have no right to be happy. Do they have a right to be happy? No. But they are the ones who are always found happy. Heaven is a very happy... (correcting himself) Hell is a very happy place. See, I hate to correct myself. Heaven should be a happy place instead all the happy ones are found in....

Q: Hell

AP: All hours in hell are happy hours and heaven is such a dry place. Why have we allowed that? All the people who are laughing, giggling they are all found in hell. Somebody said all the interesting people are found in hell.

No! They are not interesting people; they are sick people. It’s just that the very definition of the word 'interesting' has become distorted to their advantage. People in hell are as interesting as a stinking pile of trash is. It is indeed interesting, to whom? To crows, to dogs, to various kinds of bacteria and such things, they find it very interesting. Are you a crow to accept that definition? Why must you accept that definition therefore it is important to reclaim these words- interesting, happy, smart. Why must you call all the nonsensical beefcakes as smart? I’ve never heard somebody calling a Buddha or a Mahavira as smart. Why not? Why have you abandoned all the interesting words to the creatures of hell? Why?

By doing that you have raised trouble for yourself. We have come to a point where, if you find a spiritual person, really pleased and radiant and actually happy then you start doubting whether he is really spiritual. Because the only ones who have a right to be happy are…

Q: The Hell people.

AP: The people of hell. You say, “You are spiritual, how are you happy? You are not supposed to be happy.” "Then what am I supposed to be?" “You are supposed to be gloomy, dull, de facto dead. You’re supposed to be a corpse somehow in motion. You are not supposed to dance, you are not supposed to sing. You’re supposed to be just regretting the fact that you are breathing. You are supposed to be wishing that you dropped it this moment or next”, then you are a spiritual person. All the merrymaking is reserved for...

Q: The Inhabitants of hell

AP: The inhabitants of hell. No wonder that place is jam-packed. If all the merrymaking is supposed to happen in hell where would you find most of the people?

Q: In hell

AP: In hell and that’s what we have done. All that which makes life worth living has been allotted to hell. Now, how surprising it is that everybody is attracted to hell?

If you are a lover of truth, if you are in the spiritual pursuit then it becomes a double responsibility upon you to remain highly happy. And when I say 'highly happy', I do not mean the degree of happiness. I am not referring to the degree of happiness, I am referring to the quality of happiness. Do you get the difference? I am saying you have to be 'highly happy' that does not mean that you have to raise the decibels doubly, as you guff out. No! Highly happy means your happiness has to be of a high order. It is your responsibility.

Do not starve yourself of happiness. If you are giving up on lower happiness make sure that you provide yourself with higher happiness. That’s your privilege. More than privilege that’s your Dharma , that’s your responsibility. It would sound strange to you. “Is it my dharma to be really happy?” Yes. It is your dharma to be really happy. Because if you are not really happy then you will seek happiness. And if you will seek happiness sooner than later, you’ll find yourself in hell. The only way to avoid hell-like happiness is to create heaven-like happiness for yourself.

If you are living in a heaven devoid of happiness then that heaven will not be able to hold you for long. Your patience will run thin and you will find yourself attracted to hell. Now all said and done hell offers happiness. Getting it?

Elevating life is one thing, giving up on life is totally a different thing. Choosing the right road compared to the wrong road is one thing and not traveling at all is a totally different thing.

The resident of hell who claims that he is happy, will be terribly afraid of facing someone who is really happy. That’s his nightmare. So, he is always cautious. He will not want to come across a really happy person. Therefore, he will be very choosy, very selective due to fear in terms of the ones he speaks to, the ones he chooses to make claims in front of. You are saying there are so many residents of hell who go about bragging that they are happy and satisfied. They cannot make these claims in front of everybody. They make claims in front of only those who would not dispute or disprove these claims. Are you getting it?

So, if they are able to successfully make these claims in front of you then it merely means that right now you are not in a place where your very being, or presence, or voice reflects back to them their miserable state of existence. They think that you are a soiled mirror. Standing in front of a soiled mirror you can deceive yourself. Can you not?

Once they know that you reflect honestly and accurately, they will be very afraid of making dishonest claims in front of you. The fact that they avoid reality, that fact that they avoid truth and spirituality itself demonstrates that they are afraid. Are they not? If you say that you are indeed happy and satisfied would you be reluctant to test the depth of your satisfaction, the depth of your life? No! But you would see that these people are very-very reluctant. They are reluctant because they know they will be exposed. Getting it?

So, it's not as if it's a tremendously difficult problem that some people are putting up an act. Those who are putting up an act are more conscious of the act, the deception than anybody else. It's just that if you are still not very evolved then they are able to pull a fast one, and you know, fool you or say they think.

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