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Heaven and Hell


Other consequences of moral difference emerged in India. Early on, in the Rig Veda, Yama, the first man to die, now a god, rules the dead from "the highest heaven" (10:14). The soul or self (atman) carries with it the moral qualities and blemishes of all its lives. Determined by its own actions (karma), it moves through cycles (samsara) of births, deaths, and rebirths, making all life the result of one's past lives. Life in the world becomes a temporary hell (or purgatory) that creates a yearning for release (moksha). In the Hinduism closest to the Upanishads, release occurs only when one understands the unity of the self or soul and the cosmos. Then the individual soul transcends itself and becomes its true atman as it blends in glory into the unity of the cosmos and attains Brahman. Brahman is Hinduism's highest reality, but it is not synonymous with the heavens, which are below, part of changeable samsara.

Later, after Hinduism adopted a savior figure active in multiple forms, or avatars, the Bhagavad Gita distinguished among the dead persons, who become either like gods or like demons. "The fate of a god is release (moksha); the fate of a demon is bondage." For the arrogant there is a downward spiral of re-birth into successive wombs of demons. "[This] is how men of evil karma fall down into hells." The Markandeya Purana characterizes seven hells administered by Yama, each with its own name: The Terrible Hell, the Great Terrible, Cutting-off, Unsupported, Sword-leaf-forest, and the Hot-pot hells. The re-born progress through lives as "worms, insects, moths, beasts of prey, mosquitoes … elephants, trees, untouchable women, finally up through the castes as Servant, Commoner, Warrior, Priest." Meritorious people enjoy celestial garlands, gems, singing, dancing, nymphs, rebirth into royal and noble families, "the very best pleasures." Yet there is a "great misery even in heaven" at the thought of a fall, since the heavens are also subject to samsara (chapters 10–12). Only moksha is perfect release.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to HeterodontHeaven and Hell - Egypt, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Ancient Greek Religion, Etruscans And Romans, Judaism