What is heaven and what is hell? || Acharya Prashant (2015)

Swarg iti cha satsansargah swargah

Narak iti cha asat sansaar vishay jansansarga eva narakah

– Niralamba Upanishad

{Heaven is the association with the holy.
Association with the worldly folk who are unholy, alone is hell.

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Acharya Prashant: ‘Heaven’ and ‘hell’ are obviously not geographies.

What is it that you call as ‘holy’? That which is untainted, uncorrupted. And obviously you call that as ‘holy’ because there is something within you which gives you that definition. There is something within you which demands cleanliness, there is something within you which does not like dirt, corruption and conditioning.

So what you call as ‘holy’ is demanded by something which is of the same ‘holy’ nature and is already present in you. Had you not been holy at all, you could not have demanded the ‘holy’. You would have been satisfied with all the dirt and filth that comes along in life. But we dislike all that. It becomes a load on the mind. We do not like it, we remain dissatisfied. We want something clean, pristine, like this sheet of snow all around.

That very urge firstly means that the holy resides within us. Now this is a tricky situation then. If the holy resides within us, then why are we unclean? If our essence is holiness, from where does the unholy come?

There is a clear contradiction; there is a clear paradox. If essentially you are holy, how can life then be unholy? So when you meet a contradiction like this, obviously you have to reject one of the statements. If two statements contradict each other, both of them cannot be simultaneously true. One of them has to be rejected. You can either say, “Well there is nothing called ‘the essential,’ that there is nothing called the ‘center’ or the ‘core,’ and there is nothing holy about our existence. If there is, then show it to me. Can you demonstrate or display it to me?” And it will be very difficult to demonstrate, display or convince that essentially we are holy. So you have an easy option available, which is to discard the first statement itself and say, “Well there is nothing called ‘holy’ within. This haphazard, random, frustrating life is all that we have. Life is nothing but a spread of unholiness.”

You can do that. You can reject the first statement. Or you could say, “I have faith that essentially I am divine, essentially I am clean. And this directly implies that all that appears unclean is just a myth, an illusion. It is to be rejected, falsified.”

What do you do with a statement that is incorrect? You reject it.  What do you do with a perception that is an illusion? You reject it.

Are you getting it?

So there can be another type of mind which can then say, “I am not contended with this humdrum, with this unclean, stinking state of affairs. I reject them, because essentially I am holy. If I am essentially holy, then how can life be like this? I reject it! I reject it!”

This rejection cannot happen if firstly you do not get a glimpse of the True. You are rejecting something by calling it false, right? It is only the closeness to the True which gives you the power, the courage, to reject the false. Otherwise, you will keep on accepting the false, helplessly, slavishly, without any possibility of redemption. You will keep on accepting it and you will call it ‘surrendering to fate’.

You will say, “Well this is all that there is, what can we do? Life is like this for me, and for everybody else. It has always been like this, it is like this and I do not foresee any possibility that something can change even in the future.” You will go on living in this falseness.

To reject the false, closeness of Truth is required.

Now, Truth is, by definition, the only element that there is. So what do we mean by ‘closeness of truth’? Does truth ever go far away? Yes, Truth does go far away from the one who is living in the false. For him, even though Truth is really close, it becomes apparently very-very distant. Being close, it appears very distant.

What is then meant by ‘association with the holy’? ‘Association with the holy’ means that “in this false life, there is a possibility of coming in contact with a situation, a person, a book, an environment, or anything else, which can remind me of my essentially true nature.” That is association with the holy. Association with something, someone, the presence of whom reminds you of your own internal Truth; whose presence is a proof, a validation, that if it is possible in one case, then it is possible for you as well.

This is what gives you courage to reject the false! Otherwise, you are caught. There is the force of situations, home, family, office, society, education, of earning a livelihood, and you are in the middle of all that. And then there is that occasional, faint call from within, there is that gnawing feeling of discontent. You do not know what to do, no other world exists, you are in the middle of your situations, you cannot go anywhere else, and in the middle of this situation, you also do not feel satisfied. You are stuck!

Most people will take the easy way out. They will say, “Instead of rejecting this and taking so much trouble, why not simply reject the first statement? Why not simply reject the possibility of ‘holiness’? Why not just say that this is life. Full stop! Eat, sleep, drink and be merry. This is life. There is nothing more to it; don’t even talk about it, it’s dangerous.”

They take this route, because we are stuck and we are hopelessly stuck.

There is nothing around us which offers us any kind of help. And even if we try to rise a little from our own inner conviction and sense of motivation, there are a thousand forces outside that suppress this motivation. So we are caught. Nothing is there to help.

What is ‘association with the holy’ then? It’s a helping hand! And remember that this ‘helping hand’ does not take you away to another world or another land. It only helps you do what you have always wanted to do. It only helps you realize what your own deepest desire is. Your own deepest desire is of freedom. That is what ‘association with the holy’ is. Are you getting it? And that has been called as ‘heaven’.

‘Heaven’ and ‘hell’ are obviously for the mind; they do not have any existence elsewhere. So ‘heaven’ is a situation in which the mind gets what contends it deeply, a relaxation. That relaxation is not possible in our otherwise agitated life. Common life is sheer agitation. Right? Provocation, agitation, excitement, and the resultant frustration.

Heaven, the company that on one hand relaxes you, and on the other hand gives you the courage that it can happen, that it is not impossible, that the situation is not hopeless.

“I can be free! My deepest dreams were not just nonsense. They were there to be realized. They can be realized!”

And what is your deepest dream? Not the dream that you start assimilating from here and there. Your deepest dream is to just be what you are, what you really are. And the world gives you a thousand dreams, but not this one. This is your own original dream. Heaven is the moment when you realize that this dream is possible. Heaven is the moment when you clearly see that in this hateful world, love is possible. And not only is it possible theoretically, it is possible for you. It’s there!

It doesn’t happen on its own because you being what you are, you are just stuck. It happens when perchance in the middle of your bonded world, just by chance, you encounter a glimpse of freedom, and you encounter the music of love. That is heaven!

You are struggling, laboring, somehow carrying yourself on, trudging and taking life as trudgery. You had given up all hope, and then the hope is rekindled. That is heaven! And not only is it a hope that something can happen in the future, it is there for the taking. Extend your hand and take it. That is heaven!

And correspondingly, now you know what ‘hell’ is. That is easier to appreciate, right? That appears less of a concept. It appears more real. Hell! We know what hell is. Pretty close! It’s sometimes our residential address.

All that convinces you that just this humdrum, random state of affairs is life, the company of forces that tell you not to fly too high, the forces that tell you that compromise is the name of the game, that tell you to play safe and remain secure, that tell you that the world is a fearful place, that you must be afraid, that you must be concerned about yourself, that tell you that you are born to follow practices and patterns – the company of such voices is hell.

That’s it!

(Snow fall begins at the session venue!)

Listener: Holy!

Acharya Prashant: The false will never admit, “I am just a shadow.” It will say, “Nothing but me is there.” The world itself is heaven. When is the world heaven? When you realize that the world is like a door, a gateway to the beyond – now it is heaven! The beyond is not heaven, remember! Because beyond, there is no mind, and heaven and hell are in the mind.

The world is heaven when it is a gateway to the beyond. The world itself is hell when the world becomes an objective reality in itself. “I am all!” When the world says, “I am all that there is,” then the world is hell.

See, it’s snowing and it’s not comfortable here. Is it? But there is something in your heart which will bear all this.

Only snow, without ‘That’ in the Heart . . . the world is . . .

L1: Hell.

AP: And when there is the world plus ‘That’ in the heart, then it is . . .

L1: Heaven.

AP: The world will always be hell if it is just material. But ‘That,’ . . .

L2: That is the association with the holy.

AP: Yes!

When you have someone in front of you, or a situation, that can spark ‘That’ into you, take it be heaven. That is the association of holy. (Pointing at the environment around) That is probably why the Indian sages built all their holy places on the Himalayas, so that there is more possibility of holiness like this.

L2: Sir, you said that holiness is essentially there, then why is there a disconnect with it? Why is there an effort to connect to ‘That’? If it is essentially there, then why this disconnect?

AP: See, there is a ‘True’ and there is a ‘false’. The ‘false’ means ‘that which is not’. It is not! So the questions that, “Why did it arise, from where did it come?” have no significance. When it is not, how can it come from anywhere? From where does illusion come? From nowhere! Go and ask illusion. When you are deluded, bring the ‘illusion’ in front of you and ask, “From where did you come?” What will you find? You will find that there is no answer. In fact, the moment you ask this question, the illusion is…

L1: Gone.

AP: So from where did the illusion come? In the moment of asking the question, the illusion is already gone. So from where did it come?

L3: From not asking the question.

AP: (Laughingly) From not asking the question! What does the ‘question’ symbolize? Presence! Remembrance!

Presence or attention – that is it.

L3: So it means, the ‘disconnect’ doesn’t really exist.

AP: The ‘disconnect’ doesn’t really exist. Had it really existed, you could have talked to it, dissected it, and done something about it. But the moment you want to talk to it, it is gone. It is not there at all. For you – for the one who is asking the question – does any illusion exist? So, which illusion are you referring to?

L2: The one that doesn’t exist.

AP: Yes! The one that doesn’t exist!

L4: But the presence of holiness will be realized in the situation that is holy.

AP: Even if the situation is not holy, you will realize it through your frustration. See, why are you frustrated? You are living in a loveless world. Why are you frustrated? The world is loveless. That’s it. Now, why are you frustrated? It is because essentially. . .

L1: We are holy.

AP: That is the proof of the holy within you. Your frustration is the proof of the holy within you. Do not think that only a holy man, or a holy book or a holy situation, or a holy place is a proof of holiness. The stink that arises from within, all the frustration that we experience, all our tears of helplessness, they are the proof that holiness exists, and we are missing it. Had you not been missing it, how could you have been frustrated?

L5: When you are totally hopeless and heaviness dawns upon you, and suddenly you find a gateway, that’s when the heaviness goes away.

AP: And that thing within, that movement within is heavenly. “I was missing it since so long, and here it is.” This is heaven.

L6: Sir, is it that everything is holy, but my continuous attempt to bind it in a limit, that is hell?

AP: No, everything is neither heaven nor hell. Heaven exists for us because we are distant from the Truth. When you are far from something, only then it seems like heaven.

We said that the world is a gateway to the beyond. Beyond, there is no heaven or hell! There is just an empty stillness. Heaven is for the one who has lost his way and who suddenly gets a guide. Hell is when you have already lost your way, and there are voices around that say, “You cannot go back, there is no home.”

A point comes where there is neither heaven nor hell. So, from hell to heaven . . . and beyond.

The very thing that was craving for heaven, the very thing that was suffering . . . and for it, heaven was like a balm upon the suffering . . . that very thing is now very peacefully retired.




View the session at: Acharya Prashant on Niralamba Upanishad: What is heaven and what is hell?  The transcription has been edited for clarity.

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  1. Whatever reminds you of your holiness is heaven and what helps you to forget holiness and tells you unholy(unreal) as true is hell.
    Lets see where we are now? heaven or hell ?


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