Heaven and hell
Svarga (Heaven) or Naraka (hell) does not refer to any particular place. In fact, heaven is related to the enjoyments. The idea or preconception that heaven is an abode to deities such as Indra, Rudra, Varuna, etc., is inappropriate. Father, mother, teacher, learned persons, yogis, siddha purusas (accomplished personalities), helpful, generous persons and celibates are the only divine beings. Hell means living in sorrows. Hell stands for deprivations, sufferings, sorrows and pains in life and after death taking birth in lower woeful species of insects, dogs, cat, goats etc.
The happiness and sorrow of animals such as dogs, ants, pigs and human beings are not the same; animals suffer more than human beings. The thought that ‘they are happy in their body and we are happy in ours’ is incorrect. Man is blessed with special features such as enhanced brain, limbs, speech etc., hence, we can live a more comfortable life when compared to other species, who are not endowed with features like ours and have limited independence, so they suffer more than us.
Taking birth in a rich and affluent family to erudite parents and achieving sublime happiness, serenity, facilities, respect, and fearlessness are regarded as svargaprapti (attaining heaven). Among the means of achieving heaven are executing panca-mahayajna, securing quality education, charity and performing righteous actions. Among the reasons for securing hell are indulging in corruption, promiscuity, non-vegetarianism, alcoholism, drug-addiction, theft, falsehood, deception laziness and negligence in performance of actions.
Hell and heaven can be achieved in this very life. Getting sorrows, pains, deprivation, bondage, fear, diseases and separation of dear ones in this life is experiencing hell whereas, procuring sound health, wealth, prosperity, position, fame, happiness and serenity is to achieve heaven.
The nature of real dharma
Sects (so called religions) are meant for protecting dharma (virtues that are to be inculcated). Hence, communalism; not communities, is harmful. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity are sects and not religion as they are called. In fact, dharma refers to the omnipresent, perennial and obvious essence, such as ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), aparigraha (not to collect possessions beyond need), love, service, brother-hood, compassion and other such virtues which transform life in all aspects.
Yoga refers to the means by which one is able to adopt and finally absorb himself in dharma. Based on karana-karya-abheda-siddhanta (the theory proclaiming that cause and effect are undistinguished), it can be concluded that Yoga means dharma and dharma means Yoga:
Tada drstuh svarupeavasthanam.
Truth which is universal and scientific is regarded as omnipresent dharma. Beliefs which are not scientific and universal are not dharma, rather are the misconceptions in the name of dharma. We shall pledge to follow the path of dharma, and not to be deceived by the blind beliefs. We must take vow neither to commercialise dharma nor to pollute one’s own karmas (actions).
Dharma is more functional in nature than being symbolical. Developing the true essence of dharma in one’s conduct is the prime objective behind the practice of religious symbols such as keeping sikha (small tuft of hair on head), wearing janeu (the sacred thread) and others. So called religions which only preach symbolism and do not emphasize on conduct, creat misconceptions and blind-beliefs in the name of dharma.
Maharsi Manu in his treatise called ‘Manusmrti’ has regarded dhairya (patience), ksma (benevolence), samyama (restraint of mind), asteya (non-stealing), sucita (maintaining cleanliness of body and mind), indriya-nigraha (control over the senses), viveka (knowledge), vidya (true wisdom), satya (truth) and akrodha (abstinence from anger) as the ten characteristics of dharma:
Dhrtih ksma damoasteyam saucamind-riyanigrah.
Dhirvidya satyamkrodho dasakam dharmalaksanam.
The incorporation of the above ten attributes of dharma leads one to become a true and complete theist. We don’t believe in changing anybody’s dharma. Leading one’s life with the most virtuous qualities, such as ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), prema (love), karuna (compassion), seva (selfless-service), samyama (restraint of mind) and sadacara (sound conduct), and these virtues are pivotal components of every dharma. Hence, it is not possible to bring change in dharma of a person. Dharma is the conjunction of all those virtues that can be incorporated in one’s living.
Visiting any hermitage, temple, mosque, church or gurudvara (the worshiping place of sikhs) does not refer to dharma. In fact, dharma refers to all those rules, regulations and values which, when practiced, one can bring pleasure, peace and prosperity in family, society, nation and the entire globe, Dharma means discharging one’s actions and responsibilities with utmost devotion.
We do not consider it wise to force anyone to alter anybody’s religion by establishing schools, colleges or hospitals, because the lives of many persons have been transformed by the noble practice of Yoga without changing their cast, creed and culture. They have achieved wellness. Those who were on the verge of death have regained their lives.
(Excerpted from the book Divine Transformation: Building Blocks for Englightened Life, Ideal Nation & Peaceful World by Acharya Balakrishna).