Haven’t you, at some point in life, wondered about Heaven and Hell? If it does exist? Hinduism regards it at two levels: physical and mental. It is beyond these two levels that the absolute standpoint exists.
Heaven and Hell At the physical level
Puranas believes in God’s creation of 14 different dimensions where Heaven and Hell exist as separate planes of existence. The scriptures give a detailed description of Heaven and Hell where jivas (individuals) live in their subtle bodies.
The people who have done good in their earthly life remain there until their merits are exhausted. Hinduism believes Heaven to be a place where no one knows hunger, thirst, or disease as there is no physical body. Heaven’s enjoyments are more intense, subtle, and refined, but they still cannot give everlasting peace and bliss. The period for which the individual stays depends upon his Punya karma that he did on earth. Between Heaven and Hell, the former (svarga) is a plane where the departed jivas go to enjoy the benefits of their virtuous deeds on earth.
The Puranas speak of Hell ( Naraka) as a plane where the less virtuous or the evildoers suffer. It depends on the kind of actions they did while on earth. The Hell is presided over by Lord Yama or the Lord of Death. One aspect of Hell is that the punishments received in Hell will not be remembered upon rebirth by the jiva. Also, the penalty is reformatory and educative, aiming to transform the jiva.
However, Hindus do not believe in Swarga and Naraka; they think it to be transitory. An individual goes to Hell or Heaven depending on his actions on earth. After exhaustion of his merits or demerits, he returns to the world to continue his journey of attaining Moksha. In this sense, the planes of Heaven and Hell are nothing but an intermediary stage in the individual’s progress towards the final liberation.
At the mental Level
They are mental realms or fields of experience. When an individual experiences contentment, patience, compassion, forgiveness, and similar values, one experiences a great degree of joy and creates his own ‘heaven.’ Whereas, when an individual’s mind faces negativities such as anger, greed, jealously, etc., life is miserable, and one begins to live in his own ‘ Hell.’ So in this context, they are mental creations.
At the absolute level, both are only projections of the mind, just like the world is just a projection born out of ignorance, from Brahman. From the absolute standpoint of Oneness, there is nothing other than one Reality. Heaven and Hell will exist in reality only as long as the individual doesn’t realize his true Self.