A Comparison of Various Heaven and Hell Realms
Heaven and hell have a big significance in most religions of the world. Both concepts are a means of explaining what happens to you after you die. They are also a way of instilling responsibility in humans for their actions and beliefs during their lifetime.
Heaven is the place of supreme happiness (or in some religions “eternal happiness”) that you reach after death (if you have been good during your life). The criteria for earning a place in heaven differs slightly among religions. Some, like Hinduism, believe that it is a result of good actions during your lifetime, while in others, like Christianity, it is also dependent on how devoted you have been to God or the religion's beliefs.
Hell, on the other hand, is where people who have done wrong or sinful things in life are sent as punishment. It is a place of great unhappiness and agony. Some religions portray hell as a fiery place of suffering, torture, and agony, and some have portrayed it as cold, depressing, and gloomy.
For some, heaven and hell are the ultimate destinations after death. However, in other religions that believe in the recurring nature of life or the belief in reincarnation, they are seen as a transitional environment. Some religions also suggest that heaven or hell are not a single destination, but have multiple realms, where a person can end up depending on his sins or actions.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever…This perfect life with God … is called heaven. It is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.”
Protestants believe salvation is a gift of God, a proper relationship with God, granted by faith. For Protestants this life is a journey toward either heaven or hell. All people will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment; those who have had faith will join God in joy and happiness. Those who have rejected their faith will go to a place of agony.
The core of Buddhist belief is samsara, which is the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Heaven and hell are destinations between death and rebirth — they are not the final or the ultimate destination, but temporary phases or terms that a soul has to go through depending on its karma. There is even heaven and hell in this physical world itself.
Most prominent and often discussed are the six realms of existence. These include deva-gati, the realm of heavenly beings (the equivalent of heaven); asura-gati, the realm of Titans, characterized by desire and envy; preta-gati, the realm of hungry ghosts; narka-gati, the realm of hell; tiryagyoni-gati, the animal realm; and manusya-gati, the realm of humans. The souls continue to move in and out of these temporary realms, and the only escape from this cycle is attainment of enlightenment. This can be achieved only in the human realm or form, and hence is the most important of all phases of the cycle.
Hinduism also has various realms or planes to which the soul can ascend or descend depending on one's karma on the earthly plane. Above the earth are the six heavenly realms or planes, and below are the seven nether planes, followed by twenty-eight hellish planes, and finally the waters of destruction, the Garbhodaka Ocean. The final goal of the soul is attainment of moksha — the eternal liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
In Islam, heaven and hell are split into various levels, attainment of which depends on the human's actions during his lifetime. Maalik guards the gate of hell, and there are both hot and freezing realms of hell in Islam. The heaven described in the Koran, the holy text of Islam, has many levels, and one of the highest is the seventh level.
Other World Religions
Other religious groups do not focus on the realms of heaven and hell — they believe that what is important is what is experienced right now, in people's daily lives. Why look toward one of these realms when your focus should be on what you are doing today?