In ego (man) experiences heaven or hell. (sggs 466).
Saadhsangat (the Association with the Saadh within)
is heaven itself ||4||8||16|| (sggs 1161).

From the very childhood we are bombarded with the notion that somewhere "up there" exist futuristic and otherworldly hell and heaven; and that if we are good we go to heaven, otherwise we end up in hell. Where are these futuristic and otherworldly hell and heaven located? Are they located on some lofty island (Taapoo or Anda) or on some mystical planets somewhere "up there"? Are they located below the earth or above the earth? Is God vengeful that He wants to send some of His children to hell, and rewards others by sending them to heaven? Can heaven and hell encompass God, or anything else for that matter?

  • ਨਾ ਜਾਨਾ ਬੈਕੁੰਠ ਕਹਾ ਹੀ ॥ ਜਾਨੁ ਜਾਨੁ ਸਭਿ ਕਹਹਿ ਤਹਾ ਹੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: I do not know where the heaven is. (Without knowing where heaven is) everyone claims that he plans to go there ||1|| Pause || (sggs 325)!
  • ਗਲੀ ਭਿਸਤਿ ਨ ਜਾਈਐ ਛੁਟੈ ਸਚੁ ਕਮਾਇ ॥: Gallee bhisti na jaaeeai shutai sach kamaai: By mere talk, (you) cannot get to heaven; salvation comes only from the Practice of Truth (sggs 141).
In Indian Spiritual thought, we will always find an exoteric and an esoteric meaning of the scriptures. Almost all scriptures of the world talk about hell and heaven. The question is: what do they really mean by these terms? Do we understand their esoteric meaning and mystic suggestions, or are we merely satisfied with their exoteric, literal or superficial meaning? One thing seems to be pretty sure: the meaning of hell and heaven people often hear from their respective priests (Bhais, Pundits, Maulvis, Paadrees, Rabbis, and so on) is not what the scriptures really mean by these names!
  • ਸਭੁ ਕੋਈ ਚਲਨ ਕਹਤ ਹੈ ਊਹਾਂ ॥ ਨਾ ਜਾਨਉ ਬੈਕੁੰਠੁ ਹੈ ਕਹਾਂ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਆਪ ਆਪ ਕਾ ਮਰਮੁ ਨ ਜਾਨਾਂ ॥ ਬਾਤਨ ਹੀ ਬੈਕੁੰਠੁ ਬਖਾਨਾਂ ॥੧॥: Everyone speaks of going there, but does not even know where heaven is ||1|| Pause ||. One who does not even know the mystery of his own Self, speaks of heaven, but it is only talk ||1|| (sggs 1161).
Conditioned mind (Haume) is Maya, and Maya is mind. Because of our exoteric or outgoing mind, we can only relate to the exoteric or superficial suggestions of the scriptural statements. All genuine scriptures are true. The problem is with us, the untrue ones (Manmukh) who either do not understand their inner meaning, or do not care to understand them! Whatever the case may be, it is our mental delusion which makes us imagine a hell or a heaven to which people may go after death.

It is the Lord who encompasses everything including the so called hell and heaven, not other way around. And the same One Lord who encompasses everything resides within our bosom as well. Also, we are told by the Gurbani that the man is created in His Light (Joti-Svaroopa). Therefore, any hell and heaven that reside in the Lord must also reside "here within" each one of us! Thus, imagining or believing the notion that hell or heaven are mere futuristic and otherworldly existence is a creation of man's inconsistent understanding of these terms. Whatever is "there yonder" is also "here within"! Therefore, whatever is "up there" must be demonstrated here on this earth; otherwise it has no meaning!

  • ਹੈ ਹਜੂਰਿ ਕਤ ਦੂਰਿ ਬਤਾਵਹੁ ॥ ਦੁੰਦਰ ਬਾਧਹੁ ਸੁੰਦਰ ਪਾਵਹੁ ॥: God is present, right here at hand; why do you say He is far away? Tie up your disturbing passions, and find the Beauteous God within (sggs 1160).
In exoteric thinking, hell is often viewed as place of extreme suffering, blazing fire, poisonous gas, boiling water, and so on, where people are sent by the Lord to receive their punishment. On the contrary, heaven is generally viewed as a place full of pleasures and happiness!

God is not vengeful. Therefore, he will not throw any one of us into blazing fire or boiling water, nor He will hand us over to someone with frightening face, long teeth, popping red eyes, and ugly head with horn, etc. At the same time, He will not escort any one of us to enjoy damsels at some heavenly planets either!

Man has made his life so complicated that he wants more complexity, because he is not contented with simplicity. As a result, so many religions have come into existence with their own complex adherents and antagonists! Although most of these religions often start good but later turn bad, and fork up in many sects when they fall in the hands of those who want name and gain. Unfortunately, in some sects of these religions, though not all, the Lord is portrayed as vengeful. Accordingly, the distinction between hell and heaven (Doojaa Bhaav or duality) is so predominant that it causes fears and mental conflicts; resulting in unmeaning rites, rituals, ceremonies, paths, and beliefs; creating fake fear of hell and death, and expectation of some far-off heavens, and so on.

This sort of psychological set-up based on scare tactics that the Lord is some vengeful entity is unconducive to Spiritual practice. Why? Because it arbitrates against the very idea of Oneness of man and his God which the seeker of Truth seeks! Because of such subconscious barriers placed by a dualistic philosophy, a person who have been so indoctrinated may try to meditate, but he necessarily does not succeed in deepest Spiritual attainments.

  • ਜਬ ਲਗੁ ਮਨ ਬੈਕੁੰਠ ਕੀ ਆਸ ॥ ਤਬ ਲਗੁ ਨਾਹੀ ਚਰਨ ਨਿਵਾਸ ॥੨॥ ਖਾਈ ਕੋਟੁ ਨ ਪਰਲ ਪਗਾਰਾ ॥ ਨਾ ਜਾਨਉ ਬੈਕੁੰਠ ਦੁਆਰਾ ॥੩॥ ਕਹਿ ਕਮੀਰ ਅਬ ਕਹੀਐ ਕਾਹਿ ॥ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਬੈਕੁੰਠੈ ਆਹਿ ॥੪॥੮॥੧੬॥: As long as the mortal hopes for heaven, he will not dwell at God's Feet.||2|| Heaven is not a fort with moats and ramparts, and walls plastered with mud; I do not know what heaven’s gate is like.||3|| Says Kabeer, now what more can I say? Saadhsangat (the Association with the Saadh within) is heaven itself ||4||8||16|| (sggs 1161).
To assume the Non-dualistic Principle entertaining dualistic principle of hell and heaven is to imply that He Himself is subject to duality (Doojaa-Bhaav). But, as indicated in the Gurbani, there is no duality in God, for he is Absolute Truth. How there can be snow on sun? It is our depraved mind that entertains plurality where there is none, for all notions or concepts exist in the dualistic principle of Maya. Beyond our conceptual mind there is no duality.
  • ਕਿਉ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਵੈ ਦੂਐ ਤੀਐ ॥: Kiou sukh paavai dooai teeai: How can one find Peace (ਆਤਮਕ ਆਨੰਦ), through duality and the three qualities (of Maya)? (sggs 1023).
The hell, heaven, Yama, etc., are mentioned simply to keep the man in the scale of morality, and thereby produce a reformed character. That's all. However, our notions and ideas about various such terms of religious dogmas and beliefs are hypothetic, imaginary, inconsistent, different, strange, speculative, hearsay, and some time even laughable; thus far from the Reality.

To put it in simple language, heaven is higher Spiritual state of consciousness, and hell is a lower state of consciousness. To put it in yet simpler terms, the enlightened mind is its own heaven whereas the unenlightened mind its own hell. Therefore, hell and heaven are "here" and "now", within . They are not at some "other time" or "other place". Neither they are after death phenomena; for they are not post-mortem states! In other words, there is no futuristic and otherworldly hell or heaven "up there" which is not in the man "here and now". If we can understand the hidden symbolism in these terms, only then we can appreciate their inner meanings. However, unfortunately, majority of us get stuck to symbols only! It's like remembering "gifts", but not the "giver"!

  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਸੁ ਕਾਇਆ ਖੋਜੈ ਹੋਰ ਸਭ ਭਰਮਿ ਭੁਲਾਈ ॥: One who becomes Gurmukh (Spiritual Being) searches within his body; all others just wander around in confusion (sggs 754).
  • ਸਭ ਕਿਛੁ ਘਰ ਮਹਿ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਨਾਹੀ ॥ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਟੋਲੈ ਸੋ ਭਰਮਿ ਭੁਲਾਹੀ ॥ ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦੀ ਜਿਨੀ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਸੋ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਸੁਹੇਲਾ ਜੀਉ ॥੧॥: Sabh kishu ghar mahi baahari naahee...(sggs 102).

First, let's look at "hell". Man's false ego or depraved mind gives him doubt (Bharam), fear and worry and keeps him unaware of that Truth beyond it. The role of egoistic mind in the play, therefore, is to keep the person in the dark (ignorance or Avidiya) and in the past (Vaasnaas, tendencies, or dispositions rooted in the sub-consciousness). As revealed in the gurbani, man's this egoity is responsible for his repeated suffering. Owing to our lower or animal consciousness, the suffering resulting from this vicious cycle of repeated pain and delusion has been termed as "hell".

  • ਹਉ ਵਿਚਿ ਪਾਪ ਪੁੰਨ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ ਹਉ ਵਿਚਿ ਨਰਕਿ ਸੁਰਗਿ ਅਵਤਾਰੁ ॥: In Haumai (false ego-sense, man) has the notion of Paap and Punn. (Similarly) In Haumai (man notions or thinks) existance of heaven and hell. (sggs 466).
  • ਚਉਰਾਸੀਹ ਨਰਕ ਸਾਕਤੁ ਭੋਗਾਈਐ ॥ ਜੈਸਾ ਕੀਚੈ ਤੈਸੋ ਪਾਈਐ ॥ : The faithless cynic suffers the ignominy of having to undergo the "hell" of 8.4 (million reincarnations — the viscious cycle of death and rebirth). As he acts, so does he suffer (sggs 1028).
  • This ego is hell, and hell is a dragon not diminished by oceans of water. It drinks down the seven seas, yet the heat of that manburner does not become less. It makes a morsel out of a world and gulps it down. Its belly keeps shouting: Is there any more? (Sufi Rumi).

Thus, our unripe ego (Haume) begets hell for us, not any outside agency. Since we are the product of our own false ego, the hell or heaven is nothing but a state of our conditioned mind. To put it in other way, on the astral plane, we relive many experiences by reactivating our Vaasnaas, creating for ourselves hells or heavens. This process continues as long as we keep performing Mayaic efforts in our polarized awareness. After we evolve to the point that our life has become one of Intuitive Understanding (Aatam Giaan). Then we revert back to our True Nature (Mool-Source...) within, where there is no duality - hells or heavens, pain or pleasure, likes or dislikes, etc.

What is it that leads us to enter hellish life? It is our lower or animal nature (Dushat Sabhaava). Our false ego-sense begets lust. If this lust becomes fulfilled, it breeds greed. On the other hand, if this lust remains unfulfilled, it manifests into anger. These perverted off springs of ego-sense are said to be the doorways through which man enters hellish life or Spiritual oblivion, "hear" and "now". Simply put: hellish life is nothing but degradation of our Soul-qualities. Quran calls it the state of "animal Soul". The Spiritual Being (Gurmukh) turn away from these portals of darkness both within and without.

  • ਹੇ ਕਾਮੰ ਨਰਕ ਬਿਸ੍ਰਾਮੰ ਬਹੁ ਜੋਨੀ ਭ੍ਰਮਾਵਣਹ ॥ ਚਿਤ ਹਰਣੰ ਤ੍ਰੈ ਲੋਕ ਗੰਮ੍ਹੰ ਜਪ ਤਪ ਸੀਲ ਬਿਦਾਰਣਹ ॥ ਅਲਪ ਸੁਖ ਅਵਿਤ ਚੰਚਲ ਊਚ ਨੀਚ ਸਮਾਵਣਹ ॥ ਤਵ ਭੈ ਬਿਮੁੰਚਿਤ ਸਾਧ ਸੰਗਮ ਓਟ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਰਾਇਣਹ ॥: O lust, you lead the mortals to hellish existence; you make them wander in reincarnation through countless species. You cheat the consciousness, and pervade the three worlds. You destroy meditation, penance and virtue. But you give only shallow pleasure, while you make the mortals weak and unsteady; you pervade the high and the low. Your fear is dispelled in the Saadh Sangat, O Nanak, through the Protection and Support of the Lord (sggs 1358).
  • Lust, anger, and greed — these constitute the threefold gate leading to hellish existence. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul (Geetaa 16.21).
  • God then answers, 'As I have said, your animal soul is an enemy to you and to me: take not my enemy and your enemy for your friends.' (Quraan 60:1).
Tibetan Budhism has divided Sansaara (this material world, the place of repeated birth and death) in six realms; each dominated by a particular mental poison or filth. One of these realms dominated by the mental poison of anger is termed "hell' by them.

The deeply deluded egocentric individual, addicted to his false thinking, conceptions and selfishness, does not hesitate to act in evil ways. Also, he does not refrain from dealing in lust for power, possession, and sensual gratification. Thus perplexed by material nature and bound by illusions, he strongly becomes attached to sense enjoyment, creating hellish life for himself. Therefore, the term such as "being consigned to hell" simply indicates dealing with the effects of one's Mayaic efforts, "here" and "now".

  • ਮਾਇਆ ਮਗਨੁ ਨਰਕਿ ਲੈ ਜਾਈ ॥: The intoxication of Maya leads man to hellish existence (sggs 196).
  • Harboring bewildering thoughts, caught in the net of delusion, craving only sensual delights, they sink into a faul hell (Geetaa 16.16).
  • Your sense and thoughts are all fire, but the senses and thoughts of the shayhk are sweet light. When the water of his light drips upon your fire, it sizzles and jumps up. As it sizzles and splatters, call it "death" and "pain" -- until this hell of your ego becomes cold. (Sufi Rumi)
As hell is nothing but our Inner pollution, garbage, or impurities, in the same way, heaven is none other then liberation (Mukti) from this Inner pollution. The duration and intensity of one's heavenly experience (or higher state of consciousness) depends upon the degree of his Inner Purity (Aatam Giaan...).

Heaven is a mental state of "no pain" or "no anxiety". Like hell, this state is also not positive or permanent; because once the experience is over, the experiencer falls down to earthly or material consciousness (Mayaic Mandal). The famous analogy of deep-sleep can help us understand the condition of this type of temporary joy. In deep-sleep, this type of condition of temporary joy is experienced by us when we are in our causal body, and we have therein the state beyond "pain" or "anxiety". Vedas (Kaivalya Upanishad) call this state "Naakam" (or "no pain"), wherein the term "Naakam" is employed in the Upanishad to indicate heaven, meaning thereby that it is a mental state "beyond pain". Upon our waking up from deep-sleep, our externalized mind (false ego) takes over and we come back to square one. That's why the Gurbani declares that it's the false ego in which the hell and heaven are experienced.

  • ਹਉ ਵਿਚਿ ਨਰਕਿ ਸੁਰਗਿ ਅਵਤਾਰ ॥: Hau vich narak surag avataar: In ego (man) experineces heaven or hell (sggs 466).
  • Na karmanaa na prajayaa dhanena tyaagenaike amrit tvam aanashuh. Pren naakam nihitam guhaayaam vibhraajate yadyatayo visanti: Not by work, nor by progeny, nor by wealth, but by renuncuation (of false perception of pain and joy) alone, Immortality is attained. Higher than heaven (temporary mental state of joy), It is seated in the cave of the heart. It shines, which the seekers attain (Kaivalya Upanishad, Atharvana Veda).
Thus, the true plane of All Bliss-experience (the condition of Self-realization, Chauthaa Pada, opening of the Tenth Gate, etc.) is beyond the joy experienced in the temporary condition of "heaven". To put it otherwise, The Bliss (Anand) of one's Essential Nature, the Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...), is experienced deep in the "Cave of the Heart" which is beyond the temporary condition of "heaven". Therefore, if we wish to enter the plane of Higher Spiritual-consciousness, we must transcend even the state-of-deep-sleep (the temporary condition of "heaven" or "no pain"). This experience of the Infinite Perfection (liberation) is also explained in the Vedas (Aitreya Upanishad), in which the Upanishad states that upon realizing one's True Self one attains "all desires in the heavenly abode", meaning that one experiences the Divine Consciousness which is his Immortal Real Nature when one comes face to face with his Real Self within. Bible calls this condition "Kingdom of Heaven", which is to be found only within the man himself. In nutshell, to be tryly content (Sat Santokh-the Gurmukh State) within is to be in True Paradise.
  • ਮਨ ਕੀਆ ਇਛਾ ਪੂਰੀਆ ਸਬਦਿ ਰਹਿਆ ਭਰਪੂਰਿ ॥: The desires of the mind are fulfilled, when one is filled to overflowing with the Shabad (sggs 34).
  • Sa evam vidwaan asmatschareerabhedat oordwam utkramyaamushmin swarge loke sarvan kaman aptwa amritah samabhavat...: He realizing his Self, betook on his upward path, and after destruction of the body-identification attained all desires in the heavenly abode (All Blisfull experience of the infinite perfection) and become immortal (Aitreya Upanishad, Rig Veda).
  • Always keep the carnal soul from getting what it wants so that you can attain eternal desire and be delivered from the prison of darkness, for whoso will have refrained his soul from lust, verily paradise will be his abode (Koran 79:40-41).
  • Whatever God gives you, be content. At the very moment you become content in affliction, the door of paradise will open (Sufi Rumi).
  • Jesus said: "If those who lead you say, 'See, the Kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is in and around you. When you know your selves, then you will be known, and you will be aware that you who the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know your selves, you are in poverty, and you who are the poverty" (Gospel of Saint Thomas).
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Bible).
Thus, the hell, heaven, heavenly kingdom, or Supreme Bliss is by no means a far-off thing to be experienced after death, but a very present reality fully existent in all of us this very moment. There are people on this earth today who are living in heaven, and there are also those who are living in hellish states as well. In other words, we go to hell or heaven on a daily basis, depending on the states of our minds! Therefore, we do not have to wait till death to realize hell or heaven, for it's all "here and "now"!

Such is a joyous Spiritual philosophy free of all mental encumbrances that are prevalent in some religions. It is freed of the notions of vengeful God, eternal hell, narrow-mindedness, Second Coming, Judgment Day, and so on. That's why a true Sikh (Spiritual seeker), for example, celebrates birth and death alike, and sees Sukha and Dukha (pleasure and pain or heaven and hell) with equal vision; for his joy is Divine and his sorrow is Divine too! The scriptures tell us the moment we become situated on such platform of Transcendental Consciousness, we experience God who exists within the microcosm.

Therefore, we are urged by the Gurbani to understand these so called hells or heavens properly, instead of fearing them in the case of hell, and desiring them in the case of heaven. How can we understand them properly? As the Gurbani says: By becoming "filled" to the brim with the Shabad-Surti or Pure Consciousness (Aatam Giaan). Because, understanding of the Shabad pierces the dark veil of ignorance (Maya); understanding of the Shabad changes and transforms our depraved mind; understanding of the Shabad makes us strong and fearless, understanding of the Shabad brings us intelligence and reasoning (Bibek Budhi); and understanding of the Shabad brings us true knowledge of our Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot...). Baabaa Nanak provides us with a simple formula in the Gurbani as follows:

  • ਸਿਰੀਰਾਗੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ਘਰੁ ੩ ॥ ਅਮਲੁ ਕਰਿ ਧਰਤੀ ਬੀਜੁ ਸਬਦੋ ਕਰਿ ਸਚ ਕੀ ਆਬ ਨਿਤ ਦੇਹਿ ਪਾਣੀ ॥ ਹੋਇ ਕਿਰਸਾਣੁ ਈਮਾਨੁ ਜੰਮਾਇ ਲੈ ਭਿਸਤੁ ਦੋਜਕੁ ਮੂੜੇ ਏਵ ਜਾਣੀ ॥੧॥ ਮਤੁ ਜਾਣ ਸਹਿ ਗਲੀ ਪਾਇਆ ॥ ਮਾਲ ਕੈ ਮਾਣੈ ਰੂਪ ਕੀ ਸੋਭਾ ਇਤੁ ਬਿਧੀ ਜਨਮੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਐਬ ਤਨਿ ਚਿਕੜੋ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਮੀਡਕੋ ਕਮਲ ਕੀ ਸਾਰ ਨਹੀ ਮੂਲਿ ਪਾਈ ॥ ਭਉਰੁ ਉਸਤਾਦੁ ਨਿਤ ਭਾਖਿਆ ਬੋਲੇ ਕਿਉ ਬੂਝੈ ਜਾ ਨਹ ਬੁਝਾਈ ॥੨॥ ਆਖਣੁ ਸੁਨਣਾ ਪਉਣ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਰਤਾ ਮਾਇਆ ॥ ਖਸਮ ਕੀ ਨਦਰਿ ਦਿਲਹਿ ਪਸਿੰਦੇ ਜਿਨੀ ਕਰਿ ਏਕੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ॥੩॥ ਤੀਹ ਕਰਿ ਰਖੇ ਪੰਜ ਕਰਿ ਸਾਥੀ ਨਾਉ ਸੈਤਾਨੁ ਮਤੁ ਕਟਿ ਜਾਈ ॥ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਆਖੈ ਰਾਹਿ ਪੈ ਚਲਣਾ ਮਾਲੁ ਧਨੁ ਕਿਤ ਕੂ ਸੰਜਿਆਹੀ ॥੪॥੨੭॥: Sireeraag Mahalaa 1 Ghar 3 || Amal kar dharatee beej sabado kar sach kee aab nit dehi paanee ... (sggs 24).
We are advised by the Gurbani to seek the company of the Sat (Truth) within, because that's where the Inner change and transformation take place. By engaging the mind in Shabad-Vichaar, the fear of hell and desire for heaven depart once and for all. In nutshell, Shabad-Surti (God-consciousness-Aatam Giaan...) is heavenly, and the material consciousness is hellish! In other words, the Gurbani does not imagine God residing in heaven. God is everywhere, in everything. Heaven and hell exist here within each of us. It is our own actions that create either heavenly or hellish existence for us.
  • ਸਾਧ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਨਰਕ ਪਰਹਰੈ ॥: In the Saadh Sang (within), hell is not to be seen (sggs 272).
  • ਨਰਕ ਨਿਵਾਰਿ ਉਧਾਰਹੁ ਜੀਉ ॥ ਗੁਨ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਰਸੁ ਪੀਉ ॥:  (sggs 295).
  • ਵਿਣੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਕਿਉ ਛੂਟੀਐ ਜਾਇ ਰਸਾਤਲਿ ਅੰਤਿ ॥: Without the Name, how can you find release? Eventually you fall into hell (sggs 934).

The Gurbani teaches us not to look for Baikuntha or heaven up there, etc.! Because those who desire for heaven or other worldly pleasures do not know the Essence of the Divinity. The consciousness of the Amrit-Naam is heaven.

  • ਤਹਾ ਬੈਕੁੰਠੁ ਜਹ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਤੇਰਾ ਤੂੰ ਆਪੇ ਸਰਧਾ ਲਾਇਹਿ ॥੨॥: Tahaa baikuntha jah kirtan teraa toon aape saradhaa laaihi ||2||: That place of the (Lord's) Kirtan heaven. (O Lord) You Yourself instill faith into us ||2|| (sggs 749).

— T. Singh