In Search of Heaven
It is often said that even if marriages are made in heaven life has to be lived on earth. In moral science classes at school we were taught stories about how evil deeds may cause us to land in hell while those who did good deeds will reach heaven.
In Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, Jonathan strives to be different from his herd and learns to fly higher and higher overcoming obstacles. He was helped by Chiang the Elder Gull in perfecting the art of flying. The Elder Gull told Jonathan that there is no such place as heaven. It is not a place or time. "Heaven is being perfect."
He further went on to define heaven as the striving for perfection which is not a number. "And that isn't flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn't have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there."
There is another story of a devotee asking God the distinction between heaven and earth. God showed him both. In hell, there was 'payasam' (sweet kheer) filled to the top in a large container and there were people around with serving spoons tied to their hand. This made it impossible to bend their hands to bring the spoons filled with kheer to their mouth. They were all unhappy. Then they moved next to heaven. The kheer, vessels and spoon arrangements were all the same. But the Kheer container was empty as each one of them fed the other with the spoon tied to their hands. God said world is the same everywhere and people's attitude determines whether a place is heaven or hell. The definition of 'hell' is a place where everyone lives for himself and 'heaven' is where everyone ensures that everyone else shares in his happiness. It only requires half the effort to live for oneself as to live happily with others.
When people start living for themselves, there is over exploitation of resources and its misuse. How relevant are these stories in pandemic times. To a person struggling to breathe, the first breathe taken while being connected to an oxygen cylinder may appear to give the feeling of ‘heaven’. Patients are struggling in many places in India due to lack of medical oxygen while several terminally ill don’t have access to ventilators.
So what emerges from these stories is that heaven is relative and it is to be found through our right attitudes and approaches to life.
As Buddha said, ‘with our thought we make our lives.” Suresh Mohan Semwal, corporate trainer and motivation speaker recounts a story in his book 'Be a Humble Winner'. After a seminar, one person was curious to know what happens after death. He tried to shrug away from the question saying that he doesn’t have an answer. As the questioner insisted, Suresh said, "Sir one has to ‘live’ before one dies and living means keeping people around you happy." There are so many books with the title 'Life after Death' as people are not worried about the life that is before them but what happens after that. He also talks about a person who prayed to God for two years to win a lottery but never bought a lottery ticket to become eligible to win!