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Heaven, the heavens or seven heavens, is common religious, cosmological, or transcendent place where beings such as gods, angels, jinn, saints, or venerated ancestors are said to originate, be enthroned, or to live. According to the beliefs of some religions, heavenly beings can descend to earth or incarnate, and earthly beings can ascend to Heaven in the afterlife, or in exceptional cases enter Heaven alive.
Heaven is often described as a “higher place”, the holiest place, a Paradise, in contrast to Hell or the Underworld or the “low places”, and universally or conditionally accessible by earthly beings according to various standards of divinity, goodness, piety, faith, or other virtues or right beliefs or simply the will of God. Some believe in the possibility of a Heaven on Earth in a World to Come.
Another belief is in an axis mundi or world tree which connects the heavens, the terrestrial world, and the underworld. In Indian religions, Heaven is considered as Svarga loka, and the soul is again subjected to rebirth in different living forms according to its karma. This cycle can be broken after a soul achieves Moksha or Nirvana. Any place of existence, either of humans, souls or deities, outside the tangible world (Heaven, Hell, or other) is referred to as otherworld.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Ancient Near East religions
- 3 Bahá’í Faith
- 4 Buddhism
- 5 Chinese faiths
- 6 Christianity
- 7 Hinduism
- 8 Islam
- 9 Jainism
- 10 Judaism
- 11 Mesoamerican religions
- 12 Polynesia
- 13 Theosophy
- 14 Criticism of the belief in heaven
- 15 Neuroscience
- 16 Postmodern views
- 17 Representations in arts
- 18 See also
- 19 References
- 20 Further reading
- 21 External links
The modern English word heaven is derived from the earlier (Middle English) heven (attested 1159); this in turn was developed from the previous Old English form heofon. By about 1000, heofon was being used in reference to the Christianized “place where God dwells”, but originally, it had signified “sky, firmament” (e.g. in Beowulf, c. 725). The English term has cognates in the other Germanic languages: Old Saxon heƀan “sky, heaven”, Middle Low German heven “sky”, Old Icelandic himinn “sky, heaven”, Gothic himins; and those with a variant final -l: Old Frisian himel, himul “sky, heaven”, Old Saxon/Old High German himil, Old Saxon/Middle Low German hemmel, Dutch hemel, and modern German Himmel. All of these have been derived from a reconstructed Proto-Germanic form *Hemina-.
In Ancient Egyptian religion, belief in an afterlife is much more stressed than in ancient Judaism. Heaven was a physical place far above the Earth in a “dark area” of space where there were no stars, basically beyond the Universe. According to the Book of the Dead, departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven. Their heart would finally be weighed with the feather of truth, and if the sins weighed it down their heart was devoured.
Main article: Canaanite religion
Almost nothing is known of Bronze Age (pre-1200 BC) Canaanite views of Heaven, and the archeological findings at Ugarit (destroyed c. 1200 BC) have not provided information. The 1st century Greek author Philo of Byblos may preserve elements of Iron Age Phoenician religion in his Sanchuniathon.
In the Middle Hittite myths, Heaven is the abode of the gods. In the Song of Kumarbi, Alalu was king in Heaven for nine years before giving birth to his son, Anu. Anu was himself overthrown by his son, Kumarbi. 
The term for Heavens in the Tanakh is shamayim, located above the firmament (a solid, transparent dome which covered the earth and separated it from the “waters” above). Yahweh, the God of Israel, lived in Heaven or in the “Heaven of Heavens” (the exact difference between these two, if any, is unclear) in a heavenly palace. His dwelling on earth was Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, which was a model of the cosmos and included a section which represented Heaven.
The Bahá’í Faith regards the conventional description of Heaven (and hell) as a specific place as symbolic. The Bahá’í writings describe Heaven as a “spiritual condition” where closeness to God is defined as Heaven; conversely Hell is seen as a state of remoteness from God. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, has stated that the nature of the life of the soul in the afterlife is beyond comprehension in the physical plane, but has stated that the soul will retain its consciousness and individuality and remember its physical life; the soul will be able to recognize other souls and communicate with them.
For Bahá’ís, entry into the next life has the potential to bring great joy. Bahá’u’lláh likened death to the process of birth. He explains: “The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.” The analogy to the womb in many ways summarizes the Bahá’í view of earthly existence: just as the womb constitutes an important place for a person’s initial physical development, the physical world provides for the development of the individual soul. Accordingly, Bahá’ís view life as a preparatory stage, where one can develop and perfect those qualities which will be needed in the next life. The key to spiritual progress is to follow the path outlined by the current Manifestation of God, which Bahá’ís believe is currently Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved.”
The Bahá’í teachings state that there exists a hierarchy of souls in the afterlife, where the merits of each soul determines their place in the hierarchy, and that souls lower in the hierarchy cannot completely understand the station of those above. Each soul can continue to progress in the afterlife, but the soul’s development is not entirely dependent on its own conscious efforts, the nature of which we are not aware, but also augmented by the grace of God, the prayers of others, and good deeds performed by others on Earth in the name of that person.
In Buddhism there are several Heavens, all of which are still part of samsara (illusionary reality). Those who accumulate good karma may be reborn in one of them. However, their stay in Heaven is not eternal—eventually they will use up their good karma and will undergo rebirth into another realm, as a human, animal or other being. Because Heaven is temporary and part of samsara, Buddhists focus more on escaping the cycle of rebirth and reaching enlightenment (nirvana). Nirvana is not a heaven but a mental state.
According to Buddhist cosmology the universe is impermanent and beings transmigrate through a number of existential “planes” in which this human world is only one “realm” or “path”. These are traditionally envisioned as a vertical continuum with the Heavens existing above the human realm, and the realms of the animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings existing beneath it. According to Jan Chozen Bays in her book, Jizo: Guardian of Children, Travelers, and Other Voyagers, the realm of the asura is a later refinement of the heavenly realm and was inserted between the human realm and the Heavens. One important Buddhist Heaven is the Trāyastriṃśa, which resembles Olympus of Greek mythology.
In the Mahayana world view, there are also pure lands which lie outside this continuum and are created by the Buddhas upon attaining enlightenment. Rebirth in the pure land of Amitabha is seen as an assurance of Buddhahood, for once reborn there, beings do not fall back into cyclical existence unless they choose to do so to save other beings, the goal of Buddhism being the obtainment of enlightenment and freeing oneself and others from the birth–death cycle.
One of the Buddhist sutras states that a hundred years of our existence is equal to one day and one night in the world of the thirty-three gods. Thirty such days add up to their one month. Twelve such months become their one-year, while they live for a thousand such years though existence in the heavens is ultimately finite and the beings who reside there will reappear in other realms based on their karma.
Here the denizens are Brahmās, and the ruler is Mahābrahmā.
Of all the devas, Brahmās are the wisest of all gods and declared in Buddhism to be the highest but the Buddha and monks having reached the state of Arahant can surpass the Brahmās by status. Brahmās also are asexual and do not desire to procreate.
After developing the four Brahmavihāras, King Makhādeva rebirths here after death. The monk Tissa and Brāhmana Jānussoni were also reborn here.
For a monk, the next best thing to Nirvana is to be reborn in this Brahmāloka.
The lifespan of a Brahmās is not stated but is not eternal.
The lifespan of a Kāmāvacara is not stated but is not eternal.
Here some denizens are kings that came from human lives as being kings.
The Anguttara Nikaya says that on the 15th day, the Cātummaharaja gods look down to earth and see if the humans are still paying reverence to mother, father, samanas and brahmanas.
Bimbisāra (the king of Magadha), and Pāyāsi (the king of Kosāla) were reborn here.
The denizens here have a lifespan of 9,216,000,000 years.
The denizens here have a lifespan of 2,284,000,000 years.
The denizens here have a lifespan of 9,216,000,000 years.
The ruler of this Heaven is Indra or Shakra, and the realm is also called Trayatrimia.
Each denizen addresses other denizens as the title “mārisa”.
The governing hall of this Heaven is called Sudhamma Hall.
This Heaven has a garden Nandanavana with damsels, as its most magnificent sight.
Ajita the Licchavi army general was reborn here. Gopika the Sākyan girl was reborn as a male god in this realm.
Any Buddhist reborn in this realm can outshine any of the previously dwelling denizens because of the extra merit acquired for following the Buddha’s teachings.
The denizens here have a lifespan of 36,000,000 years.
Anāthapindika, a Kosālan householder and benefactor to the Buddha’s order was reborn here.
The denizens here have a lifespan of 576,000,000 years.
The denizens here have a lifespan of 1,444,000,000 years.
There are 5 major types of Heavens.
- Akanishtha or Ghanavyiiha
This is the most supreme Heaven wherein beings that have achieved Nirvana live for eternity.
- Heaven of the Jinas
- Heavens of Formless Spirits
These are 4 in number.
These are 16 in number, and are free from sensuality.
These are 6 in number, and contain sensuality.
In the native Chinese Confucian traditions, Heaven (Tian) is an important concept, where the ancestors reside and from which emperors drew their mandate to rule in their dynastic propaganda, for example.
Heaven is a key concept in Chinese mythology, philosophies and religions, and is on one end of the spectrum a synonym of Shangdi (“Supreme Deity”) and on the other naturalistic end, a synonym for nature and the sky. The Chinese term for “Heaven”, Tian (天), derives from the name of the supreme deity of the Zhou Dynasty. After their conquest of the Shang Dynasty in 1122 BC, the Zhou people considered their supreme deity Tian to be identical with the Shang supreme deity Shangdi. The Zhou people attributed Heaven with anthropomorphic attributes, evidenced in the etymology of the Chinese character for Heaven or sky, which originally depicted a person with a large cranium. Heaven is said to see, hear and watch over all men. Heaven is affected by man’s doings, and having personality, is happy and angry with them. Heaven blesses those who please it and sends calamities upon those who offend it. Heaven was also believed to transcend all other spirits and gods, with Confucius asserting, “He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.”
Other philosophers born around the time of Confucius such as Mozi took an even more theistic view of Heaven, believing that Heaven is the divine ruler, just as the Son of Heaven (the King of Zhou) is the earthly ruler. Mozi believed that spirits and minor gods exist, but their function is merely to carry out the will of Heaven, watching for evil-doers and punishing them. Thus they function as angels of Heaven and do not detract from its monotheistic government of the world. With such a high monotheism, it is not surprising that Mohism championed a concept called “universal love” (jian’ai, 兼愛), which taught that Heaven loves all people equally and that each person should similarly love all human beings without distinguishing between his own relatives and those of others. In Mozi‘s Will of Heaven (天志), he writes
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