Hinduism, like many religions, believes in a hell and heaven. Hindu descriptions of these two planes are somewhat similar to those in other religious interpretations. Someone’s fate in the afterlife weighs heavily on the deeds performed while living. However, the time spent in heaven and hell is impermanent. Rather, the Hindu should strive to go above and beyond the realms of heaven and merge with God.
Karma in the Sanskrit language means actions or deeds. It is also known as cause and effect. In Hinduism, a person’s actions, words, thoughts and desires all contribute to his own karma. All virtuous deeds are called good karma and all negative deeds are bad karma. Whether someone goes to heaven or hell depends on the type of karma accrued in the past life. The karma accrued from many previous past lives determines one’s fate as well.
According to Hinduism, hell is not just one place but consists of several realms. People who have committed bad deeds and accumulated negative karma are sent to hell to purify their souls. Hell is a place devoid of all pleasures, and where pain is experienced at every moment. The time spent in hell depends on the severity of one’s past deeds. After the soul is purified, it is sent to another incarnation, such as a human or an animal. Hell is ruled by Yama, the Hindu god of death.
In contrast to hell, the Hindu heaven consists of several realms that have no suffering. The kingdom of heaven is ruled by the god Indra. Pleasure is experienced at every moment and one is surrounded by beautiful celestial beings. To get to heaven, a person must have accrued high amounts of good karma and engaged in many religious activities. As in hell, time in heaven is temporary. Once the merit is exhausted, the soul must leave heaven to incarnate as a human.
Although Heaven may be a desirable realm to inhabit, it is transient. Thus, the ultimate goal of most Hindus is achieving liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This state is called Moksha or Nirvana. Someone who has achieved this state has purified the mind and merged with God. According to Hinduism, Moksha is extremely difficult to achieve and may take millions of lifetimes. However, if a person strives to acquire good karma, live a virtuous life and develop a spiritual practice, Hindus believe it is possible.