The ideas of Heavens and Hells are based on the facts that moral and ethical principles are fundamental in nature, that this is a universe of law and order, that it is divine in its origin, nature, and destiny, and that man is an inseparable part thereof and governed by the same set of laws.
Man is fundamentally a spiritual being, as the universe is, and this demands of him rectitude in life and conduct. Man is interdependent and interblended with every other entity in nature, hence every thought and act of man helps or hinders every other part of nature, and so has a moral and ethical value and significance. The unity of all living beings demands co-operation, altruism, and living a life of brotherly helpfulness, for we help or hinder each other at every stage of progress.
Conformity to this divine order, or natural fitness of things, produces harmony, peace and progress, the higher expression of which men call Heaven, whether it is experience in a body or out of a body, on this earth or some other sphere; here or hereafter. Deviation from this divine order produces pain, suffering, and retrogression, the result of which is called Hell, whether experienced in a body or out of a body.
Some of the superstitions about Heaven are: that only the members of one religion can attain it, or that any man ever reaches it without personal effort and merit; or that anyone ever loses Heaven by conscientious objections to any form of belief so long as his moral condition and conduct conform to the laws of rectitude and harmony.
The superstitions about Hell are legion. But first, what do we mean by superstition? What is the first thing suggested to any man's mind by the word superstition? Answer — The other man's religion! But that is not the definition given in the dictionary. The shortest definition given by Webster is "false belief, especially in religion." The first superstition about Hell is that good men ever go there for using their reason in matters of religion; and, second, that bad men ever escape it by being caught and converted; or that it is largely inhabited by heathens who were loyal to the lofty principles of their religion; or by scientists, philosophers, saints and holy men who used their reason and judgment and rejected any particular form of salvation that did not appeal to their judgment. If they were all in that place, where bad Christians go, it would certainly be an interesting place to go to — plenty of good company!
Another superstition about Hell is that it lasts forever, and I think this is the most cruel of all the superstitions. There is no law in Nature which demands any such thing. The truth is that any suffering lasts only while there are causes to produce it, and ceases when the effects have been exhausted. All effects are exactly proportionate to their causes: there is no static Heaven filled with stationary saints, and no static Hell filled with changeless sinners. The worst pains and greatest pleasures end in time, for everything is transitory. The law of constant change and evolution rule everything in the higher spiritual spheres as well as in the material ones with which we are familiar.
Most religions have Heavens of various degrees of merit, and many Hells of different degrees, each suited to the purgation of a corresponding degree of evil. The Christians, unfortunately, have only one Hell, to which they consign all victims, without regard to degree of guilt, and which is supposed to last forever, without regard to the eternal laws of causation, equity and justice, or to the human sense of law and order, justice and fair play, love and compassion. Such a conception of Hell appeals only to the spirit of persecution, revenge and hate. It is a theological dogma happily quickly passing from the minds of intelligent people — a dogma and superstition of the Dark Ages, much of the effect of which, however, still lingers over us.
Theosophists will tolerate no such conception as an eternity of pain and misery, nor on the other hand, a static Heaven where there will be no evolution or progress.
The Theosophical teaching is that beneficent Mother Nature wisely cares for all her children. There is an eternal drive to betterment. Every atom in the universe, from high to low, every portion thereof, is carried upon a great sweep of evolution by something within urging to express itself. That urge is caused by the Divinity, which is the basis of the universe, which is at the heart of every entity, however great or small, because that Divinity or Divine Spirit is fundamental in Nature; therefore it is in the heart of every entity. It gives the "kick" to the atom that the modern scientists talk about, and gives the energy they are trying to liberate by exploding the nucleus of the atom. It is the urge of every human being to express himself in ever fuller measure.
Man has two selves, one linking him with the Spirit; the other with matter. He himself has to decide which of the selves he gives expression to — the lower or the higher: all his future is determined by that.
Why, if Nature is beneficent, is there so much pain and suffering in the world? Because neither Nature nor man is perfect. The whole is in a state of evolution, and therefore a long way from being perfect. Man is in a very primitive, unevolved state, and he is learning by the contrast between right and wrong, high and low, good and bad. By trial and error and experience, and by practice and by the lessons he learns, gradually he is improving and developing. The human stage that we at present are in is developing individuality, mind, and intelligence. Those below man are carried on by the general sweep of Nature as the birds in a flock move together, and the fishes in the sea; all are on a general tide that carries them on. But in the human stage the mind of man has the power of choice, free-will; he must choose, and abide by the consequences of his choice. Hence there must be a deliberate effort, because he has developed individuality and free-will, the ultimate purpose of which in Nature is that he will become wise enough to co-operate with Nature and cease trying, through selfishness and narrowness, to thwart her. When he does that he will cease to think evil, and have conscious spiritual life within himself.
Pain is not punitive nor vindictive; it is corrective, disciplinary and purifying. Pain is the warning of a beneficent Mother Nature ever urging man away from the paths of sefishness into altruism, wisdom and peace.
When a man dies he leaves this world. He goes alone. He takes with him nothing but himself — all the riches of the heart, mind and spirit. They could not be lost, because they are part of his very being. The man who has no riches of the spirit is poor indeed after death. The man whose mind is static, full of earthly thoughts alone, whose heart is attached to earthly things, whose spirit is empty of love, is poor indeed. He wanders a shade in the earth's astral atmosphere.
These facts of the after-life are of vast moral importance to living men on earth because they prove to us that as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he, both here and hereafter.
In regard to the states immediately after death, the Desire World and the Heaven World, we Theosophists call them Kama-loka and Devachan, for we have definite names for definite things; Theosophy is a definite science.
The facts are that in the after-life man meets himself face to face. No God rewards or condemns him, no Devil pursues him. In the astral world surrounding the earth, where men go after death, the thoughts of man's life are visible, objective things; his thoughts are made of substantial substance, of the nature of thought-substance. They meet a man face to face and accuse or bless him. He sees himself at his true value. If his life and thoughts have been good, he is filled with pure joy. If his life has been evil, his evil thoughts become avenging fiends — regular little devils — and his after-life is like a bad dream or nightmare. This is what Theosophists call Kama-loka or the Desire World, where the man's desires — good, bad or indifferent, are exactly fulfilled. No mistakes or injustices enter here, no rewards or punishments, except what the man has decreed by his own previous thoughts and deeds.
This astral world which surrounds the earth is neither Heaven nor Hell per se, but it is just what the thoughts of men have filled it with. It is the psychological atmosphere of the earth, a treasure-house or a waste-basket. Every beautiful thought of a man's life shines like a jewel; every bad thought burns like fire. This is the true meaning of Heaven and Hell.
This Kama-loka or Desire World, or the next stage after this earth, is only the ante-chamber of the true Devachan or Heaven World. It is a sort of settling vat or filter where that part of the man which is of the earth, earthy, is left behind in the earth's atmosphere where it belongs. A man cannot carry his faults with him to Heaven; if he did, it would not be Heaven.
Every normal man, however, has more good intentions than bad, more desire for the good and beautiful than for the evil. A good deal of joking has been done about "good intentions" paving the way downward. I always object to that saying unless the intentions were hypocritical or no effort made to carry them out. After a great deal of experience doing Theosophical work in the State's prisons my conviction is that the road that leads downward is paved with tacks standing on their heads, and before a man has walked on that road to its end he has to walk bare-footed.
The aspirations and longings which every man has carry his soul — himself — that is the spirit, into the true spiritual world, where the spiritual part of his being is naturally attracted. They free him from the lower atmosphere of the earth. With his spiritual soul — what we call the Spiritual Monad — the human ego then sets out on a journey of beautiful and wonderful adventures in the "many mansions of my father's house."
The soul resting in Heaven is not disturbed by the events on earth. The mistakes and troubles of the life once lived on earth do not trouble or invade the heavenly abode; if they did, it would not be Heaven. But in a certain sense those in the heaven-world can help us. If our love carries our spirit to the plane on which they are, we may benefit greatly. To put it in other words, we can tune in to their world of harmony, beauty and love, but they cannot tune in to our jazz.
The study of these things shows that Nature is established on a moral basis which demands rectitude in human life and conduct.
These are the facts in the case when freed from superstition.
They lift the burden of doubt and fear from the question of death and the after-life. They dissipate the spiritual gloom inherited from the theology of the Dark Ages; they dissolve the curse of materialism of modern thought and life, and liberate the soul of man. They launch man on a brave new world, the captain of his soul, the master of his life and destiny, full of joyous hope and aspiration, with endless vistas of spiritual evolution, adventures and conquest, before the ever-expanding consciousness and intelligence of his triumphant soul.