Is there a hell or heaven?
ਕਬੀਰ ਸੁਰਗ ਨਰਕ ਤੇ ਮੈ ਰਹਿਓ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੇ ਪਰਸਾਦਿ ||
ਚਰਨ ਕਮਲ ਕੀ ਮਉਜ ਮਹਿ ਰਹਉ ਅੰਤਿ ਅਰੁ ਆਦਿ ||੧੨੦||
“Kabeer! I have been spared from heaven and hell, by the Grace of the True Guru. From beginning to end, I abide in the joy of the Lord’s Lotus Feet. ||120||”
Sikhi believes in the existence of heavens and hells, however, they are not permanent places. A Sikh neither fears hell nor craves heaven. A Gurmukh (one who follows the True Guru) is exempt from heaven and hell and has nothing to do with either of them. Heaven is a mere place for physical or sensual pleasures and is considered very insignificant as a Sikh only wishes to live in the presence of Waheguru (God) regardless of any physical reward. The Sikh concept of ‘Sach Khand‘ (the Realm of Truth) is distinct from the Islamic and Christian concepts of Heaven or the Hindu concept of ‘swarg’.
ਰਾਜੁ ਨ ਚਾਹਉ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨ ਚਾਹਉ ਮਨਿ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਚਰਨ ਕਮਲਾਰੇ ||
ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਮਹੇਸ ਸਿਧ ਮੁਨਿ ਇੰਦ੍ਰਾ ਮੋਹਿ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਹੀ ਦਰਸਾਰੇ ||੧||
“O Beloved God! I do not seek power or authority, and I do not seek liberation – (Bless me that) my mind is in love with Your Lotus Feet. (People seek for the Darshan, presence, of) Brahma, Shiva, the Siddhas, the silent sages and Indra (etc, but) I seek only the Blessed Vision of my Lord and Master’s Darshan. ||1||
As a consequence of hell and heaven not being given any importance or significance in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, some Sikh scholars have interpreted that there are no actual place of heavens or hell.
ਨਰਕ ਸੁਰਗ ਰਹਤ ਅਉਤਾਰਾ ||
“(Those who understand God’s mystery,) they are exempt from incarnation into heaven or hell.”
ਕਵਨੁ ਨਰਕੁ ਕਿਆ ਸੁਰਗੁ ਬਿਚਾਰਾ ਸੰਤਨ ਦੋਊ ਰਾਦੇ ||
ਹਮ ਕਾਹੂ ਕੀ ਕਾਣਿ ਨ ਕਢਤੇ ਅਪਨੇ ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦੇ ||੫||
“What is hell, and what is heaven? The Saints reject them both. I have no obligation to either of them, by the Grace of my Guru. ||5||”
The following Gurbani line talks about more than one hell:
ਜਿਤਨੇ ਨਰਕ ਸੇ ਮਨਮੁਖਿ ਭੋਗੈ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਲੇਪੁ ਨ ਮਾਸਾ ਹੇ ||੧੨||
As many hells there are, Manmukhs suffer through them all but Gurmukh don’t experience hell even one bit.
The following Gurbani line refers to the 8.4 million life forms as hells:
ਲਖ ਚਉਰਾਸੀਹ ਨਰਕ ਨ ਦੇਖਹੁ ਰਸਕਿ ਰਸਕਿ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਈ ਹੇ ||੧੦||
Don’t get to see the 8.4 million hells, if you sing praises of Vaheguru with Anand, Rass (pleasure).
Whilst Gurmat accepts the existence of heavens and hells as actual physical places, Gurbani also says that the true Heaven is where the Praises of God are sung and that Hell is forgetting God.
“That place is heaven, where the Lord’s Praises are sung. You Yourself instill faith into us. ||2||”
The Sikh concept of the after-life is much more descriptive than any other faith. Here is a fundamental question that no other faith can answer, including Islam. If a baby is born and screams one scream and then dies, what will happen to its soul? What was the purpose of its existence? If we believe in one coming and one going, then the birth of this baby makes no sense. It had no life to live and could not do anything and so will it go to Heaven or somewhere else? And why did God give this creature such a short life in which it could do nothing? No answer can be given to this question by Islam.
If we accept that our lives are a one-shot deal and then go to heaven or hell – why do some people have a much easier life and others a much harder? The reward at the end will still be heaven. Why is there poverty? Why is there abuse? If we accept the Muslim/Christian belief that only they offer salvation, why are only some people born into those religions and the rest of the world has to convert? Isn’t it much harder for those people?
On the other hand, Sikhi believes that everything is a result of karma. The child’s karma called for it to only live for that long and it will now be re-born again after having lived that karma it had created. What family we are born into, what economic state, and even what faith are all a result of our karma. That karma then creates the framework within which we operate in this life and create further karma. A human can only exit the web of karma by meditating on Gurmat Naam and immersing the self into Akaal.
According to Sikhi, when a human dies, ‘jam doots’ or minions of death come and take the soul to court of Dharam Rai (The Righteous Judge). This is a very painful journey in which the soul of the Manmukh (one without the Satguru) encounters much pain and hardship. Once in the court of Dharam Rai, his account of deeds is read to him and he cannot deny anything. He cries that he did not take advantage of human life and become one with Akaal. He is then given his sentence. This can be a certain amount of time in heaven or hell to receive the fruits of his deeds and then after that time, he is sent back into the cycle of births and deaths. Heaven and Hell are not permanent places. They are not where a Sikh wishes to go. They are simply transitory places where one receives either pleasure or pain.
There are 5 Khands or realms: the first is Dharam Khand in which all souls must appear to receive their account in the court of Dharam Rai. The next realm is Giaan Khand in which reside countless gods and goddesses and angels and also beings like Buddha and other prophets. After this realm is Saram Khand. Saram Khand is now a level that cannot be understood by the human mind. In it, the mind and intellect are re-shaped to see and understand new realities.
All the above mentioned places: heaven, hell, Dharam Khand, Gian Khand, Sharam Khand are all transitory and will finish when Akaal finishes creation. Beyond these are “true” realms. These are Karam Khand and Sach Khand. Karam Khand is for true devotees of Akaal who have meditated on him and Sach Khand is where Gursikhs go who have meditated on Gurmat Naam and become one with God. Here they are forever immersed in bliss and unity with God and forever sing his praises.