Heaven and Hell - Part One, Chapter III, Heaven
HEAVEN AND HELL
The Divine Justice Vindicated in the Plurality of Existence
The passage from the earthly life to spirit-life, future rewards and punishments, angels and devils, etc.
Followed by numerous examples of the state of the soul, during and after death.
BEING THE PRACTICAL CONFIRMATION OF "THE SPIRITS' BOOK"
BY Allan Kardec
Translated from the Sixtieth Thousand - By Anna Blackwell [London: Trubner & Co., Ludgate Hill - 1878]
Part First - Doctrine
1. The term heaven is employed, in a general sense, to designate the boundless expanse of space which surrounds the earth, and, more especially, the part of that expanse which is above our horizon. The Latin name for that space, cœlum (derived from the Greek coilos, hollow, concave), was given to it by the Ancients, because heaven, or the sky, appeared to them to be an immense concavity. The Ancients believed in the existence of several "heavens," placed one above the other, composed of a solid, transparent matter, and forming a succession of hollow, concentric spheres, in the center of which, immovable, stood the earth. These spheres, turning round the earth, carried with them the stars which were placed within their several circuits.
This belief, due to the paucity of astronomic knowledge, was the basis of the various theogonies which represented those concentric "heavens," thus superposed on one another, as localizations of progressively increasing degrees of beatitude, the topmost one being the region of supreme felicity. According to the general opinion, there were seven of these "heavens"; hence the saying, "To be in the seventh heaven," as the expression of the most perfect happiness. The Mohammedans admit nine "heavens," in each of which the happiness of the true believer is successively increased. The astronomer Ptolemy (who lived in Alexandria, in the second century of the Christian era), counted eleven of these "heavens"; the uppermost being syled "The Empyrean" (from the Greek word, pur, or pyr, fire), on account of the brilliant light with which it was supposed to be filled; and the term is still employed as the poetic designation of the realm of eternal glory. Christian Theology assumes the existence of three "heavens"; the first is the region of the terrestrial atmosphere and the clouds; the second is the space in which the stars perform their revolutions; the third, above the region occupied by the stars, is the dwelling-place of the Most High, the abode of the elect, who behold the Almighty "face to face." It is in accordance with this classification that St. Paul is said to have been "caught up into the third heaven."
2. These different doctrines, respecting the abode of the Blessed, are based on two erroneous assumptions, viz.: - 1, that the earth is the center of the universe; and 2, that the region of stars is limited. And it is beyond the imaginary limit thus assigned to the starry region, that all those doctrines have placed the blissful realm which is supposed to be the dwelling-place of the Almighty. But what a strange anomaly is that which relegates to the outskirts of creation the Author and Ruler of all that is, instead of assigning to Him, at least, a position in the center of the universe, whence His thought might radiate in all directions!
3. Physical science, with the inexorable logic of facts and observation, has carried its torch into the depths of the expanse of space around us, and has shown the emptiness of all these theories. The earth has been proved to be, not the pivot of the universe, but one of the smallest of the bodies that circle through immensity, and our sun itself is not known to be only the center of our planetary system; every star that shines in the boundless expanse of the sky is ascertained to be itself a sun, the center of a system of dependent worlds; and the innumerable system thus revealed to us as moving in an orderly inter-dependence throughout the boundless regions of infinity, are found to be separated by distances incommensurable by our thought, though, to our eye, they seem almost to touch one another. In this view of the universe, governed by eternal laws which proclaim the wisdom and omnipotence of the Creator, the earth is seen to be only an almost imperceptible speck, a mere member of one of the pettiest of the solar systems yet known to science, and one of the least favored - as regards its physical characteristics and its adaptation to human life - of the planets of the minute system to which it belongs. Such being the case, the question naturally arises as to why the Almighty should have made it the sole seat of life, the sole habitation of the most favored of His creatures? Everything, on the contrary, tends to show that life is everywhere, and that the human family is as infinite as the universe. Science has proved the existence of worlds similar to ours; and as God cannot be supposed to have made anything without a purpose, He must necessarily have peopled those worlds with beings capable of administering them.
4. Man's opinions are always proportioned to his knowledge; and the discovery of the constitution of the world around him, like all the other great discoveries of the human mind, has necessarily given a new direction to his ideas. It was inevitable that, his primitive creeds should undergo considerable modification; "heaven" has been ousted from its former place, for the region of stars, being boundless, can no longer be assigned as its locality. Where, then, is "heaven"? To this question, none of the religions of the world can furnish an answer.
This problem, of which all other theories are unable to supply the solution, is solved by Spiritism, which shows us the true nature and destiny of man.
5. With the aid of the knowledge thus derived, we have ascertained that man is a compound being, consisting of a body and a spirit; that the spirit is the principal element of this compound existence, its reasoning and intelligent element; and that the body is merely a material envelope which is temporarily assumed by the spirit for the accomplishment of his mission upon the earth and the execution of the labors that are necessary for his advancement. The body, worn out, is destroyed, and the spirit outlives its destruction. Without the spirit, the body is only a mass of inert matter, like an instrument deprived of the arm which made it act. Without the body, the spirit is still itself; that is to say, the essential element of the compound being called man, viz., life and intelligence. On quitting his material envelope, the spirits returns to the spirit-world, which he had quited in order to incarnate himself in a corporeal body.
There is, then, the corporeal world, composed of spirits incarnated in corporeal bodies, and the spirit-world, composed of spirits who have put off their corporeal body. The beings of the corporeal world, in virtue of their material envelope, are attached to the earth or to some similar globe; the spirit-world is everywhere, around us and in space, and has no boundaries or limits of any kind. In virtue of the fluidic nature of their body envelope, the beings who compose that world, instead of creeping laboriously upon the ground, transport themselves through space with the rapidity of thought. The death of the body is the rupture of the bonds which held them captive.
6. Spirits are created simple and ignorant, but with the aptitude of acquiring all knowledge, and for progressing in every direction, through the exercise of their free will. Through the progress achieved by them, they acquire new knowledge, new faculties, new perceptions, and, as a consequence of these, new enjoyments unknown to spirits of less advancement; they see, hear, feel, and comprehend, what more backward spirits can neither see, hear, feel, nor comprehend. The happiness of each spirit is in proportion to the amount of progress accomplished by him; so that, of two spirits, one may be more or less happy than the other, simply as a consequence of his greater or less degree of moral and intellectual advancement, and this, without their being in two different places. They may be close to one another, and yet one of them may be in utter darkness, while the other is in the midst of resplendent light; just as a blind man and one who sees may be in the same place, and yet the former will be unconscious of the splendors seen by the latter, who perceives the objects which are invisible for the former. The happiness and unhappiness of spirits being inherent in the qualities possessed by them, they find that happiness or unhappiness wherever they may be, on the surface of the earth, in the midst of incarnates, or in space.
A common-place comparison will render this difference of situation more comprehensible. If, of two men who are at a concert, one is a trained musician possessing a good ear for music, while the other knows nothing of music and has only a defective ear, the first will derive enjoyment from the concert, while the other will remain unmoved, simply because one of them perceives and understands what makes no impression upon the perceptions of the other. It is thus with all the enjoyments experienced by spirits, those enjoyments being proportioned to their aptitude for perceiving them.The spirit-world is full of splendors, harmonies, and sensations that spirits of low degree, who are still under the influence of materiality, do not perceive, and which are only perceptible, and accessible, to spirits of greater purity.
7. Progress, among spirits, is only achieved as the fruit of their own labor; but, as they have their free will, they labor more or less actively for their own advancement, according to their will; they thus hasten or retard their own progress, and, consequently, their own happiness. While some of them advance quickly, others stagnate for long ages in the lower ranks. Thus, spirits are always the artisans of their own situation, whether happy or unhappy, conformable with the words of Christ, "each according to his works." A spirit who remains behind has, therefore, only himself to thank for his backwardness; in the same way, he who advances has all the merit of his advancement, and the happiness he has conquered appears to him all the greater in consequence.
Perfect felicity is the lot only of the spirits who have attained to perfect purity, in other words, of those whom we designate as Pure Spirits. ¹ Happiness is only obtained by spirits in proportion as they progress in intelligence and morality. Intellectual progress and moral progress are rarely achieved together, and at the same time; but what a spirit fails to accomplish in one lifetime he accomplishes in another, so that his advancement in each of those two branches of progress is equalized in the long run. It is for this reason that we so often find highly intelligent men who are but slightly advanced in morality, and vice versa.
¹ see "The Spirits' Book," p. 38, et seq.
8. Incarnation is necessary to the double progress, intellectual and moral, that has to be accomplished by spirit; it ensures his intellectual progress by compelling him to employ his activity in the various pursuits of the earthly life, and it ensures his moral progress by making him feel the need which men have of one another. Social life is the touchstone which reveals the good or bad qualities of a spirit. Kindness, malevolence, gentleness, violence, charity, selfishness, generosity, avarice, humility, pride, sincerity, hypocrisy, loyalty, treachery – in a word, all that constitutes human goodness and human badness – find their motive, aim, and stimulus, in the relations of each man with his fellows. If it were possible for a man to live alone, he would have neither vices nor virtues; for, though isolation may preserve from evil, it also annuls the possibility of goodness.
9. A single corporeal existence is manifestly insufficient to enable a spirit to acquire all the goodness he lacks, and to rid himself of all the evil that is in him. Would it be possible, for instance, for a savage to attain, in a single incarnation, to the intellectual and moral level of the most advanced European? It is physically impossible for him to do so. Must he, then, remain eternally in ignorance and barbarism, deprived of the enjoyments that can only be reached through the development of the intellectual and moral faculties? The simplest common sense suffices to show us that such a supposition would be the negation both of the justice and goodness of God and of the law of progress, which is the law of nature. And it is for this reason that God, being supremely just and good, grants to the spirit of each man as many successive existences as he needs for attaining to the perfection which is the aim of his being.
In each ne existence, a spirit brings with him, under the form of natural aptitudes, of intuitive knowledge, of intelligence, and of morality, all the gains that have been made by him in his previous existences. Thus each new existence takes him on a step further upon the road of progress.¹
10. In the intervals between his successive incarnations, a spirit returns, for a longer or shorter time, into the spirit-world, where he is happy, or unhappy, according to the good, or the evil, he has done in his previous lives. The life of the spirit-world I the normal state of the spirit, the definitive state towards which he is tending; for it is his spirit which is undying, while the state of incarnation is one of transition and passage. It is especially in the spirit-state that he reaps the fruit of the progress accomplished by him during incarnation; it is also in that state that he prepares for a new struggle with ignorance and evil, and forms the resolutions which he will strive to put into practice in his next return to the discipline of human life.
The spirit progresses also in erraticity, in which state he acquires special knowledge which he could not acquire upon the earth, and modifies the ideas acquired by him through his subjection to the action of matter. The state of incarnation and the spirit-state are for him the source of two kinds of progress, each of which is equally necessary to his advancement; and it is in order that he may reap the special benefits of each that he is made to alternate between these two modes of existence.
11. A spirit may be reincarnated upon the earth or in other material worlds. Among the latter, there are some which are further advanced than others, and in which the conditions of existence, both physical and moral, are less painful than upon the earth; but, into those happier worlds, only such spirits are admitted as have arrived at a degree of advancement in harmony with that of those worlds.
Incarnation in worlds of higher degree is, of itself, a reward for the spirits whose efforts have fitted them to share the life of those worlds, the inhabitants of which are exempted from the ills and the vicissitudes to which we are exposed upon the earth. Their body, being more fluidic, are free from the grossness of earthly flesh, and are not subject to the diseases, infirmities, or even to the needs of our present bodily state. Spirits of low degree being excluded from those worlds, their people live together in peace, with no other care than that of effecting the advancement by their intellectual activity. True fraternity reigns in those worlds, because in them selfishness has no existence; true equality reigns in them, because no proud or vain-glorious spirit could obtain admission into them; and true liberty reigns in them, because, in those worlds, there are no disorders to be repressed, no ambitious tyrants seeking to oppress their weaker brethren. In comparison with the earth, such worlds are paradises, although they are but the temporary resting-places of the spirit, on the road of progress which is leading him up to the attainment of the yet higher mode of existence that constitutes the true, definitive life of the soul. The earth, being as yet a world of low degree, and destined to serve as a place of purification for imperfect spirits, evil necessarily predominates in it, and will continue to do so until the Divine ordering shall make it the abode of spirits of greater advancement than those who are now incarnated in it.
It is thus that each spirit, progressing gradually in proportion as he accomplishes his development, arrives at length at the apogee of felicity; but, before attaining to the highest point of perfection, he enjoys increasing degrees of happiness, proportioned to each successive of his advancement. It is with the spirit, in this respect, as with a child; in his infancy, he shares the pleasures of childhood, in his youth, those which belong to adolescence, and, when he has attained to man’s state, the riper satisfactions of manhood.
12. The felicity of the perfected spirits is not a state of idle contemplation, which would be, as has frequently been pointed out, merely a state of eternal and wearisome uselessness. Spirit-life, at even the highest rungs of the ladder, is, on the contrary, a state of constant activity, though an activity exempt form fatigue. The most perfect felicity of that life consists in the enjoyment of all the splendors of the creation, which human language is incapable of describing, and of which the most exuberant human imagination would fail to form the remotest conception; - in the knowledge and comprehension of all things; in the absence of every sort of suffering, physical and moral; in an interior satisfaction, a serenity of soul that nothing can disturb; in the pure and perfect affection which unites all the beings who have attained to that elevation, and who, through the absence of evil and inferior spirits, are beyond the reach of disappointment or annoyance; and, above all, in the vision of God and in the understanding of the sublime mysteries of existence that are unveiled only to those who have rendered themselves worthy of such initiation. The happiness of the fully purified spirits consists also in the exercise of the functions with which they rejoice to be charge. They are the Messiahs, the Messengers of God, for the transmission and the execution of His volitions; they accomplish great missions preside over the formation of worlds and the maintenance of the general harmony of the universe, glorious posts at which spirits only arrive as the direct result of their perfection. Those only who have reached the highest grade of perfectibility are admitted to a knowledge of the secrets of God, and receive the direct inspiration of His thought, of which they are the immediate representatives.
¹ See foot note, chap. I, no. 3.
13. The employments of spirits are proportioned to their advancement, to the knowledge they possess, to their capacities, to their experience, and to the degree of confidence reposed in them by the sovereign Master. In the spirit-world, there is no privilege, no favor that is not the consequence of personal merit; all the arrangements of that higher world are weighed in the scales of absolute justice. The most important missions are confided only to those who are known, by God, to be, at once, able to fulfill them worthily, and incapable of betraying them or of failing in the accomplishment of the tasks committed to them. While, under the very eye of God, the most worthy of these exalted servants of the Most High compose the Supreme Council of the Universe, others, a degree below them, are charged with the direction of the various solar systems, and others, again, of a yet lower rank in the hierarchy of perfected spirits – that is to say, of those whose intellectual acquirements and absolute devotion to general interests have placed them in the highest category of the spirit-world – are charged with the direction of a single planet. After these, in the order of their personal advancement and hierarchical rank, are the spirits who, though of high advancement in comparison with those of lower degree, are still far from having attained to the vast knowledge and perfect purity of the highest category, and who are entrusted with the direction of a single nation, of a single family, of a single individual, are charged to push forward some special branch of progress, or to superintend the various operations of nature, all of which, to the minutest details of the work of creation, are carried on under the constant supervision of spirits specially charged, for the time being, with the special task which, through their degree of knowledge and of devotion, they are best fitted to discharge. In the vast and harmonious unity of creation, there are occupations for all varieties and degrees of capacity, of aptitude, of devotion; occupations that are solicited with ardent desire and accepted with joy and gratitude, because devotion and service are means of advancement for the spirits who aspire to the ineffable felicity of the supreme degree.
14. Besides the great missions which are confided only to spirits of the higher degrees, there are others, of every degree of importance, which are entrusted to spirits of corresponding degrees of advancement; so that every spirit, even those who are incarnated, may be said to have his own – that is to say, certain duties to perform for the for the benefits of his fellows – from the father of a family, on whom is laid the task of bringing forward his children, to the man of genius who endows society with new elements of progress. It is among the spirits who are charged with these missions of secondary importance that weakness, unfaithfulness, and withdrawals often occur, failures in duty that delay the advancement of the individual who is guilty of them, but that have no disturbing effect on the general course of events.
15. Thus all the intelligent beings of the creation assist on carrying the general work of the universe, whatever the degree of development at which they have arrived, and each of them according to his possibilities; some of them in the state of incarnation, others in the spirit-state. There is activity everywhere; from the bottom of the ladder to the top, all are learning, aiding one another, mutually supporting each other, and holding out a helping hand to assist each other in reaching the summit.
Solidarity is thus established between the spirit-world and the corporeal world, in other words, between spirits and men, between spirits in freedom and spirits in the capacity of the flesh. And thus, too, all true sympathies, all pure and sincere affections are perpetuated, strengthened, and ennobled, through the purification and continuation of the affectionate relationships of spirits, in their successive existences.
Everywhere, throughout infinity, are life and activity; not a corner of the boundless extent around us that is not peopled with intelligent creatures; not a region that is not incessantly traversed by innumerable legions of radiant beings, invisible to the gross senses of spirits in flesh, but the sight of whom fills with admiration and rapture the souls that are freed from the veil of materiality. Everywhere, throughout the universe, there is happiness proportioned to the degree of progress achieved, to the greatness of the tasks accomplished; for each spirit carries within himself the elements of his happiness, according to the category in which he is placed, for the time being, by his degree of advancement.
The happiness of spirits depending on their own personal qualities and not on any physical surroundings, it exists wherever there are spirits who are capable of being happy; but there is not, throughout the universe, any fixed and circumscribed region of happiness. The fully purified spirits find their happiness wherever they may be, in any and every part of the universe, because they contain the elements of that happiness in themselves, and they are always able to contemplate the Divine Majesty, because God is everywhere.
16. Happiness, nevertheless, is not simply a matter of personal feeling, for, if it were merely individual, if it could not be shared with others, it would be selfish and incomplete; to be perfect, it requires communion of thought and feeling on the part of those who are able to understand and to sympathize with one another. The higher spirits, attracted to each other by similitude of ideas, tastes, and sentiments, form vast homogeneous groups, or families, in which each individual radiates his own qualities and receives the serene and beneficent emanations of all the other individualities of the group, whose members sometimes disperse, to occupy themselves with the missions entrusted to them, sometimes assemble at some given point of space, to inform each other of the result of their labors, sometimes gather round a spirit of higher degree, to receive his counsels or his directions.
17. Although spirits are everywhere, the globes of the universe are the centers in which they assemble by preference, according to the similarity existing between themselves and those by whom they are inhabited. Globes of great advancement are surrounded by the shining hosts of the higher spirits; around globes of low degree, low and backward spirits swarm in crowds. The earth is still one of the latter. Each globe has, therefore, so to say, its own population of incarnate and disincarnate spirits, supplied, for the most part, by the incarnation and disincarnation of the same spirits. The population of the various globes is more stable in proportion to their backwardness, because, the lower the globe, the more closely are its spirits attached to matter; it is more floating in the globes of higher degree, because their spirits are more emancipated from the influences of materiality. But the higher spirits voluntarily quit the splendid worlds which are foci of light and joy, and go to worlds of lower degree, in order to sow therein the germs of progress, to bring consolation and hope to the spirits incarnated in them, to raise the courage of those who are sinking under the trials and struggles of corporeal life; - and they sometimes incarnate themselves in the world whose improvement they wish to help forward, in order to accomplish their undertaking with greater efficiency and success.
18. In the boundless immensity around us, where, then, is “Heaven”? “Heaven” is everywhere; it has no fixed site, no place, no circumscribing limits; the globes of high degree are the last stations on the road which leads to it; virtue opens the gates of that supreme abode; vice bars its entrance; for only those who have reached the highest degree of purity can cross its threshold.
In contrast with this grand and magnificent view of the universe, which shows us its remotest regions peopled with intelligent inhabitants, which assigns to all the objects of creation a meaning, a purpose, and an aim, how mean, how petty, is the doctrine which limits the human race to an imperceptible point of space, which represents mankind as beginning at a given instant, and as being destined to come to an end, at a given time, with the world which it inhabits, the career of the race embracing but a moment in eternity! How sad, dark, and chilling is the doctrine which represents the rest of the universe, before, during, and after, the brief episode of the career of the human race, as void of life and movement, an incommensurable desert plunged in eternal silence! How prolific of despair is such a doctrine, presenting to the mind the picture of the small group of the elect, absorbed in perpetual contemplation, while the great majority of the only creatures of immensity are condemned to endless torments! How cruel, for all loving hearts, is such a doctrine, interposing an impassable barrier between the living and the dead! The souls of the elect, in their selfish happiness, think only of their own beatitude; the souls of the damned, in their hopeless eternity of misery, think only of their own despair. Is it strange that selfishness should be rife upon the earth, when it is presented to mankind as reigning supreme in “Heaven”? And how narrow, how degrading, is the idea given, by such a doctrine, of the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God!
How grand, how sublime, on the contrary, is the idea of the Divine Being that is given by Spiritism! What vast horizons does its doctrine open out to the mind, what splendid vistas does it unroll to the imagination and the heart! But what proves it to be true? Reason, in the first place; revelation, in the second place; and, lastly, its accordance with the scientific progress of the day. Between two doctrines, one of which debases, while the other exalts, our idea of the attributes of God; - one of which is in contradiction, and the other in harmony, with the law of progress that is visible in every department of existence; - one of which remains stationary while the other leads us incessantly forwards, - common sense suffices to show us which is the nearest to the truth. In presence of two doctrines thus diametrically opposed to each other, let each inquirer interrogate his own consciousness, his own aspirations, and an inner voice will reply to his inquiry as to which is the true one. The aspirations of mankind are the voice of God, and cannot deceive us.
19. But why, then, it may be asked, has God not revealed all truth to mankind, from the beginning? For the same reason which renders it impossible to impart, to an infant, the knowledge that is imparted to an adult. The restricted revelation of former ages was sufficient for the needs of the human race in the period for which it was intended; the Divine revealing are always proportioned to the mental and moral capacities of the spirits to whom they are made. Those who, at the present day, are receiving a fuller revelation, are the same spirits who received the more restricted revelation of the earlier ages, but who, since that earlier period, have increased in intelligence.
Before physical science had revealed to mankind the existence of the living forces of nature, the mechanism of the heavens, the true nature and mode of formation of the earth, could men have understood the immensity of space, and the plurality of the worlds of the universe? Before geology had shown them the constitution of the earth, could they have dislodged “hell” from its depths, or understood the allegorical meaning of the six days of the creation? Before astronomy had discovered the laws which regulate the universe, could they have seen that there is neither “high” nor “low” in space, and that the sky is neither above the clouds nor bounded by the stars? Before psychological science had come into existence, could they have identified themselves with spiritual life, or have formed to themselves a conception of an existence after death, whether happy or unhappy, otherwise than in connection with some fixed locality and under some physical form? No; comprehending through the senses rather than by thought, the idea of an illimitable universe was too vast for their intelligence; it was needful to reduce the idea of the universe to narrower proportions, in order to bring it within their sphere of vision, deferring its broader presentation to a later period. A partial revelation was useful in the past, and the wisdom of the Providential ordering is shown in this proportioning of its teachings to the needs and capacities of the time in which it was made; but it is insufficient at the present day, and they are wrong who, not taking into account the progress of ideas, imagine that they can hold men of mature age in the leading-strings of infancy.
Source: Published Text in The Spiritist Messenger, n. 102, 103 and 104, 2008