We human beings have a very great imagination. We have imagined what will happen to us after the death. Good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. We have described the heaven with all the luxuries possible and hell with all the cruel punishments. The irony is that none of the human being who has gone to heaven or hell and have returned to tell us the glory. We get all the ideas from some books or what our ancestors or priest have told us. In reality we do not know what is there beyond the death. We only know that people who returned from the near death experience have mentioned that there is only darkness.
In Hindu scriptures, you will find that there is a king Indra who rules the heaven. There are beautiful women referred as Apsaras always in your service. You get to enjoy all kinds of pleasures possible there. This is one idea that is believed by the materialistic person. As he sees the same physical form of himself and the world in heaven. He is after the same desires he was when he was alive on the earth. The description of heaven can be found in Christianity and in the path of Mohammedans as well.
Many priests takes the advantage of these ideas of heaven and run their businesses. We also foolishly submit ourselves because we all want great life after the death. We have not understood what death is, but we are firm about the afterlife. How many times we actually introspects our thoughts, our beliefs? I asked few people about what they think heaven is? and I got different answers. Some have the old ideas I mentioned above and some people think that heaven is about nirvana. Some are not bothered about heaven as they have never thought about it.
In short, most of us think heaven as some better place than where we are living now. It sounds like a magical place which will sort out all our issues and we will be happy or in bliss forever. However, most of us also agree that we will have to work hard to go there. We will have to do good karmas for us to get the entry into heaven. How are we sure that this is the truth? How do we know that doing good karmas will give us nirvana or heaven?
If you study Vedanta, then you will find the explanation of many things and it helps in breaking ignorance. In the olden days, it is possible that there could be some place named as heaven or Swarga and the same was ruled by some king called Indra. People must be worshiping him because of his position and power. This is the only reason why they were described in human form and description of the place was similar to earth only with magical powers. As people realized that these Devas are not the ultimate reality and God cannot be so limited, people stopped worshiping them.
I do not know if heaven is true or not. The real question is what we really want from this life. Why do we do what we do? We are living a superficial life just like the definition of heaven mentioned above. We have become very limited to pleasure and pain and hence we can see heaven and hell. I believe that we need to go beyond that. I always feel that we are much stronger, but our thought has made us weak and hence we have started believing in many superstitions.
Vedanta says that the real search is not only to do good karma and go to some mystical place, but it is to realize our real nature, which is soul. We need lots of courage to accept the reality and challenge everything that we have been told from ages. Buddha has always preached that the real truth can only be known through experience. We can still go back to our mundane life thinking that all we have to do is to enjoy life or we can actually go after the real knowledge of truth.
Heaven can be a great place to be, but still there is a possibility of going to hell. Is there a place or a world where we are free from this bondage of pleasure and pain? Is there a place where we are not limited to our materialistic thoughts? Is it possible to get the freedom from all our misery? I guess we all have to find answers on our own.