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Heaven, Indian conceptions of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F059-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 30, 2023, from

Article Summary

Heaven is an important part of Indian religious cosmology and also figures strongly in Indian philosophical discourse. In the cosmologies of the early period of Indian thought, from the Ṛg Veda to the advent of the so-called heterodox schools of Jainism and Buddhism (c.1500–500 bc), heaven was conceived of in relatively simple terms, as a happy and permanent abode for both the deceased (particularly those who performed Vedic sacrifices) and the gods. In all three of the major religious systems of classical India, namely Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, heavenly realms expanded in number, and were usually depicted in terms of the deities who inhabited them and the prevailing life-situations of the deceased. Geographically, the heavens of classical India were envisaged as either parallel, occupying separate, bounded, horizontal space, or vertical, existing on separate tiers of upper-level space. Philosophically, the existence and soteriological value of heaven were much debated, from the earliest Upaniṣads (c.500 bc) and philosophical sūtras of Vedānta and Pūrva Mīmāṃsā (the Brahmasūtra of Bādarāyaṇa and the Mīmāṃsāsūtra of Jaimini respectively) to the later logicians and systematizers of the standard philosophical systems (c.1500 and beyond). Religion and philosophy were always intimately linked in India, indeed were often barely distinguishable; thus the soteriology of a religious form would be logically supported and fully explicated by allied philosophical schools. Broadly, two points of view were represented: first, that heavenly realms did exist and were achievable for one’s ultimate benefit, or, second, that they existed but were phenomena subject to decay, rather like ordinary reality, or (as the Buddhists thought) were mental constructs. In the second case, heaven was regarded as inferior to variously conceived states of enlightenment or liberation.

Citing this article:
Smith, Frederick M.. Heaven, Indian conceptions of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F059-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2023 Routledge.

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