The peak years of the British Empire saw the introduction of many ancient texts from the East, introduced by such scholar-adventurers as Sir Richard Francis Burton. One of them, translated in 1859 under the title The Rubai’yat of Omar Khayyam, was widely published well into the 20th century. You can often find a beautiful edition at a used bookstore for modest cost. The 11th-century Persian poem is not a tract on spiritual asceticism, but rather a celebration of wine, women and song. The following lines from the poem are used in the opening credits of the 1945 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray:
“I sent my soul through the Invisible
For some letter of the afterlife to spell
And by and by my soul returned to me
And said, ‘I myself am Heaven and Hell.’”
The Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—have their concept of Heaven and Hell, which in the wisdom tradition might stand for states of being viewed either as suffering or nirvana, or what psychology would call contentment versus misery. Think of everyday consciousness as spanning a certain range required for a normal life. Expanding upwards brings the light of spiritual truth and increasing identification with the realm of Being, while egressing in the Hell direction brings a state of lessened consciousness in which one is prone to a kind of demonic possession by emotion or ideology.
The Heaven orientation makes one holy: radiant, calm, detached and capable of pure action for its own sake—such as creation, the most divine endeavor—without concern over outcome. The Hell direction, on the other hand, naturally brings about the opposite: a regression to chaotic and pre-personal levels of being in which one does not even have a soul, only a mugshot with a crazed look in the eyes.
David R. Hawkins, a successful doctor who experienced an intense spiritual awakening, withdrew from the world to live in a state of mystical ecstasy. Later he wrote a book called Power Vs. Force, endorsed by no less than Mother Theresa. Hawkins created a consciousness scale with shame registering 40 and 1,000 reserved for the likes of Jesus and the Buddha. Ordinary people require a level of 200 to get up each morning and face the day even when they don’t feel like it. This level is called courage.
The mere slightest drop downwards—to anger, fear, apathy, guilt—and a person’s already on the road to Hell. On the contrary, the path of acceptance, love and joy lifts them towards the clouds of Heaven, and might even open the gates of immortality.