A story about what makes heaven and hell…
Once a person died and went to the other world. He was taken to Yamaraja, the god of death. Yamaraja asked for checking up his account of merits and demerits, in order to decide if he should be sent to hell or heaven. Chitragupta, the celestial accountant of Yamaloka, who never missed recording every single act, good or bad, of every single being, was rather surprised. Here was a freak case of the man having a perfectly squared or balanced account. His merits were as much as were his demerits. Which side should he, then, go? Yamaraja seemed indecisive for a moment. His mighty intellect, however, soon came forth with a solution. He gave the choice to the man: ‘You will have to experience both [for, the Hindu tradition tells us, neither hell nor heaven, is permanent. One 'lives' there as long as one's merits and demerits permit one to do so;thereafter one returns to earth again] but you can chose the sequence.’ Hence, the man was given the choice to decide as to where he wished to go first.
Accordingly, he was first taken to hell. He saw there a large group of people sitting across a dining table and eating through large bowls containing heaps of food of many varieties, and soups of all kinds. A delicious aroma filled the place. They ate through spoons with long handles — for that was the rule of the place. Despite so much of food around, however, they looked so emaciated and weak. They were so misrable. Looking at them the man wondered how were they still alive!
Then he came to heaven. Here too he saw a group of people sitting across a dining table, eating through large bowls of food and soup. The people, like the ones in hell, too ate using spoons with long handles. But unlike hell. here everyone looked well nourished and cheerful. There was an atmosphere of joy and sunshine here.
The man paused to see what made the difference despite similarities. In heaven, people ate, right, but actually they fed each other! The long handle of the spoon made its movement time-consuming and tiresome. Hence,the people had devised their own way of eating. Long handle made it easier to feed the food to the person sitting across the table than to use it for eating oneself. Everyone, thus, fed each other and that was the secret of their healthy bodies and cheerful minds.
And this is what differentiates heaven from hell too — the degree of unselfishness one has. Rightly did Swami Vivekananda say, ‘Unselfishness is God’. Where there love and concern, there is heaven. And its absence is hell. Hell, whatever be its types, is only an extension of selfishness in all its hideous forms; heaven is an extension of unselfishness in all its glory and beauty. Hell and heaven are extensions of out selfishness and unselfishness respectively.
(Story copied from the editorial of March 2009 issue of The Vedanta Kesari.)
And thanks to my brother for helping me post this story!