True Christian Religion #570

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570. The fourth experience.

I once talked with a newly arrived spirit, who while in the world had spent much time meditating about heaven and hell. (By newly arrived spirits are meant people who have recently died, who are called spirits because they are then spiritual people.) As soon as he entered the spiritual world, he began in the same way to meditate about heaven and hell; and he felt happy when he thought about heaven, and sad when he thought about hell. On realising that he was in the spiritual world, he immediately asked where heaven and hell were, and what each were, and what they were like.

'Heaven,' they replied, 'is above your head, and hell is below your feet, for you are now in the world of spirits, which is mid-way between heaven and hell. But we cannot describe in a few words what heaven is and what it is like, or what hell is and is like.'

Then, being intensely eager to know he fell on his knees and prayed earnestly to God for instruction. An angel appeared at once on his right, who made him get up and said: 'You have begged to be instructed about heaven and hell. Ask and learn what pleasure is, and you will know.' And with these words the angel disappeared.

[2] Then the new spirit said to himself: 'What is the meaning of this, "Ask and learn what pleasure is, and you will know what heaven and hell are and what they are like"?' So he left the place where he was and wandered about, addressing those he met and saying: 'Please be so good as to tell me what pleasure is.' 'What sort of a question is this?' said some. 'Everyone knows what pleasure is. Isn't it joy and happiness? Pleasure then is pleasure, and one is like another; we don't know how to distinguish them.'

Others said that pleasure is mental amusement. 'When the mind is amused, the face is cheerful, speech is full of jokes, gestures are lighthearted, and the whole person is pleased.' But some said: 'Pleasure is simply feasting and eating delicacies, drinking and getting drunk on fine wine, and then having conversations on various topics, especially about the sports of Venus and Cupid.'

[3] On hearing this the new spirit was cross and said to himself: 'These are the replies of peasants, not educated people. These pleasures are neither heaven nor hell. I wish I could meet some wise men.' So he left these people and started asking, 'Where are the wise?'

Then he was seen by an angelic spirit, who said: 'I perceive that you are fired with the longing to know what is the universal characteristic of heaven and of hell. This is pleasure, so I will take you to a hill, where every day there is an assembly of those who seek out effects, of those who enquire into causes, and of those who examine ends. Those who seek out effects are called scientific spirits, or Sciences personified. Those who enquire into causes are called intelligent spirits, or Intelligences personified. Those who examine ends are called wise spirits or Wisdoms personified. Directly above them in heaven are the angels who see causes from the point of view of ends, and effects from the point of view of causes; these angels are the source of enlightenment for these three gatherings.'

[4] Then he took the new spirit by the hand and brought him onto a hill, where those who examine ends and are called Wisdoms were meeting. 'Forgive me,' he said to them, 'for coming up here to meet you. The reason is that from the time I was a boy I have been meditating about heaven and hell. I have recently arrived in this world, and some of the people I met told me that here heaven is overhead and hell is underfoot; but they did not tell me what each were or what they were like. So thinking constantly about them made me worried, and I prayed to God. Then an angel approached me and said: "Ask and learn what pleasure is, and you will know." I have been asking, but so far to no purpose. So, please, if you would be so kind, teach me what pleasure is.'

[5] 'Pleasure,' replied the Wisdoms, 'is the whole of life for all in heaven, and the whole of life for all in hell. Those who are in heaven experience the pleasure of good and truth, those in hell the pleasure of evil and falsity. For all pleasure has to do with love, and love is the very being of a person's life. So just as a person's humanity depends upon the nature of his love, so it does on the nature of his pleasure. The activity of the love creates the feeling of pleasure. In heaven its activity is accompanied by wisdom, in hell by madness. But each activity induces pleasure in the subjects it operates upon. The heavens and the hells experience opposite pleasures; the heavens experience the love for good and thus the pleasure of doing good, the hells the love for evil and thus the pleasure of doing harm. If therefore you know what pleasure is, you will know what heaven and hell are and what they are like.

[6] 'But ask and learn about pleasure from those who enquire into causes and are called Intelligences. They are on the right as you leave here.'

So he went away, approached the next gathering and explained why he had come, asking them to instruct him about pleasure. They were delighted to be asked, and said: 'It is true that, if anyone knows about pleasure, he knows what heaven and hell are and what they are like. The will, which is what makes a person human, does not move an inch, except as the result of pleasure. For the will regarded in itself is nothing but an affection of some love and thus of some pleasure. For there is some delight and thus some choice which inspires the act of willing; and because it is the will that makes the understanding think, not the slightest thinking is possible without pleasure flowing in from the will. The reason for this is that the Lord by the radiation from Himself activates everything in the soul and mind of angels, spirits and men. This activity takes place through the inflow of love and wisdom, and this inflow is the actual activity which is the source of all pleasure. This in its originating phase is called blessedness, bliss and happiness, and in its derived phase, pleasure, loveliness and delight, to use a universal term, good. But the spirits of hell turn everything they have upside down, so changing good into evil, and truth into falsity, though the pleasure remains constant. For without constant pleasure they would have no will, no feeling and so no life. From this it is plain what the pleasure of hell is, what it is like and where it comes from and likewise the pleasure of heaven.'

[7] Having heard this, he was taken to the third gathering where were those who seek out effects and are called Sciences. These said: 'Go down to the lower earth, and go up to the upper earth; on these you will perceive and feel the pleasures of both heaven and hell.'

Then some way off the ground gaped open and three devils came up through the opening; they had a fiery appearance resulting from the pleasure of their love. The angels who were accompanying the new spirit realised that the three devils had been deliberately brought up from hell and called out to them: 'Don't come any closer, but from where you are tell us something about your pleasures.'

'You may know,' they replied, 'that everyone, whether he is said to be good or wicked, experiences his own pleasure, the so-called good man his, and the so-called wicked man his.'

'What,' they were asked, 'is your pleasure?' They said it was the pleasure of fornicating, taking revenge, cheating and blaspheming. Then they were asked what their pleasures were like. They said that other people felt them as like the rank smell of dung, the stench of corpses and the rottenness of pools of urine. 'Do you find those things pleasant?' they were asked. 'Extremely so,' they replied. 'Then,' they were told, 'you are like unclean animals that live in such conditions.' 'If we are, we are,' they replied; 'but these are the kind of things that delight our nostrils.'

'What more can you tell us?' they were asked. They said that everyone is allowed to experience his own pleasure, even the filthiest, as others call it, so long as he does not annoy good spirits and angels. 'But because our pleasure will not let us stop annoying them, we have been thrown into labour-camps where we are harshly treated. It is the prevention and withdrawal of our pleasures there which is called the torments of hell; it is too a kind of inward pain.'

'Why did you annoy good people?' they were asked. They said they could not help themselves. 'There is a kind of frenzy,' they said, 'which takes hold of us, when we see an angel and feel the Lord's Divine sphere surrounding him.' 'Then you are really like wild beasts,' we said on hearing this.

A little later, when they saw the new spirit in the company of angels, a frenzy came over the devils, which seemed like the fire of hatred. So to prevent them doing harm, they were hurled back into hell. After this there appeared the angels who see causes from the point of view of ends and effects from the point of view of causes, and occupy the heaven above those three gatherings. They were seen surrounded by brilliant light, which as it rolled down in spiralling curves brought with it a garland of flowers, and placed it on the new spirit's head. Then a voice came forth saying: 'This laurel-wreath is given to you because from the time you were a boy you meditated about heaven and hell.'

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.