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Does Heaven Exist?

6 religious experts give their opinion on the afterlife

A butterfly tries to escape through a closed window- where is heaven on earth

En español | They say heaven is a place on earth. Or is it actually a destination in the sky? We asked five of our favorite spiritual leaders to weigh in on this celestial destination.

Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara, Village Zendo, New York

One day a fierce samurai warrior strode up to Zen Master Hakuin and shouted, "Heaven and hell — do they really exist?"

Hakuin looked at the man and said, "Who are you?"

"I am a samurai!"

Hakuin snorted, and said, "You look like a puny beggar, not a courageous soldier."

The samurai flew into a rage, and began to draw his sword, menacing Hakuin.

Hakuin shouted, "This is hell!"

Hearing this, the soldier dropped his hand and realized the teaching. He smiled and bowed to Hakuin.

Softly, Hakuin said, "This is heaven."

Next: What is heaven? >>

Heaven on earth- A crucifix glints on the top of a church in Georgia

A church in the country of Georgia. September 2008 — Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos

Dr. Charles Stanley, Radio Host and Pastor, In Touch Ministries, Atlanta

Yes, there is such a thing as heaven. It is a place where there will be no more sadness or tears and all reason for pain and suffering will be gone. It is a place where God's people will serve and worship Him as well as reign with Him forever.

The only way to get to heaven is by being reconciled to God and accepting His Son Jesus Christ's death on the cross as payment for our sins.

See also: Is There Life After Death?

The natural inclination to do wrong keeps us out of the presence of a perfect and holy God. Only by allowing Jesus to stand in our place can we live forever with the Maker of heaven and earth.

When Jesus told His disciples that He was going to prepare a place in heaven for them, Thomas replied, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" Jesus answered, saying, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:5-6).

Next: Something better than heaven? >>

A man walks down a road with his arms outstretched toward the horizon.

A man walks down a road with his arms outstretched toward the horizon. — Vetta/Getty Images

Byron Katie Spiritual Teacher and Founder of The Work in Ojai, Calif. 

During one of my weekend intensives, a man once said to me, with the loveliest glow on his face, "I just understood! It's amazing. What you're talking about is heaven on earth!"

As you begin to wake yourself up from your dreams of hell or purgatory, heaven dawns on you in a way that the imagination can't comprehend. And then, as you continue to question what you believe, you realize that heaven, too, is just a beginning.

There is something better than heaven. It's the eternal, infinitely creative mind. It's so brilliant that it will shake what's left of you into the depths of all-consuming wonder.

Next: Die Before Death. >>

Woman caresses a coffee mug on a rainy day-heaven on earth

Woman stands at a window covered in rain, a coffee mug in her hand. — Vetta/Getty Images

Taj Inayat, spiritual guide and Vice President of the Sufi Order International

The poet Omar Khayyam writes, "Heaven is a vision of fulfilled desire, hell the shadow of a soul on fire."

There is a saying, "Die before death," which means that we do not have to wait until the breath is gone to experience heaven. It can be realized on earth when we discover a mode of being that is expressive of love, harmony and beauty.

The incessant demands of life, the overload of information and the bombardment of our senses call us continually outward to the surface of existence, toward the visible and away from the interiority of life. It is in this "within" space that heaven can be found.

Next: How to get to heaven. >>

Woman swims in the open ocean water - heaven on earth

Woman swimming in the open sea. — Ric Frazier/Gallery Stock

Rabbi Steve Blane, Founder and Spiritual Leader, Havurah Sim Shalom

There is indeed a heaven; also there is a path to get there. It is the place of God, the One, the Divine source of everything who is the ineffable source of holy energy. The life force in us and in all living things (also known as a "divine spark"). It yearns to get back to that holy source, where it finds solace, comfort and completeness.

When we lead ethical and kind lives, we find peace and contentment in our hearts and our life forces move easily to and from the One. The divine spark is kindled — its embers glow with intensity and life flourishes.

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