Paradise is no heaven

Indian Mythology, Modern Mythmaking 18 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, July 29, 2011

In Hindu mythology, there are two types of heaven: there is heaven (spelt without capitals) and there is Heaven (spelt with capitals). The smaller heaven is also called paradise, to distinguish it from Heaven. Of course, this complex denotations emerge because of the limitations of the English language that was designed to serve the needs of the Bible that has only one Heaven. Belief in one life that underlies Christianity results in faith in one heaven. Belief in many lives that underlies Hinduism results in faith in many heavens, and Heavens.
Paradise or heaven is called Swarga and is ruled by Indra, king of the gods. He is surrounded by wealth and beauty and fame, but he is always insecure, fearful that another king or sage or demon may topple him anytime. Then there is Heaven, the Vaikuntha of Vishnu or Kailasa of Shiva, where there is no threat; there is peace forever. But here time stills, there is no ebb and flow of things, no hunger hence no quest for satisfaction, no thirst hence no satiety. In the case of paradise, there is prosperity but no peace, while in Heaven there is peace but complete indifference to prosperity.

Thirty years ago, David and Jacob, after completing their engineering degree, took up two very different jobs for two different reasons. David joined a private engineering firm that offered him no job guarantees but a lot of opportunities.Jacob joined a Public Sector Enterprise that offered him job security but not many opportunities.

David spent years moving from city to city, from job to job, changing roles and domains, fighting office politics, struggling for appreciation, making his presence felt, battling recession, and is today Vice President of a Dubai-based company with major investments in India. Needless to say he is doing very well financially. He has bought three houses in India. But he looks stressed. The job has very high demands. The shareholders want results and the auditors are strict about governance. Every day he has to take tough decisions and every day he has to answer tough questions from people upstream and downstream. The customers are difficult to acquire and difficult to retain. David spends all day thinking about the job and this has seriously affected his work-life balance. He envies Jacob.

Jacob joined a Public Sector Company. He finds his job boring. Every thing is decided by policies. He knows he can do a better job but the organization makes no demands of him. He is expected to behave as per his grade. His remuneration is as per his grade. If he wants to attend a conference abroad he has to take permission from superiors. He has hardly any autonomy. Even if the chair in his office is broken, the requisition has to go to some senior who will sign a document in triplicate. His colleagues, he feels, have lost all enthusiasm. Even the fire in his belly has started to ebb. He does enough work so that he is not seen as a slacker. He reaches office on time and comes home on time. He gets to spend a lot of time with his family. For that he is grateful, especially when David calls him and tells him how he was unable to attend his daughter’s graduation ceremony in a fancy Singapore University. He knows that boom time or bust, he job is secure, and if he is patient, eventually, he will get his promotion. He may not have bought three houses, but his company quarters are huge and located in the best suburbs of Mumbai and Delhi. He is content but occasionally he does feel his life lacks the thrill of David’s private sector job.

David is in paradise; Jacob in Heaven. David enjoys growth; Jacob enjoys stability. David is blessed with prosperity; Jacob has peace. We yearn for both, but often one comes at the price of the other.

  • Mohan Ramchandani

    As usual. Brilliant.

  • mallika



    very true! prosperity does not give live with contentment can balance both.

  • Vivek

    Have just started a company. Have goals and ambitions. Guess, I know which way I will be heading.. “heaven”!

  • First, I will clarify that I have not at all attempted to act smart in writing this comment, because I intend to use two English words for heavenly pleasures.
    The lower realm of pleasures are material pleasures, which in Indian Mythology is the stage that deities could reach. [That’s why they had to go for help from God (Vishnu or Mahadev or Brahma – The Trinity of Gods) or Supreme Power (शक्ति)(Durga, Kaali or Ambaa) when they failed to overpower some of the very strong demons]. This is known as Paradise.
    Whereas Heaven is where material pleasures have no significance. One raises a few notches to renounce all material (sensory)pleasures(माया) and reach the stage of ब्रह्म.
    The article has differentiated with the help of a telling example.

  • Pingback: Paradise is no heaven : Devdutt Pattanaik « The world is too small? or Is it?()

  • Debasish Mohapatra

    that is what right now i am experiencing in my PSU job… allas i can say i am in Heaven not in heaven

  • Saurabh Sharma

    Nice article… Its true we want both
    Heaven and heaven(paradise)


    can some body explain is it law of the nature that prosperity never comes with peace or some thing else . why both can not live together .
    What is peace in life

    • sujith kumar

      who says prosperity doesn’t come with peace? when u want the prosperity to stay forever then ur peace is lost.the law of nature is that opposites happen in life – summer & winter, joy & sorrow, prosperity & poverty etc…if u r open to both the opposites,peace befalls else if u want to avoid any one thing peace avoids u.

      • Mihir Sevalia

        According to me its a continous process. You can be in “Heaven” as well as in “heaven” and Life is interesting when you live in both places. There will be no summer if there is no winter, no valleys if no mountains, no Gandhiji if no violence. So what you see as contradictory is infact complementary. Hence, life is all about enjoying “Heaven” as well as “heaven”.
        Food for thought.

  • Anjan

    In my opinion, its an external view of individuals life of saying whether he/she is happy or stressed. And every individual flexes his/her opinion, depending upon audience. So its double modification. For the same state, one expresses happiness and sadness in different audience. Not always one tells the truth.
    And peace is a state of mind and is expressed as certain behavior by the individual, whereas prosperity is relative, expressed not by the individual by by people around that individual. So world can say some one to be prosperous, but the same individual expresses himself as peaceful.

  • sujith kumar

    dear devdutt ji

    u mentioned heaven whose ruler is indra.i suppose the term heaven u used might be suggesting a state of mind or conscience..? if heaven is a state of mind what does indra represent? other gods of heaven represent? apsaras of heaven represent? in vedas offerings are given to indra,what does that mean? in some scriptures indra with other gods is stationed at meru parvatha,what does meru parvatha signify? in some literature it is said that 6 months of human time is equivalent to 1 day of gods, how can that be explained? i feel difficulty in comprehending all these things…kindly help me….

  • Pritesh Solanki

    Hello Sir,

    That’s a superb article. It just describes the situation I am in. Not replicating the same but to a similar extent, where I think my friends are doing much better and where they think that their job is not that good.

    Thanks for enlightening us.

  • Your examples are quite confusing as heaven signifies material prosperity while Heaven means a state of eternal peace( vairagi…sadhu…it does not matter what they have…how much they have). But here Jacobs case is totally different. He has a little mental peace only due to his job and economic security….otherwise the lure of material prosperity also hunts him.(He finds his job.
    He is content but occasionally he does feel his life lacks the thrill of David’s private sector job. boring …..etc). WHY? peace, happiness…these are very subjective things. The examples should be more contrasting than that of MNC & PSU.

  • Good but I am not satisfied with the end, specially
    “He is content but occasionally he does feel his life lacks the thrill of David’s private sector job.
    David is in paradise; Jacob in Heaven. David enjoys growth; Jacob enjoys stability. David is blessed with prosperity; Jacob has peace”
    In our religion (I am deliberately not using Mythology) , one doesn’t get to Heaven if he/she has not overcome this Moh-Maya, even if that is for “thrill”. No longing for anything at all. You reach Heaven when you have reached a state of A-karma, no good karma or bad karma, just no karma at all.

  • VK

    Interesting perspective..but I do beg to differ on the comparison of ‘Heaven’ with a public-sector job. While your define heaven as a place that enjoys stability, I feel it is much more…in fact, it is not stability but tranquility and comparison a public-sector job, at least today, I think represents inertia or just Tamas, if we go by Jacob’s job description..Heaven is unconditional bliss, defined as Sat-Chit-Ananda (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss), as the Upanishads say, but a public-sector job even today has a lot of restriction and red-tape..
    Anyways, as an ardent fan and follower of mythology since childhood, your are among the greatest influences on me today, to reopen my quest.
    Yours truly,
    S Vijaykrishnan

  • paratai

    hey super pa..