In most religions, Heaven is a transcendental realm in which people who have died continue to exist in an afterlife. The term “heaven” may refer to the physical heavens, the sky or the seemingly endless expanse of the universe beyond, which is the traditional literal meaning of the term in English. The term in English has also typically been used to refer to the plane of existence of an afterlife (often held to exist in another realm) in various religions and spiritual philosophies, often described as the holiest possible place, accessible by people according to various standards of divinity, goodness, piety, faith or other virtues. The modern English word Heaven is derived from the earlier (Middle English) spelling heven (attested 1159); this in turn was developed from the previous Old English form heofon. By c. 1000, heofon was being used in reference to the Christianized “place where God dwells”, but originally, it had signified “sky, firmament” The English term has cognates in the other Germanic languages: Old Saxon heƀan “sky, heaven”, Middle Low German heven “sky”, Old Icelandic himinn “sky, heaven”, Gothic himins; and those with a variant final -l: Old Frisian himel, himul “sky, heaven”, Old Saxon/Old High German himil, Dutch hemel, and modern German Himmel. All of these have been derived from a reconstructed Proto-Germanic form *Hemina-. In Ancient Egyptian faith, belief in an afterlife is much more stressed than in ancient Judaism. Heaven was a physical place far above the Earth in a “dark area” of space where there were no stars, basically beyond the Universe. According to the Book of the Dead, departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven. Their heart would finally be weighed with the feather of truth, and if the sins weighed it down their heart was devoured. In Buddhism there are several heavens, all of which are still part of samsara (illusionary reality). Those who accumulate good karma may be reborn in one of them; however, their stay in the heaven is not eternal—eventually they will use up their good karma and will undergo a different rebirth into another realm, as humans, animals or other beings. Because heaven is temporary and part of samsara, Buddhists focus more on escaping the cycle of rebirth and reaching enlightenment (Nirvana).
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