Our local art museum has an exhibit on Buddhist art called Buddhist Visions, focusing especially on depictions of heaven and hell.
So as with anything else, as usual, this is about what is happening here and now.
Heaven is here. Hell is here. The bardos are here. Whatever happens after we die, as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is here.
It is a projection of stories happening here now, into past and future. And it is a projection of dynamics happening here now, into past and future, or another location in space.
There is a story here, about heaven, hell, creation, what happens after death, and I see it as reflecting something really out there, in the past, future, or somewhere else in space. And I can either recognize it as just a thought, having purely a practical function for this human self in the world, or I can take it as somehow substantial, real, something far more than just an ephemeral thought.
Dynamics happening here now are also projected out, in a similar way, through these stories.
I can find heaven here, when I tell myself what is and what should be are aligned, or when I notice myself as that which all content of experience happens within and as. I can find hell here, when I tell myself that what is and what should be are not aligned, or when I get caught up in beliefs in general.
(For instance, have you ever felt like either or all of the figures in the painting above? I have, and do whenever I get caught up in being right, in a hot anger, creating a sense of being eaten alive. That is one version of hell.)
I can find the layers and processes described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead here now, when I explore the sense fields or use other approaches.
So all of these Buddhist images can be seen as describing something happening here and now, for each of us. And that is really the same with anything else, any other story, in the news, in movies, in books, in dreams, in myths, in fairy tales, in science, in religion. Whatever it is, it is something we can find here now, in immediate awareness.
We can find the story of it here now, as simply an ephemeral and insubstantial thought. And we can find the dynamics it refers to. Any story is a story about what is alive here now.
It has a double practical value. First, as a practical tool for our human self to navigate and function in the world. Then, as a reflection of what is alive here now in our immediate awareness.