October 7, 2009
So what happens when we die?
1) Baha’i’ teaches a central principle of one religion – that is that all great seers and prophets alike have come from the one Light, the one God, as humanity has engaged in an evolution corresponding to that of an individual the attributes of each religion have met the requirements of their age with equal validity. They believe that the true nature of a human is spiritual with an everlasting soul that is the seat of one’s character and consciousness. That the purpose of life is to cultivate the soul’s growth through love for God, moral self discipline and service to human kind thus enabling society as a whole to advance. Death is described as different from this life as the womb is to this world with the afterlife a timeless spiritual journey through many planes of existence where progress is likened to heaven – a state of nearness to God and failure to progress, as hell – or remoteness from God.
2) Buddhism teaches that individuals do not posses eternal souls rather a bundle of habits memories sensations desires etc which delude us into thinking that we consist of a lasting stable self. This false self then hangs together as a unit and transmigrates or reborn in body after body. Life in a body is seen as source for all suffering due to always trying to get or attain something and the aim is to obtain release by way of detachment from this false self – Nirvana. According to Tibetan Buddhism after death the spirit of the departed goes through a process lasting 49 days that is divided into 3 stages called ‘bardos’. Only the most evolved individuals can skip bardo and transit into Nirvana. However in general Buddhists don’t believe in an afterlife only in the now – “you don’t need to come to death in order to be reborn. You are reborn in every moment; you have to see your continuation in the here and now. There is no before and after just as there is no birth and death. We can be free of these notions in a moment and filled with the great joyful silence of all that is.” – Thich Nhat Hanh – Vietnamese monk. ‘To know the self that is asking the question’ – is said to be the essence of Buddhism.
3) Christianity – it’s very difficult to do a short summary due to the vast amount of denominations – it would actually make a list in itself but I wanted to include it here for context. So to be general and brief Christianity teaches that there is only one earthly life and that we have a body and a soul. When we die the soul goes to ‘heaven’ that is a place of eternal life for those who have done good deeds and in which there is great peace and love in the presence of God. Or to hell which is a place for punishment and can be for infinity. Or in the case of Catholicism to purgatory a temporary place where those who have died without confessing their sins go to repent before being allowed into heaven. There is also the teaching of Christ’s second coming, the Day of Judgement and Salvation. All of which again vary in detail. The basis is if you are good the afterlife will be joyous – the difference is what constitutes the attainment of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour.
4) Existential Nihilism begins with the idea that our lives have no absolute meaning, purpose or value. It’s not that one can’t apply meaning to it just that there is in and of itself no intrinsic reason for being. That an individual or entire human population for that matter does not and cannot make a significant difference that could impact the enormity of the Universe and its existence. This can be viewed as depressing – what’s the point – or liberating; freeing the person from obligation to traditional assumptions social prejudice and requisites. Needless to say there is no belief in a separate consciousness, soul or afterlife but more a belief in biological and chemical functions that are activated at birth, encounter and respond to external stimuli throughout life and ultimately cease at the time of death.
5) Hinduism teaches that we all have a soul which is immortal, and that this soul is part of Jiva or the limited being. The Jiva under goes cycles of birth and death. Where the soul goes after death depends on [amongst other things] our deeds in life. Hinduism also teach that there are many ‘causal planes’ and that if a person has behaved well they go to a higher plane, bad to a lower plane. The reason for death is for the Jiva to rest, reenergize itself and review its policies and plan for the next phase of life. When a person is reborn how they behaved in their past life will affect their position in the new life by way of Karma – as you sow, you shall reap. The purpose of this journey is to learn by our mistakes and ultimately for the soul to be liberated which means liberation from the cycle [Grand Illusion] of birth and death and from duality and separation and to be in union with Brahman, the supreme soul.
6) Islam teaches that there is only one physical life, and that every human is born with a pure spirit given to them by God. This spirit is like a seed that grows within and each deed whether good or bad moulds the spirit accordingly. Or put another way it is like God has given each person a lump of clay which they are able to mould in any way they choose. After death the spirit remains as it was moulded in life and finds itself in heaven [Jannat] or hell [Jahannam] not as a place but as a representation of the way a person has behaved in life. Ultimately there will be a Day of Judgement which is when the entire physical world will end and the spiritual world will come into full manifestation, everyone will be awakened and raised to the higher spiritual life – becoming fully conscious of the effects of their deeds and have a ‘body’ made out of those deeds. Simply put Islam teaches that the purpose of life here is to be kind to others and to worship Allah, life on Earth being a test to determine one’s ultimate reward or punishment in the afterlife which is eternal.
7) Judaism teaches that the soul is Godly and that this is the only earthly life. The existence of the afterlife is not stated explicitly in the Torah but rather the focus is on action in this life and fulfilling ones duties to God and to ones fellow man. Succeeding in this brings reward and failing at it bringing punishment in this life. Certainly though it seems that the overall opinion is that there is an afterlife but that there is no one official version leaving it open for the individual to decide. In traditional Judaism there is the belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead, when the Messiah comes to initiate the perfect world of peace and prosperity, the righteous dead will be brought back to life to experience the perfected world that they helped to create. The wicked dead will not be resurrected. In the afterlife – the World to Come or Olam Ha-Ba – Is a higher state of being and your place in it determined by the merit gained by your actions, not by who you are or what religion you profess. There are 3 levels here Gan Eden where righteous people go directly. Gehinnom where the average person goes for purification before moving up and then those that are too evil are punished eternally.
8) Kabbalah teaches that there is no absolute certainty in reality and that wisdom is split into two divisions – the revealed and the concealed – not as absolutes but as in our limited capacity towards higher consciousness. The Creator created 600 souls that went on to divide into billions of souls – the body existing as merely a vessel for the soul. The purpose of creation [called the will to receive pleasure] is to attain eternity, perfection and equality with the Creator a state called “Good and Doeth Good.” To reach this state one must correct all 613 desires given to the soul – also called the 10 sefirot. In order to accomplish this we are reincarnated numerous times to make corrections in this world and the ‘other world’ – as above so below. As we advance we connect with progressively more souls and begin to realise the unified, complex, interconnected system that brings all still, vegetative, animated and speaking levels of nature together, And ultimately reach a state of being whereby all souls are united without the need to incarnate and reach an eternal and perfect state.
9) Scientology teaches that man is an immortal, spiritual being whose experience extends well beyond a single lifetime “simply living time after time, getting a new body, eventually losing it and getting a new one.” They also teach that man consists of 3 parts; the body the mind and most importantly the spirit or Thetan – which is who we actually are. When a body dies its Thetan forgets the details of the former life, though painful engrams [memories] remain in its unconscious. In order to move up the path of spiritual progression these scars must be removed by auditing [a type of counselling] and when this is complete a person is said to be clear – manifesting a very high degree of personal integrity and honesty without the dysfunctional thought aspects of fear and anxiety – and helping everyone on the planet to become clear thus removing all of the pain from engrams that perpetuate war, crime, addiction etc. Rebirths continue until ones true nature is realised – Thetan – thus enabling it to operate independently of the physical universe and become one with God [Infinity / The Creator].
10) Sikhism teaches that each individual has many reincarnations, that a soul is present not only in humans but in all living creatures, therefore one can be born into any life form depending on the actions he or she committed in their past life, being born a human means the soul is nearing the end of rebirth. The focus though is not on salvation or liberation after death but on being God like now – ceaseless action and love – liberating one in this life. At the time of death it is said that God judges each soul [Atma], demonic ego centered souls may be destined to suffer great agonies and pain in the dark underworld of Narak. A soul fortunate enough to achieve grace overcomes ego by meditating on God. Such a soul may attain liberation from the cycle of reincarnation experiencing salvation in Sachkhand the realm of truth, where it exists eternally as an entity of radiant light connected to God [Parmatma].