As the irritating, yet monotonous beeps of the life-monitor in the emergency room began to slowly die away, George struggled to hang on. It's not my time yet, he thought. Please, give me just one more day.
FOR MORE DETAILED EXPLANATIONS OF TECHNICAL TERMS (E.G. SUBTLE BODY, KARMA, ETC) OR PARTICULAR CONCEPTS (E.G. THE WORLD OF THE FATHERS), PLEASE SEE THE BACKGROUND PAPER FOR THAT SPECIFIC RELIGION.
.. The beeps soon became increasingly far in between, while the doctors frantically bustled on in a futile attempt to stabilize the dying man like a bunch of panicking bees trying to save their doomed hive from a pouring rain.
Hinduism: In Hinduism there is no apparent delay between death (which Hindus define as the separation of the subtle body from the physical body) and reincarnation, for those who have bad karma. Likewise, it seems that those whose karma is judged sufficient for escape from the cycle of rebirth are immediately joined with Brahma, arise in re-embodied form the World of the Fathers, or (in the case of devotees) join with their deity of devotion.
The world turned hazy, then completely dark, as George felt himself slowly floating into the darkness. He flew and flew without end. Then there was the light - that infamous "light at the end of the tunnel." (Randles 2) It gave out a strange, comforting warmth that enveloped him, easing his fears and relieving all doubts. George somehow knew what to do - to just let go. He felt quite at home.
Back on earth, the rhythmic, mechanical beeps suddenly turned into a solid, continuous high E, signaling the end.
George was about to cross over. Being bathed in the strangely comforting light, he was soon greeted by his long-lost friends and relatives, beckoning for him to come, come join them.
Human beings, apparently alone among all the life forms on earth, are aware that their life is finite. According to many theologians and mental health professionals, one of the main comforts that people obtain from their religious faith is the assurance that life will not end at their death. They believe that it will
continue in some form for all eternity.
George wanted to stay. More than anything he cared for, George wanted to stay right here, basking in the light of love. But he felt something pull him back. Wait, not yet, he thought. It's not my time yet... The next moment, George was somehow reunited with his physical body, lying on that uncomfortable hospital bed, amidst the doctors sighing in relief, surrounded no longer by that soft glow, but again by that rhythmic beep, beep, beep.
Hindus also believe in reincarnation, and if one is to be reincarnated they believe that the subtle body survives death (the subtle body is a collection of our senses, actions, mind and intellect) and is transmitted to another physical body. If one is a Brahmin (a follower of the creator god and the unchanging essence of the universe
) and is not to be reincarnated, then only the essential-self survives death. The essential-self is made of the same thing as Brahma, reunites with Brahma and so there is in effect no personal survival
. If one devotes oneself to another god (e.g. Krishna), and is able to avoid reincarnation, then one joins with one’s god in a way that preserves some personal identity, although what actually survives death in this case is a bit unclear (but presumably it is some variation of the subtle body, which allows for the retention of personal identity
Is there a parallel between George's account of a near-death experience (NDE), and what really happens when we ourselves die? Is there indeed a part of us that conquers death and continues to live a different kind of existence where it has new powers and undergoes unfamiliar experiences? Is there really a heaven, or numerous heavens, full of blissful joys awaiting some of us and a hell, or countless hells, full of different punishments for others? Or is physical death, in fact, the end of life as we know it? Such questions about death and dying has intrigued humanity since the dawn of time.
One area to which we might look for some answers to this puzzle is religion.
Another reasons for the widespread belief in an afterlife might be the desire for justice. In some sections of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the reward for righteous behavior is said to be a long life and many children
. But this does not necessarily work out in practice. The world is often not a very fair place: Many good people die young, and childless. Good people sometimes suffer in poverty and/or with disease. Many evil people lead rewarding
, rich, healthy, and long lives. Many religions offer a belief in the afterlife that includes a resolution to the justice problem. If there is a final judgment after death, and if some people go to eternal punishment Hell while others go to an eternal reward in Heaven, then evil will be ultimately punished; goodness will be eventually rewarded. The scales of justice
, which do not seem to be particularly well balanced on earth may be compensated for after death.
Unlike science, dealing only with the material and tangible, traditional religion takes another view of our reality by recognizing the validity of metaphysical experiences. World's major religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, as well as primal pagan ones, such as the Greek and Roman mythology, although quite different in basic
fundamentals of belief, all attempt to give its followers an explanation of the world on the other side of life.
These notions were then expanded to include different levels of the underworld where certain types of people resided. Take for example in Virgil’s Aenied, Aeneas the main character journeys into the underworld to visit his father. He initially arrives in a place for lost souls and then reaches the Elysian Fields (Elysium) where great heros, warriors, and people of talent dwell
. The Roman culture, in turn, influenced the various cultures of Europe during the middle ages slightly before the enlightenment. The pagan religion the Romans believed in were replaced with Christian concepts of an afterlife, however, the notion of the underworld was kept and modified. Once again the incorporators made the underworld more elaborate and redifined it as ‘Hell’.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Hades is the god of the dead. He was the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea and the brother of Zeus and Poseidon. (Cumont 34) When the three brothers divided up the universe after they had deposed their father, Cronus, Hades was awarded the underworld. There, with his queen, Persephone, whom he had abducted from the world above, he ruled the kingdom of the dead.
Mormons seem to believe in a judgment day for this earth in which the material souls of the dead will be given a kingdom (i.e. assigned a degree of glory) or left disembodied. However, Mormonism is utterly distinct from Islam and Christianity in that it, in a substantial sense, holds out the possibility of
multiple judgment days. Because the Mormons believe the
re-embodied material soul can itself progress to a god-like state of intelligence, they also believe that re-embodied souls can become gods and creators of their own worlds upon which they can pass judgment. So in the Mormon faith there may be only a single day of judgment for a given world, but there may end up being multiple gods and so multiple worlds, and thus multiple days of judgment.
The underworld itself was often called Hades. It was divided into two regions: Erebus, where the dead pass as soon as they die, and Tartarus, the deeper region, where the Titans had been imprisoned. It was a dim and unhappy place, inhabited by vague forms and shadows and guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed, dragon-tailed dog.
The most generally accepted view is that the resurrected person or the soul is destined for Heaven, a place of spiritual peace and union with God, or Hell, a place of everlasting torment. Catholics maintain that there is a third possible destination
, Purgatory. Here the deceased is purified by fire for their forgivable sins and made ready to enter heaven.
Sinister rivers separated the underworld from the world above, and the aged boatman Charon ferried the souls of the dead across these waters. Somewhere in the darkness of the underworld Hades' palace was located.
Throughout the history of man one of the biggest questions that haunt human existence is the question of the Afterlife. Is there a "God"? Is there a heaven or a hell? Do we have souls? And what happens to it once it leaves this earth and the physical body? The prospect of the unknown has brought about many different ideas and theories
; each religion, culture and era has developed their own
notions and set truths in order to explain what will happen once we die. In order to gain some understanding on this
subject this paper will exam the four biggest religions; Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism and how they explain the unknown and the divine plane beyond ours.
It was represented as a many-gated, dark and gloomy place, thronged with guests, and set in the midst of shadowy fields and an apparition-haunted landscape.
To Greeks and Romans, life after death was not a pleasant thing.
Hades, a dark and gloomy place, was originally the apparent destination for all - the good and the bad.
In many ways, Christianity and Hinduism have similar ideas about the afterlife. They both believe that whatever good one does during their life will help them after they pass away, whether that means going to heaven or being reborn into a new and better life
. In Christianity, after the body passes, the soul only has two options. They are either eternal life in heaven or eternal death in hell depending on one's deeds or faith while on Earth. Heaven is believed to be a place
of reward for the righteous to go to after they die. Hell, in comparison, is a place of punishment and torment for the sinners. There are exceptions of limbo and purgatory. Limbo is the concept that an unbaptized, but innocent soul, such as those of an infant who died before baptism
, must wait before going to heaven. Their soul is not subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin
, but still bear the original sin because they have not yet been baptized. Purgatory, on the other hand, is the theory that all those who died in God’s grace, but...
Perhaps with the unintended influence of the incipient contemporary Christianity, Hades was mollified into a much more organized place, giving rewards to the good and punishments to the wicked. One notable aspect of this mythology is that Greeks, much like most of the major religions today, believed in an eternal
, undying self in each of us that conquers death and carries on another life after a physical death.
Christians, for example, believe that souls that have lived by the words of their God will exist eternally in heaven as divine beings themselves. This conception of an afterlife is generally what we people who are residents of the Unitied States hold to be true. For American culture has
its roots in Europe and European culture was and is still influenced by Christian faiths. Similar to Christianity, the Hinduism also eases the fear of death by presenting a life after death. Disimilarities present themselves in the two faiths concerning exactly what kind of afterlife is lived. Believers of the Hindu
faith expect to be reincarnated after their demise, either as an animal or human being depending on the manner in which their lives were carried out.
Today, unlike the Greeks and Romans, Hindus do not believe in a set place where our undying selves end up after the inevitable physical death. Personal eschatology is concerned with the immediate fate of righteous and unrighteous souls following death, and the conditions governing each category of souls between death and the universal resurrection of humanity.
Some Muslims believe that after death, immediately after being placed in the grave, the dead are questioned about the Islamic faith by two angels. If the deceased answers correctly they are left alone until the Day of Judgment. If they do not they are tormented by the angels in the grave. However, this belief does not have clear support in the Quran. What seems nearly universally accepted
among Muslims is that the world will end and at that time there will be a Day of Judgment in which the righteous will be admitted to heaven and the wicked damned for all eternity.
General eschatology, on the other hand, considers the final destiny of the whole human race, especially the events of the last days, that is universal resurrection and final judgment. Hinduism, however, is only concerned with personal eschatology
Buddhists do not believe in a soul. If one achieves nirvana nothing of that person survives their bodily death. However, if the person is to be reincarnated there are a couple of different views as to what survives. One of the oldest Buddhist traditions holds that
only karma (or the worth of one’s deeds) survives death and is transmitted to another physical body. Other traditions hold that sensations, emotions, perceptions and consciousness survive death and are transferred to another physical body, in the event of reincarnation.
As with any aspect of Hinduism, the teachings of life after death must take into consideration the many different sectarian beliefs. (Smith 26) Different philosophies of Hinduism hold divergent views about what happens after death, but the twin doctrines of karma and samsara are at the center of the eschatological beliefs of most Hindus. According to the samsara (literally "the round of existence") doctrine, the present life of each person is shaped by the fruits of the acts he or she performed in previous lives. Karma can be defined as the law of automatic justice.
The Buddhist timeline for afterlife events depends on the particular Buddhist tradition. Some Buddhist traditions believe that at the instant of death a new life is begun which has the exact same karma as the life that has ended. Other schools believe that
there is a period between death and reincarnation, called an intermediate state, during which one may avoid reincarnation and still achieve nirvana. Achieving true nirvana is of necessity instantaneous, since it requires the complete dissolution of the self.
For every action, there is a reward or retribution; all our present pleasures, pains, and sufferings are the direct result of our past actions. (Ma'sumian 4)
As long as our karma results in sins and imperfections, we will continue to be reborn into other existences.
More than likely, these successive rebirths will not be on the same plane of being - they may occur in any of a number of temporary heavens or hells, or on earth.
The afterlife allows for so many possibilities because no one truly knows what will become of them or their "soul" once they have passed on. Each of these religions explores different theories and philosophies and has come to their own ideas on the subject, however despite their differences one
similar tenant does run through them. They all agree that in the afterlife one will be punished or rewarded based on their actions while on earth. Whether it is by a supreme being such as "God" while existing in another world (heaven or hell) such as the Christians and Muslims believe or through the correction mechanism like Karma that comes through being reincarnated in which the Buddhist and Hindu's believe.
Human rebirth is considered most significant because only in human form can we accumulate good karma. (Smith 27) Traditional Hindu literature such as the Puranas identify numerous temporary heavens and hells that are set aside for karmic retribution. Once the consequences of virtuous or evil deeds are exhausted, the soul is reborn as a human being on earth.
In Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, the first book, The Inferno, describes the underworld with significantly more levels each of which descended to lower levels that contained increasingly ironic and torturous punishments. These levels corresponded to the Christian concepts of sin and those who had commited such sins in life would be forced to spend time being punished for them. Dante’s second and third books show that human existance is revolved around God and that
good deeds will bring people closer to
perfection. One can see though the progression of time that each culture is in some way impacted by other cultures either directly or indirectly. Recently, a method of dealing with
the concept of death without religion or myth has come about.
The purpose of life is to break the vicious cycle of birth-death-rebirth and liberate one's soul, but very few of us can do this at any given time. (Ma'sumian 4) Once enough good karma is collected, the soul is then transmigrated to "the kingdom of inexhaustible light," as mentioned in Rig-Veda. (Ma'sumian 5) The Vedas are the entire body of Hindu sacred writings
. (Ma'sumian 3) The Rig-Veda notes that the way to heaven is perilous and believers will have to face many dangers before getting there
, including demons who are ready to devour them should they stray from the right path. To help the faithful in this dangerous journey, the Rig-Veda identifies a colorful god named Yama, who was the first man to die but is now the god of the dead and the ruler and judge of the departed.
Mormons do not believe in heaven and hell, per se. Rather they believe that the destination for the material soul is embodiment in one of three degrees of glory (these can be thought of as physical realms or kingdoms), or to remain disembodied in two forms of existence that are not recognizably human. The chief distinction between these kingdoms seems to be that in the highest kingdom (reserved for those who most scrupulously followed the Mormon faith) one retains the connections with family that one created on earth. In each of these kingdoms, however, the embodied material soul may progress toward a god-like state of intelligence (and in fact become a god
). Those who remain dis-embodied are those who received a direct revelation from Jesus Christ but ignored it, or those who chose to follow Lucifer prior to the creation of the earth
(Ma'sumian 5) It is the twin doctrines of samsara and karma that make the meaning of death and the afterlife in Hinduism very different from the views offered by most other religions.
Another major world religion, Buddhism, is also from the East.
Like Hinduism, the term Buddhism refers to a diverse array of beliefs and practices and implies a degree of uniformity that does not exist.
Christians and Hindus both have sacred texts they believe in that will help guide them on the right path during their existence on earth and after they pass. The Christian Bible consists of sixty six books of the Old and New Testament scriptures
. The Bible explains God’s actions in the world and his purpose with all creation
. The Bible is a guide for living life to its fullest, it is a map for the journey of life. People who are in pain
, suffering, or mourning will look to the Bible to find strength in their darkest hours. The Hindu sacred text is known as the Bhagavad Gita. Composed around 200 BC in ancient India, the Bhagavad Gita is a 700 verse script containing the eternal message of spiritual wisdom. The word Gita means song and the word Bhagavad means God, often the Bhagavad Gita is called “The Song of God.” The Bhagavad Gita contains knowledge about God, the ultimate truth, creation
, birth and death, the results of actions, the eternal soul, liberation and the purpose of human existence.
(Noss 157) After originating in India, Buddhism soon spread to various parts of Asia and eventually reached the western hemisphere in the nineteenth century.
Like Hinduism, Buddhism is only concerned with personal eschatology; there is no mention of a collective destiny for humankind.
Because Buddhism is essentially a reform movement within Hinduism, Buddhists maintain beliefs in the twin doctrines of transmigration (Hindu samsara) and karma.
In the Christian religion they believe in the concept that after physical death the soul maintains consciousness and there is an in-between state between death and the resurrection of the body. Another concept is that until the resurrection, which will happen during the Second Coming or the return of Jesus Christ also known as Judgment day, the spirit sleeps. These two ideas are divided into three main sects; The Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and Protestantism. Although all three of these groups are similar in that they believe that upon death the soul will face judgment for his or her actions while on earth, they each have their different perception
of when and how it will happen.
According to these beliefs, each person is reborn countless times and lives through different types of existence. The quality of his current life is a reflection of present and past karma. Hence, if the individual now lives a comfortable life, this is the reward of good deeds performed in present
and past lives.
The concept of human mortality and how it is dealt with is dependent upon one’s society or culture. For it is the society that has great impact on the individual’s beliefs. Hence, it is also possible for other cultures to influence
the people of a different
culture on such comprehensions. The primary and traditional way men
and women have made dying a less depressing and disturbing idea is though religion. Various religions offer the comforting conception of death as a begining for another life or perhaps a continuation for the former.
In contrast, those experiencing misery can only blame themselves for evil deeds they are committing or have committed in previous existences. Thus the individual is held totally responsible for the quality of the life he is now experiencing, and pointing the finger of blame at external forces such as a deity, demons, or fate is not acceptable.
Many people experience painful punishment in Purgatory in order to purify them before they are eventually admitted to Heaven; a very few go directly to Heaven; many go to Hell at death.
Both Buddhists and Hinduists view the universe as a stage for countless rebirths of human beings in a spectrum from evil to goodness. Nonetheless, there are notable differences between the two interpretations of the transmigration, or reincarnation, doctrine.
This culmination began in European culture then transcended to American culture. Thus, one can extrapolate from the growing numbers of people who lack religious background, that the future holds to be one without faiths. Cultural influence
though religion and concepts of the death or afterlife will become in a sense obsolete.Death is dealt with differently by people of different cultures, but these cultures were in some way influenced by others of the past and present. Judging from the current trend, the classical methods of dealing
with death such as religion and myth are becoming subsequently less and less useful to the people of today.
For instance, the Buddhist belief system rejects the Hindu notion of atman (the human soul), the undying self. (Ma'sumian 44) In fact, Buddhist definition of human existence leaves out any reference to a soul. The attributes of a person are carried on
to the next life through one of the five elements (physical body, feelings, senses, volition, and consciousness) that make up a human entity: the consciousness.
Judaism: Most modern Jews do not believe in post-mortem survival in any literal sense. However, orthodox Jews continue to believe that the physical body will be resurrected by God at the end of time. Some earlier versions of Judaism held dualistic views.
Passages from Buddhist literature acknowledge the survival and immortality of this part of the personality:
The mind takes possession of everything not only on earth, but also in heaven, and immortality is its securest treasure-trove.
(Buddhist Catena, Anathapindika-Jethavana)
In another text, Buddha defines consciousness (Vijnana) as that entity which is "invisible, boundless, all-penetrating, and the ground for Rupa (former body), Vedana (sensation), Samjna (perception), and Samskara (will)." (Noss 164) The Buddhist element of consciousness or mind appears to replace the Hindu notion of atman as the only immortal substance in humans.
As with its parent religion Hinduism, belief in the twin doctrines of transmigration and karma makes Buddhism very different from western religions.
The main theme of Buddhism is that life is suffering, and the best way to eliminate suffering is to achieve detachment from the world and material possessions.
Fundamentalists and other evangelicals generally believe that everyone will go to Hell unless they have repented of their sins and trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Some have special provisions for those who have never heard the Gospel.
However, most people continually fail to become detached, commit evil, and are thus condemned to successive rebirths.
Unlike the two personal eschatological religions from the East, the New Testament of Christianity, which deals mainly with the subject of life and death, has little to say on what happens to individual souls after death.
Instead, the major focus of the eschatology of many New Testament books is general.
These ideals have influenced our culture though our use of language and thought. The implications are apparent in the common references to one’s past lives. For instance, if someone has a natural talent for music one may refer to the person as being once a
talented musician in a past life. A religion which describes death as a continuation of existance is held by the Crow tribe of middle America
. They viewed death as a journey with the final destination as a place where all their anscestors have gone before them
The final destiny of human kind and dramatic events such as the return of Christ in glory in the hereafter are major themes in the Synoptic Gospels (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Here can be found a number of passages that refer to the return of Christ as an unexpected event preceding the final judgment.
Christianity: Christians who accept dualism and some who accept not-literal resurrection of earthly remains believe in immediate resurrection and judgment. However, many believe that the resurrection will not take place until the end of the world, after the return of Christ to earth and the coming of the kingdom of heaven and the end of earth as we know it.
(Badham 85) While in some passages the Synoptic Gospels present God as the judge of the world, more often it is Christ who is expected to discharge the duties of the judge. For instance, in Matthew's scene of final judgment (25: 31-32) all the nations of the past
and present are brought before Christ
: "When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate one from the other as the shepherd separates the
sheep from the goats.
Punishment occurs in the form or reincarnation. Those who have attained the proper karma, the proper knowledge, or have properly devoted themselves to a particular deity will avoid reincarnation and be rewarded by joining the essential unchanging nature of the universe
(the Brahma), going temporarily to the world of the fathers, or by joining the deity to which they have been devoted (other than Brahma).
" (Badham 86)
Christ will use the believers' earthly deeds as the main criterion for judgment. The lot of the righteous will be eternal life in the Kingdom of God while the evil-doer's fate is eternal punishment: "And they [the wicked] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matt 25:46)
For centuries, Matthew's vision of the after life, as well as similar prophecies from other authors of the Bible, including the Book of Revelation, inspired many Christian painters including Michelangelo, Giotto, and Moschos to create remarkable visual representations of the events of the last days.
(Badham 146) In most of their pictures Jesus is glorified in radiant divine light, surrounded by angels. Such pictures over time became the accepted images of heaven, the final destiny for the righteous.
Most Western religions, including most Christian faith groups, have historically taught that one's eventual destination is either an eternal reward in Heaven or Paradise, or extreme torture in Hell, either for a finite time, or for all eternity.
On the other hand, in other pictures, terrifying devils continue to torture sinners, whose names are missing from the Book of Life. It is here that the wicked will burn and be tortured for eternity.
The New Testament contains little specific information on the sate of the soul after death.
However, like most of its doctrines, the personal eschatology of Christianity revolves around Jesus.
There are straightforwardly dualistic conceptions for Christians (i.e. a non-physical soul that separates from the body at death), but there are also contrasting views. For instance, many believe that a spiritual body (which may be three dimensional and physical) is resurrected after death (but that the spiritual body is distinct from our current physical bodies). Many Christians continue to believe in literal resurrection
of our earthly bodies.
Perhaps the major contribution of Christian eschatology is the significance it attaches to belief in the person of Jesus as humankind's only hope for salvation. (Badham 172) Our eternal bliss or damnation in the afterlife depends on whether we accept or reject Jesus as our personal savior
Later Christian teaching related Christ's redemptive role to the doctrine of "original sin," which states that, as descendants of the fallen Adam, the first man created by God, all men are sinful and deserve eternal punishment. However, in His loving kindness, God sent Jesus to atone for our sins by sacrificing His life for us and dying in our place.
If there is one constant in this world, it would surely be death. Dying is an unavoidable part of life. Indeed, everything that lives will at sometime die. The fear of death is held by everyone. Perhaps it is the correlation of death with pain or the unknown state of the human consciousness after death, maybe a combination of both, that creates this fear. The fear felt is undoubtedly
, however, the ways in which it is dealt with are varied and diverse.