Afterlife in Indian Religions
Upanishads describe reincarnation, or punarjanma (see also: samsara). The Bhagavat Gita, an important book for Hinduism, talks extensively about the afterlife. Here, the Lord Krishna says that just as a man discards his old clothes and wears new ones; similarly the soul discards the old body and takes on a new one. In Hinduism, the belief is that the body is but a shell, the soul inside is immutable and indestructible and takes on different lives in a cycle of birth and death. The end of this cycle is called “Mukti” (मुक्ति) and merging finally with God is “Moksha” (मोक्ष) or salvation.
Garuda Purana, a book solely deals with what happens to a person after death. The God of Death Yama sends his representatives to collect the soul from a person’s body whenever he is due for death and they take the soul to Yama. A record of each person’s timings & deeds performed by him is kept in a ledger by Yama’s assistant “Chitragupta”.
According to the Garuda Purana, a soul after leaving the body, travels through a very long & dark tunnel towards South. This is why an oil lamp is lit and kept beside the head of the corpse, to light the dark tunnel and allow the soul to travel comfortably.
The soul, called “Atman” leaves the body and reincarnates itself according to the deeds or Karma performed by one in last birth. Re-birth would be in form of animals or other lower creatures if one performed bad Karmas and in human form in a good family with joyous lifetime if the person was good in last birth. In between the two births a human is also required to either face punishments for bad Karmas in “naraka” or hell or enjoy for the good karmas in “svarga” or heaven for good deeds. Whenever his or her punishments or rewards are over he or she is sent back to earth, also known as “Mrityulok” or World of Death. A person is merged with the God or ultimate power when he discharges only & only good Karmas in last birth and the same is called as “Moksha” or “Nirvana”, which is the ultimate goal of a true Hindu. Atma (Soul) merges into “Parmatma” or the greatest soul.According to Bhagwadgita an “Atma” or soul never dies, what dies is the body only made of five elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Sky. Soul is believed to be indestructible.None of the five elements can harm or influence it.Hinduism through Garuda Purana also describes in detail various types of “Narkas” or Hells where a person after death is punished for his bad Karmas and dealt with accordingly.
Hindus also believe in ‘Karma’. ‘Karma’ is the accumulated sums of one’s good or bad deeds. According to Hinduism the basic concept of Karma is ‘As you sow, you shall reap’. So, if a person has lived a good life, they will be rewarded in the afterlife. Similarly their sum of bad deeds will be mirrored in their next life. Good ‘Karma’ brings good rewards and bad ‘karmas’ lead to bad results. There is no judgment here. People accumulate karma through their actions and even thoughts. In Bhagavad Gita when Arjuna hesitates to kill his kith and kin the lord reprimands him saying thus “Do you believe that you are the doer of the action. No. You are merely an instrument in MY hands. Do you believe that the people in front of you are living? Dear Arjuna, they are already dead. As a kshatriya (warrior) it is your duty to protect your people and land. If you fail to do your duty, then you are not adhering to dharmic principles.”
Buddhists maintain that rebirth takes place without an unchanging self or soul passing from one form to another. The type of rebirth will be conditioned by the moral tone of the person’s actions (kamma or karma). For example, where a person has committed harmful actions of body, speech and mind based on greed, hatred and delusion, rebirth in a lower realm, i.e. an animal, a ghost or a hell realm, is to be expected. On the other hand, where a person has performed skillful actions based on generosity, loving-kindness (metta), compassion and wisdom, rebirth in a happy realm, i.e. human or one of the many heavenly realms, can be expected.
In Tibetan Buddhism the Tibetan Book of the Dead explains the intermediate state of humans between death and reincarnation. The deceased will find the bright light of wisdom, which shows a straightforward path to move upward and leave the cycle of reincarnation. There are various reasons why the deceased do not follow that light. Some had no briefing about the intermediate state in the former life. Others only used to follow their basic instincts like animals. And some have fear, which results from foul deeds in the former life or from insistent haughtiness. In the intermediate state the awareness is very flexible, so it is important to be virtuous, adopt a positive attitude, and avoid negative ideas. Ideas which are rising from subconsciousness can cause extreme tempers and cowing visions. In this situation they have to understand, that these manifestations are just reflections of the inner thoughts. No one can really hurt them, because they have no more material body. The deceased get help from different Buddhas who show them the path to the bright light. The ones who do not follow the path after all will get hints for a better reincarnation. They have to release the things and beings on which or whom they still hang from the life before. It is recommended to choose a family where the parents trust in the Dharma and to reincarnate with the will to care for the welfare of all beings.
“Life is cosmic energy of the universe and after death it merges in universe again and as the time comes to find the suitable place for the entity died in the life condition it gets born. There are 10 life states of any life: Hell, hunger, anger, animality, rapture, humanity, learning, realization, bodhisatva and buddhahood. The life dies in which life condition it reborn in the same life condition.”
Jainism also believes in the afterlife. They believe that the soul takes on a body form based on previous karmas or actions performed by that soul through eternity. Jains believe the soul is eternal and that the freedom from the cycle of reincarnation is the means to attain eternal bliss.
Sikhs also believe in reincarnation. They believe that the soul belongs to the spiritual universe which has its origins in God. It is like a see-saw, the amount of good done in life will store up blessings, thus uniting with God. It needs to be clarified whether the ideal is union or link with ‘Waheguru’ (God) or merger in God (Hindu belief). Before the creation of the world, God was all by Himself, in a Self-absorbed state. In that state, God’s Will, Naam or Attributes were not expressed, since they have relevance only in the created world. At next stage, universe was created. Since then God’s Naam and Will have become expressed and creative functioning in the universe goes on. The suggested merger in God (Hindu belief)in this state involves virtually a reversion to the first state of God being Self-absorbed. This reversal would evidently be counter to the expressed Creative Will of God. So Sikhs believe in union as opposed to merger. A soul may need to live many lives before it is one with God. But there is more to it than this; there are four classes that are included in this belief. Above these four classes is God “Waheguru” and the soul can choose to stay with him it wishes, or take another step and go to its people and serve them. Below these four classes are non-humans such as plants and viruses. Souls move up and down according to their deeds, a good life and death moves them up to a higher class and a bad life and death results in going down a class.