History of Afterlife in Different Religions Hindu

About the views on life after death and the afterlife and history of the beliefs in the Hindu religion.



Brahman, the Absolute, inhabits and totally permeates the universe, which it brought forth from its own substance. Sometimes the Absolute is not manifest; then no worlds exist because the One has not become multiple. Sometimes the Absolute is manifested, as now, in the creation of the many worlds of gods, demons, and people. What appears as many is but the one existent soul distributed among all things. The appearance and disappearance of the universes is cyclic. In a future stage of creation, following the dissolution of the present universe of struggle and opposition, there will be a universe in which all things cooperate and complement one another.

All space is located within the Cosmic Egg, which contains the seven heavens (realms of gods and deceased ancestors) and the seven nether-worlds (where demons, serpent deities, and other spirit entities dwell). Between these two regions lies the earth. In addition, there are as many as 8,400,000 hells, located in a lower realm.

The individual soul can never die but must constantly be reborn. A human soul evolves gradually from lower forms, starting with minerals and vegetables, then progressing upward through lower animals and then higher animals before attaining the human state. This state, highest of all, is the only one that allows escape from the everlasting round of births and deaths. When the soul can eliminate desire and become aware of the unity of the self with Brahman, rebirth will cease. This is not the end of being, but perfect bliss. All will attain it in time.

When a person dies, the soul goes to the land of the dead, ruled over by Yama, the first of mortals to die and enter that other world. Yama is green in color, wears red robes, and has a flower in his hair. He rides a buffalo and carries a lasso. Yama does not judge; he is merely an executor who assigns the region in the hells or heavens where the soul is to stay for varying lengths of time and where the fruits of its past actions (karma) will determine its state or situation. It is karma itself which constitutes an unceasing judgment within each person.

The soul assigned to a heaven may reap the rewards of its good actions, but many sages, given a choice, refuse to enter heavens because they are mere way stations on the path to the Infinite. Eventually the soul will return to the earthly plane to resume its spiritual labors.

If the soul needs to be punished for evil actions (such as neglect of family obligations, lack of respect for teachers, and incorrect bodily habits, as well as murder, theft, and lying), it may be assigned to one of the various hells, Punishments may include being boiled in oil, devoured by worms, pecked at by birds, encircled by snakes, frightened by tigers, or forced to ingest spit, pus, feces, and urine. After the required time in hell, the soul returns to earth in a lowlier status than before. If its crimes were serious, it is sent back to be reincarnated as a worm, insect, cockroach, rat, or bird. If it has committed a crime causing defilement, it returns as an untouchable. If it has been a criminal of the worst sort, it must return as a plant.

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