Viewed from outside, Hinduism may appear to be a deeply mysterious religion. Placing its faith firmly in reincarnation, the religion goes further than many, allowing for the ancestral beliefs that even animals can have souls. But what does it mean for Hindus when it comes to what happens when we die and what happens next? What does Hinduism believe about life after death?
Religious scholar and professor Dr. John Tatem believes that, in Hinduism, death is viewed as just another part of life’s cycle. Death, though often viewed as the ‘end’, is just one stop on the journey of life, rather than the ultimate one.
To me, life after death isn’t something to be feared; it’s a part of life, rather than its absolute opposite. Hindus believe that after we die, we move on to another stage of our existence, which could be a human life or an animal life, depending on our karmic balance. So, in effect, life after death can be seen as just another stage of life.
For Hindus, death isn’t a one-time event. As Professor Tatem explains, death is an ongoing process – it isn’t the ultimate risk, but rather a short stop on the journey. It’s something to be embraced, not feared. He confirms that, ‘as Hinduism sees it, death is a process, not an end.’
This is perhaps best explained by the Hindu creation story, in which the god Shiva creates death, not as a finality or a punishment, but as an essential part of life. Unlike in other religions, death isn’t a punishment for sin, it’s simply a necessary part of existence.
This explains why Hindus are often comfortable with death rather than viewing it as something to be feared. To those of us who are members of other religions, it can be a difficult concept to understand – but the idea of life after death as a cyclical process of reincarnation is a cornerstone of the Hindu faith.
One’s ‘Karma’ Affects Their Life After Death
Hinduism also places great emphasis on the concept of karma. This concept is closely linked to reincarnation and life after death, in that it is believed that what we do in this life will affect our next life.
In Hinduism, such retribution can come in the form of reward, or punishment. If you have lived a good life, then you will be rewarded in your next life; if you have lived a negative life, then you will be punished. As such, it makes sense to live a positive and moral life if you want to receive the rewards of a better next life.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that one must strive for perfection in order to be rewarded in the afterlife. Hinduism allows for imperfection, mistakes, and even repentance. It’s more about the general good deeds and intentions that make up the sum of a soul’s karma.
Karma, while closely linked to life after death, plays a role in life in general, with one’s actions, words, and thoughts having a direct effect on their overall karma balance. The concept of karma is a fundamental part of Hinduism, and it cannot be underestimated when it comes to understanding what life after death means to Hindus.
The Destinations of Life After Death
In Hinduism, it is believed that the destiny of a soul after death depends on the karmic balance of that individual. Those with positive or good karma are said to go to Svarga (or heaven), while those with negative karma are said to go to Naraka (or hell).
However, this isn’t necessarily as grim as it sounds – Naraka, for example, isn’t a place of eternal damnation, but rather a place of temporary punishment. Hell serves as a place for souls to reflect on their wrongdoings, and once they have done so, they can move on and be reborn into a more positive incarnation.
Regardless of one’s karmic balancing, it is believed that all souls eventually move on towards Moksha, or liberation. This is the ultimate goal of Hinduism, achieved through the accumulation of good karma over many lifetimes. Moksha is the cessation of the cycle of rebirth and entering a state of oneness with the divine.
How Does Reincarnation Affect Life After Death?
Reincarnation is also a big part of Hinduism and life after death. It is believed that after death, a soul’s cycle of incarnation begins anew and they will be reborn into a new body. This requires the soul to release their attachment to their former physical body and move on, much like Christians and Muslims believe happens in the Afterlife.
The difference here is that, in Hinduism, the new body isn’t necessarily the same species – it can be a human, animal, god, or even demon, depending on their past lives. This system encourages individuals to live a life of good karma, as it will take them to a much better destination in their next life.
Reincarnation also affects the way Hindus view death. Rather than viewing it as a finality or something to be feared, death is seen as a transition – an important part of life that is necessary for spiritual growth. This makes death a much easier concept to accept, as it is a part of life rather than its opposite.
Attitude Towards Life After Death
Hinduism generally has a positive attitude towards life after death. It is believed that by living a good and moral life, one can attain a more positive destination after death. However, it is also believed that life after death isn’t something to be feared, but rather embraced as it is an important part of the journey of life.
Also, karma plays an important role. It is believed that depending on one’s karmic balance, they can attain different levels of consciousness in their afterlife. For example, if you have led a virtuous life, then you may be rewarded with a more peaceful afterlife. On the other hand, those with negative karma may face more punishment and difficulty.
Hinduism has a deep and complex set of beliefs about life after death, but the essential idea is that it is a part of the cycle of life and not to be feared. It is believed that death is just one stop on a journey that includes many different incarnations, with the ultimate goal being liberation from the cycle of rebirth and reuniting with the divine.
The Idea of Caste in Life After Death
In Hinduism, one’s caste is seen to be an integral part of their life and afterlife. Hindus have a strict and complicated caste system, which will determine a person’s place in the afterlife, as well as their life in general.
This caste system can stay in place even after death, as those from a higher caste will be rewarded with certain gifts, such as access to a closer proximity to the gods. This can mean different statuses in the afterlife, such as a higher or lower heaven.
In Hinduism, it is believed that those in higher castes are more virtuous and, as such, have earned their places in the higher realms. Those in lower castes, on the other hand, are likely to face more punishment after death, and may be cast into the lower realms of Naraka.
The caste system is an important aspect of Hinduism, and one which has a big influence on life after death. It is believed that one’s actions in life will determine where they go in the afterlife, depending on their caste.
Funerary Practices After Death
Funerary practices after death are an important part of Hinduism. Hindu funerary rites involve a range of practices, from the preparation of the body to the consecration of any ashes or remains.
The cremation of the body is an important part of the Hindu funerary process. Hindus believe that cremation is essential for the release of the soul so that it can move on to its next incarnation. As such, many Hindus will choose to perform this process for their loved ones.
The ashes of the deceased are collected and then consecrated in a river or the sea, depending on the family’s preference. Once this has been done, any remains of the body are then buried in a ritualistic manner, usually close to a river or other body of water.
The task of conducting the funerary practices is usually given to family members or close friends. This is a deeply personal and important practice in Hinduism, with rites and ceremonies that should be done with great respect for the deceased.
Role of Philosophy and Rituals
Hinduism has a deep and intricate philosophy relating to life after death, as well as a range of rituals that should be followed in order to honor the deceased. Hindus believe that life after death is an important part of the cycle of life and, as such, should be respected and embraced.
At the core of Hindu beliefs about life after death is the idea of karma, with good deeds and intentions being rewarded with good afterlife experiences, and vice versa. The idea of reincarnation also plays an important role in this belief system, with souls being reborn in different forms depending on their karmic balance.
The funerary practices of Hindus are also an important part of honoring the dead and ensuring that their souls can move on to their next incarnation. These practices involve the cremation and consecration of the body and its ashes, as well as the burial of any remaining remains.
In conclusion, Hinduism is a complex religion that has a distinctive outlook on life after death. It emphasizes the importance of living a positive and moral life, as well as embracing death as a part of life’s cycle, rather than viewing it as the ultimate finality. Through karmic balance and reincarnation, Hindus believe that we are all transitioning towards a greater spiritual destiny, taking us one step closer to reuniting with the divine.