Different views on the afterlife

Egyptian prayer and the afterlife

It was 70 days since the passing of Ptah, and according to law a funeral procession was formed that now made its way toward his tomb.   Ptah was a magistrate in ancient Egypt, and therefore had earned a place and respect for a proper burial. 

Directly after death he was embalmed and mummified according to common ritual.  His body was placed in an Anthropoid coffin (man shaped) and decorated to his likeness.  The priest had conducted magic incantations and spells, along with the traditional animal sacrifices.     

The wailing mourners followed the procession of priests, some wearing animal masks. A jackal masked impersonator of the god Anubis was there.  Servants and slaves carried the items to be buried with the mummy in the tomb.  His furniture, clothes, jewelry and other items were to accompany Ptah into the afterlife.     

According to the Papyrus of Ani (The Egyptian Book of the Dead), the deceased while in the underworld will be taken to the presence of the god Osiris.  He must pass through gates and caverns guarded by supernatural creatures of grotesque human and animal form. 

If Ptah negotiates these successfully, he is then taken by the god Anubis into the presence of Osiris, for Judgment.  There he is to confess that he did not commit any of the holy sins.  If it is confirmed that he led a good life, he will then be led into glorious realms to spend his afterlife.  If not, he will be consumed by the beast called the Devourer, and the afterlife for Ptah would abruptly come to an unpleasant end.  

Human understanding and acceptance of an afterlife (i.e., temporary, absolute or none) is today largely based upon religious faith.  But as more and more people expand their awareness (and senses) through natural evolution and meditation, it will become increasing clear through personal observation what actually happens.   

The subtle fields of creation begin to reveal themselves to human senses (smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing) after attainment of Enlightenment. 

Let’s briefly review what the World Religions teach about this subject.

The 12 Classical World Religions:

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Christianity

Number of followers – 2.1 billion

Denominations:
Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal, Anglican, Monophysite, AICs, Church of Latter Day Saints, Evangelical, SDAs, Jehovah Witnesses, and Quakers.

Afterlife belief:
in Eternal Heaven or Hell, although beliefs vary somewhat between denominations.  At the Final Judgment bodies are reunited with souls, and eternal rewards and punishments are handed out.  The second coming of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, followed by the visible return of Christ with His saints, to reign on earth for one thousand years
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Islam

Number of followers – 1.5 billion

Denominations:
Ahmadiyya, Ismail, Salafi, Shi’a, Suffism, Sunni and Wahhabism.

Afterlife belief:
in Paradise or Hell.  The eternal fate of the soul is determined after death and the Final Judgment.

The Mahdi (/Twelfth Imam) is the prophesized redeemer of Islam who will return and reside on the earth (for 7, 9, or 19 years) before the Day of Judgment, to rid the people of sin and wrong doing.
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Hinduism

Number of followers – 900 million

Denominations:
Vaishnavas, Saivas and Saktas

Afterlife belief:
in continuous reincarnation until Enlightenment.
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Buddhism

Number of followers – 376 million

Denominations:
Mahayana, Hinayana, Vajrayana, Theravada and Zen.

Afterlife belief:
in Reincarnation as Transmigration (with no surviving soul); the taking on of new bodies in the next life, causally connected to the life before it, but not the same life.  This continues until final liberation in Nirvana, release from the cycle of birth, death, and suffering.  

The Buddha said of death:

Life is a journey.
Death is a return to earth.
The universe is like an inn.
The passing years are like dust.

Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp – a phantom – and a dream.
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Sikhism

Number of followers – 23 million

Denominations:
Nirankari, Namdharis, Nirankaris, Nihangs and Udasi.

Afterlife belief:
in Reincarnation until all karma is resolved and one merges with God.
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Judaism

Number of followers – 14 million

Denominations:
Orthodox, Reform and Conservative.

Afterlife belief:
Jews believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to heaven, or that under certain circumstances reincarnation through many lifetimes is possible, or they are to wait for the coming of the Messiah.

Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead during the Messianic age (Olam Ha-Be, the World to Come) is fundamental to traditional Judaism.

Members of the Chasidic sect, as well as other mystically inclined Jews (followers of Kabbala) believe in reincarnation. 
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Baha’i

Number of followers – 7 million

Denominations:
The followers of The Bab, Bahá’u’lláh, Shoghi Effendi or Abdu’l-Bahá.

Afterlife belief:
that the Soul separates from the body and begins a journey towards or away from God. Heaven and hell are states of being.

Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved,” Bahá’u’lláh wrote. “By the righteousness of God! It shall attain a station such as no pen can depict, or tongue can describe.”
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Shinto

Number of followers – 4 million

Denominations:
Tenrikyo, Konkokyo, Kurozumikyo, Shinto Taikyo, Fuso-kyo (which included Omoto-kyo), Izumo-oyashiro-kyo, Jikko-kyo, Misogi-kyo, Shinshu-kyo, Shinto-shuseiha, Shinri-kyo, Shinto Taisei-kyo, and Ontake-kyo.

Afterlife belief:
that whenever a child is born in Japan, a local Shinto shrine adds the child’s name to a list kept at the shrine and declares him or her a “family child.” After death an ujiko becomes a “family spirit”, or “family kami.”

Shinto has co-existed with Buddhism for many centuries.  Custom dictates that a few decades after a person’s death their memorial tablet is thrown away and replaced with a pebble, and the collected pebbles from generations of doing this ritual represent the family guardian.  When the link is broken, the people believe the soul finally leaves this world, or that it loses its individuality and becomes part of the guardian spirit. Shinto lore suggests the soul has multiple sections that can act and move around independently, so it may be that different parts have different afterlives – one being reincarnated, one becoming a guardian, or other.
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Zoroastrianism

Number of followers – 3.5 million

Denominations:
Shahenshahis of India (also known as Parsis), the Qadimis of Iran, and the Faslis.

Afterlife belief:
in Judgment followed by Heaven or Hell. Hell is temporary until final purgation and return to Ahura Mazda.

Immediately after death the immortal soul is judged.  It will be resurrected with a body at the time of the Great Renewal that will one day come. 

At the time of death the soul must pass over a narrow bridge. At the entrance to the bridge stands the daena, or conscience, a maiden who becomes identified with the individual soul. The good souls see a beautiful and dignified woman, while the evil souls see a witch. The good, led by the maiden, will pass over to the “House of Songs” or Paradise as angel-like beings who will serve as guardians of the living good people. The souls of those who have lived evil lives will be attacked by the witch and will fall as demons into the dark cold ravine or “House of Lies” that is Hell. According to some sources, it is the bridge itself, Chinvat, that decides on the fate of souls. Other sources say Ahura Mazda himself makes the judgment, and still others say that Mithra presides over an actual trial of the individual, who must plead his or her own case.
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Confucianism

Number of followers – 6.3 million

Afterlife belief:
Confucius stated that the afterlife was beyond human comprehension.  He believed in some form of spiritual survival, and in the ongoing presence of those who have departed this life.  Humans should live and behave in such a way as to promote ideal social relations, rather than to act based on the expectations of rewards or punishments after death.  Although Confucians do not typically hold beliefs about the individual salvation or damnation of persons beyond this life, ancestor worship is an important part of Confucian faith and practice.
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Jainism

Number of followers – 4.2 million

Denominations:
Shvetambar and Digambar.

Afterlife belief:
in Reincarnation until liberation.

Jains believe that the universe and everything in it is eternal. Nothing that exists now was ever created, nor will it be destroyed. The universe consists of three realms: the heavens, the earthly realm and the hells.

There are seven levels of heaven.  The earthly area is divided into seven regions by six mountain ranges.  Deliverance and religious merit is possible in three of these regions: India in the south, airavat in the north, and mahavideha in the middle.  The eight hells become progressively colder as they go down. Suffering in these hells is not eternal. Once a soul has been severely punished, he or she is reborn into another form.

The soul is uncreated, eternal and has infinite power and knowledge.   Depending on one’s karma and level of spiritual development, death may mean being reborn in another physical appearance in the earthly realm, suffering punishment in one of eight hells or joining other liberated souls in the highest level of heaven.
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Taoism (Daoism)

Number of followers – 20 million

Denominations:
The Heavenly (or Celestial) Masters sect, The Supreme Peace sect, The Mao-shan (Mount Mao) sect, The Ling-pao (Marvellous Treasure) sect, and The Ch’uan-chen (Completely Real) sect.

Afterlife belief:
Life and death are merely two aspects of reality, the unchanging Tao. Death is simply a transformation from being to non-being; from yang to yin.
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Here is that list ranked by internal religious diversity (least to most):

Baha’i
Zoroastrianism
Sikhism
Islam
Jainism
Judaism
Taoism
Shinto
Christianity
Buddhism
Hinduism

Unitarian Universalism

I have added Unitarian Universalism to the list as the most diverse, because their congregation includes members from all religions, as well as atheists.   

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Other World Religions (in alphabetic order):

Agnosticism, Apatheism, Atheism, Cao Dai, Deism, Earth Centered, Falun Dafa and Falun Gong, Goths, Hellenistic, Humanism, Juche, Native American, Neo-Paganism, New Age, Objectivism, Rastafarianism, Scientology, Spiritism, Tenrikyo, Unitarian Universalism and Wicca.

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There are many different views on what happens (or not) in an afterlife, but we can classify all of these into three categories:

1) There is no afterlife.

Examples include Atheists and others.

2) The afterlife continues on some relative (space/time/causational) world.

Examples include Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i and others where a life in Heaven, Paradise, Hell, Purgatory, the House of Songs, or another world is prophesized. 

The amount of time spent in heaven or hell is dependent upon ones Karma. When the merit due to the performance of good deeds is exhausted, the soul prepares to leave heaven and return to the Earth. Likewise, a stay in hell is also temporary and ends when the negative fruit of Karma has dissipated.

Some say that this life is eternal, but all relative space/time universes eventually come to an end.

3) The afterlife continues in the absolute as it has always been, beyond the influence of any relative values, or the concept of continuation/no-continuation.    

Examples include Hinduism, Buddhism, and any other practice that professes reincarnation until Self-Realization, Enlightenment, Moksha, or Nirvana is attained.  Until Enlightenment is achieved the soul would reside on one of the relative worlds, waiting for rebirth on the Earth.

What view do you hold about the afterlife?

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And now we must ask what happens to an Enlightened person when they die?

The enlightened person is an individual entity maintaining an omnipresent reality.  In that context the notion of death no longer has any meaning.  We can talk about his/her body no longer functioning, but there is nothing to depart, they only cease to be “located” by others.

Just as a mirror can clearly reflect sunlight when it is available, so to an Enlightened person can reflect the absolute timeless value of life into the environment as long as the body is present.  Take away the mirror and the Sun still shines the same.  Take away the body and the absolute value of life is still present.   

While still alive (i.e., living with a physical body) he/she can be individually located within time/space. But even then they are already beyond time, and everywhere in consciousness.

After Enlightenment,
» the individual intellect is now the cosmic intellect
» the individual mind now the cosmic mind
» the individual ego is now the cosmic ego (the large Self)   

Upon death nothing happens to these individual subjective aspects of life.  That’s because the changes have already occurred while the individual was alive. 

The Cosmic Structure remains undisturbed when the individual expression drops off.

Meditation is a recipe for developing the full value of life.  Practice it every day.

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