• kewal sethi

the after life

the after life

is there life after death? putting it another way, what happens after death. we know that body remains but something goes away. call it life spirit, or life force or soul, or something. what happens to this force? does it get absorbed by elements? or does it just exist without being seen or observed. this eternal question has been asked by man from times immemorial.  the basis of religion is the answers to these questions.

the egyptians went in for mummifying the body. they preserved the body so that if the spirit chooses to come back, it can. it was believed that the royalty, after death, roamed the sky with the gods. it was also believed that they would need the worldly goods beyond death also and along with mummies, everyday use articles are also found in the tombs. sometimes even the idols of servants are found in case the deceased needed them.  the lower order people could only wish for a quiet peaceful existence after death.

the greeks believed in soul leaving the body at the time of death. what happened after that? it was believed that those who did good jobs could achieve immortality while others went to hades. the details of hades was not specified. according to socrates the soul after leaving the body lived in empyrean of ideas.

judaism did not believe in after life. the torah -  first five books of old testament – do not mention afterlife. it was held that obedience to laws will bring rewards in this life itself. when that did not happen and miseries went on increasing, the post mortem life was envisaged. isiah and daniel mention it. this was a result of  long debate between two sects – the pharisees and the seducees. the latter went entirely by torah but the former went beyond the literal text. the argument went that man in created in image of God and if God is immortal, the man should also be. this debate was settled in first century bc only in favour of pharisees. thus it appears that the idea of immortality was not to appease man but to vindicate God in that good deeds must result in good results as promised by Him. in distinction from greeks, the body itself was to be resurrected to enjoy the rewards.

christianity adopted all the points of judaism with the difference that resurrection became the central point. christ had two bodies, one normal while other was divine. the early christians believed that their souls will, on doomsday, unite with new divine bodies (as against jews who believed that same body will be given back). the souls with the divine body live eternally in heavens.

the muslims believe that afterlife will be full of pleasure -  lots of food and drinks, lot of rest and plenty of sex. but this will be on the day of resurrection and judgment. the unjust would be punished for their misdeeds including disbelief in the prophet.

christians and muslims believed in three regions – the heavens above, the earth in between and the hell below.  when the science established that the earth was round, the idea of three storeyed world became difficult to follow. it led to christians deciding the soul lived in bodies which were surreal (or virtual in modern terms). this meant that location of heavens and hell above and below was not necessary. it also took into account the fact that physical bodies perished after a while. the heavens and hell were beyond space as we know it.

another related concept is the nature of time. God created the world and all that belongs to it including the souls. the souls are not eternal since they were created. time itself is not eternal. God made the world with time and in time. what will happen when the world ends on the doomsday. the time will end  and so will the space. what happens to the bodies and the souls. it is said that they will live eternally in heavens or hell. eternity is viewed as suspension or absence of time. for heavens and hell there is no time. in fact, according to this concept, it may be said to be life beyond death and not life after death where the souls will dwell.

coming towards east,

zarathustra introduced the idea of an afterlife that was based on morality, with rewards for the good and suffering for the evil. it does not believe in dooms day or the resurrection of bodies. The soul of a Zoroastrian, is judged at the Bridge of the Separator, at the dawn of the fourth morning after death. Zoroastrianism does not teach or believe in reincarnation. Zoroastrianism also believes in the progress of sacred time, and the eventual end of time. The belief is that the collective good acts of humanity will slowly transform the imperfect material world into its heavenly ideal.  

further east, transmigration of soul is well known phenomenon. there is no beginning and no end of time. all souls originate from one entity and, at the end of cycle, revert to it. there is no need of locating heavens or hell since the soul is reborn in this world. the main characteristic, which separates eastern religions from abrahmic religions, is the theory of karma. each karma has a result – good deeds lead to good results, bad ones to bad results. but the person always has a choice. he can better his karma till it reaches perfection and there is no need for reincarnation. some sects advocate complete absence of karma – good or bad – to attain the state of liberation of soul. budhhism does not confine itself to one universe. there may be many.


to sum up, the idea of life after death is universal. it is rooted in western as well as eastern philosophy. but the differences exist on what happens after  death and after which interval of time but the good will be rewarded and bad punished is a common theme. the place of rewards and punishment is also different for them. 

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