Monday, May 22, 2006

What Is Death?

A look at Heaven and Hell in Various religions

We all know that death is an inevitable event that occurs in every living being life. Every thing that was born has to die and we cant help it. it is known as the life's greatest question. For many people death is frightening and unwelcome. The main cause of this is that death is a great mystery. What happens to us after death? Does life continue after death? or is it the complete cessation of our existence? Nobody can be sure since it cannot be known without being dead and those who have died cannot convey the experience to us (If you don’t believe me try asking a guy in the coffin). However an attempt can be made to find out the nature of the other world by studying out of body experiences and religion.

Different religions look at life after death and reincarnation in different ways but the central point of view seems to be the same. You get heaven for being a good boy and hell for being the devil's apprentice. A summary of the religious beliefs of life after death of some of the religions is given below:

Christian: Now let us look at Christian beliefs on afterlife. Christian beliefs on the afterlife differ between denominations and individual Christians. However the general interpretation is that after the death the soul goes either to the heaven or hell as determined by the sum total of good and bad deeds done by it. Some believe that the individual surely goes to heaven for Jesus uplifts all. Some believe that all souls have to wait till judgment day when they appear before Christ and are sent to heaven or hell forever. Some others believe that all the dead will be resurrected like Jesus Christ did.

Heaven is: A bright white place among the clouds with winged dudes playing harps and soft rock. The gates are pearly and require a password to go through.

Hell is: A place of bad guys, made by the bad guy just for the bad guys. It contains fire, brimstone and even more brimstone. In the background there is boring classical music going on forever. It is endless torment so the residents are poked, thwacked, cracked, thrashed, pulped, crushed, whipped, twisted, cut, barbecued, salted .........

Hindu: Let us now study the various ways Hindu look at reincarnation. Hindus believe that life of an individual is infinite and hence a person never "really" dies. People are not aware of this and the fear of death is due to the love of life (which is essentially infinite). A study of the ancient scriptures reveals the various ways Hindu look at reincarnation. The ancient Hindu texts say that the individual is a part of the cosmic consciousness. This part is known as the atman (soul). The atman; is said to be trapped in the physical body to enjoy the good and bad fruits of his karma (deeds). If the karma of the soul is not finished before death the soul has to take rebirth in the physical world again. Death is just a phenomenon similar to birth. It is believed, that after death the soul is taken to a court of the angels of death and a verdict is passed on the fate of the soul after considering the deeds done by him in the physical world. After that, the soul goes to either heaven or hell, but the stay is not permanent and they are reborn. The texts also say that the yogis and saints who meditate regularly do not produce new karma in this life and hence after death gain salvation and are absorbed into the universal consciousness just like a drop of water (from the river of existence in time-space) is absorbed into the ocean (of bliss).

Heaven is: A big golden palace with dames and damsels, handsome dudes, gardens, and best of all No taxes!

Hell is: A big pit of boiling (insert slang term) crap. 100% income is taken as tax + all the royal treatment as in the Christian hell.

Islam: According to the Islamic life after death theory, god has given every individual a spirit body along with the physical one. After death the physical body returns to the dust but the spirit body continues to exist. It is said that after death the spirit body separates from the physical body and is in a kind of "sleepy state" and enjoys partial fruits of the deeds done in the physical realm. On the "Judgment day", the whole universe will cease to exist and dead people will be given a life that will never end. At this time the soul will fully realize the deeds of his past life and will suffer its results. As this life given is eternal, the experience of heaven or hell will be eternal too (i.e. eternal bliss or eternal torment) The Islamic life after death ideology does not believe in reincarnation in human or any other form.

Heaven is: A place full of virgins and crates of beer.

Hell is: A dry hot dessert with no food or water (for eternity). But the biggest pain is that the devil drinks lemonade in front of you.

Buddhist/Chinese: The Buddhist believe that the individual exists in six forms or states : Human, animal, demon, Ghost, (in) heaven and (in) hell. It is believed that the soul undergoes a transmigration between this states according to the deeds done. Buddhists take warmth to be a sign of life. According to the belief a person is declared dead on loss of awareness and temperature. It is clear that they believe in reincarnation since they believe the soul to be in a sate of transmigration. However they have an exception, the soul of the Sravakas, bodhisattvas and Buddha’s are believed to escape this continuous cycle of transmigration into transcendence due to their constant devotion and practice of meditation. As China is mainly a Buddhist country, this information reflects china's afterlife beliefs.

Heaven is: A serene, calm and quiet place. There is unlimited supply of noodles and Peking sauce.

Hell is: A place where noodles are served only once in a day which you HAVE to eat without chopsticks.

Suicides and the Afterlife:
All the religions of the world surely condemn suicide and it is even considered a sin. Suicidal people tend to become ghosts since they have vibrations of depression and cannot communicate freely. Or they may suffer the consequences of murder since suicide is in fact murder of the self. Theology teaches us that we do not have the right to die. It’s an irony that these people bitch about (insert slang term here) life and leave it only to find a not-much-better-but-still-more-hotter hell. Those of you, who feel like ending your life, call 911 for help or read Edgar Cayce - Secrets of the Universe. If even this doesn’t help, well… try not to leave the water running.

Is it possible to explain death in a scientific way? Maybe, Yes. Until now, for people who believe only in science, proving life after death was difficult and it was thought that once we die we are nothing else but dead meat. But recent studies seem to be positive towards the afterlife and Near Death Experiences. Testimonies of the people with near death experience have been thoroughly researched and the details have been verified. A few of the observed facts are given below:

A close study of the examples of a near death experiences show similar characteristics like, seeing of close relatives, light, tunnel of light, etc.
Phenomena like EVP show that the consciousness remains active even after death.
After life experience have been studied in controlled environments and hence can be considered as a "scientific experiment".
Brain dead people have near death experience.
Many of the people have quoted past event unknown to them.
People See Verified Events While have a near death experience.
The list goes on .....................

The studies made by the likes of Dr. Ken Ring, Carl M Jung, Dr. Bruce Greyson, Dr. Cooper, etc seem to have enough evidence to prove that we continue to exist beyond our bodily death.

However some die-hard skeptics of near-death experiences say that the near death experience is not real and is produced due chemical reactions in the dying brain due to the lack of oxygen. It is called the "dying brain hypothesis". However most of the claims of the theory are found to be biased and unscientific. Skeptics are generally prejudiced against paranormal ability, enlightenment, out of body experiences and religion.

We end this article with a quote from Dr, Ken:
"In the light of the near-death experience, death is nothing more than the illusion of separateness and finality, and those who can believe in this vision of death, like near-death experiences themselves, lose all fear of it, for how can you fear that which does not exist?" - Dr. Ken Ring

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