Where will I go after this life

Death in Hinduism

The best place to study death is in the holiest city for the Hindus, Varanasi. The ancient city lies on the Ganges, and it is considered the capital of death. The old and the sick from all over the country come here to die. The cremation places with the wooden pyre are right on the bank of the holy river - right in the center of the city. Thousands of priests, boatmen and undertakers live on death.

Short cut to heaven

The cycle of death, transmigration of souls and rebirth is almost typical of Hinduism. But there are other ideas about what can happen to the soul after death. They can all be seen in Varanasi: Just a few meters from the cremation site, shaved men "feed" dumplings to the spirits of the deceased. Not far away, pilgrim priests pray on behalf of their customers to long deceased relatives who, as they say, are staying with the gods. Outside the city, exorcists "nail" the spirits of the restless dead to a tree. A sadhu terrifies his audience with stories of the immeasurable agony of purgatory. And widow's stones on the river show where women chose to commit suicide at the stake of their husband, which is now forbidden - in order to find a shortcut to heaven.

Death in Hinduism is manifold. There are several after-death performances next to each other. And to some extent they are - at least from a Western perspective - incompatible with one another.

The realm of ancestors and gods

One explanation for this may be the old age of the Hindu religion, which has changed dramatically over the course of several millennia. For example, rebirth is not even mentioned in early Vedic texts. Because there is no institution in Hinduism like the church that decides on questions of faith and provides a uniform dogma, several views of the afterlife have been preserved.

The idea of ​​an afterlife for good people and a kind of hell for the wicked is very old. The hereafter is also divided into a world of the ancestors and one of the gods. Ascent and descent from one world to the other are possible. The immortal soul, however, is not safe from death in the hereafter, any more than gods. They can die, but according to old tradition they are not reborn on earth, but in posterity.

Karma, the cosmic currency

In later centuries another notion was added that dominates Hinduism today: samsara, the wheel of rebirths. The place of the resurrection was, as it were, relocated to the world of this world. After death, so many Hindus believe, the soul wanders into a new body and is reborn. What kind of body it is, whether that of a human, animal, plant or protozoan, depends on karma.

Karma is something like a cosmic currency that can have positive or negative signs. Good deeds create good karma, and sin creates bad karma. The karma account balance adds up over many lifetimes. The better the karma at the time of death, the better the rebirth. Being born again as a human is said to be particularly promising. Because only as a person is the soul able to break out of the wheel of rebirths. And that is the ultimate goal for followers of the karma teaching. They attain Moksha, the complete absorption of the soul (Atman) in the Absolute (Brahman).

People as sacrifices to the fire god

The different ideas of death and the afterlife have produced a variety of death rites, ancestral rituals and cults of the dead. By far the most common form of burial is burning at the stake or in a crematorium. More rarely, the dead are buried in a holy river. According to ancient beliefs, when people are burned, they are an offering to the fire god Agni, who carries them with the smoke to the realm of the forefathers. Whether they get there is another question. Some souls, especially those who died an unexpected and therefore bad death, do not find their way to heaven. They are condemned to act as ghosts and to make life difficult for relatives. It is therefore a duty for the bereaved to hold rites that support the dead.

Of course, something can still go wrong then. A god can interfere, another spirit or demon or even Yama, the god of death personally. So dying is pretty risky for Hindus. Good for him who has good karma.