By Vishal Agarwal
What happens to us after we die? Hinduism on the one hand and the Semitic faiths (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) on the other offer very divergent answers. The latter state that we have only one life. After we die, our souls go into a state of limbo, till a day called the Day of Judgment. On this day, God looks at the relative balance between our good and bad deeds, as well as whether the person subscribed to correct beliefs or not. He then revives/resurrects the soul’s body (that had been buried in the grave), unites it with the corresponding soul, and awards them with either an everlasting hell or everlasting bliss in heaven. In case of Christianity, correct belief means believing that Jesus Christ is the Only Son of God and that he alone can deliver us from sins. In Islam, it is the belief that there is only one God and that Muhammad is the last messenger of God.
On the other hand, Hindus believe that the individual is composed of the physical (or the gross) body, the subtle body and the Atman or the soul. When a person dies, it is only the first that perishes. The last two entities take rebirth, i.e., acquire a new physical body depending upon the actions and the state of spiritual attainment of the individual. A person with a good record of actions in his previous births takes rebirth in a handsome body and in a rich or a noble household, or even in a life-form that is superior to human beings. Conversely, a person with too many bad actions in his record is born as an insect, a plant and so on. This cycle of birth and death continues indefinitely till the individual attains salvation. In the state of salvation, even the subtle body perishes and only the soul survives, in blissful communion with God — the Universal Soul. Further, Hindus add that good actions and right belief are not sufficient for obtaining salvation. These merely make a person fit to embark upon the path of realization of spiritual truths. And when the Supreme Truth is realized, Salvation (called Moksha) is at hand. In short, Hindus subscribe to the theory of Karman and Rebirth.
Hindus believe that in order to be valid, any spiritual philosophy must be personally verifiable, and it should not be opposed to either logic or commonsense. Also, since souls are unchangeable themselves, any philosophy concerning them also must not be dependent on ideas or objects that are restricted in space or time. In technical parlance, Hindu texts state that all spiritual truths must pass the test of direct perception that is free from any fault, from logical observations that derive from such perception and also must conform to the Vedas – which are eternal records of spiritual truths. When we apply these Hindu criteria to test the validity of the Semitic [Editor’s Note: the term “Semitic” is refering specifically to the Judeo/Christian/Islamic world-view.] notions of Life after Death, the result is a negative one. Let us now discuss this Hindu appraisal in detail.
The theory of resurrection is riddled with several inconsistencies and leads to more questions than solving any.
First, it does not answer the question — Why did God create the Universe? Hinduism provides an answer and says that this Universe is only one in a beginningless and endless cycle of creation and destruction and was created so that the souls can bear the fruits of their ‘unripe’ actions in the previous creation.
Second, where were the souls before the individual was born? Christianity and Islam cannot answer this question satisfactorily. Hinduism, on the other hand, answers that souls are birthless and beginningless, and pass through a continuous cycle of birth and death till they individually attain salvation.
Third, since right belief is supposedly central to salvation, what happens to babies who are aborted, or die at birth, or at a young age, and to people in remote parts of the world who have never heard of Christ or of Muhammad? And what will happen to all the people in the world who died before Christ and Muhammad were born? Will they go to heaven or to hell? St. Augustine, one of the greatest Christians who ever lived, said only the word of Jesus can lead us to heaven. He had the audacity to declare that, therefore, all infants who die and all those who have not heard the salvific word of Christ will go to Hell! In Islam too, numerous Hadiths (sayings)from the mouth of Muhammad imply that all those who died in Jahiliya (‘the age of ignorance’) are burning in Hellfire! Modern psychologists will terms such thoughts as sadistic and possibly even psychopathic. Hinduism, on the other hand, grants the opportunity of future lives to these unfortunate people wherein they can work their way to salvation.
Fourth, since bodies are resurrected and reunited with souls on the Day of Judgment, what will happen to those individuals whose graves have been destroyed? Moreover, even if God can still bring together and reassemble their scattered remains, then why waste land by burying the dead at all?
Fifth, what are the souls of the dead doing till the Day of Judgment? Have they been put to sleep, or are they getting bored, or are they tormenting the living in the form of ghosts?
Sixth, is it not unfair that the soul of person who died in, say 100 AD, will have to wait longer in nervous anxiety than someone who died today, especially since no one knows whether he will go to Heaven or to Hell?
Seventh, when will the Day of Judgment dawn? Both Christians and Muslims declare that it will come all of a sudden. This uncertainty over the exact timing has been well utilized by Christian priests to terrorize the masses using a fear psychology and has even given birth to bizarre Millennialist sects like the Moonies of Korea. Such cultists believe that the end of the world is close, say within 5 years. Consequently, they abandon all secular activity and close themselves in rooms to chant the name of Jesus, waiting for D-Day. Due to adherence to such false ideologies, such people often commit suicide in frustration and disappointment when they find that the expected Day of Judgment has not arrived.
In addition, the laity generally depends upon the Church for the interpretation of scriptures. The uncertainty over the time of the Day of Judgment has often tempted the Christian clergy to fleece poor Christians, since uncertainty breeds a fear psychosis. For instance, Medieval Popes sold ‘Letters of Indulgence” to rich Christians at huge amounts of money and falsely promised them palaces, chariots etc. in Heaven in lieu thereto.
Islamic dogma goes a step further. Its texts declare that the Archangel Gabriel will sound a Trumpet from Heaven to herald the start of the Day of Judgment. One wonders how that sound will reach the earth since interstellar space is largely a vacuum and sound waves need a medium of some sort in which to travel.
Eighth, we observe that some people shine as child prodigies (Eg. Adi Samkara, Joan of Arc). Two twins, who are born in the same household and are brought up in the same environment, often display very different behaviors. Why should this happen? Christianity and Islam can only blame God for such phenomena while Hinduism will point to the deeds done by these individuals in their respective previous lives. Hinduism states that each action of ours creates some mental impressions (samskaras) and we carry these from one life to the next. Due to these samksaras, people show different inclinations, behaviors, likes and dislikes, etc. naturally.
In Chapter XVI of the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavan Sri Krishna warns (to paraphrase): “The egoistic people say- ‘I have done this action today. I will do this tomorrow. I practice charity, perform religious rites for attaining Heaven’. Indeed, overcome with ego, such people bring about their ruin.”
The warning of our Lord is so very true and it clearly depicts the dangerous mentality that naturally results from the doctrines preached by the Semitic faiths. These religions teach that we should perform good actions to go to Heaven, while Hinduism says that we should perform good actions, not because they lead us to salvation, but because they ought to be performed as an offering to God. In fact, Hindus hold that good actions performed with a sense of ego can only lead to further rebirths. It is clear as daylight that the Christian/Islamic concept is not conducive to the development of such virtues as humility, gentleness of character and so on, while the Hindu theory naturally leads to humility and gentleness of character. Indeed, when the Christian missionaries first landed in India, the Hindus were appalled to witness their haughtiness and arrogance. What else will one expect from followers of St. Paul who (in one of his Epistles in the New Testament) states that due to his service to the Christian concept of God, he feels like a runner who will come first in the competition and win the prize! In fact, unfortunately, humility seems to be one virtue severely lacking in the lives of so many Biblical and Islamic prophets, as is evident from the stories of their lives in the texts of these sectarian religions.
Belief in the doctrine of Resurrection and Passage to Heaven and Hell leads to several contradictions as it is based on false assumptions. For instance, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus commands a fig tree to bear fruit out of season. When it does not bear fruit, Jesus curses the tree and as a result, the tree withers away and dies. Jesus states arrogantly that whosoever does not listen to him will perish likewise. This incident should lead to the conclusion that plants are living and are capable of understanding the ‘word of God.’ But then if it is true that they have souls (which the New Testament seems to be indicating in this story), will they then be judged in the same manner as human beings at the great Day of Judgement? St. Augustine vehemently opposed this notion and declared that plants and animals do not have souls since man alone is created in the image of God and he alone can discern the difference between good and evil. This is contradicted by modern science, which declares that they too are living creatures. Like modern science, Hinduism too declares all creatures to be sentient beings and adds that we can be reborn as humans, as plants, as animals or as something else to reap the fruits of our actions.
We see that in this world, some people are born rich, whole other are born poor. Some are born in virtuous and noble households, while others are born amongst sinners. Some live amongst Christians or Muslims, while others have never met any member of these faiths. In all these pairs, the former alone will attain salvation according to the theoretic model of Christianity and Islam; while the rest will go to hell since they have lost the only chance they had to hear the liberating words of Christ/Muhammad. Is this not an unfair punishment? Why does a compassionate God create people unequally and yet judge them by the same rules? It would have been fairer on the part of a loving God to have given another birth to these helpless beings so that they had a better chance to listen to His ‘liberating’ message.
The Koran often says- “He guides whosoever He pleases and leads astray whomsoever He wills”, while the Bible describes numerous incidents where the Christian idea of God himself leads people astray, causing their ruin. If God himself leads people astray, what employment will poor Satan have? And how will such people so damned by God be judged once they die? Hinduism declares, on the other hand, that we choose to be good or bad of our own volition and due to the effects of actions performed by us in our previous lives. For instance, if we devote our present lives to good activities, we will naturally be more inclined towards good and noble things in our future lives and vice versa.
The Biblical literature (especially the Gospels) often comforts the naturally disadvantaged poor, sick and the needy by saying that their suffering on this earth will lead them to the riches of heaven, while ‘it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter heaven.”. This world-denying and anti-prosperity view can only lead to the ruin of this world. Also, such statements have no logical basis — what is the sense in suffering here just in order to go to heaven later? Why in the first place did God create people so unequally? Hinduism supplies a good answer by saying that inequalities at birth are due to our own individual actions – both good and bad – in previous lives. The Semitic version of God is thus whimsical and lacks commonsense.
Some Human beings naturally take more time than others to understand certain things. Obviously, then, some people will take more time to understand and believe in the “ right doctrines” of Christianity and Islam, while others will take less time for the purpose. But these faiths allow us only one brief life to understand these ‘profound truths.’ Is it not unfair that God condemns such, otherwise good intentioned and noble hearted, people to everlasting Hell? Are some to be cruely punished for simply being somewhat slower learners than others? Or maybe the Semitic faiths do not exhibit a proper understanding of Human nature. Some people who are inquisitive by nature like to confirm things personally before they consent to believe in them. It might take some of us more than one lifetime to become convinced that ‘Muhammad is the Last Prophet’ or that ‘Jesus is the only Son of God.’ Should we then, go to Hell because of our well-meaning inquiry? For Christianity and Islam, the answer is a cruel and booming “Yes!”
On the contrary, Hinduism displays exemplary understanding of human psychology and states that we can improve our lot from one life to another. As Sri Krishna states in the 7th chapter of Gita- “Men attain perfection through the efforts of several lives.” Thus, no sincere effort to know God is condemned merely due to differences in how long it takes one to understand Truth.
People who subscribe to these Semitic dogmas often feel great distress and anguish when they suddenly undergo suffering (say due to an accident) although they know that they have not committed any sin. “Why did I have to suffer although I did not do any wrong?” They find no solution to this vexing problem. On the other hand, a Hindu discerns that suffering, whose cause is not empirically perceptable, could be due to some Karman that he did in his previous lives, and that he must continue to do good karman in his present line to prevent suffering in the future. A Hindu holds only himself accountable for his suffering and does not blame others or God, nor does he loose courage.
Islam and Christianity allow us only one life. They also exhort their followers to spread their religion. Great rewards are promised by the Bible to Christians and by the Koran to Muslims if they spread their religions. Finally, both Islam and Christianity declare that their religions alone lead to salvation and that people who do not subscribe to their beliefs are de facto condemned by God and are destined for eternal Hell. The first factor, combined with the rest, has made for a deadly mix ever since these religions were founded. In every nook and corner of the world, one can see Christian priests chanting “Repent ye for the hour is at hand. Acknowledge Christ as your savior and ye shall be saved.” The Muslims do the same and state- “For the Kafirs (“unbelievers”), Allah has prepared a blazing fire whose fuel are men and idols.” The Islam and Christianity see a sense of urgency to convert the whole world to their faith and thus “save the damned souls” before they die. Such an ideology has lead to countless bouts of persecution of unfortunate men and women by Christians and Muslims. The histories of these two faiths are soaked in the blood of millions of innocent men and women who suffered for not adhering to these religions. In the Americas, the Christians worked millions of ‘heathen’ American Indian Natives to death and then ‘honored’ them with Christian burials. The Muslim chronicles boast of the countless campaigns of Muslim rulers and of ordinary Muslims in which several thousands of “infidels” were dispatched to hell during each campaign.
In contrast, the record of Hinduism and other religions believing in rebirth after death (such as Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, and many indigenous and native religions) is much more honorable, and religious persecution by members of these faiths is more of an exception rather than a rule. Even the most ardent of Hindus will compassionately declare that good Christians and Muslims will be reborn as Hindus someday and then attain understanding and salvation. So where is the question of religious persecution or forcible conversions in the non-Biblical/Islamic world-view?
The Christians believe that only by accepting Jesus Christ as the Son of God can we go to heaven. Muslims similarly hold that we must believe in the Prophet-hood of Muhammad to avoid eternal condemnation. Now, the adherents of both of these religions were born on this earth. So, theoretically, if there is any life on some other planet besides our own, how do the people on those planets attain salvation? Obviously, the Bible and the Koran are based on a geocentric notion of the Universe or they preclude the existence of any intelligent life in our infinite universe – something that would be an anathema to both modern scientists, as well as Hindu sages. The Hindu scriptures clearly declare that the Universe is infinite and there is life in different forms throughout the whole Universe. This seems closer to the truth.
According to the Semitic texts, no one but the Prophets can visit Heaven or Hell before the Day of Judgment. So, basically there is no proof that the Christian or Islamic Heaven/Hell exist. The accounts of these places given by Biblical prophets like Ezekiel and St. John and by Muslim texts are self contradictory and quite childish and humorous. On the other hand, there have been numerous cases recorded in which people have come to recollect their previous lives. I personally know people who recall their previous lives. In fact, Hindu scriptures clearly declare that anyone can practice Yoga and learn about his previous lives. While in Samadhi, it is also possible to establish communion with the souls who have attained Moksha, salvation. So, everything is verifiable in the Hindu theory of life and death and it is, therefore, more consistent with the scientific method.
Modern states punish criminals either to chastise and reform them, or to set an example before the society (deterrence effect) and also to prevent them from repeating criminal activity. Retribution on behalf of the victims of the crime is not regarded as an honorable reason for punishing criminals. Thus, the punishment meted out to criminals is intended to serve a positive purpose. But no positive purpose is apparent in the eternal damnation of the “sinner” by God. In a single lifetime, we can commit only a finite number of sins. So why should a sinner get infinite misery for finite sin? This leads us to the conclusion that the Christian and Islamic God is not a very loving Lord, rather He is portrayed in rather sadistic terms by the adherents of these faiths. To top it off, several Christian Fathers (including St. Augustine) have stated that amongst the several joys that Christians in Heaven experience is the sight of sinners suffering in Hell. Contrast this with the numerous tales in Hindu scriptures in which sages and pious men in Heaven beg God to release sinners from torment in Hell. The whole ideology of Semitic Hell is thus based on a fear psychology.
The Semitic Heaven is a place limited by space. No intelligent person would like to dwell in a finite space for infinity, no matter how blissful that place is. So, the Semitic heaven is no better than an eternal jail and is therefore as scary as the Semitic Hell.
Secondly, any deformed, ugly or disabled person will dread the very thought of having to be united with his defored body in Heaven for all eternity.
The Muslim scriptures like Koran describe Heaven as a place where rivers of wine flow eternally, where there are beautiful virgin girls and also pearl complexioned boys waiting on the inhabitants, and where men are potent on sexual matters. In short, the Islamic heaven is a place abounding in the pleasures of sex. There is absolutely no mention of the higher pursuits of life like literature, art, music and the like. A Hindu need not even comment on the uselessness of such a debased reward from God.
As we have noted above, the Semitic philosophy of Resurrection is opposed to logical reasoning, to observed facts, to commonsense, to all ideas of fairness/justice and to modern science. The only leg it stands upon is blind faith. During the heyday of Christianity, such blind faith plunged Europe into the Dark Ages and the rise of modern Western civilization began only after Humanism and the Age of Reason commenced in Europe. Muslims no doubt say that the same was not the case with the Islamic civilization. But the truth is that the advancement of science and arts in the Arab Empire was not due to Islam but rather in-spite of it. And all well-known philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, poets etc. were persecuted during their life-times in the Arab Empire, as made so clear in the book “Why I am Not a Muslim” by Ibn Warraq. In contrast, the Golden Age of Hinduism directly coincided with the golden age of Hindu/Indian Science and Art. This is because, our philosophy of verifiability of religious experience and emphasis on ‘Prajna’, or the understanding of Truth (as opposed to blind belief in the Semitic faiths), naturally fosters free will and intelligent thinking. Of course, many in the prosperous and materially advanced West still adhere to the Semitic notions. But in an overwhelming majority cases, the adherence is nominal or is merely out of a sence of tradition rather than out of any strong conviction arising from careful thought.
We have given only a few of the many reasons why the Hindu theory of Rebirth and Karman is preferable to the Christian and Islamic theories of Resurrection and the Day of Judgment. It is because of these reasons that belief in rebirth is spreading like wild-fire in the West. For instance, although only 1% of Americans subscribe to Hinduism or Buddhism, almost 25% believe in the Hindu concepts of Rebirth and Karman. Since the followers of the Semitic religions do not accept the authority of our scriptures and we do not accept the authority of their scriptures, such debates must necessarily be free of taking recourse to our scriptures. These debates should, instead, restrict themselves to logical reasons and philosophically verifiable propositions. This is why, we have refrained from quoting the dozens of additional proofs stated in the Hindu scriptures in support of Rebirth and Reincarnation. We pray to God that in days to come all rational human beings may freely shun falsehood and adopt Truth.