Life After Death or the Afterlife

What do you think happens when we die? Is it really the end or is there an afterlife? The older I become, the more believe in immortality, because the older I become, the more eager I feel to live’, confided the philosopher William James (1842-1910) at the end of his life. The doctrine of immortality of the soul, the belief in the existence of previous lives and in possible reincarnations, underlie the existence of an afterlife, of a separate life, on a higher level, which starts immediately after taking our last breath.

However, to believe in this hypothesis of life after death – which specialists refer to as afterlife – you need to ask some basic questions which all of us should answer to the best of our knowledge and belief, while if possible disregarding the accepted beliefs and theories on the subject. In fact, it is too often the case that people who believe unconditionally that the soul is immortal and can achieve freedom and purification in the afterlife are often so fascinated or blinded by the promise of eternal life that they forget to question their own attitude towards death.

What is Death?

If not regarded as our destiny, it is at least the ultimate and inevitable phase awaiting each of us. According to an old Medieval proverb, ‘one comes into this world, cries, and that is life. One cries, exits this world, and that is death’. Whether we like it or not, death is part of life. Men have always dreamt about immortality;

they often perceived and made their gods immortal. However, the images they made of their gods were not particularly pleasant or idyllic, it was as if they could not imagine the face of immortality. Very early on, men felt that it was impossible to envisage immortality without envisaging a transformation in bodily appearance and human form. The prospect of such metamorphosis, however, was obviously distressing, since it implied a loss of our faculties, of our identity, of all that proves our existence. It became therefore necessary to find justifications and explanations for this phenomenon.

Death According to Different Civilsations

In the Sumerian religion, the dead entered the Kur, the ‘underworld’, where they presented the Gods with gifts in order to gain their goodwill. They were then welcomed by the other dead and shared their lives in the ‘Place of no return’. In the religion of Ancient Egypt, the souls of the dead reached the kingdom of Am-Douat where the encounter with Osiris, God of immortality provided a source of renewed life. But in order to achieve eternal peace, the soul had to go through a second death and a resurrection.

To achieve afterlife, the soul had to pass a certain number of tests revealed in the Book of the Dead, named so by the archaeologists who found the manuscript. Therefore, in ancient Egypt, death was not considered as an end in itself, but rather as a rebirth.

In India, the beliefs in reincarnation are based upon a complex system which determines whether or not the soul of the deceased will be reborn. According to Hinduism, there are 16 doors, divided into three groups, through which the soul can enter at death. Depending on the door through which the soul escapes, it will either elevate to a higher level of purification, be reborn in another body or it will become transfigured and eternally free from the cycle of reincarnations.

As you can see, the survival of the soul, in India, is evident, but its reincarnation is seen more like a test to be passed, whereas its transfiguration is perceived as a liberation. Unlike death, reincarnation is not a fatality, but an opportunity, through rebirth on Earth, to atone for bad deeds. These nuances are worth underlining because too often in the West, this doctrine is interpreted incorrectly and we are tempted to believe that after death, a new life on Earth will be offered to us.

However, whatever the rites, myths and beliefs related to the survival of the soul after death, present in ancient civilisations – some of which still exist today, they do not enlighten us as to the necessity and the inevitability of death. Equally, the modern scientific explanation of the degeneration of the cells caused by ageing, is not sufficient to explain why we die.

Evidence of the Afterlife

The harshness of life, our fear of living, suffering and human tragedies aggravate the pangs of death. This is why our contemporaries have been searching for reasons to believe in the possibility of the soul surviving after death. Today, deprived of the points of reference or gods, myths and symbols to which our ancestors, in their wisdom, used to refer, we are tentatively searching for a new course to follow.

In the last few years, from all over the world, numerous accounts from people who have been through ultimate experiences, have given evidence of a possible survival of the soul, of death experienced as a crossing, or as a birth, which allows us to draw the following conclusions: death, as described by those who have experienced it, is not a painful ordeal. It has quite a few similarities with the birth of a baby (vision of a long tunnel stretching ahead, at the end of which appears a shining and dazzling light, alluring and benevolent). During this journey, we are totally conscious of our good and bad deeds, which seem to be an integral part of ourselves.

We are therefore our own judge, which tends to confirm the principles expressed by the Hindu karma. Further on our journey we uncover powers unknown to us, such as the ability to fly like a bird. At the end, the spirit, light and life prevail. Any human being who has been through this ultimate experience and has come back, has asserted the prevalence of life.

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