Essay: Nature of the Afterlife and Nature of Morality in Hinduism Versus Christianity

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Hinduism vs. Christianity

The evolution of society into a collective consciousness that is more tolerant of the concept of "Other" than it ever has been before means that most people can now practice their religion freely and without fear of persecution in societies that are evolved in this way. This also allows for a less fear- or guilt-ridden exercise of investigating these religions for their points of comparison and contrast, either with the purpose of seeking a religion that is more suitable to the individual's needs or with the purpose of simply learning about the religion itself and the society from which it originated. In this regard, it is very interesting to compare major world religions such as Christianity and Hinduism in terms of their views on morality and the afterlife; while both project a basic respect for divinity and for other human beings, the basis of this respect and their concept of the afterlife are remarkably different.

The Afterlife

The clearest contrast between Hinduism and Christianity is the way in which they view the afterlife. In other words, they differ remarkably in terms of their beliefs regarding the journey of the soul after death. While both religions do believe in the longevity and continuous life of the soul after the death of the body, the precise journey of this remaining human essence differs.

For the Hindu devotee, for example, the soul survives death and leaves the body permanently. The soul then transmigrates from body to body until it is finally reconciled with God by means of absorption into the God consciousness or what is also known as "Ultimate Reality" (Facts of Faith, 2002). The self, or consciousness, is then reincarnated as a different physical entity to live more than one physical life on earth (Miller, 2009). According to Fisher, souls that are sufficiently evolved return as human beings, while others return as animals or other life forms to continue learning the lessons they need to perfect them for the ultimate absorption into the God consciousness. This is the ultimate goal of the journey of reincarnation. The wheel of birth, death and rebirth is known as "samsara," which is a cycle of learning. When the soul completes its journey, it is united with its ultimate goal, the Absolute Reality.

In an interview conducted with a representative of the Hindu religion, Jackie, the first question was whether, and why, she believed in reincarnation. She responded that the doctrine makes sense in terms of the nature of human life on earth. Human beings learn new skills and knowledge throughout their lives. For Jackie, it makes sense that this learning experience continues beyond the death of the physical body. Because there are so many different experiences and lessons to be had on earth, she feels that the best way to accomplish this is most likely by means of reincarnation, where the soul has the opportunity to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to be worthy of its ultimate goal.

Another question concerned the way in which Jackie regarded the ultimate goal of reincarnation, which was absorption into the Absolute Reality. Jackie believes that this will entail a state of complete bliss, where the soul has finally "come home." This prospect provides her with a sense of peace and joy that she does not believe she can obtain anywhere except in her religion.

The Christian religion, on the other hand, traditionally places a significant importance on the connection between the soul and its current body (Facts for Faith, 2002). The ultimate goal is the Resurrection, during which the Christian body and soul will be reunited at the end of time. In the Interim, the soul leaves the body to transcend to Heaven to be with God and the other Christian souls who have died. In this philosophy, the individuality is retained and a personal relationship with God, started during the body's life on earth, continues and is perfected in the afterlife. It is therefore a reconciliation between entities rather than an absorption of one by the other.

For Christians, then, the body and soul togther form the self, rather than the soul alone. Hence, both the body and soul are important in terms of the afterlife, whereas in Hinduism, the various bodies that are inhabited by the soul at different times are discarded; traditionally by fire.

Also, in Christianity, there are three distinct stages of human life and afterlife: the physical live, of which there is only one on earth for each human being; the physical death, after which the soul migrates to reconcile with God in heaven; and the Resurrection, during which the body is reconciled with the soul and both are taken into heaven to live eternally with God and other believers.

In an interview with a representative of the Christian faith, Jonathan, one of the questions was what his specific beliefs about the afterlife entailed. He responded that his beliefs centered around the belief that he would see both God and his departed loved ones after he has died. This idea provides him with great comfort and joy, as well as a sense of meaning in the life he now lives. It also encourages him to maintain a basis of faith and to maintain his eyes on the final goal, which in the short-term means residing in Heaven as a soul and in the long-term being reconciled with his physical body.

To the question of whether he would ever consider converting to another religion, Jonathan reacted with some disbelief. He responded that he would never consider this, since what he considers to be the "truth" cannot be changed, even if he were to convert to another religion. For him, the comfort he derives from his beliefs in the afterlife and the idea that he will see his loved ones and God provides a sense of not only comfort but also of foundation in a world that is often filled with turmoil. This sense of foundation also manifested in Jackie's responses.

Morality

Hinduism and Christianity also contrast significantly in terms of the foundations of their morality. The basis of this contrast lies in the perceived relationship of humanity with the divine. For Christians, there is only one possible relationship with the divine that leads to ultimate bliss, while Hinduism acknowledges the concept of the "many paths" that lead to God and ultimate bliss. The way in which these relationships are seen affect the way in which morality is conceptualized and practiced in both religions.

Because Hindus believe that there are several ways in which to reach God, the concept of morality is based upon karma, or the laws of cause and effect. The way in which the world works, for Hindus, is that all actions result in certain consequences; good actions would attract favorable consequences, while actions that are morally reprehensible will attract undesirable consequences. Morality is therefore directly related to action and consequence. When a Hindu person is therefore kind and loving to others, the basis for this is a belief that the same will ultimate reach the giver of these actions.

Furthermore, Hindu action is also considered to be one of the direct pathways to the divine consciousness. Karma yoga, for example, is paracticed to connect with the divine by means of kind acts towards others. This promotes the soul's karmic readiness for ultimate absorption into the divine. Bhakti yoga, in turn, is the act of adoration and unconditional love towards the deity Krishna. Both entail actions towards the human and the divine in order to prepare the soul for its ultimate journey.

When asked about her beliefs regarding karma and the laws of cause and effect, Jackie responded that she regards her actions as a direct connection to both other human beings and the divine. While her soul is being prepared for its journey, these actions also creates for her a better experience while she is on earth. She believes that karma works on both the physical and spiritual planes. On the current physical plane, she agreed that her beliefs are reminiscent of the "law of attraction," holding that certain actions and thoughts attract certain consequences. On the spiritual plane, she believes that it works the same; the Hindu's actions are a pathway to or away from divinity; souls that seek to evolve will attempt to adhere to actions that favor spiritual growth and the best of the divine.

When asked about the many paths, Jackie responded that she believes every person has the right to make his or her own decisions about what is needed to reach the divine. While she does not believe that this affects the spiritual realities, such as reincarnation, that she believes in, she acknowledges that different human beings needs different pathways to find the divine.

This is something that Christianity is in complete disagreement with. It considers itself as the only "true" way to God by means of Christ. Hence, actions can create no pathway to the divine or to other human beings.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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