As with almost all the religions of the world, life after death is greatly emphasized in the Hindu religion. In Hinduism, life is carried on after death through the concept of reincarnation. Reincarnation is the belief that the soul of a person leaves the body upon death and is reborn into a new body. This continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth is called samsara. To fully understand the concept of samara, we must first understand some of the basics of Hinduism. Two very important key concepts which should be learned to understand samsara is brahman and atman.
Brahman is the Hindu belief in the “Absolute”, which means that everything that surrounds us in life originates from brahman. Brahman, however, should not be confused with God, brahman is merely an “it” without gender, it is beyond humankind, it is the eternal truth and it is the ultimate reality. Brahman, unlike the physical matter of the world, is a constant; it is infinite, cosmic, and universal. It is difficult to grasp the understanding of exactly what brahman is but it is part of everything in our lives. Since everything originated from brahman, everything is not only a part of brahman but brahman is a part of everything, even ourselves. The part of ourselves which originates from brahman is called atman. Atman is our “true self”, basically, it is what makes us what we are, it is our will to live, it is often translated as the soul. One actually might think that because atman is the soul, it is the atman that is reincarnated; this is actually not the fact. Because atman is the part of an individual which is brahman, it also absolute; it is a constant, unchanging, infinite, cosmic and universal. Contrary to popular belief, the part of an individual which is reincarnated through samsara is the jivatan.
As atman is the brahman part of ourselves, the other part of ourselves is called the jivatman. Jivatman is the part of us that is constantly changing throughout our lives, it builds on our past experiences, our needs and wants, the characteristics of our conscious and unconscious mind, it is basically our personality. It is this jivatman which is reincarnated , reborn, into a new life. The weighing factor that decides the next life is the personality of the individual throughout their existing life. The next life is determined by an individual’s karma.
Karma is a fairly easy concept to understand. The word karma literally means action. In the Hindu religion, karma refers not only to action, but to reaction as well. Hindus believe that an individual’s action, whether it is mental, physical or even verbal, produces an outcome. Of course, not all actions will result in an outcome immediately but that outcome may very well present itself later in one’s life or even one’s next life. Karma can also be described as the concept of cause and effect. Whenever we think of something, whenever we do something, we are creating a cause. This cause will sooner or later have an effect; this effect is the result of our action. Throughout an individual’s life, he or she crates his or her own karma based on their actions. If these actions are positive, there will be a positive outcome, if these actions are negative, then there will be a negative outcome; poor choices lead to poor outcomes. I personally believe that karma emphasizes free will because we, as individuals, decide ourselves how to act and how to think. It is our moral responsibility to accept the outcomes of our own actions. It is the karma stored in an individual’s jivatman that decides the state of an individual’s next existence. Following the dharma is what can help us achieve positive karma.
Dharma can be described as what is right, just, ethical and moral behaviour. An individual should live his or her life by the dharma to create for themselves, a positive karma. If an individual were to go against the dharma, that would create a negative karma. This would lead to negative and regretful outcomes in the near future. To act according to the dharma will not only benefit ourselves but those around us as well.
It is the ultimate goal of all Hindus to end the cycle of birth and rebirth, the cycle known as samsara. The only way to achieve this goal is to find or reach moksa. Moksa can be described as a cosmic place beyond this world, or even a state of mind where an individual is finally liberated from the cycle of samsara. Because karma decides an individual’s next existence, there has to be no karma to achieve moksa. Since in moksa, karma is eliminated, there is also no jivatman. Jivatman does not exist when moksa is achieved; it merges with the divine part of us, our atman. In the state of moksa, the only part of us that still exists is pure brahman. It is very difficult to achieve moksa and it is believed that it takes many, even hundreds, or lifetimes to find the path to moksa.
Samsara may be a hard concept to be understood, especially to those of western religions. It differs from the “one life” concept of Christianity in that we have many lives to live before we attain our eternal goal. Both religions are similar in that the followers of both religions strive to better their lives, actions and thoughts so that they can achieve a “better place” after death.
Throughout human history, religion has always explained life after death. In Hinduism this concept is known as samsara, the cycle of reincarnation. Fully understanding samsara may take a bit of time, but it teaches us not only how our actions determine our future lives, but also how to better them. I believe that we learn from this concept that life is not pre determined, what happens to us after death all comes down on our decisions, how we act, how we think, what we say. We have free will, and we should take advantage of it to better our next lives. By taking the time to understand samsara maybe one day, after many lives, we can achieve the ultimate goal, moksa.