A CRITIQUE OF AFTERLIFE IN HINDUISM CHAPTER ONE GENERAL INTRODUCTION 1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY From time immemorial, the fundamental question of whether life ends at death has been a major pre-occupation for both philosophers and religious thinkers., although different quarters of intellectual opinion have acknowledged the inevitability of death in human life as one of the most fateful experience of the human person,1the thought of such a death in a state ofsheer hopelessness of a next life makes even more devastating and renders human life less desirable and meaningless. However, with time, this fundamental question centered on human experienceof death began to receive scholarly attention and eventually led to the rationalization of afterlife. The belief of afterlife is characterized by different postulations from various philosophers. Philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, St Augustine accepted the concept of afterlife as a reality. Other philosophers such asEpicureus, rejected the notion of afterlife regarding it as an illusion. However, there is no single view of what the afterlife entails actually among the various cultures and traditions. John Hick makes the point clearer when he stated; Ideas of an afterlife of one sort or another have been promulgated by all manner of cultures and religions. For ancient peoples, the afterlife was a realm of vastly diminished existence populated by shades, ghostly counterparts of bodies. Ancient Indians and Egyptians before 2000 B.C.E postulated a judgment after death. The Greeks had hades; the Hebrews had Sheol. Far from being a matter of wish fulfillment, an afterlife, as pictured by ancient cultures, was not particularly desirable, just inevitable.2 However, one of the earliest religious traditions which have a rich doctrine of afterlife is Hinduism. The notion of afterlife in Hinduism is paradoxically interesting and perplexing. Hinduism teaches a peculiar notion of afterlife that is quite different from other cultures and religious traditions. Perhaps, unlike other cultures and religious traditions, Hinduism believes that the human person is a composite of body and soul and at death, the body which is the material aspect of the person is laid off while the soul experience rebirth into a different body until the cycles of rebirth is completed before being joined with Braman. The need to critically analyze the intricacies of this doctrine of afterlife in Hinduism and highlight the problems inherent in it is what this essay seeks to achieve. 1.2STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM Hinduism, which is the oldest religion of India presents itself as a rather complex notion of what the afterlife entails. It teaches that after life consist in attaining union with the Ultimate Reality through a series of rebirths3. However, there are serious problems challenging the credibility of this notion of afterlife in Hinduism. The fundamental questions which form the basis of these problems are: why should a bad karma which the body and soul acquired be suffered alone by the soul and in a different body in the afterlife? Is punishing a person with bad karma in lower state of life a matter of divine justice or an act of forgiveness? Furthermore, how can the individual identity and freedom be ascertained and understood since he is always in a wheel of rebirth? How do we differentiate persons or animals suffering from bad karma and those that are not? These vexed questions which pose a serious challenge to the tenability of the notion of afterlife in Hinduism are what informed the sense of this essay. 1.3 PURPOSE OF THE STUDY This essay is poised to primarily analyze the notion of afterlife in Hinduism. Its fundamental aim and objective is to beam intellectual light on what the afterlifeactually constitutes in Hinduism so as to facilitate a clearer and better understanding of it and also determine its inconsistencies. 1.4 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY This study is hoped to be of immense value to students of philosophy and religious studies, adherents of different religious traditions, academia, researchers in religious studies particularly of Hinduism, and every person who has a natural curiosity in the subject matter of this research work. This essay would enable student evaluate the notion of after life in Hinduism in a more a lightened manner. Since the concept of after life is fundamental concern for every human, this essay will assist people with the knowledge of what afterlife entails in Hinduism. 1.5 SCOPE OF THE STUDY This essay is chiefly limited to an examination of the concept of afterlife in Hinduism. It pays especial attention to those aspectswhere the notion of afterlife is explicitly expressed and taught. However, where necessary, reference will be made to the notion of afterlife in other religious traditions. 1.6 METHODOLOGY This essay adopts the analytic and expository methods of inquiry which will enable us to plumb the depth of the notion of afterlife in Hinduism. Moreover, this essay is structurally bifurcated into four chapters. Chapter one covers the general introduction which gives us the statement of the problem, the purpose of study, significance of the study, the scope of the study, methodology, definition of concepts and literature review. Chapter two provides us with the notion of afterlife in Hinduism. In it, we critically examine the intricacies of the concept of afterlife. Chapter three considers some concepts that will aid our understanding of the notion afterlife in Hinduism. And lastly, chapter four presents a synthesis of the three preceding chapters, an assessment of the notion of afterlife in Hinduism and conclusion. 1.7 DEFINITION OF CONCEPTS The need to define the concepts in our topic is not only necessary to avoid every potential misconception but also expedient to define the object of this essay. For as Schattschneider once said, people who cannot define the object of their studies do not know what they are looking for, and if they do not know what they are looking for, how would they tell when they have found it? 4 In line this thought therefore, we shall consider in what follows, a clarification of the two concepts in our topic, namely afterlife and Hinduism. 1.7.1 Afterlife The concept of afterlife is not easy to define. This is because the concept lacks a common universally acceptable definition, and each religious tradition and culture views it differently. However, attempt shall be made to look at its meaning in a general sense. Basically, the concept of afterlife literally means a belief in the continuation of life after death. According to the online Collins Advanced English Dictionary, an afterlife means a life that some people believe begins when you die, for example a life in heaven or as another person or animal. 5 Underlining the definition of afterlife is the belief in re-incarnation and rebirth which Anthony Echekwube refers to as the passage from one physical body to another of the same species or in lower beasts or objects. 6 1.7.2 Hinduism Like the concept of afterlife, Hinduism is very difficult to define. Laurie Patton rightly noted that “Hinduism” and “Hindu” are notoriously difficult to define, and partly because of this ambiguity these terms have been the subject of much controversy in contemporary debates. In the past two decades alone, Hinduism has been variously called a religion, a way of life, and a construction of colonialism.7However, the term Hinduism is believed to be relatively new in the literature. Its usage has been traced to the British Writers of the early 19th Century who used it to refer to a cumulative tradition of texts and practices of the Indian people that probably date back before the 2nd Millennium B. C. E. Another tradition traced the origin of the term Hinduism to the word Hindu which was initially used by Greek and Persian travellers before the 16th Century to refer to the inhabitants of the Indus Valley. Thus, Hindu (Greek: indoi) was gradually employed by residents of India to distinguish themselves from the Turks. The term later became familiar as a designator of religious ideas and practices distinctive to India rather than its initial ethnic, geographic and cultural usage. 8Furthermore, Hinduism has been viewed by Ninian Smart as a tradition or a collection of them by induction which unlike other world religions lacks a single source of origin.9 Joseph Omoregbe also described Hinduism in a broad sense as the philosophy, religion, and culture of the Indian people.10 As a religious tradition, Joseph Gaer explicitly summarized the central belief of Hinduism as the existence of one Universal Spirit, Eternal Essence, without beginning or end, called Brahma which means World Soul. 11 1.8 LITERATURE REVIEW In recognition of the importance of Hinduism as a religion which distinguished itself from Western thought, Ninian Smart, a renowned scholar of Hinduism, maintains that the intrinsic interest in Hinduism is underscored by such concepts as karma and reincarnation which differ significantly from Western philosophy. His article, “Hinduism” in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, eds. Philip Quinn and Charles published in 1997 in Cambridge by Blackwell Publishers, pp. 7-15, traced the history of Hinduism and also examined the concept of afterlife which helped in our understanding of Hinduism in chapter one and its notion of afterlife in chapter two respectively. Ninian described Hinduism as a tradition or a collection of them by induction which unlike other world religions lacks a single source of origin p. 7. On the other hand, he viewed the notion of afterlife as exhibiting various forms, such as being reborn from human to insect and so on p. 11. Furthermore, William Rowe, in his work, Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction, (Fourth Edition), published in Australia by Wadsworth in 2007, presented an illuminating account of what the afterlife consists in Hinduism. In his “life after death in Hinduism,” Rowe noted that human immortality in Hinduism is characteristically trapped in the wheel of rebirth p. 147. He further drew a distinction between the conception of afterlife in Western philosophy and in Hinduism, arguing that the Hindu concept of afterlife does not countenance personal identity and immortality. His thoughts offered a great insight for our discussion in chapters two and four of this work. Another literature of great import which dealt with the concept afterlife in Hinduism in chapters two and three of this work is the work of Satguru Siva, Hinduism’s Contemporary Metaphysics, published in Hawail by Hinalayan Academy in 1994. In chapter twenty of his work p. 173, on “Life After Death,” Siva examined the nitty-gritty of the notion of afterlife in Hinduism by looking at important concepts such as Soul as well as the process and stages of death and reincarnation. Siva argued that the process of reincarnation ceases when Moksha or liberation has been attained p. 175. Besides the above, another literature which proved relevant in understanding the history of Hinduism in chapter one and the meaning and usage of various Hindu concepts in other chapters of this work is the article authored by E. O. Oyelade, “Introduction to Asian Religions” in Readings in Religion and Philosophy, ed. E. O. Oyelade, Benin City, Teredia Publications, 2006, 89-98. Like other authors, Oyelade viewed Hinduism as the beliefs, practices and socio- religious institutions of the people known as Hindus p. 89. He noted that Hinduism unlike most world religions has a complex nature, integrating religious, social, economic, literary and artistic aspects of life p. 90. Also, various Hindu concepts such as Moksha, Yoga, Karma and several others were examined. In trying to pinpoint the development of the concept of afterlife in Hinduism in chapter two of this work, one work remained outstanding. It is the work by Hopkins Thomas, “Hindu Views of Death and Afterlife” in Perspectives of World Religions, ed. Hiroshi Obayashi, 143-155, Westport Greenwood, 1992. Hopkins examined the historical development of the belief in afterlife and argued that the conception of life after death as it believed today was only a later development of the Vedas. He pointed out that in the earliest Vedas, there was no mention of earthly reincarnation as the destiny of a deceased was believed to be in a new home where a new body would be given to itp. 146. This home was considered to be a gift from “devas,” the kingdom of Yama, god of the dead. Again, Joseph Gaer, in his work, What The Great Religions Believe, New York: The New American Library, Inc., dealt with the teachings of Hinduism which were captured in the first three chapters of this work. In chapter two of his book, on “Hinduism, A Fellowship of Faiths” pp. 23-36, Gaer examined the central belief of Hinduism and also explained the concept of soul p. 25. He equally treated the law of karma and noted that on the basis of this law, only good must come from good and evil from evil p. 27. Thus far, this chapter has introduced us to the notion of afterlife in Hinduism and also highlighted the main thrust of the issue which this essay sets out to analyze. END NOTES 1. Satguru Sivaya, Hinduism’s Contemporary Metaphysics, (Hawail: Hinalayan Academy, (1994), p. 173. 2. Hick John, Death and Eternal Life. Louisville, Ky.: (Westminster/John Knox, 1994), pp. 55-60. 3. Thomas Hopkins. “Hindu Views of Death and Afterlife” In Death and Afterlife: Perspectives of World Religions, Hiroth Obayashi (ed), (Westport Connecticut: Praeger Press, 1992), pp. 143-156. 4. Cited in Julius Azelama, An Introduction to Political Science for Public Administration Students in Nigeria, Second Edition, (Benin City: Ever-Blessed Publishers, 2009), p. 2. 5.“Afterlife” in COBUILD Advanced Dictionary. (February 8, 2017). https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/afterlife. 6. Anthony Echekwube, A Metaphysical Analysis of the Concept of Re-incarnation: Towards Global Harmony and Peace, Ekpoma: (Ambrose Alli University, Publishing House, 2002), p. 6. 7. Laurie Patton, “Defining Hinduism”, (February 8, 2017). http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195399318/obo-9780195399318-0015.xml. 8.“Hinduism."Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014). 9. Ninian Smart, “Hinduism” in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, Philip Quinnand Charles, (eds.)(Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers,1997), p. 7. 10. Joseph Omoregbe, Knowing Philosophy, (Second Edition), (Lagos: Joja Educational Research and Publishers Limted, 2005), p.61. 11. Joseph Gaer. What the Great Religions Believe, (New York, New American Library, Inc., 1963), p. 25. 12. E. O. Oyelade, “Introduction to Asian Religions” in Readings in Religion and Philosophy, E. O. Oyelade, (ed.), (Benin City, Teredia Publications, 2006), pp. 89-98.
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