Compare the Buddhist understandings of life after death with on other view

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Compare the Buddhist understandings of life after death with on other view

We are all aware that, at least in a physical sense, we will one day inevitably cease to exist, yet this universally known fact has produced many different conclusions about what may happen after and Buddhist thought differs extremely from that of Christianity. The issue is inexorably linked to eastern and western views of causation and what constitutes personal identity as these play a major role in influencing beliefs about the afterlife. Indeed to even talk of ‘life after death’ seems linguistically problematic; we are trying to approach two contradictory phrases ‘life’ and ‘death’ and to reconcile them. The way in which to do this largely depends on whether one’s personal view is that of a cyclical universe or a linear one, for example it may seem easier from a Buddhist viewpoint to literally talk of ‘life after death’ as the belief in rebirth means that to a Buddhist there is literally a life, another living existence, after one’s earthly body has died. From a Christian perspective however the phrase has an entirely different meaning, through resurrection and the intervention of God one continues to the afterlife although in a very different way than reincarnation.

The most obvious point that should be made in reference to Buddhist understanding of life after death are the doctrines of karma, anatta, nirvana and rebirth. When your body reaches the end of its natural cycle you die in a physical sense, from a Theravadin perspective if you have reached enlightenment, ‘nirvana’ during that lifetime then you are released from Samsara. Nirvana is not a place as in Christian thinking of heaven; if attained whilst living it is more a state of mind, it means literally to be ‘extinguished’ and is largely indescribable in modern parlance. Those who have attained nirvana fully understand the way things really are (yartabutudarshana) and upon their physical deaths are released from Samsara. However those who have not reached enlightenment have produced karma throughout their lives, and the results of their karma, or actions, must come to fruition, vipaka and so they continue to be trapped in Samsara and are reborn. This is also true for Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana school; although they have reached nirvana they remain in Samsara in order to help more sentient beings, for example Amitabha in the Pure Land. It must be stressed however that rebirth is not transmigration of any eternal soul, for example in Hinduism, as the doctrine of anatta states that there is no self. Rather through dependent origination, a series of unconnected successive dharmas, rebirth happens. Although somebody is not reborn as the same person they have a moral responsibility to act in a positive way so as not to produce negative karma and dukkha for other sentient beings in other life times.

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From a Christian perspective however the afterlife is personal, Biblical teachings and the belief in an eternal soul means that the majority of Christians believe in Heaven and Hell of some sort. In a basic sense righteous souls who have accepted Jesus and followed God will go to heaven after they die, and those are sinners and denied God go to Hell. However there are vast varying beliefs in how this will happen and what the nature of Heaven and Hell are. Many Catholics also believe in the existence of purgatory, a place where the soul is cleansed of ...

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