The general teaching is that after death the spirit that was embodied, may move "upwards" from here, remain on about the same level as this realm, or move "downwards", all according to karma that has been amassed though lifetimes.
Some who have done much evil, may move upwards, while some who have done much good, may go downwards (!), depending on a totality of karma distribution, says Buddha. However, man should make lots of good karma to improve his future lives, is his counsel.
If you want to know what really happens, there are methods to learn to find out of it, but the results may not be forthcoming today - Buddhism teaches how to see these things for yourself, but it may take time, even more time than you can afford in this life. Be prepared for that. Also, if you do find out for yourself, you may find it difficult to produce good, objective evidence of your findings. Be prepared for that too. To illustrate the problems of a field: Dr. Ian P. Stevenson researched reincarnation for decades, without having more than suggestive evidence to show for it. [Link]
If you want to ascertain what various scriptures tell about the afterlife, beyond, and underworld, there is a mass of literature, extremely little solid evidence, if any, and many conflicting viewpoints. And that is the lay of the land in a nutshell.
In Buddhism we are taught facets of how to live in this life so as to move ahead and upwards.
If there were no afterlife, there may be no regrets at death's door for a life wisely lived, for then there would be OK fulfilment of oneself and one's gifts while alive too. And if death means annihilation, there are no regrets for living OK either!
If there is an afterlife, as Hinduism, Buddhism and other major religions teach, although with variances, and if the fruits of what we have done in this life mingle with fruits of previous lives, we should at least have done our souls a good turn - and may sooner or later reap rewards for that.
Another great question is whether we have done our souls the best possible turn so that the good things we have accomplish did not overshadow and steal valuable time from much better things we otherwise could have lived - for example adhering to the best advice of Buddha, tralong the Eightfold Path, meditating by a good method, getting skilled, developing ourselves, taking Guru Dev's poignant and relevant counsel to our heart too, and learn how to meditate swiftly and deeply. The much studied method called TM stems from Guru Dev, we are told. In conclusion, there are ways of living that obviously are better than others.
You may have noted that some persons of ill fame may be all right, and some of great fame may be not. The psychologist Abraham Maslow studied outstanding persons - presumably good ones - to learn how they were, and how they lived. Mahatma Gandhi was one such outstanding person, Maslow found. If we extract the common features of great, accomplished folks, maybe we learn better ways of behaving than mere conform and guarded ways, for outstanding people did not conform all along, he found.
Another thing is to make sure you can afford to stand out - for hardboiled ones among the conform ones could tear you down for it. So guarding oneself much goes a long way. It is a side to self-preservation, and may be seen as linked to self-defence on higher or social levels too.
May this serve as a hint that some "best ways" of living may or may not be under the cover of all conform ways, and that "the best of Maslow" offers tips on doing better than quite blind-conform guys who did not venture to go for their great, inner promptings to get fulfilled lives. [Pusb; Zun; Rvl]
Higher than appearing worldly great is to be and realise oneself in wise ways too. Maslow calls it self-actualisation, and sometimes self-realisaton. You tend to build your esteem by common ways first, later tinged by individual flair, if any. It may bea stepwise "both-and", and the outcomes may be happy, if accepted, or otherwise. Add "more or less" to that, and drink little beer, if any.
One has to be genuine to be oneself. Faking all along won't do for self-actualising oneself. Guess that most materialist go for Mammon. They dance around that golden calf, assessing that "money gives respect along the road", for "there is nothing that money can't buy". Faking, including lip service, doesn't bring personal development and fulfilment. Money can't give you genuine development above the second lowest level of Maslow' pyramid.
Money or funds can let you into welcoming arms (3rd level) though. If genuine respect and self-respect are into that - fine!
A wider perspective is needed. "Money is a good servant but a bad master," says an American proverb. The great idea is to put wealth - there are many sorts - fairly and unfairly gained - in a wider scenario, so that it serves you in the good ways. There are four general life goals that Hindus agree on, and wealth (artha) is one of them. A very fulfilling sex life is part of another (kama). If classy enough righteous deals are not violated along the road, the material wealth and family wealth of warm hugs and welcoming arms (friends, mates, and so on) may be kept. And so on.
If dharma (a careful, righteous fare) falls, the others dwindle. It could take some time for all to happen, but it will happen - unless retributions fail and are off-set. In the meantime, feel free to do as much good as you can to gain good karma to combat the bad karma - it should be good. Let us hope that the efforts are good enough and very well directed. Translated: "Sins - and the secret sins behind incompatibility - may bring about a stilted home life or divorce". But the good things you do - including learning from your hard-won hard knocks - bring about a remarriage of two fit for each other and developing well too, after all - or why not something better?
The four worthy life goals in Hinduism are wealth, pleasure, righteousness and freedom. If the future lives look dim and dark due to exasperating sinning, what can you do? You have a chance to get free from all cycles of births and deaths evenbefore degradadions and alarming conditions reach you as retributions, as perhaps partial or overwhelming balancing-out, as the fruits of so-called bad seeds, bad karma, take time to find ideal conditions for sprouting. Hence, we can flee from heaps of bad karma by going for freedom in Atmajnana - knowing the Source, the Self.
It may be harder to realise that treading the same route for the sake of escaping good future karma is talked very well of too. However, if "good" hinders the attainments of "better than good", that traditional view is fair enough. So for whatever reason you have come here in this body, there is a good way pointed out regardless of personal reasons too. The solution is that of getting free as soon as possible, or without delay, becoming liberated - and if you don't succeed completely and get Self-realised in one life, your efforts are hardly wasted, granted that you get good and fair chances to go Home in time anyway, before long series of bad karma sprout and give you fallen, deranged lives - That seems to be a balanced take-off in perfect harmony with main passages in the Bhagavad Gita as translated by Sivananda. God Krishna:
Listen to wisdom concerning Yoga, endowed with which, Arjuna, you shall cast off the bonds of action! In this there is no loss of effort, nor is there any harm (the production of contrary results or transgression). Even a little of this knowledge (even a little practice of this Yoga) protects one from great fear. (2:39-40)
The wise . . . freed from the fetters of birth, go to the place which is beyond all evil. (2:51)
The Blessed Lord said:
He who fell from Yoga is reborn in the house of the pure and wealthy. Or he is born in a family of even the wise yogis; verily a birth like this is very difficult to obtain in this world. There he comes in touch with the knowledge acquired in his former body and strives more than before for perfection . . . The yogi who strives with assiduity, purified of sins and perfected gradually through many births, reaches the highest goal . . . therefore, be a yogi - 6: 41-46)
"Seeing is believing". Buddha asks just for a provisional faith to study, sort out and practice his key teachings and experience for oneself. That is what matters.
Existential Summary for now
Riding in bodies from one life to another, doing what is goof for yourself and the others, you might get it a lot better if you can keep a human body along that road.
Be careful; well guarded, get accomplished, and much may get better along the road. Make good use of your opportunites and study the words of those who have gained a lot also.
You may eventually find your fare was counteracted by things that were called great, and confronted with these too:
There are "a hundred and one" other fit points for the art of accomplished living in Buddha's great words. There is, for example a collection of good Gautama advice here: [Buddha words]
If we don't know the fine art of living; don't know the dear lessons of the accomplished ones; and don't have the benefit of a good, open enough society, good friends, and good conformity, we may even wilfully fill our time with inferior things, things that hardly suit the progressive development of human libido as Eric H. Erikson finds it goes, we may be as good as dead while still moving about.
Some who sin and don't adhere to their first duties, may eventually redress that, but such balancing may be a costy road, and what is more, one be in degrading circumstances, diseases and more as time goes by, so it should pay to play safe and be nice to fellows and animals, and so on.
Who can tell what the afterlife may bring, and what sort of living conditions that follow it. Buddha says it depens on a mass of karmic influences in networks from several former lives.So the results of one transmigrating life may or may not start flourishing in the next. It could take three or more lives for that to happen, for example. It depends on what karma is dispensed, and when, and how fit you get also. Getting accomplished in managing stress, even killer stress, is one rewarding way. And sometimes great sinners just wake up, or take to what liberates them.
From this: take up deep, sensible meditation, guard yourself from repercussions of bad karma, bad upbringing, lots of diseases, and you may be better off - eventually. It could happen, as if by chance or a stroke of good luck.
Good luck with accomplishing what these great boons tell of. And here is another scenario for others:
We are told about the underworld, which is not a permanent or physical place of torment, but rather a state of mind and a corresponding realm in the beyond, shared by similar penitents. Buddhist and Hindu teachings tell of several levels of "hell" thus. In some scriptures the descriptions of them serve to cement a faith in doing as told by the clergy.
The weighing of the heart (soul) of the departed in much older Egyptian mythology (in The Book of the Dead) can lead to annihilation. Jesus too teaches that: "Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [Matthew 10:28]".
The spirit (soul) that goes to various realms, transmigrates, is immortal, say some, including the well-known yogi Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952). He also claims to be in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. A giant misunderstanding!
Be that as it may, the Judeo-Christian origin of the concept Hell is "Gehenna". Judaism does not have a specific doctrine about the afterlife, but a tradition of describing Gehenna. Gehenna is a sort of Purgatory where one is judged based on his or her life's deeds, or rather, where one becomes better aware of one's own shortcomings and negative actions during one's life. Rabbinic thought usually maintains that people are not in Gehenna forever.
A story of Moses
There is a memorable bible scene where some of those who followed Moses, became insolent and rose up against him. With them were 250 more Israelite men.
Moses said: "In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy." They were to be tested by taking with them censers to the entrance to Tent of Meeting. They did, and then the glory of the Lord appeared to the entire assembly, and the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once."
All the others moved away from the tents of those who opposed Moses and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents. Then Moses said, "If these men die a natural death, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt."
As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. Fire came out from the Lord and consumed 250 more men. [Num 16:1-35, passim]
For all that, in Jewish teachings, hell is not entirely physical; but like an intense feeling of shame. And being out of alignment with God's will is itself a punishment. Yet there are different opinions in the matter among the various fractions of Judaism.
In Christianity, belief in hell and afterlife derives from the teaching of the New Testament, where hell is typically described by the Greek words Tartarus or Hades or the Hebrew word Gehenna, which is translated into "Hell". Hell is taught as the final destiny of those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their saviour. Yet many theologians of the early Church and some of the modern Church subscribe to the minority doctrines of conditional immortality, annihilationism. That doctrine holds that sinners are destroyed rather than tormented forever in "hell" or the lake of fire. It is directly related to the idea that a human soul is not immortal unless it is given eternal life.
In many religious traditions, the underworld is a place of suffering. Punishment in the underworld typically corresponds to sins committed in life. In Christianity and Islam, Hell is traditionally depicted as fiery and painful. But in some other traditions Hell is portrayed as cold and gloomy.
The word "Hell" in Norse mythology, is a realm where the goddess Hel is said to preside over this "Home of Hel", where she receives some of the dead. John Lindow points out that by "Hel" we are dealing with a realm or "place" - not a happy place - rather than a person.
The classic Hades is more like the Old Testament Sheol (variously translated as grave, pit, death, earlier also as hell). And in classic Greek mythology, below Heaven, Earth, and Pontus is a "deep place".
The Bahai faith regards the conventional description of Hell (and heaven) as a specific place as symbolic. Hell is a "spiritual condition" where remoteness from God is defined as Hell, and heaven is seen as a state of closeness to God.
Buddhism teaches that there are five (also six) realms of rebirth, which can then be further subdivided by degrees of agony or pleasure. Like all realms of rebirth, rebirth in Hell realms is not permanent. In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha emphasising the temporary nature of the Hell realms.
In Hinduism, there are different opinions from various schools of thought on Hell, Naraka. For some it is metaphorical, or a lower spiritual plane or realm (called Naraka loka) where the spirit is judged. Hells are described in various Puranas (books) and other scriptures. It is believed that people who commit sins go to Hell and have to go through punishments. Individuals who finish their quota of the punishments are reborn in accordance with their balance of karma, but if one has led a pious life, one ascends to paradise, heaven, swarga, after a period of expiation in Hell.
Most Chinese legends agree that once a soul (usually referred to as a 'ghost') has atoned for their deeds and repented, he or she is given the Drink of Forgetfulness by Meng Po and sent back into the world to be reborn.
In contrast to the underworld, paradises of various levels (the seventh heaven and so on) are happy afterlife realms.
There are pages on this site on what conduct helps nobility of heart and helps us upward all in all, much as taught by Buddha and fit gurus too. Behaviour that gets you into the netherworld, may be opposed to that - and behaviour that makes us think you come from such places (levels), may be exactly the same: Vileness of heart, stealing, murdering innocents, and breaking other parts of the Buddhist moral code for lay persons.
Interestingly, great clumsiness and lack of tact may take us downward too, eventually, as Buddhism suggests. Being OK skilful is praised as real help on and up in this one life. And merely whining in the face of problems may not help you above them.
From ancient times it has been stated that fools are not good company. Biblical fools are depraved persons, or morally deficient ones. Buddha too cautions against the company of fools. One may say great fools lack the clear light of intelligence and bright conscience. Another Biblical way of referring to persons a long way from the clear light, or God, is to say that they live in darkness. One may say their lives are darkened. Accordingly, brothers of darkness, banding together, are lacking in great sagacity - lacking in inner light. It may show up in lack of proficiency in the long art of living.
Buddha further discerns between four types of persons, and only one of them is fit for progress upwards towards Nirvana: It is he (or she) who does not inflict harm and torture on himself and others. The three other types inflict harm and worsen the fare of themselves, themselves and others, or others. [Link]
A scapegoating religion - Christianity is one - depends on vicarious sacrifice, which is inflicting harm on one or more innocent victims. In Judaism it used to be animals. In Christianity it is believed to be Jesus. To think it is great, just and good to be based on harm of one or more innocent, does not bode well. It speaks of a defective moral, or lack of higher moral.
There are many sides to it. Good moral may help you against going downward, and further, explicit teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism may get you upwards, independently of Jesus. That may be the best thing for you to do, since he told he was only for "sick sheep", and that healthy persons do not need him. "Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." "For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." [Matthew 9:12-13; cf. Luke 5:31-32 and Mark 2:17]
The sheep is a flock animal that is herded in the biblical metaphor. Jesus uses it too. [John 10:27; 21:16, etc.] And "How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!" [Matthew 12:12]. The fate of many a sheep is to be made use of too.
Accordingly it is better to aim for health and being a full-fledged human than being a sick sheep, a morally deficient conformist, following Jesus or whatever. It is in the gospels that you find those teachings among words of Jesus. I refer to them.
As for conformism, there is basically good conformism, which preserves good contact and an upright life and love, and many sorts of bad conformism. Some of them hinder moral and mental growth.
Brothers of darkness and foolishness may band together and form menial groups here in this life too. One may suspect that the strategies of brothers of darkness include plots - they may be described as plots to get you into the underworld, and plots that look like the deeds of "underworldlings". To fool innocents by great-looking, endearing words and lead them astray into less freedom, into great and unquestioning servility, is not a mark of being the right kind of guru and boss. But it looks like using bait for fishing and trapping the souls of others.
You may have to learn to discern and judge by yourself, for example, "Does this group or guru take freedom away? Do they teach foolish, unwholesome practices? May I leave that group and guru in peace?" These and similar questions are better answered before committing a lot, and for your own future good. Isn't that so?
Yogananda reiterates the concepts of hell in the Bhagavad Gita, and interprets words of Jesus on hell as metaphoric in such ways that they suit the Hindu swami's design. Example:
""Jesus said: "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."
The following uncommented quotation glimpses add to this. Unless otherwise explained, they are all put in the mouth of Yogananda by his fellowship.
"To work without the inner peace of God is Hades." [Yi vii, 13] "To exist without peace of mind in this world is to dwell in a kind of Hades." [Pea 14]
"To work without the peace of God is hades . . . To be constantly worried even in pleasant surroundings is to live in hades." [Ak 304]
"Within us is the essence of hades and heaven. We should learn to express more of the heavenly qualities." [Ak 322-23]
"Hellfire is an imaginary creation of man's vengefulness." [Dr 376]
"What will be the reward or punishment of a man who has been partly good and partly bad in this life, so that they are equal? Will he go to Heaven or to Hell?" - Yogananda, East-West, March-April, 1926 Vol. 1-3,"Reincarnation".
"Better live in Hades with one harsh speaking wise man than live in Heaven with ten sweet-mouthed poisonous beings. Poisonous so-called friends would make Hades of Heaven and justly-speaking wise friends would make Heaven of Hades." - Yogananda, in East-West, May, 1932 Vol. 4-7, "The Second Coming of Christ".
"The doctrine of the Bhagavad Gita stands as the only doctrine suited to our modern busy life of many worries. To work without the peace of God is Hades . . . To be constantly worried in a large estate is to live in Hades." - Yogananda, in East-West, May, 1932 Vol. 4—7, "The Second Coming of Christ".
"Being essentially an image of God, man can never be eternally drowned in the hades of evil." - Yogananda, East-West, August, 1932 Vol. 4-10, "Second Coming of Christ".
"There are many planes or spheres in the astral world, constituting the heaven or hell of life after death. "In my Father's house are many mansions" (John 14:2). A person's good behavior while on earth draws him to one of the higher spheres of light, peace, and joy. Evil deeds attract one to a lower, dark sphere where his experiences may be akin to hellish nightmares. One remains in the astral world for a karmically predetermined time, and then again takes rebirth on earth in physical form. [SRF's public stand, Ak 272n]
"The divisive nature of jealousy transforms a heaven of harmony into a hades of discord. One jealous person can generate so much trouble!" [Jse 161]
"If there is a hades or purgatory it is those nine months in the mother's body . . . . I have transported my consciousness into these prenatal states and I know what I am saying." [Ak 64.
Yogananda's main views come to the fore at different places in the Yogananda books below.
Ak: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Man's Eternal Quest. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1982.
Bay: Erikson, Erik. Childhood and Society. Rev. ed. London: Vintage, 1995.
Bd: Budge, Ernest Alfred Wallis. The Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani. London: British Museum, 1895.
Dr: Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Divine Romance. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1993.
Fr: Maslow, Abraham. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
Gt: Yogananda, Paramahansa. God's Talk with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, 2 Vols. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1999.
Jse: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Journey to Self-realization: Discovering the Gift of the Soul. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2000.
Mma: Maslow, Abraham H., with Deborah C. Stephens and Gary Heil. Maslow on Management. New York: John Wiley, 1998.
Pea: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Inner Peace: How to Be Calmly Active and Actively Calm. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1999.
Pusb: Maslow, Abraham. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. New York, HarperCollins, 1987.
Rvl: Maslow, Abraham. Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences. Columbus: Ohio State University, 1964.
Ssp: Maslow, Abraham. "Self-Actualizing people. A study of psychological health" (Grune and Stratton, 1950). Article extracts in Tollak B. Sirnes. - at vi skal elske hverandre. Oslo: Gyldendal, 1968.
Sy: Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You. 2 Vols. 1st ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2004.
Tlc: Erikson, Erik. The Life Cycle Completed. Extended version with new chapters by Joan Erikson. New York: Norton, 1997.
Yi: Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India's Universal Science of God-realization. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2007.
Zun: Maslow, Abraham. Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968.
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