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What Happens When We Die? 

There are 3 things that are guaranteed in life: birth, change, and death. We are often enthusiastic to talk about the start of life, but conversations about death are perhaps less than comfortable. Most of us will push this topic away until we are forced to face it head on, usually when we lose a loved one for the first time. If you have not experienced the death of a loved one, it is likely that you will at some point in your life. The experience is a rollercoaster of sadness, pain, and relief.  Having recently lost a loved one myself, I have been healing myself and during this process, I wondered what happens after we die?

Van Pham

Van Pham

According to a 2017 Pew report, which asked about religious and spiritual identification, 54% of Americans consider themselves religious; 75% consider themselves spiritual. In combination, 27% are spiritual but not religious, and another 18% are neither spiritual nor religious. When we are faced with death, religion gives us hope and helps us formulate an answer to the uncomfortable question: what happens after we die?

Buddhism is the religion with which I am most familiar. In Buddhism there is a belief of reincarnation, which is the cycle of death and rebirth. The life that one is reincarnated to is dependent on how life was conducted in previous lives. According to Buddhist studies, there are six realms where one can be sent and none of which are permanent: Paradise realm (represents heaven), Hell realm (represents suffering), Animal realm, Hungry ghost realm (constant dissatisfaction), and Asura realm (constant fighting). These reincarnation cycles are considered a suffering experience and the ultimate goal is to escape this cycle by reaching Nirvana.

Similar to Buddhism, it is believed that reincarnation also happens in Hinduism. After one dies, the soul receives a new body depending on the Karma and actions taken in one’s previous life.

In Judaism, afterlife beliefs are famously ambiguous and vary greatly among individuals. Most Jews believe in an afterlife, but it can come in many different forms. There is no concept of Hell in Judaism and Heaven is seen as an open community. Some Jews believe in a reincarnation cycle, while others believe in the “World to Come”- a paradise.

In Islam culture, Muslims believe that death is the end of one’s physical life on Earth. Death is seen as the separation of the soul from the body. The soul goes to the Angel of Death to wait for Judgment Day. On Judgment Day, one’s actions during his/her time on Earth will be judged to determine where they go – this is known as resurrection of the body.

In the world’s most practiced religion, Christianity, the afterlife depends on what denomination a person is a part of. The majority of Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the existence of the afterlife. Christians believe that the moral choices made on Earth determine whether one goes to Heaven or Hell.

These are just some of the most practiced religions I researched and this is not a complete list by any means.  So what do all of these religions have in common? Most religions believe that the afterlife is where you will reap the rewards or are punished based on your deeds while alive. Although there are many different nuances and “rules”, there are just as many core values in each religion. In the end, what you believe may be aligned with a specific religion or maybe it is a mesh of different religions.

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