Hinduism is a vast and widespread, ancient, complex and polytheistic religion practiced in various forms throughout India and other Asian countries.  Because beliefs about God, the cosmos and the path to salvation vary widely among Hindus, it’s perhaps the most tolerant toward other faiths.  Some things that all Hindus abide by are the authority of the Vedas (India’s oldest sacred scriptures), the wisdom of the Brahmins or priests, the law of karma, and the process of reincarnation.

Hindus believe that every person has an immortal soul that passes from life to life as part of an ongoing cycle (samsara).  Our souls are part of limited beings called jiva, stuck in a pattern of attachment and illusion.  The soul that isn’t yet liberated is subject to the illusion of reality, whether it’s embodied and alive, or dead. Upon dying, the jiva goes through a period of cessation of activity, a resting period where the soul gathers up its resources and energy before starting out anew.

Through karma, the soul continually learns how to seek moksha, or release.  It is reincarnated and rebirthed each time it dies.  Eventually the soul begins to realize the path to liberation, which is freedom from illusion, where all things are seen as one with God.  This state is known as brahma.

In Hinduism, there are four purposes to life: dharma — fulfilling your purpose; moksha – release from the life-death cycle; artha – increasing wealth and abundance; and, kama – physical pleasure and enjoyment.  The fate of an individual upon death depends on these facets, as well as several other pillars – his previous deeds, his state of mind, the time of his death, the activities of his children, and the grace of God.

The Hindu after-world contains many heavens and hells and layers in between, along with a plethora of gods and goddesses manifesting the different forces acting upon the earth.  They are viewed by Hindus as manifestations of the oneness of the universe.

Ultimately in the Hindu faith, there’s no ultimate punishment or reward, but rather a cycle of spiritual reminders encouraging the jiva to remember its divine purpose.  Sometimes human life is even depicted as being a bit of a joke for the entertainment of gods and goddesses.

The soul does not go through a pre-ordained set of states before returning to the earth in bodily form.  Rather, it can pass through many planes of heaven or hell, undergoing transformation and dreamlike experiences that result in lessons being carried into the next life.

Ghosts and spirits are a real facet of Hinduism.  They’re unfortunate souls who have, for some reason, gotten stuck somewhere between earth and the realm of the afterlife.  Good ones hover around family celebrations and religious sites, while bad ones loiter in desolate places causing trouble if they can.

Hindu funeral rites involve cremation of the body.  It is believed that cremation allows the elements of the human body to return to their rightful places, while the soul continues journeying into the afterlife.  To help the soul on its way, offerings are made for 10 days after the cremation, each day symbolizing one of the 10 months that a fetus spends in the womb.  Then the astral body of the deceased is ready to enter the levels of the world beyond.

Are you a follower of Hinduism? What do you believe happens in the afterlife?