The concept of life after death has been around practically as long as life itself. Our beliefs about life after death can have a profound effect on our attitudes toward life. Most individual's beliefs about life after death are directly related to their cultural or religious affiliations. According to Montagu, "Of all the many forms which natural religion has assumed none probably has exerted so deep and far reaching an influence on human life as the belief in immortality" (1955, p.15).
Archeologists have discovered what is believed to be evidence of Neanderthal man's belief in life after death. They found the remains of several Neanderthals buried with such items as flowers. It is hypothesized that they buried their dead to put the immortal spirit at rest. Scholars have concluded this after viewing some of the earliest writings on the subject of immortality. These writings include the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh which was written over four thousand years ago. One particular passage describes the spirits at rest due to an appropriate burial while other references are made about the horrible fate of those who were unfortunate enough not to receive an appropriate burial.
Although Neanderthal man left no written records to help us understand their immortality beliefs, the ancient Greeks recorded volumes on the topic. The Greeks believed that a God named Hades ruled a place they called the Underworld. The Underworld would bring pleasure to the deserving and offered punishment for the undeserving. The good individuals would go to a sunny green field of paradise called Elysian Fields. The rest would be tortured or live on as mere shadows of their previous existence in the Underworld.
Hinduism is a religion without a known beginning which takes on many diverse forms. However, some common elements exist among its many forms. Reincarnation is the Hindu belief that after dying the spirit returns in another life form. A deceased loved one's spirit may now inhabit any type of animal and possibly even another human being. The human spirit is on a quest for perfection and continues to go through this cycle of rebirth until perfection is reached. Therefore, the goal is to reach spiritual perfection which will end the vicious cycle of birth and rebirth. The Hindu religion believes in accountability for every action and thought. Karma is a term used to explain that hardships and inequalities exist due to bad deeds undertaken in previous lives. Hindus believe the physical world is just an illusion and conceals the divine truth, often referred to as Brahman, from all but the wisest of followers. In summary, the Hindu belief views the physical body as merely a vehicle the soul or atman travels in, which has no ending or beginning.
Buddhism is a religion that draws on several of the themes within Hinduism. Like Hindus, Buddhists believe that the spirit is trapped in the physical body which cycles through birth, death and rebirth under the concept of karma until spiritual enlightenment has bee reached. Buddhist believes that ignorance is the roadblock to ultimate salvation. The doctrine of Buddhism states that life is suffering and human existence is inherently painful. This suffering and pain is due to the cravings of our own selfishness. When a Buddhist can remove themselves from this selfishness then the state of Nirvana is entered and the pain will cease. Nirvana can be described as the experience of having reached ultimate reality.
Australian Aborigines have strong immortality beliefs. Upon death the spirit would be released and reunited with the spirits of dead ancestors. Some of the tribes believe that the spirit continues to remain in the place where the individual has died. Other tribes believe that the spirit is carried over the ocean to a mystical land of the dead. Judaism's immortality beliefs include the idea that an individual's thoughts and deeds...