Around the world, various cultures and religions recognize that life ends with death, however, after death life still exists. What a paradox! Myths, legends and religious texts offer various perspectives on afterlife, sometimes the description on one overlaps another. Myths and legends develop over thousands of years, they spread from one person to another mostly through oral traditions. It is difficult to pinpoint and mention the exact time or year myths were created. However one thing we do know, is the huge role myths play in giving foundation to the beliefs of many cultures. “Many of them were designed to explain us as we wish to see ourselves.” Myths can be true, but at the same time it might be false as well!
Take a look at what 3 different cultures have to say about afterlife.
Firstly, the Chinese who have 3 main branches of beliefs about the afterlife. They include Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. The ancient Chinese people often learnt of afterlife through their family and neighbours.
Buddhists aim to cultivate themselves to live an ideal life, in order to attain some kind of afterlife salvation, such as immortality, enlightenment, or birth in a heavenly realm. They believe that when they pass on, they would enter into an ancestral realm that in key ways mirrors this world. To them death is just one facet of the cycle of rebirth.
The Taoists on the other hand believe that one's spirit is taken by messengers to the god of walls and moats, where Ch'eng Huang,conducts a kind of preliminary hearing to judge where a certain soul would end up. Those found virtuous may go directly to one of the Buddhist paradises, the dwelling place of the Taoist immortals, or the tenth court of hell for immediate rebirth. Those deemed as sinners, on the 49th day, descend to hell, located at the base of Mount Meru and undergo a fixed period of punishment in one or more levels of hell.
Confucianism places great emphasis on filial piety and this extends after death. What happens to human beings after they die is less important to Confucian thinkers than how the living fulfill their obligations to the dead. This explains why there is not much information on the Confucian idea of afterlife.
What do the African’s think? Most of you know that Africa is a huge continent, it covers about 30.2 million km2, and there are more than 1.1 billion people living in there (as of 2013).
Due to the country’s vast history from early civilizations to slave trade to post colonialism , Africa has become a host of a large diversity of ethnicity, cultures and languages. Despite that, most traditional beliefs have not disappeared but rather have blended with other religions and cultures.
Belief in eschatology in Africa is widespread too, description of afterlife generally includes clear indications that the transition from life to afterlife is through travelling, specifically by land. It is believed that after death one has to cross a river in order to enter the land of the departed and join the society of ancestors.
In the Luo culture, we become spirits after death. It is believed that we humans are made up of visible (the body) and invisible parts (tipo) (Iteyo, 2009). The union of this two parts forms human life. Upon death the visible perishes , but tipo becomes the spirit. According to Ocholla-Ayayo (1989), the spirits of the dead replicate the political order of society to the extent that they retain their social status and even remain in their own clans.
The significance of joining the ancestors after death is to simply watch over the affairs of the society, by helping the good people and punishing the delinquent. Hence, customs and rituals are very important to the Africans, if you do not comply with them, while living you will be haunted by the dead. It is also believed that after death, the spirit becomes even more intelligent and powerful. The spirit becomes jachien (demon) when the circumstances surrounding one's death were either not honorable or questionable, for example if it was through suicide.
Moving on to the Egyptian beliefs, Ka was described as the life force within a person that would leave the body upon death. It is believed that Ka would require sustenance (food and drinks) to endure the process. Each person was also believed to have Ba (Ba is the unique spiritual characteristics of each individual).
Hence, Egyptian funeral rites were conducted with great attention to detail to preserve the body to allow Ba to be released. If funeral rituals were not done correctly, the Ka and Ba could not join together to form Akh. Akh is considered to be an intellectual living entity that is linked to the thoughts of the mind (not actions) and is viewed as a ghost that roams the bodies of the deceased.
Once the dead's’ journey through the underworld is completed, they will then reach the Hall of Final Judgment. They would then undergo a two part judgement process to determine if they are worthy of attaining the afterlife. Firstly, they would come under ‘42 divine judges’ to be judged upon the way they lived their lives.
Then their heart would be weighed against a feather by goddess Ma’at to prove if they led a proper life. If it was determined that the heart was heavier than the feather, the heart would be fed to Ammut and the soul will be casted away into darkness. If the heart and the feather were equally balanced on the scale, the candidate has passed and Osiris will welcome them to the afterlife.
Across the 3 different cultures, the notion of afterlife has both similarities and differences. Where you end up after death, is very much linked to what you do when you are alive. Upon reading these perspectives, where do you think you will end up after death?
Honestly, you will only know when you die.