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Lecture 12

RE313 Lecture 12: Afterlife Beliefs
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10 Pages
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Department
Religion & Culture
Course Code
RE313
Professor
Ann Baranowski

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RE313 Lesson 12: Afterlife Beliefs
Introduction
Almost every religion tells a story of what will happen when we die
o But where do these stories about the afterlife come from and how might they be
explained?
o Are they simply stories we tell ourselves to manage our death anxiety?
o Religious devotees of course would say that their beliefs about the afterlife are based on
accounts found in what they regard as divinely inspired texts, or that they come from
knowledge gained in religious experiences
o Atheists might point to Freud’s view and see them as fulfillments of infantile wishes a
wish that death is not our end, but a new and wonderful beginning
o Alternatively, they might view religious ideas like those about the afterlife as Marx did as
ideas told by the ruling elite to the masses to distract them from their oppression like an
opiate
o In this final lesson, we will look at the work of three researchers interested in accounts of
the afterlife: Sukie Miller, a psychologist and researcher in comparative religion; Stanislav
Grof, a psychiatrist and researcher into non-ordinary states of consciousness; and Gregory
Shushan, a researcher at Oxford University
o Each, in different ways, sees common themes in afterlife beliefs, and proposes their view
of the source of these beliefs
But before we do this and as an introduction to this lesson, let’s familiarize ourselves with some
different ways the afterlife has been imagined in various religions
o To do this, let’s view 15-minute video clip of Steve Paikin’s interview with Dr. Christopher
Ross, a professor in the Religion and Culture Department at WLU (who teaches the in-
class version of this course) on the subject of death and religion
o In this brief interview Dr. Ross discusses different ways the afterlife is imagined
o The subject of the afterlife begins at 2:23 minute and goes until about 8:15
o Feel free to listen to the whole interview, but focus on this section
o Note in particular the three metaphor Dr. Ross uses:
Death as wall;
Death as door;
Death as courtroom
o As you listen, write in your notes examples of each of these three different views of death
and the afterlife
VIEW: Watch “Christopher Ross on Death and Religion” Interviewed by Steve Paikin on The Agenda, April
2, 2010.
Let’s turn now to examine three different views of the origins of these afterlife beliefs.
Sukie Miller: Mapping the Afterdeath Journey
We begin by looking at what psychologist Sukie Miller found in researching what she calls
“afterdeath” systems from around the world
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She noticed that, despite their diversity, most stories of the afterdeath contain four common themes
representing what she sees as a four-stage afterdeath journey: the waiting place, the judgment, the
realm of possibilities, and the return
1. The Waiting Place
In many religious systems, the first stop in the afterdeath journey
is the waiting place
The main purpose of the waiting place is to undergo some sort of
transformation and/or purification needed to make the journey
This usually involves casting off the body and assuming a non-
physical existence
According to the afterdeath stories of the Spiritists of Brazil, for
example, the dead are taken by a spaceship to something like a
hospital where they are purified of their addictions
At this stage, many afterdeath systems say that the dead are still
close to life and may appear in the form of ghosts
Many cultures encourage the living to let go of the dead so that
they may get on with their journey
We saw this in the film on the Tibetan Book of the Dead
2. The Judgment
The next stage Miller sees as part of all afterdeath systems is the
judgment
o After the waiting period, the dead are examined by a
deity or the deity’s representative
o The person’s life is judged and their future destiny is
settled based on the evaluation of their former life
o Miller sees four methods of judgment in the world’s
afterdeath systems
First, the tallying method, found, for example, in some versions of
Christianity, works much like balancing a cheque book
o If after the evaluation one’s life comes out in the black, a
life in heaven is assured
o If, on the other hand, one’s life comes out in the red, one
is sent to hell
Second is the karmic method found, for example, in Buddhism
and Hinduism
o Miller says that if the tallying method is like balancing a
cheque book, the karmic method is more like a
supercomputer, calculating countless particulars of a
person’s life
o Miller was in the city of Varanasi on the banks of the
Ganges and asked a Mahapatra, a Brahmin priest who
specializes in mortuary rituals, to explain karma to her:
“A man died from snakebite,” said the Mahapatra, “and the Snake was
brought to court and asked why it had bit the man. ‘Death told me to do it,’
answered the Snake. So Death was called onto the docket. ‘Why did you
tell the Snake to bite the man?’ ‘Time told me to,’ Death answered. And
Time was called: ‘The man’s Karma signaled me to come,’ answered
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find more resources at oneclass.com
Time. Karma then answered, ‘It was the man’s Soul that came to Death.’
But the Soul inside the man reported that it was the man’s Mind and
Intelligence that had forced the Soul to call. Mind and Intelligence pleaded
that there was something the man had eaten that had led them to speak.
But Food blamed Livelihood if the man had worked at something else,
said Food, he would never have eaten what he had.
“The moral of the story? Ah. The meaning of the tale?” He asked,
grinning. “The moral is that one should not support oneself by
unaccepting earnings that will lead one to eat corrupt food, for corrupted
food corrupts the mind, which in turns upsets the soul, and so on down
the line…” (Miller, 94)
The Mahapatra went on to explain that this was just the short
version of the story!
o In the Karmic method, then, everything is interconnected,
and everything that happens in the previous life will affect
the next
Third, in the evolutionary method, the universe is seen as
evolving and our lives are judged by how well we add to this
evolution
o Theosophy and to some extent the religion of Baha’I are
representative of the evolutionary method
o They both see the individual as collaborating with the
forces of the universe
o And in both systems, there are no outside judges
o Rather, individuals judge themselves
Finally, Tibetan Buddhism is distinctive in what Miller calls its
challenge method
o This method of judgment is a challenge in the sense that
the person confronts in the bardo after death various
events and images and the challenge is to remain
undistracted by them
o We saw this depicted in the film on the Tibetan Book of
the Dead
o Failing the challenge means the person will be born in a
lower realm
o These challenges, however, as we saw, come from our
own mind
o And the real challenge is to recognize this
3. The Realm of
Possibilities
Depending on the judgment delivered on the previous stage, the
dead then move to the realm appropriate to the judgment
o Miller provides examples of these possibilities from a
wide variety of different heavenly and hellish realms
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find more resources at oneclass.com

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Description
RE313 Lesson 12: Afterlife Beliefs Introduction Almost every religion tells a story of what will happen when we die o But where do these stories about the afterlife come from and how might they be explained? o Are they simply stories we tell ourselves to manage our death anxiety? o Religious devotees of course would say that their beliefs about the afterlife are based on accounts found in what they regard as divinely inspired texts, or that they come from knowledge gained in religious experiences o Atheists might point to Freuds view and see them as fulfillments of infantile wishes a wish that death is not our end, but a new and wonderful beginning o Alternatively, they might view religious ideas like those about the afterlife as Marx did as ideas told by the ruling elite to the masses to distract them from their oppression like an opiate o In this final lesson, we will look at the work of three researchers interested in accounts of the afterlife: Sukie Miller, a psychologist and researcher in comparative religion; Stanislav Grof, a psychiatrist and researcher into non-ordinary states of consciousness; and Gregory Shushan, a researcher at Oxford University o Each, in different ways, sees common themes in afterlife beliefs, and proposes their view of the source of these beliefs But before we do this and as an introduction to this lesson, lets familiarize ourselves with some different ways the afterlife has been imagined in various religions o To do this, lets view 15-minute video clip of Steve Paikins interview with Dr. Christopher Ross, a professor in the Religion and Culture Department at WLU (who teaches the in- class version of this course) on the subject of death and religion o In this brief interview Dr. Ross discusses different ways the afterlife is imagined o The subject of the afterlife begins at 2:23 minute and goes until about 8:15 o Feel free to listen to the whole interview, but focus on this section o Note in particular the three metaphor Dr. Ross uses: Death as wall; Death as door; Death as courtroom o As you listen, write in your notes examples of each of these three different views of death and the afterlife VIEW: Watch Christopher Ross on Death and Religion Interviewed by Steve Paikin on The Agenda, April 2, 2010. Lets turn now to examine three different views of the origins of these afterlife beliefs. Sukie Miller: Mapping the Afterdeath Journey We begin by looking at what psychologist Sukie Miller found in researching what she calls afterdeath systems from around the world She noticed that, despite their diversity, most stories of the afterdeath contain four common themes representing what she sees as a four-stage afterdeath journey: the waiting place, the judgment, the realm of possibilities, and the return 1. The Waiting Place In many religious systems, the first stop in the afterdeath journey is the waiting place The main purpose of the waiting place is to undergo some sort of transformation and/or purification needed to make the journey This usually involves casting off the body and assuming a non- physical existence According to the afterdeath stories of the Spiritists of Brazil, for example, the dead are taken by a spaceship to something like a hospital where they are purified of their addictions At this stage, many afterdeath systems say that the dead are still close to life and may appear in the form of ghosts Many cultures encourage the living to let go of the dead so that they may get on with their journey We saw this in the film on the Tibetan Book of the Dead 2. The Judgment The next stage Miller sees as part of all afterdeath systems is the judgment o After the waiting period, the dead are examined by a deity or the deitys representative o The persons life is judged and their future destiny is settled based on the evaluation of their former life o Miller sees four methods of judgment in the worlds afterdeath systems First, the tallying method, found, for example, in some versions of Christianity, works much like balancing a cheque book o If after the evaluation ones life comes out in the black, a life in heaven is assured o If, on the other hand, ones life comes out in the red, one is sent to hell Second is the karmic method found, for example, in Buddhism and Hinduism o Miller says that if the tallying method is like balancing a cheque book, the karmic method is more like a supercomputer, calculating countless particulars of a persons life o Miller was in the city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges and asked a Mahapatra, a Brahmin priest who specializes in mortuary rituals, to explain karma to her: A man died from snakebite, said the Mahapatra, and the Snake was brought to court and asked why it had bit the man. Death told me to do it, answered the Snake. So Death was called onto the docket. Why did you tell the Snake to bite the man? Time told me to, Death answered. And Time was called: The mans Karma signaled me to come, answeredTime. Karma then answered, It was the mans Soul that came to Death. But the Soul inside the man reported that it was the mans Mind and Intelligence that had forced the Soul to call. Mind and Intelligence pleaded that there was something the man had eaten that had led them to speak. But Food blamed Livelihood if the man had worked at something else, said Food, he would never have eaten what he had. The moral of the story? Ah. The meaning of the tale? He asked, grinning. The moral is that one should not support oneself by unaccepting earnings that will lead one to eat corrupt food, for corrupted food corrupts the mind, which in turns upsets the soul, and so on down the line (Miller, 94) The Mahapatra went on to explain that this was just the short version of the story! o In the Karmic method, then, everything is interconnected, and everything that happens in the previous life will affect the next Third, in the evolutionary method, the universe is seen as evolving and our lives are judged by how well we add to this evolution o Theosophy and to some extent the religion of BahaI are representative
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