Chapter 6: Life Beyond Death And The Spiritual World
1. The Spiritual World: Mystery, Multiplicity, Analogy, Harmony
No treatment of Ultimate Reality and the purposes of human life would be complete without a discussion of death and the individual's destiny after death. All religions affirm that there is an aspect of the human person that lives on after the physical life has ended. The immortality of the spirit or soul or psychophysical individual (Buddhism does not admit an eternal metaphysical Soul) is the subject of many passages of scripture. Its destiny after the death of the body is to go to into another existence--perhaps in heaven or hell, or as another sentient being on the earth, or in a resurrection body, or merged in eternal unity with the Absolute. Conceptions of the hereafter vary considerably from one religion to another, but there are ample common points which we can explore in making the comparisons in this chapter.
We open with selected passages which affirm the reality of the spiritual world, which corresponds to this material universe and exists "alongside" it. In the next section are passages about the immortal soul, the core of a person's individuality, which survives the death of the physical body: it may ascend to Heaven, descend into hell, or transmigrate into another body. Then, since human life is eternal, it is important to know how to prepare for life in the hereafter. This is the topic of the third section, which gathers passages urging us to use our lives in this world as preparation for life in the next world. In the fourth section we have texts dealing with the actual passage, at the time of physical death, into the next existence. This is usually depicted as fraught with some form of judgment or trial. The fifth section contains passages describing the beauties of heaven and the terrors of hell, using imagery which is sometimes fantastic, sometimes psychological.
The concluding sections contain texts on the assorted spiritual beings, angels, gods, and demons which populate the spiritual world. With power to influence events on earth, these spirits may be looked to for guidance and inspiration or propitiated by offerings. On the other hand, many religions recognize that the spirits are often in error. They have deep suspicions of spiritualism and spirit worship as liable to lead to idolatry and even demonic possession.