Posted by: Tony Carson | 24 July, 2007

Your choice: Life after Death vs Heaven and Hell

Quick. Which would you prefer:
1. Life after death, based on the notion of reincarnation (rising up or falling down the food chain depending on good or bad deeds in this life), or
2. The all or nothing of heaven and hell.

Though of Christian sensibilities, I’ve always much preferred reincarnation for chiefly one reason: it is so inclusionary.

Christianity has always struck me as arrogantly human-centric: my dog hasn’t much of a chance of getting to heaven (but probably as much a chance as I do).

But with reincarnation my dog might be my fallen great-great grandfather who is heading onwards and upwards, and because she’s such a great dog, upwards still. I like that.

I was sent a link to a wonderful Sikh site called Project Naad — Infinity through Simplicity. Nice, ah, Infinity through Simplicity. As good is the meaning of Naad: ‘the essence of all sounds.’  I will read through the site over time.

My first step was to read about the Sikh take on Life after Death. Here is the Summary on a brochure of that name:

There is a case to be made for reincarnation being a common unifying thread throughout all World religion. Far from being exclusively an exotic ‘Eastern’ doctrine, reincarnation can be said to be part of the Western tradition as well. Furthermore, when we consider that many of the great luminaries of ancient Greek civilization such as Socrates, Plato and Pythagoras, and also others who were involved in the various mysteries, were firm believers in reincarnation, then the idea of reincarnation really lies at the foundations of Western civilization.

It is a healthy trend that today and in recent times, belief in reincarnation is on the increase. This trend has been particularly pronounced in industrialized Western countries. This trend encourages the hope that perhaps in the future, the idea of reincarnation will become the dominant doctrine concerning the nature of eternal life.

Wouldn’t it be great to do it all again as a better you?


  1. Well, I suppose so Carson – but then I wouldn’t know that I was doing it all again, would I? Does that defeat the purpose somewhat? But I do like the idea of reincarnation.

  2. Well, ya, I take your point but reincarnation would certainly matter as a carrot.

    In the binary world of heaven and hell, get 51% and you’re in, but in the infinite challenge to becoming The One (presumably, the ultimate destination) well, there are infinite challenges to self-improvement.

    I mean look at it this way, if your options are to be an ameba or a paramecium wouldn’t you try a little harder to be the better developed, just in case — it’s a long way back?

    But to your point, what would that matter now? Well, it wouldn’t — at least until you listened to your conscience.

    Is that a Gainborough? Your avatar?

  3. Belief in reincarnation is on a roll amongst young people in the so-called west. Even those who profess Christianity.

    Unfortunately, it lacks the egalitarian spirit you suggest – going hand in hand with other me-me-me fads in contemporary pop “spirituality”.

    It seems to me to be part of an increased sense of self-entitlement of the young and the bourgeois – if I don’t have everything I want in this life, of course, it must come to me in the next one.

    I see the rise in belief in reincarnation as evading the fundamental scandal that you only get one shot at life. Deal with it.

    What fascinates me about “western” reincarnation, too, is the approach taken by many a convert to Buddhism who (in perhaps an unconsciously racist approach) assume themselves to be rather high up the dukka-chain.

    I’d like to see a convert declare themselves convinced they’ll be coming back as a water buffalo, or a low-caste Nepalese child destined to live out a few turns of the wheel of fortune as a temple prostitute or stitching Nike footballs.

    There’s egalitarianism, Tony.

  4. Nancy, aren’t we humans opportunists? While growing up we believe will go wherever our parents (or priest) tell us we’ll go. When we get older we see some choices. None of it is provable anyway, so why not pick the one we like most.

    That’s probably why I wrote the post. I came across reincarnation and thought for the umpteenth time: you know that really is a sweet option. And, hey, I’m an optimist: I’ve led such as exemplary life I expect to come back as a woman.

  5. I often hear people say that we only live once so we must enjoy ourselves by consuming as much as we can. With reincarnation you make choices as you know you are coming back again not always as a human but a different form, I won’t go into be better or worse just yet.

    In a way it is good that you don’t remember who you were first – though some do who can see the past and the future – as this gives you a clean slate to start again. Many criminals don’t get that chance here on earth. It would be terrifying to know that I was making the same mistakes again!

    I think, that the past lives are written on your account – perhaps good deeds are credits and you carry your balance with you as you travel through infinity – the aim being to merge with the Creator. I know of a story where India that a man was laughing at a bear doing tricks at a circus but he was told that this bear was his father as in his previous life he was rude to a good Sikh and had called the Sikh a bear. The Sikh Guru GURU GRANTH can minimise the effects of past deeds or tear your account apart once you have reached a standard – you have to prove that you have earned it – the Guru shows the way to achieve this goal.

    I will stop here as there is a lot more to it.

    Satnam Kaur

  6. No, no, develop it, explain reincarnation from the Sikh perspective. Is it the same as Hindu, how is it different?

    And how does living with the notion of reincarnation actually change, modify or impact personal behaviour?

    And something I’ve always wondered about, how does the incrementalism work? For instance, if you lead a model life with only one big flaw, can that take you from human form to a zebra?

    Your insights would be welcomed.

  7. Reincarnation is a fancy word for recycling. All living organisms get recycled. That’s the law of the land.

  8. Well, sure, but isn’t recycling just a fancy word for rotting?

  9. Some further thoughts.

    If you are a perfect human being and have done service to humanity and love everything and everybody but do not acknowledge the existence of the Creator you are more likely to be born in the human form again and again.. as you cannot merge with the Creator until as get to know IT.

    Near perfect humans but attached to desires may be changed to other forms. People in love with the houses and properties and still are worried about the house they leave behind when they are about to die will be born as ghosts in their houses. A man whose last wish is to have sex may be born as a prostitute. The state of your mind at the last moment will also dictate the form you take.

    A cult leader who had promised salvation to his followers came back as a large snake and the followers as worms to feed on him. False leaders suffer and so do the followers. People must use their heads and make choices and don’t play the blame game. Guru Granth is the light is free from desires and will free other souls.

    I may have been born before in India and came close to Sikhi but not quite so I think I came back in the Sikh household and feel great about it and if I was given another birth I would choose the Sikh life again.

    Guru Granth says even the Hindu Gods who are may be in heaven desire a human form so that they can sing praises of God. The human form is the turning point to come out on birth and death cycle and merge with God.

    Hindus believe in reincarnations but they believe that you cannot escape from your karma but Guru Granth has the authority to end your karma and merge with God.

    Souls are precious stones but many souls have been blackened through their deeds and it is difficult to see their shine. Some souls are bright and they help other souls to get close to God. Good company “Sangat” is very important to help the soul as they say the environment has an impact on the mind.

    I was hoping to merge but I have so many faults and now as life is ending I fear I will come back but I hope I am a Sikh again.

    Will write more later.

    Satnam Kaur

  10. What is rotting for some is food for survival for others. Nature’s- Ik Ong Kaar- role is unknown to a man/woman.

  11. It is great that there is no waste in nature, even what we discard and leave it to rot becomes food for others. Without rot and decomposition life may begin to really rot and end. What seems like rot is the main feature of survival of the ecosystem.

    We don’t fully understand what goes on behind the scenes to deliver this great drama.

    What we call evil is also part of God and misunderstood. Evil person may be performing a role related to the past lives.

    Why do babies suffer? It may be related to past lives that the baby might have taken a life – the circle of life and death is very fierce; only the True Guru can help to break it. The human life is a chance to come clean – though when a baby dies what chance did it get! Is was sad to hear on the BBC radio last month that the -I think still born could not be given burial. The Sikhs listen to kirtan when a person dies, baby, still born, anybody to help it pass to the next stage. Guru Amar Daas said in one of his sabads that people should not cry when I am did but sing praises as I am to meet the Creator. All Sikhs are asked to get together and sing praises of God and pray for the soul.

    Life is very complex and the Sikhs are mean to accept the Will of God as all destruction and creation are acts of God. The Sikhs do not believe in the devil or Satan.

    The best way out is to accept the Will with pleasure as Guru Arjun did when he sat on burning plates and hot sand was poured on his head for his faith in One God.

    Tony you may need another topic HUKAM – the Will of God. Sikhi gets complex as you dig deep.

    Satnam Kaur

  12. Hi Tony,

    Our puny little biologically units cannot grok Infinity. The Cosmos is too big and we are too wee. So praise the Infinite Mystery when things are good, praise the Infinite Mystery when things are bad. Dualities dance and make pictures on Life’s Movie Screen.

    Here is a wonderful story. A beautiful little baby girl was born to terrific parents. She grew up in wonderful circumstances. Her every relationship was great and her education superior. She had a wonderful career. She had a fabulous life partner, amazingly great children and she lived a very peaceful and happy life. When she died, it was easy and painless.

    Notice how wonderful that story is and how it can be written up in one paragraph! The Great Novelist seemingly got bored with perfection? Who can blame Her/Him/It?

    Reincarmnation is assumed in the writings of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib but Sikhs don’t think about it much. Whether we awake this morning on a vacation beach or on the battlefield, here on earth or in some other reality, we give Praise to the great Screenwriter and Life-Movie Director. We ask help in turning our role(s) and characters into something useful. We pray to transcend egotism, remain humble, brave, and be used by the Great Good.

    Kamalla Rose Kaur

  13. Page 19 of the Sikh Holy Book and Living Guru/Teacher, the Great Guru Granth:

    The body is burnt to ashes;
    and by its love of Maya (materialism, worldliness, glamor)
    the mind is rusted through.
    Our demerits become our enemies, and our lies blow the bugle of attack.
    Without the Word of the Shabad (True Universal Teachings),
    people wander lost in reincarnation.
    Through the love of duality, multitudes have been drowned.

    O mind, swim across,
    by focusing your consciousness on the Shabad (the Highest Teachings).
    Those who do not become Gurmukh (devotees)
    do not understand the Naam (God’s Name);
    they die, and continue coming and going in reincarnation.

    (Pause and consider this)

    That body is said to be pure, in which the True Name abides.
    The one whose body is imbued with the Fear/Awe of the True One,
    and whose tongue savors Truthfulness,
    is brought to ecstasy by God’s Glance of Grace.
    That person does not have to go through the fire of the womb again.

    From the True One came the air, and from the air came water.
    From water, the Source of the Universe created the three worlds;
    in each and every heart the Great Light has infused Great Light.
    The Immaculate One does not become polluted.
    Attuned to the Shabad (True Universal Teachings) honor is obtained.

    One whose mind is contented with Truthfulness,
    gets blessed with God’s Glance of Grace.
    The body of the five elements is dyed in the Awe/Fear of the True One;
    the mind is filled with the True Light.
    O Nanak, all your demerits shall be forgotten;
    the True Guru/Teacher will preserve your honor.

  14. Compost; indeed most sacred. It is truly Holy Sh#%t!

  15. Reincarnation in Buddhism derives from an Indian cultural tradition of rebirth which allows for numerous, even countless, lifetimes to reach nirvana. Many Hindus in lower castes are incapable of improving their chances because the occupations they are consigned to attach more ” Bad Karma” to them. Perhaps because this was demoralizing, alternatives were presented. Beginning as early as the fifth century and continuing today, many Buddhist practitioners worship Amitabha who presides over the Western Paradise. Individuals pray to be reborn into the Western Paradise because it grants escape from additional reincarnation.

  16. Basically these are metaphors – Heaven is the metaphor for the Womb, Childhood, the past and Reincarnation stands for Life, Adulthood and the Future. In the Womb and in childhood we were happy, coddled, protected, sheltered, didn’t have a care in the world! And then suddenly we got pushed out of this Eden into a cold, hard world – we feel pain for the first time, but we also realize that is how life starts. A “life” in heaven would be the life of the unborn – stuck in the womb, neither dead nor born. Reincarnation urges us to choose life – pain and suffering included – basically asking us to stop running away from life – stop building fantasy castles in the sky called Heavens and thinking we can run away and hide in them for eternity. Heaven is a fantasy, only Life is Real – that is the true teaching of Reincarnation

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