What Really Happens When We Die?
By Padma Kuppa
Immersed as I am in both Indian and English literature, two quotes come to mind when asked, "What really happens when we die?" Rabindranath Tagore: "Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come." Tolkien's Gandalf: "End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass. . . . And then you see it."
Last of the sixteen Hindu samskaras (sacraments), antyesthi helps the jiva (soul) journey to a more auspicious next life and the (dead) body is treated with honor, respect, and sacredness. Reincarnation depends on the individual's karma, which is determined by actions in this life as well as past lives. The funeral ceremony and the thirteen-day mourning period serve as a purification process to help the soul be cleansed for a possible union with Brahman. Moksha is when the jiva becomes one with Brahman, the One, All-Encompassing Soul, yet death does mean Judgment Day.
The fourfold purpose of human life for a Hindu consists of dharma, artha, kama, and moksha. I focus on the now -- the first three -- in this journey called life. I expect that I will continue the journey after death. The past is gone, the future is yet to be: all we have is the present. As the great Hindu sage Ramana Maharishi said, "Engage yourself in the living present. The future will take care of itself . . ."
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Padma Kuppa is a writer, IT professional, community activist, wife, and mother and she serves on the Advisory Council of Hindu American Seva Charities. Views expressed here are the personal views of Ms. Kuppa, and do not necessarily represent those of any organization of which she is a part.