Hindu concepts of the soul and life after death


Key Ideas

The atman is the nature of the true self. It is a true, eternal, perfect self within a temporary and imperfect body. It is immortal, the indestructable essence of the living being. When the body dies the atman transmigrates to another body - reincarnation.

Understanding of the round of samsara, karma, rebirth and moksha:

Hindus say that people who develop great skill in meditation can sometimes remember past lives. As long as the fruits of karma are in effect, the atman will carry on being reborn over and over again. Hindus believe that the endless cycle of rebirth (samsara) is tiresome and the ideal is to escape from it to achieve moksha. This is the release of the atman from Samsara to achieve union with Brahman. Therefore good deeds in this life will result in a better rebirth in the next life. Some people criticise this belief by saying that this attitude could lead to disregard of the poor because they created their present problems by how they lived in a previous life.

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The relationship between moral behaviour and futur

Hinduism is seen as a way of life. A person's behaviour is believed to affect future rebirths.

Dharma refers to what is right and true. It applies to the laws governing the duties of people and also the laws governing the Universe. It is linked to the law of karma. It is, therefore, necessary for everyone to consider the future consequences of their thoughts and actions. Hindus must follow the laws and duties of dharma.They must act in accordance with dharma.

Varna refers to the four main social groupings which are the basic structure of Hindu society. These groupings are hereditary and a person remains within the caste they are born into throughout his lifetime.

Just as each varna has its particular duty, so does each ashrama (stage in life). There are four stages which follow the natural process of growing up and growing old. The stages reflect the importance both of duties to society and to attend to the spiritual aspects of life.

Varnashramadharma is the understanding and appreciation of varna and ashrama. A Hindus sense of identity is determined by caste (varna) they are born into and the particular stage of life (ashrama) they are in. There are very particular duties and responsibilities relating to this.

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Hindu Funeral Rites

Key Ideas:

  • Eldest son
  • New cloth to wrap body
  • Funeral pyre
  • Cremation
  • Release of Atman from the body
  • River Ganges

For Hindus death is not the end of a person.

Death marks for the seperation of this body from the soul or Atman.

When a Hindu dies the funeral takes place as soon after the death of the body as possible.

As soon as it is certain a person has died the body is washed and prepared for the funeral by the male relatives if the person is a man and by the female relatives if the person is a woman.

The body is wrapped in a new cloth representing getting rid of the things which are worn out and replacing them with the new.

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How funeral rites reflect belief and aim to suppor

Key Ideas:

The cremation of the body allows the atman to escape the dead physical body so that it can begin transmigration.

IF possible the ashes are spread in the River Ganges or another fast flowing river.

The flow of the water reminds people of the ever changing nature of life and death.

The River Ganges is regarded as a particularly holy river.

Many people believe that having ones ashes spread in the river will help a more positive rebirth.

After the funeral there are 10 days of religious ceremonies to help the soul move on to a good rebirth. The eldest son has a special role to play in these ceremonies. This is the key reason why Hindus especially want to have sons.

Hindus point out that although the funeral is a painful and emotional occasion it can help the relatives come to terms with the death as they can see for themselves the uselessness of the body. Their prayers can help the departed move on to a better rebirth.

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