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Essay: Hinduism vs Catholicism: Differing Beliefs on the Afterlife

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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How do the beliefs on the afterlife differ between Hinduism and Catholicism?

The afterlife refers to an individual’s “life after death”.  Both religions, Hinduism and Catholicism have distinct beliefs on what occurs when a person is to pass away. In Hinduism, their faith indicates that people are reincarnated and placed back onto the earth as a different entity such as an animal.   Whereas, Catholics believe that a person’s soul either ascends into heaven, descends into hell or remains in purgatory, dependant on how they behaved on earth, where it will reside for the rest of eternity.

In the Hinduism religion, they believe that afterlife is when a person’s soul is to leave their body, reincarnated and placed back onto the earth as a different entity. This belief originated in philosophical traditions of India between 1500CE and 500 BCE. Their Rigveda (a collection of 1028 hymns)  references reincarnation in the Brahmanas layer (one of the four Vedas).  These were created in the second millennium BCE and mention the effect of karma on rebirth. These ideas were then further developed in early Upanishads (sacred Hindu texts) written in 800CE-200BCE.  Detailed descriptions of reincarnation first started to appear through traditions, including Hinduist philosophy, throughout the first millennium BCE, giving a more unique expression to the principle of reincarnation .  Differentially, Catholicism, according to catholic teaching, originated with the birth of Jesus. Through these teaching Jesus referred to “the kingdom of God” or heaven as a “reward for that awaited those who were saved”. Similarly, Jesus indicated to hell in the new testament, as a place where the wicked go immediately after death.  This was further reinforced by the catholic belief of Jesus’ crucifixion, in which he descended into hell before he resurrects and ascends into heaven.   


These beliefs can be seen throughout Australia. As of 2016 there is 440,000 people that identify as Hindu and over 12 million that identify as catholic.  In Hinduism they believe that after death, a soul enters another realm where it spends a variable amount of time before it is associated with a new body. This can include rebirth as an opposite gender or a non-human form such as animal. This association with the new body is dependent on an individual’s Karama, how they behaved throughout their previous life. In the Hinduist religion a rebirth is undesirable as a person should aim to achieve union with the infinite spirit called Nirvana. This is done through engaging in religious practices, in each life, until eventually they are released from the cycle of rebirth.  Therefore, death is not viewed as an end, but a “natural process in the existence of a jiva (being) as a separate entity”.  In Catholicism, they believe that when a person is to die their soul either ascends into heaven, descends into hell or ascends into heaven after spending time in purgatory. This is where a person’s soul is to remain for all eternity.   Similarly, to Hinduism this decision is founded on how an individual is to behave on earth. Heaven is the optimal option as that is where God resides. It is stated in the catechisms of the catholic church that "Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ."  Hell is the undesired option for Catholics as God does not reside there. It is stated in the catechisms as "self-exclusion from communion with God". This is achieved through a person’s choice to fail to accept God’s love and by not caring for those in need.  Those who are not perfectly purified nor guilty of serious sin go into purgatory. This is a temporary location where a person’s soul will stay until it becomes purified, “as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven."

There are many instances where people have reported being able to access their past lives. Most commonly this is done through a guided therapy session with a physiotherapist. These can range from different time periods, ages and locations. Memories can be accessed that are tied to a person’s current anxieties.  . A study of three children who claimed to remember parts of their previous lives was conducted. Each child wrote 30-40 statements about memories that they had not experienced themselves. Through verification 92% of these declarations were correct. It was written that “It was possible in each case to find a family that had lost a member whose life corresponded to the subject’s statements”. Additionally, “The statements of the subjects, were sufficiently specific so that they could not have corresponded to the life of any other person”.  There have also been many cases of people reporting the existence of heaven. One example of this is Theresa Cheung. When driving towards a junction she indicated to turn left. She heard a voice that she identified to be her deceased mother telling her to turn right. She later discovered if she was to turn left she would have driven directly into a pileup which claimed the lives of three people. She states, “I can't explain that voice, other than that it must have been my mother guiding me from Heaven” .  A second example of this is Jane Clark whose best friend awoke from a coma after being told by her grandpa to wake up. Her friend was not expected to live, and doctors were prepared to turn off her life support machine.  

Through a diverse history of Hinduism and Catholicism they have both developed their own beliefs of what is to happen to a person after they have passed. These views, although seeming completely varied, have many of the same principles. Their beliefs originated through their sacred texts and have developed immensely since then. They each believe that what happens to a person in the afterlife is dependent on how they behaved in their present life. Each concept also has people who claim to have experienced verification of each occasion happening. Each individual has their own opinion on what is to happen after the death of a person no matter age, gender, religion or demographic.


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