At some point, everyone wants to know what happens when you die. Dozens of worldwide religions answer this question with their own unique understanding of the afterlife, and hundreds of religious sects offer their own nuances of each of these beliefs. That being said, you may be surprised to see just how much major world religions have in common in their interpretations of life after death.
For instance, many world religions believe in a messianic figure that appears to rescue mankind at the end of the world, such as Maitreya in Buddhism, Saoshyant in Zoroastrianism, al-Mahdi in Islam, and Jesus in Christianity. By taking a step back from doctrinal details and focusing on what happens when you die, a colorful spectrum of beliefs can come together to create a beautiful painting of the afterlife.
Buddhism is surprisingly diverse and commonly divided into two types. Theravada Buddhism is one of the more well known of the two, where practitioners follow the Four Noble Truths to live a life of moderation, also known as “the middle way.” They avoid extremes and seek Enlightenment by following a lifestyle called the Eightfold Middle Path.
Ultimately, Theravada Buddhists seek nirvana, which represents the end of physical and spiritual pain, constant labor, weariness, inequity, and the difficulties of life. Western religions may identify this view of the afterlife as bleak non-existence, but in the perspective of Buddhists it is closer to the Christian belief of “rest eternally.”
Muslims have an expression when determining who will be saved, whether people of their own religion or another: Allahu a’lam, or “only God knows.” Nevertheless, the Qur’an teaches that Allah created the world and will eventually bring it to an end. At that time, all humans will be resurrected, judged according to their deeds on earth, and placed into paradise or hell for eternity.
The Islamic concept of paradise is much like the Western concept of heaven: a place of joy, pleasure, and rest. Hell will also be familiar in that it contains endless punishment for those who dies in disbelief. A person who believed in God but lived wickedly in this life need not despair from the mercy of God in regards to the sins he or she may have committed in their life, because The Most Forgiving and Merciful, is able to forgive all sins.
Although a newer sect of Christianity in terms of origin, Mormonism has developed into a cohesive worldwide denomination. Their beliefs on what happens when you die follow the traditional Christian beliefs, including salvation through Jesus Christ, judgment, resurrection, and heaven and hell.
Believers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also have a more detailed concept of Heaven. They believe in a spirit world before the resurrection, where those who have yet to learn the gospel will have an opportunity to repent and follow Christ. After the judgment, people will be placed into one of three degrees of glory, depending on the faithfulness of the life lived. These concepts, Mormons believe, can be found in the Bible as well as their other books of scripture; the concept of three degrees of heaven is also not solely a Mormon belief.
Although Zoroastrianism has fewer numbers now than ever before, the ancient religion has had the most influence in other faiths than perhaps any other. Currently found in modern-day India, these were the people who inhabited Babylon during the exile of the Jews and may have provided them with the concepts of angels, resurrection, Satan, and the afterlife.
Of all the nonbiblical religions, Zoroastrianism certainly has the most connections with the worldview of the Bible. They believe in judgment and universal salvation, once the righteous and wicked have bathed in a liquid that will burn, painfully, the evil from the latter. Like Mormons, they believe in three degrees of salvation and that not all will receive the same heavenly rewards. Heaven, Zoroastrianists believe, is a place for individuality and variety. The belief in different degrees of glory, therefore, matches this concept of individual gradation.
Commonalities Across Borders and Beliefs
Though a small sampling, the above religions each have a unique perspective on life after death, though beliefs, even among the most distant, still exist. Common themes such as prophetic figures, resurrection or life after death, and joyous heaven pervade religions all around the world. Despite perceived differences to typical Western ideology, finding commonality may be a positive step closer to the divine.