The Concept of Resurrection in Hinduism

Ask and Answer

by Jayaram V

Question: Resurrection is an important aspect of the Christian doctrine. Is there a similar concept of resurrection in Hinduism?

The Christian idea of resurrection of souls is untenable in Hinduism because it implies the need for an eternal body for the continuation of souls in an eternal heaven. In Hinduism, eternal existence is envisaged without the need for a physical body or a specific name and form. Hinduism considers all bodies are perishable and temporary. The gross physical body is regarded as an impurity and a temporary aberration in the existence of the eternal soul upon earth.

Belief in any particular god, deity or teacher is not a precondition for the soul's entry into eternal heaven. Purity of the mind, body and soul determines its fate here and hereafter. Hinduism also believes in rebirth or reincarnation of souls, which makes it very different from the Abrahamic religions. In Hinduism, the dead are cremated, which makes any possibility of the resurrection of the dead in the Christian sense untenable.

The concept of soul in Hinduism is also very different from that of Christianity. According to the latter, a soul lives only once upon earth, and possesses a distinguishing personality, name and form. Only humans possess souls. The same is not the case with Hinduism. In Hinduism, all living beings possess souls. It also draws a clear distinction between the soul and the body. They represent the Self and the Not-self realities of the objective world, which are very different, without any correlation between the two except in the objective, predicate relationship as the subject and object.

In its purest state, the soul has no attributes, name and form. Hence, it is more appropriately called the Self (atma) which is indescribable, incomprehensible, formless, and beyond the mind and senses. In its impure state, the Self acquires a body and becomes embodied as a being. In that state, it remains bound to the cycle of births and deaths and experiences duality and delusion. Therefore, from the perspective of Hinduism the physical resurrection of an embodied Self does not elevate the Self. Rather, it degrades it and keeps it bound to the mortal world.

In Hindu cosmology, the embodied souls are a part of God’s creation. Each being is a combination of Atma and Anatma (self and not-self) realities. They are deluded by the power of Nature (Maya) and bound to the cycle of births and deaths. In that state, they keep moving back and forth between the mortal world and other worlds or planes of existence as part of their transmigration.

Their existence in those worlds does not free them from the hold of Nature or from suffering until they achieve liberation. Liberation in Hinduism is the total and absolute freedom from mortality, rebirth, desires, materiality, physicality, and duality. It becomes possible only when the soul is freed from all impurities which envelop it like a cloud and prevent its influence from spreading into the mind and body. Thus, Hindus do not aim for resurrection or rebirth, but for liberation. In Hinduism, resurrection (rebirth) is not an exalted state. There is no true merit in it since it does not elevate the souls, but rather degrades them and keeps them bound.

Hinduism clearly distinguishes the difference between the body and the soul and their relative importance in the order of creation. The body is an inferior creation. It is an aspect of God and a dependent reality. It is also an endless source of suffering, duality, delusion, karma and bondage

In contrast, the Self is immortal, eternal, indestructible, unchanging, self-existing, uncreated and immutable. It does not require a body for its existence. It can exist without a body, whereas the body cannot exist without a soul. When an embodied soul achieves liberation, it discards the body and returns to the world of Brahman. There, it remains forever, enjoying, omniscience, omnipotence, infinity and infinite bliss.

Resurrection in Hinduism

Thus, the idea of resurrection in the Christian sense does not have a place in Hinduism. The individual souls have an existence of their own. Their liberation is their responsibility. God or gods may or may not help them in their effort. They also do not have to wait for an incarnation or the manifestation of deity upon earth for their liberation. They have to work for it through self-purification by practising spirituality, righteousness and austerity. However, Hinduism is conversant with the idea of resurrection in a different manner. The following are a few examples, which illustrate the point.

1. Rebirth is resurrection

To begin with, Hinduism firmly believes in the rebirth or reincarnation of souls. Technically, rebirth is a form of resurrection only. Indeed, resurrection itself means rebirth, and Hinduism believes in the multiple resurrections of the soul during its bondage, not just one. The embodied souls (jivas) go through numerous births and deaths before they become liberated. Therefore, we may say that Hinduism believes in numerous resurrections of souls, but not in the manner Christianity projects as a singular event which happens en masse only once in the entire existence of the planet.

2. Incarnation is a form of resurrection

Secondly, the incarnation of God is comparable to resurrection. According to our scriptures, God returns to the earth repeatedly in a physical and mortal form to restore Dharma or destroy evil. Each incarnation is a kind of resurrection of God upon earth in which he appears in a physical form in the body of an animal, human or a mythical creature and lives in the world to cleanse it and uphold Dharma. However, the incarnation does not raise the dead when he departs from the world. He simply returns, having completed his mission.

3. Resurrection through the revival of the dead

Hinduism does not preclude the possibility of resurrecting the dead in special circumstances. The Puranas contain instances of the dead being resurrected by divine intervention. For example, Lord Shiva resurrected Lord Ganesha, his own son, after he separated his head from him in a fit of rage. He revived him by placing an elephant head on his body. Interestingly, Lord Ganesha is also a son of God who has been resurrected through divine intervention. Lord Shiva also resurrected Daksha, after he killed him, by placing the head of a goat upon his body. The Vedas mention that the Vedic gods of healing, Aswins, revived Hayagriva by replacing his head with that of a horse. According to the Vedas, Brahma resurrected himself, after sacrificing his own body in a ritual at the time of creation. Thus, Hinduism considers the possibility of reviving the dead through magic, ritual, healing or divine power.

4. Sanjivani Vidya or the secret knowledge of resurrection

Hindu scriptures allude to the lost science of reviving the dead with mystic healing called the Sanjivani Vidya. They suggest that certain medicinal substances, plants, roots, herbs and even entire trees have the power to restore life in a body after the soul has departed from it. They further suggest that one may acquire the spiritual power to resurrect the dead by gaining occult powers through the practice of certain secret rituals and methods of mysticism (tapah), Yoga and Tantra. The Tantras allude to the magical power of the awakened Siddhas to revive dead bodies by entering them with the help of certain rituals and chants or summoning other souls to do the same. It was called parakaya pravesam (entering the body of another person). Its purpose, to participate in the play of God and become indifferent to life and death.

5. The resurrection of gods in the mortal bodies

Lastly, we believe that gods have an inseparable connection with humans. Each time we wake up from deep sleep or we take rebirth in the mortal world, not only our souls but also the gods of heaven are resurrected in our microcosms or bodies. We do not have to wait for thousands of years for them to descend to the earth or manifest in our lives or consciousness. They are always here, as long as the world exists and life exists. They are present in various forms in objects, temples, images, sacred places, and in the hearts and minds of countless devotees.

They exist in us as the inner deities and participate in our actions as witnesses, enjoyers, recipients of our offerings and facilitators. Hence, we consider life a continuous sacrifice. Their heavenly aspects frequently visit the earth to receive sacrificial offerings and help the devotees. Protecting and helping the world and devotees constitute their Dharma. They also readily respond to our prayers and fervent appeal for help. Whether they are worshipped outwardly or inwardly, ritually or spiritually, they readily reciprocate our love and devotion.

Therefore, the idea of a divine messenger or God descending to the earth to revive all the dead and carry them upward in their physical bodies to heaven does not have any significance in Hinduism. Hindus do not look for the end of the world resurrection, which for them is a regular and recurring phenomenon of the mortal life. They aim for liberation, which denotes the end of mortality and suffering. The gods do not descend into our world once only in the life of the earth. They are always here, just as they are above and below. As the Puranas and epics suggest many a time they appear on earth in human form to help people or to test their faith and devotion. Sometimes, they also manifest to facilitate certain major, epochal events in the order and regularity of the world.

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