Q: What happens after death?
A: Sikhs are very strong in their belief of reincarnation. All animals including humans have soul and our soul goes through different life forms until we purify it to become One with God. Just like one changes clothes, our soul changes life forms. This very fact has been narrated by God through Sikh Gurus. Nobody has seen what happens after death, so it is very hard for someone to understand happens after death. Sikh Gurus are in communion with God and they tell us that our soul has been separated from God and its dignity remains in merging back with God.
Think of God as an ocean and our soul as a droplet of water. The water droplet is separated from the ocean. The droplets come on land in the form of rain. We are like those rain droplets; we have been separated from God and have been born in this world. The dignity of the rain droplet lies in merging back in the ocean. Just like those rain droplets the main purpose of our souls is to merge back with God, to be One with Him. Our soul suffers from pain of birth and death and this pain can be ended by attaining salvation, merging in God. Gurus are like rivers, if the rain droplets follow the river, they can reach the ocean. So, if we follow our Gurus, we can meet God. Once a soul merges in God, it achieves salvation, gets rid of birth and death and all the suffering of this world. That soul becomes one with God.
How do we know we are reborn? We take birth and we do die. Sikhism does believe in the existence of heaven and hell, however, heaven and hell are created to reward and punish, one will then take birth again until one merges in God. According to some religion, the soul either goes to heaven or hell after death and stays there. So, how are people and other animals being born on this Earth? Is God creating new souls? If He is then no matter how big is heaven or hell it is going to be filled. If you consider a lake as heaven and think of drops of water being added to it as souls, then no matter how big the lake is, if no drops of water is leaving the lake, it is going to be filled some time in future. Our souls just ending in heaven or hell after death and God creating new soul doesn’t make sense.
If you look at our environment, there is a perfect cycle that goes on everywhere. Water evaporates from the ocean, travels on the land and mingles back with the ocean. There is a perfect cycle that goes in our environment which keeps it healthy. Sikh Gurus wrote in the scriptures what God narrated to them. According to the scriptures, there are 8.4 million species and your soul goes through them all. “Those who do not serve the true Guru, and do not contemplate on the Shabad (Word of God). They cannot comprehend spiritual wisdom; they are like dead bodies in the world. They go through the cycle of 8.4 million reincarnations, and they are ruined through death and rebirth” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 88). According to the Sikh scriptures, the human form is the closet form to God and the best opportunity for a human being attain salvation and merge back with God. After death our soul does not die or stays either in heaven or hell. Sikh Gurus said that nothing dies, nothing is born, everything is ever present, and it just changes forms. That is a higher philosophy. It’s like standing in front of a wardrobe, you pick up a dress and wear it and then you discard it. You wear another one. You’re just changing one form into another one. Actually, your soul is never born and never dies. Your soul is a part of God and hence lives forever.
However death is defined as the end of the time spent by a soul in one species and birth is defined as soul entering in another species. The ones, who do not meditate on God, will never be able to attain salvation and continue to live in the cycle of birth and death. “The ignorant and oblivious do not serve the true Guru, how will they find salvation? They die only to be reborn over and over again. They continue to be struck down at the door of death” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 115).
What happens after death? Two things can happen after death. First, if you meditate on God and purify your soul by getting rid lust, anger, greed, attachment, and ego, you merge back with God and your cycle of life and death is gone forever. The other one is that if you do not worship God and realize Him, you will be reincarnated. If you were on the right path to God but did not purify your soul within the lifetime you had on the Earth, you will be given more chances in human form to become closer and closer to God. If you have not made any effort to love God and purify your soul, you will end up wandering through the 8.4 million species.
“When the body is filled with ego and selfishness, the cycle of birth and death does not end” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 126). “As long as the tongue does not chant the Name of God, the person continues coming and going in reincarnation, crying out in pain” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 325). “The blind have forgotten the Name of God. The self-willed people are in utter darkness. Their comings and goings in reincarnation do not end; through death and rebirth, they are wasting away” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 19). No one can say which form do you take after death and how many species you have to go through after death. God decides that for you and it is based on how well you live your life.
What determines the escape? The Guru says that only escape from the cycle of death and rebirth is by being an absolute good human being, you must always remember and meditating on God. Our soul after being separated from God has become impure. We have to make it pure enough through meditation so that God can merge us back in Him.
“Those who meditate on God attain salvation. For them, the cycle of birth and death is eliminated” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 11). While awake, eating, studying, remember God. Like you remember someone you love and care for and you just cannot forget your love and your thoughts are fixed on your beloved. Likewise, remember God in your heart and surely God will guide you and help you and you can escape the cycle of death and death. “Those who meditate single-mindedly on the Name of God, and contemplate the teachings of the Guru. Their faces are forever radiant in the Kingdom of God” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 28).