Mesopotamia, Egypt, And Indian Afterlifes Essay, Research Paper
Is there really life after death? Different cultures and people interpret the afterlife in a variety of ways,
depending on their view of their gods and their interaction with those gods. In this paper, I will discuss the
Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Indians and their beliefs about what happens to a soul after death.
Between the two rivers of the Tigris and the Euphrates, lies a land that is now the eastern half of Iraq.
However, many years ago, around 5000 B.C.E., this land was called Mesopotamia, meaning ?land between the
rivers.? The people of this land-area developed a polytheistic religion.
Their many gods were both female and male. They mirrored human civilization in many ways. They
were petty and jealous, much as people. They experienced problems, passions, and emotions just as humans.
Not all gods lived forever; some died like men. They were not perfect – they too had faults.
These gods were also hostile to the people. All of nature was controlled by the gods, and they seemed
to be cruel and irregular. There were many problems with the two surrounding rivers, either flooding, changing
course, or drying up. The rains sometimes stopped for no apparent reason, causing a drought. Land that was
being irrigated would salt up and stop growing crops. Many times, the cities were robbed by nomads. Because
of the animosity of nature and the people?s supposed gods, there was much insecurity.
Humans and the cosmos were seen to be copies of the gods. This made them inferior. By resembling
the gods, they were not the real thing but merely ?cheap imitations.? They felt that they were slaves of the gods;
their only goal being to satisfy the gods and fulfill their desires.
The Mesopotamian people?s view of the gods affected their outlook on life. They were a very
pessimistic people group, and this was also reflected in their afterlife. With not much known about what was to
come, the people tried their hardest to please, honor, and obey the gods.
However, death seemed to mean a bleak, dismal existence in the lower world. These people felt they
had nothing to look forward to in their afterlife. There was no hope for them. A common saying was, ?Life is
hard and then you die.?
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, a historical epic poem, Enkidu, Gilgamesh?s best friend, has a vision of the
afterlife. In this vision,
??There is a house whose people sit in darkness; dust is their food and clay their meat. They are
clothed like birds with wings for covering, they see no light, they sit in darkness. . . .I saw kings of the
earth, their crowns put away for ever. . . .now like servants…?? (92).
This shows their dark, grim view of the afterlife. There, they are still slaves and have no freedom.
Although there are a few similarities between the Mesopotamian culture and the Egyptians, their
differences are many. They too were polytheistic and had problems with nature at first. But as time went on,
the Egyptian people began to understand their god?s intentions and see them as more friendly.
At first, the Nile?s flooding terrified the Egyptian people because it seemed random. The gods were
portrayed as alligators, hippopotamuses, and fearsome beasts, because they saw the gods as fierce. However,
soon they gained confidence and began to be able to predict the Nile?s flooding. Because of this, their view of
the gods changed. The gods were now portrayed as half animal and half man. But the more the people
understood, controlled, and regulated nature, their view of the gods changed once more. The gods were lastly
portrayed as much bigger than men.
Even though the gods were bigger than men, the people were optimistic about humanity and the gods.
They saw the gods as benevolent, because they provided protection, rain, and all other needs. The Egyptian
people were truly blessed by their geography. Because they were located in such a dry, sparse land, there were
no nomads to threaten their towns. No one wanted to travel where there was no water.
The ruling pharaoh was given the name, Horus, the god revealed in pharaoh. The pharaohs and kings
were not warriors but divine administrators. They were viewed as ?gods in the flesh,? giving them an obligation
to care for their people. This brought a vision of a shepherd who watches over his herds. The people were
known as the ?cattle of the gods.?
When a pharaoh died, he became Osiris, who was the god of the afterlife. The Egyptians firmly
believed in the afterlife. At first, it was believed that only the upper class and pharaohs had an afterlife.
However, later it became possible for even the common people to get into the afterlife.
Getting into the afterlife required a lot of work. The gods were demanding of good and righteous
behavior. Therefore, in every tomb was placed the Book of the Dead. This was a collection of spells and
prayers that supposedly helped the dead through the many dangers on the way to the afterlife. It also contained
instructions for proper conduct before the gods in the afterlife.
Most Egyptians believed that their ka, or duplicate of their body, played a very important role in the
afterlife. After death, the ka had to report to Osiris to hear their final judgment. They could either get an eternal
reward or punishment. Most anticipated reward, and since the ka could not exist without the body, after death,
the people worked hard to preserve the corpse. Hell was only a place for the amoral to be punished for their
sins, while eternity was seen as
?an endless procession by the ka of the deceased through the heavens and the gods? abodes there. In
the company of friends and family, watched over by the protective and benevolent gods . . .There was
no need to work and no suffering. Such was heaven.? (Adler 27-28).
In India, there was not only one prevalent religion, as in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The two main
religions in India were Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism?s standards were basically defined by what people
do rather than what they think. They believed that the nonmaterial world is true and permanent. They also
believed in karma, which holds that the consequences of one?s deeds determined the individual?s next existence
in life. There was a code of morals called dharma, which when followed, brought good karma.
Hinduism included three gods, which formed a sort of trinity. Brahma was the main god, the creator.
Brahma was the god with whom a person re-united with after moksha. The two others are redeemer gods, Shiva
and Vishnu. Shiva was the presider over becoming and destroying and who reconciles extremes. Vishnu was
the preserver of the universe who protected those who were devoted to him. Basically, anyone can be a Vishnu
An example of a supposedly common person who is actually an incarnation of Vishnu can be found in
The Ramayana. Rama is the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu. Because of this, he could fight and
overcome anyone or anything.
As for the afterlife in Hinduism, most often, when a person died, he or she was reincarnated as another
being. They were not necessarily reincarnated as a human; sometimes if they had bad karma, they became an
animal or even a plant. However, when a person followed his or her dharma perfectly and developed very good
karma, they finally were released from the ?great Wheel of Life.? They were not reincarnated but rather came
to the end, or moksha. According to Adler, ?Moksha is sometimes compared with the heaven of the Western
world, but it differs in one all-important respect: moksha is the end of individuality, and the individual soul is
submerged into the world-soul represented by Brahman? (48). This was the goal of every Hindu.
In Buddhism, there was one god: Buddha. However, the Buddha started out as a regular man. It was
only after the Buddha?s death that his followers made him into a god with eternal life. The Buddha preached
about the four noble truths he had experienced, which only through them could human life be understood.
There were also eight principles that were necessary to follow, including right ideas, thought, speech,
action, living, effort, consciousness, and meditation. The Buddha believed that suffering was caused by a desire
for power and happiness. Therefore, whoever followed these steps would be able to conquer desire and be
released from suffering.
The Buddha also taught that anyone could attain nirvana. Nirvana was the Buddhist equivalent to
moksha: release from human life and its woes. Nirvana was achieved through the individual; the gods and
priests could not help with this fulfillment.
It is evident that many of the people in this world have dreams, hopes, and thoughts about the world
beyond. Man has a desire to be set free, to improve his conditions, and to soar beyond his earthly existence. In
studying the cultures of the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Indians, I have seen that although their views of the
gods are quite different, they all believe in the concept of life after death, and this affected the way they lived