Life after death
Where do we go after we die, and what happens in the afterlife?
The innumerable recorded and researched cases of past life experiences clearly point to life after death. Various institutions have performed research about the afterlife, near death experiences, or about consciousness after death, finding proof that life continues after death. There have been many cases of near death experiences where people have had an encounter with the afterlife, such as ‘seeing the light‘, or meeting their loved ones who passed away. In all the recorded cases of reincarnations, it was also found that after death and before next birth on Earth, there was a variable time lag.
So, where do we go after death till our reincarnation on Earth? What is life like in the afterlife? Is there a single plane of existence or are there a variety of planes of existence? If so, what are the factors that decide where we go after death? In this article, we present the answers to these and other questions about life after death
1. What happens after death?
Spiritual research has shown that man is comprised of the following four basic bodies:
- Causal or intellectual
- Supracausal or subtle ego
The picture below is a diagrammatic representation of what a human being is comprised of.
When a person dies the physical body ceases to exist. However, the rest of the existence or consciousness continues. The existence of the person minus the physical body is known as the subtle body (linga-dēha) and it comprises of the mental, causal (intellect) and supracausal (subtle ego) bodies. In the afterlife, this subtle body then goes to one of the 13 subtle planes of existence other than the Earth plane.
2. Where we go after death: 14 planes of existence in the Universe
There are 14 main planes of existence in the Universe. Seven of them are positive and seven are negative. The seven negative planes are commonly known as Hell (Pātāl). There are numerous sub-planes within these main planes.
According to an evolved Saint Adi Shankaracharya from India (8th – 9th century AD),Righteousness (Dharma) is that which accomplishes the 3 tasks of:
- Keeping the social system in excellent condition
- Bringing about the worldly progress of every living being
- Causing progress in the spiritual realm as well.
– Shri Adi Shankaracharya
Seven positive planes of existence: Occupied mostly by living persons and subtle bodies after death doing righteous deeds and engaged in spiritual practice according to the positive path of spiritual practice, they are also known as the seven positive regions or saptalok. By positive path, we mean the orientation of spiritual practice is towards God-realisation, which is the ultimate in spiritual growth.
The Earth plane is the only physical plane of existence in the Universe and is also the first one in the hierarchy of the positive planes in the Universe.
Seven Negative planes of existence: These are occupied mostly by subtle bodies after death that have done unrighteous deeds and are engaged in spiritual practice according to the negative path. By negative path, we mean the orientation of spiritual practice is towards attaining spiritual power, e.g. supernatural powers. This spiritual power is primarily used to enhance one’s control over others or for negative purposes. Thus all subtle bodies that go to any one of the planes of existence of Hell, by virtue of their evil intentions become ghosts.
Refer to the article on, ‘What is a ghost’?
Sub planes of Hell (Narak): Every region of Hell has a sub-plane known as Narak. For example, the first level of Hell will have within it a sub-plane that is known as the first Narak. Narak is reserved for the worst ghosts (demons, devils, negative energies, etc.) in Hell. The ghosts occupying the first Narak face more severe punishment and for a longer duration than those occupying the first level of Hell.
The diagram below shows the 14 planes of existence in the Universe.
1. For the sake of simplicity, though we have shown the planes of existence one on top of the other in this diagram, in reality they are around us in all directions. It’s just that Earth being the physically tangible plane is seen; whereas the other planes are progressively more and more subtle and hence invisible to the gross eye. In fact different people, though living on the Earth plane experience thoughts and emotions corresponding to the different planes as per their spiritual level or thoughts. For example Saints, i.e. spiritually evolved people beyond the 70% spiritual level, lead an existence corresponding to the positive planes of existence of Heaven and beyond. In contrast a person planning theft experiences thoughts corresponding to the 1st plane of Hell, one planning some act aimed at harming others at the 2nd plane of Hell and so on. A person planning murder experiences thoughts corresponding to the 7th plane of Hell. However no 2 planes can be experienced simultaneously, i.e. a person cannot experience thoughts corresponding to 2 different planes, e.g. Heaven and Mahārlok.
2. The Nether region (Bhuvarlok) to be precise is a region that is aligned away from God. We have however depicted it as a positive plane as after death, the subtle bodies from this region still have a chance to be born on Earth to progress spiritually.
Once subtle bodies regress to any of the regions of Hell, then there is a remote possibility of their being born on Earth and progressing towards God.
An explanation behind the colour scheme used
- Earth is depicted reddish as it represents action (i.e. subtle basic Raja component), as it is the only plane where we have the physical body to do something.
- Heaven has been depicted in pink, which represents an abundance of happiness.
- Yellow represents spiritual knowledge and an increase in the subtle basic Sattva component. It finally becomes almost white at the highest stage, which represents the close proximity to the unmanifest God principle.
- The regions of Hell are represented by darker shades to black, as there is an increase in the subtle basic Tama component.
For more information about Sattva, Raja and Tama please see section 6 below
3. Life after death in Heaven and other positive regions in the Universe
|Plane of existence1||Spiritual Level %||Proportion of Sattvacomponent||Type of person||Predominant body6||Predominant emotion|
|Satya||90||95||Nearly completely knowledgeable||Subtle ego /Supracausal||Sattvik happiness (5%)
Bliss & Serenity (95%)
|Tapo||80||90||Highly knowledgeable||Intellect/Causal||Sattvik happiness (25%)
Bliss & Serenity (75%)
|Jana||70||85||More knowledgeable||Intellect/Causal||Sattvik happiness (50%)
Bliss & Serenity (50%)
Bliss & Serenity (25%)10
|Superior Heaven||50||75||More Merits||Intellect/Causal||More happiness|
|Inferior Heaven||404||60||Fewer Merits||Mental body||Less happiness8|
|25||40||Average||Desires part of the mental body||Unhappiness7|
Footnotes (based on the numbers in red in the above table):
- Each positive and negative plane of existence beyond the Earth (physical) region becomes more and more subtle. By subtle, we mean, that which is beyond the comprehension of the five senses, mind and intellect. Satyalok is the subtlest positive plane, and therefore is the most difficult to perceive or comprehend unless the highest sixth sense (ESP) level is attained.
- Due to lack of spiritual practice and a higher proportion of demerits (sins), most people in the current era go to either the Nether world or one of the planes of existence of Hell in their life after death. We generally go to the Nether world after death when the proportion of demerits (incurred due to wrong doings on Earth) is approximately 30%. Demerits typically include malice towards others and a lot of desires. In the afterlife, the likelihood of being attacked in the Nether world by higher-level ghosts from the lower plane of existence of Hell is almost certain.
- Earth is the only plane where there is an amalgamation of people with varying spiritual levels. However, in afterlife, we go to the precise subtle region corresponding to our spiritual level.
- The minimum spiritual level required to attain Heaven in life after death is 40%. Please refer to the article, which describes what spiritual level is and the breakdown of the world population in 2016 according to spiritual level. This breakdown is valid up until the coming World War 3. Basically from the Spiritual science perspective, meritorious acts to attain Heaven or the higher positive planes of existence in afterlife are those acts done without expectation with the objective of God-realisation. The following three criteria can be applied in life after death:
- Acts done without doership, i.e., with the outlook that God Himself is getting it done from me and hence I cannot lay claim to any credit.
- Done without expectation of acclaim or appreciation.
- Done without expectation of results. More than the acts per se, it is the attitude or outlook behind the acts that counts more.
It is important to note that subtle bodies in their life after death at the borderline of just 40% and thereabouts often get pulled back by negative energies and hence remain in the Nether world (Bhuvarlok).
- To attain a higher plane of existence in the afterlife that is beyond Heaven in the afterlife, one needs to be at a spiritual level higher than 60%. This can only be achieved by consistent spiritual practice according to the six basic laws of spiritual practice along with a major reduction in ego.
- By predominant body, we mean the body that is most active, i.e., mental, intellect or the subtle ego. For example, in the Nether region (Bhuvarlok), the subtle bodies still have a lot of desires and attachments. As a result, quite often they become ghosts trying to fulfil some desire of theirs through their descendants or people on Earth. This leaves them open to higher-level negative energies from the lower regions of Hell; who take advantage of their cravings so as to affect people on Earth.
- In the Nether world, subtle bodies experience only unhappiness as desires cannot be fulfilled.
- In Heaven, subtle bodies experience an overabundance of happiness. This happiness is much beyond the happiness experienced on Earth in quantity, quality and duration. As we go up the positive planes, there is an increase in the quality of happiness and no unhappiness.
- Sāttvik happiness means happiness derived from helping others without any expectations or strings attached. When ego is involved in the act, it becomes rājasik.
- Serenity is a higher spiritual experience than Bliss.
3.1 Life after death in positive planes of existence and reincarnation on Earth
After death, from the subtle planes below Maharlok, people need to be reincarnated on the Earth plane in order to settle their destiny and complete their give-and-take accounts. If after death one attains higher regions such as Maharlok or Janalok due to higher spiritual level, one does not need to be reincarnated as all of the individual’s remaining destiny (accumulated account) can be worked out from these planes themselves. However, these evolved subtle bodies in their life after death may choose to be born of their own will. They do so because of their expansive nature primarily to act as spiritual guides for humanity and to help society grow spiritually.
In some circumstances people even below the spiritual level of 60% can attain Maharlok. Here the person’s potential for further spiritual growth in the afterlife is considered. Through spiritual research we have found that that there are 5 factors that influence this potential for further spiritual growth.
- Having a high amount of spiritual emotion (bhāv),
- Having a low ego,
- Having an intense desire for spiritual growth,
- Doing regular spiritual practice of increasingly higher levels,
- Affected or not affected by negative energies. Being affected/possessed by negative energies can severely obstruct the ability for spiritual growth. In the afterlife such affected subtle bodies even if they are at a spiritual level of 60% can be obstructed from reaching the higher subtle regions of the Universe by negative energies.
3.2 The importance of the Earth plane
The Earth is very important. It is the only region where we can make rapid spiritual growth and settle our give-and-take account in the shortest period of time. The main reason for this is that with the help of the physical body, we can do many things to enhance our spiritual growth and spiritual level and reduce the basic subtle Tama component.
Other than Earth, spiritual growth after death is mostly likely to occur only in the regions beyond Heaven such as Maharlok etc. This is because after death in Heaven, the subtle bodies run the risk of getting caught up in the unending pleasures it offers. The punishment in Life after death in the Nether and Hell regions is so severe and also the distress from the other higher-level ghosts is such that it becomes very difficult to rise above the suffering to undertake any spiritual practice of value.
4. Afterlife in the negative regions: Who goes to Hell after death and what is Hell like?
|Plane of existence of Hell (Pātāl)||% of Sattva component||Type of person||Predominant body||Predominant emotion|
|2nd||25%||↓||Desires part of the mental body||↓|
|4th||19%||Increasingly tāmasik||Intellect / Causal||Increasing unhappiness|
|5th||16%||↓||Intellect / Causal||↓|
|6th||13%||↓||Intellect / Causal||↓|
|7th||10%||↓||Intellect / Causal||↓|
- As one goes to lower planes of existence of Hell, the subtle basic Sattva component progressively reduces the environment becomes less conducive to the experience of happiness.
- Within Hell, there are some ghosts who do certain types of spiritual practice to gain spiritual power. The highest in the hierarchy of ghosts are sorcerers from the seventh region of Hell. They have immense spiritual power almost equivalent to a Saint at the 90% spiritual level. They control all the other types of ghosts with lesser spiritual power.
- As one goes deeper into the various regions of Hell, i.e. from 1st to 7th, the extent of happiness experienced by the subtle bodies therein goes on decreasing and the extent of unhappiness goes on multiplying. The minimal experience of happiness is also due to being engrossed in memories of past positive events, pleasant memories of wealth in a past life, etc. The experience of unhappiness is due to memories of physical pain and insulting events, memories of unfulfilled desires, e.g. regarding education, house, career, expectation of happiness from children in past life.
- The extent of punishment/pain to be endured in Hell and their associated Narak goes on increasing with the subsequent plane. Also, the period of punishment to be endured in each Narak is in excess compared to the corresponding plane of existence of Hell. If we consider the punishment in first level of Hell as 100%, then the punishment in the corresponding first Narak region is 50% more, i.e. 150%.
The following table is a description of examples along with the average intensity of happiness and unhappiness we experience in the various planes of existence of Hell.
|Plane of Hell (Pātāl)||% of
|Example of happiness||% of
|Example of unhappiness|
|1st||30%||Experience of happiness by being engrossed in memories of positive events in past life||50%||Experience of unhappiness due to memories of physical pain and insulting events in past life|
|2nd||25%||Pleasant memories of wealthy in the worldly transactions||55%||Experience of unhappiness due to memories of unfulfilled desires, e.g. education, house, career, happiness from children|
|3rd||20%||Experience of happiness by remembering the fulfilled desires in past life||60%||Unhappiness due to unfulfilled desires owing to lack of a physical body|
|4th||15%||Momentary happiness by viewing suffering of others and the feeling that there are others in the same boat, that one is not alone in suffering||70%||Beginning of mental suffering due the innumerable sufferings in Hell and the foul smell|
|5th||10%||Momentary happiness with the thought that someone someday will rellieve one of the suffering||80%||A life of slavery to sorcerers, an overwhelming extreme dejection due the thoughts that one will never escape the suffering|
|6th||–||None||90%||Severe mental torture due to extreme suffering|
|7th||–||None||100%||The constant suffering bringing about a feeling of apathy|
|Note 1: In the most cases, columns of happiness and unhappiness do not add up to 100%. The reason is that the remaining percentage is when the subtle bodies in Hell are in a state of neutral emotion. For example, when doing some mundane task and not having happy or unhappy thoughts.|
5. Movement of subtle bodies between subtle planes of existence in the Universe after death
In the afterlife, one is assigned that plane of existence which matches one’s basic nature in terms of Sattva, Raja and Tama after death. This is also a function of one’s spiritual level. Hence, subtle bodies from lower positive subtle regions in the afterlife cannot go to higher positive subtle regions and those from first or second negative planes of existence cannot go to the deeper planes of Hell. This is similar to how people living in the planes find breathing difficult at higher altitudes, but people staying at higher altitudes manage fine.
6. What decides where we go after death?
At the time of death, as the physical body becomes inactive the vital energy used for the functioning of the physical body is liberated into the Universe. This vital energy at the time of death propels the subtle body away from the Earth region. Just as the weight of a projectile decides how far a rocket will propel it, similarly the weight of the subtle body decides which plane of existence it goes to in its life after death.
The ‘weight’ of the subtle body is primarily a function of the amount of the subtle basic Tama component in our being.
The 3 subtle basic components: Each one of us is made up of three subtle basic components or guṇas. These components are spiritual in nature and cannot be seen but they define our personalities. They are:
- Sattva: Purity and knowledge
- Raja: Action and passion
- Tama: Ignorance and inertia In an average person in the current era, the basic subtle Tama component is as high as 50%.
Please read the article on the 3 subtle basic components.
The more we are filled with the Raja and Tama components the more we display the following characteristics which add to our ‘weight’ and impact which subtle region we go to in our life after death:
- More attachment to worldly things and selfishness
- More unfulfilled desires
- Feelings of revenge
- Higher amount of demerits or wrong-doings
- Higher amount of personality defects such as anger, greed, fear, etc.
- A higher amount of ego: By ego we mean how much a person identifies himself with his body, mind and intellect as opposed to the soul within
- Resulting in lower spiritual level
A permanent reduction in the proportion of the subtle basic Tama component and the related characteristics mentioned above come about only with sustained spiritual practice according to the six basic laws of spiritual practice and will help us in our life after death. Psychological improvements with self-help books or trying to be nice are at best superficial and temporary.
6.1 Importance of the mental state at the time of death
The mental state at the point of death, apart from what has been mentioned above, is very important. Our mental state is generally relative to the proportion of the subtle basic components in our being.
If a person is actually doing his spiritual practice such as chanting the Name of God at the time of death then the influence of desires, attachments, ghosts, etc. are minimal possible for that person compared to his state when not chanting. This makes his subtle body lighter. Hence, if he passes away while chanting, he attains a better plane of existence in life after death among the sub-planes than what he would have attained were he to pass away without chanting.
At the time of death, if a person is chanting the Name of God and is also in a state of surrender to God’s will, then he attains an even better plane of existence in his life after death and his sojourn is undertaken with lightning speed. This is because the person being in a state of surrender on Earth region itself, has very less chance of increasing his ego in his life after death. Also, the entire responsibility of his well-being in the afterlife is undertaken by his evolved spiritual guide (Guru).
6.2 Who goes to Hell after death?
The following are the types of deeds in our life on Earth that typically land us in one of the regions of Hell in life after death.
|Plane of Hell (Pātāl)||% of demerits||Example of the type of demerit|
|1st||40%||Causing harm limited to individuals|
|2nd||50%||Causing harm to parts of society like swindling many people simultaneously as in large scale fraud|
|3rd||55%||Causing harm to large parts of society like adulterating food or medicines, etc.|
|4th||60%||Organized harm to parts of society – violence associated with firearms included|
|5th||70%||Instigating others to cause harm to society|
|6th||80%||Causing harm within/to part of a nation|
|7th||90%||Causing harm to a nation as a whole and to those working for society|
The extent, duration and intention behind the wrong-doings are important factors deciding the level of Hell attained after death rather than just the action itself.
7. Life after death in case of suicide
There are two types of death with regards to its timing.
Destined final death: This is the time of death that no one can escape.
Possible death: This is where a person can possibly die. Each person may undergo a possible death wherein one comes close to death but may be saved due to his or her merits.
For more information on the types of death please refer to our article Time of Death.
In cases where a person is going through an insurmountable crisis in his life or has severe personality disorders, he may think of taking his own life in a depressed state. Ghosts (demons, devils, negative energies, etc.) also fuel the depression of a suicidal person and sometimes are instrumental in pushing a person over the edge into committing suicide. However, in most cases, suicide remains a wilful act that happens when a person is going through a possible death phase as per their destiny.
Life on the Earth plane of existence is precious and is given to us primarily for spiritual growth. When we kill others, we create/settle a karmic give-and-take account with them. However, by committing suicide, we squander away the opportunity for spiritual growth and hence incur demerits or sin. The gravity of sin can vary depending on the circumstances under which a person commits suicide. Invariably the subtle-body of an average suicide case will go to Bhuvarlok after death. However for greater sins incurred during their life and the circumstances under which they commit suicide they can go to the lower regions of Hell after death.
- Killing a Saint incurs the maximum amount of sin and on a scale of 0-100, it is 100.
- Killing an ordinary person incurs 40 on the same scale
- Killing oneself incurs 30% sin as opposed to killing another person of average spiritual level. Generally, people who commit suicide are at a lower spiritual level. Their spiritual level gets eroded due to continuous depression.
|Where only oneself is involved|
|Physical: If one is experiencing severe pain or terminally ill due to illness and cannot take the pain any more voluntary euthanasia.||30% of killing another person of average spiritual level||–||Refer to the article on Euthanasia – Section 4.2|
|Psychological: Severe depression, psychiatric patient||30% of killing another person of average spiritual level||–|
|Spiritual: Taking one’s life when totally under the command of negative energies||0||–||The subtle body-continues to be under the influence of negative energies after death. Intense spiritual practice helps to come out of the clutches of demonic possession.|
|Where others are involved|
|Sacrificing oneself to save others selflessly||0||Varies||Depends on who one is sacrificing for. If sacrificing oneself for an evil person then one in fact incurs demerits and not merits.|
|Sacrificing oneself to save a Saint’s life||0||100||Saving a Saint’s life accrues the highest amount of merits.|
|Suicide bomber (killing oneself and others)||Varies||Varies||As per cause.
For example, if a soldier were to kill Hitler in a suicide mission to save millions of lives and rid the world of a menace, then merits would be accrued.
Alternatively, if a suicide bomber killed innocent adults and children then only demerits would be incurred.
8. After death and before next birth – Why is there a time lag between two reincarnations?
In the course of research by using hypnotic trance to trace the past lives of the person, it has been found that the time lag between two reincarnations on Earth could be on average 50 to 400 years. The reasons for this time lag are as follows:
- After death, the subtle body remains in the Heaven or the Nether region for variable periods of time to undergo its merits and demerits (sins).
- Circumstances on Earth need to be favourable to complete the give-and-take account from previous births with various people. This is in accordance with the law of Karma. The reincarnation of the subtle body is postponed until the time various other people who they have a give-and-take account with are also preparing to take reincarnation.
- Sometimes in past life regression, a person does not report a reincarnation in the trance state. The reason for this is that a certain reincarnation has been very uneventful or brief and the person may not remember any details of it.
In the case of subtle bodies that have been relegated to the deeper regions of Hell after death, the time lag between two reincarnations may be thousands of years. They stay in their respective region of Hell until such time they have completed their punishment. In most cases, this means languishing in plane of existence of Hell in their life after death till the dissolution of the Universe.
9. Life after death – in summary
The above facts about the various planes of existence give us a fair idea of the possible consequences in our life after death of how we live our lives. Only with spiritual practice or with extreme meritorious deeds can one go to the higher subtle regions and thereby avoid unhappiness and punishment and enjoy higher levels of happiness in life after death. There are also better chances of a reincarnation on Earth plane in circumstances conducive to spiritual practice. This is so that one moves further up in the subtle planes in the Universe. As we go further into the current Era of Strife (Kaliyug), there is lesser likelihood of people going to the higher planes of existence after death.
Once we go to the lower subtle planes such as the Nether region or other regions of Hell after death, we stay there and experience severe unhappiness for centuries until we completely pay for our demerits (sins) by suffering the intense punishments meted there and get a chance to be reincarnated on Earth.
To do consistent spiritual practice on the Earth plane of existence according to the 6 basic laws of spiritual practice is like swimming against the tide in the current era. However, it is also a guaranteed way of advancing to higher subtle regions in our life after death.