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The Palgrave Handbook of the Afterlife

Part of the book series: Palgrave Frontiers in Philosophy of Religion ((PFPR))


From its beginning, Buddhism has had clear and explicit afterlife beliefs. The nature of a person’s afterlife is seen to depend on their actions, as in most religions, but the possible forms of afterlife are more numerous than in most religions, and the final goal of Buddhism, Nirvana, is seen as beyond all forms of personal afterlife. Moreover, as Buddhism also believes in lives prior to the present one, one’s present human life is itself an ‘afterlife’. Neither our world nor living beings are seen as created by a divine being, but a person’s intentional actions (karma) of body, speech and mind are seen to create seeds that by natural laws mature into pleasant or unpleasant results and the realms in which these occur. The unfortunate, more unpleasant realms are those in various hells, or as some kind of animal, or as a frustrated ghost. The fortunate, more pleasant ones are as a human or in one of a range of heavens. None of these rebirths are seen as permanent, and all are followed by further rebirths in some other realm, unless enlightenment is attained. The paper discusses the nature of these realms and the working of karma; Buddhist goals; how Buddhist work with belief in rebirth and karma, and how it can affect attitudes; beings as streams of changing processes without an unchanging self/soul; the nature of the transition between lives; memory of past lives; and the question of what happens when an enlightened person dies.

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Original texts and their translations. All but AKB are texts in Pali. References are, where relevant, to volume number, then page numbers in Pali Text Society (PTS) editions of texts in Pali, which are shown in the translations. Vism. references are to chapter and paragraph. Dhp. and Sn. ones are to verse numbers. Many of the texts have alternative translations on Access to Insight website:

A. :

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Harvey, P. (2017). Buddhism. In: Nagasawa, Y., Matheson, B. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of the Afterlife. Palgrave Frontiers in Philosophy of Religion. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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