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Religious leaders describe views of the afterlife at symposium

As local religious leaders discussed varying beliefs of life after death Sunday afternoon during the Interfaith Symposium, a common idea was shared:

There is life after death.

More than 100 community members listened to local representatives from Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism as they identified man's inevitable conclusion, as well as each faith's concepts of reward and punishment, heaven and hell, and the afterlife.

"I think it's safe to say that this is a topic we are all dying to know about," said Adnan Pasha of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community U.S.A.'s Buffalo Chapter, which has held seven interfaith symposiums discussing various religious topics over the last year.

Before explaining the Hindu perception of death, Dilip Sinha, one of the founding members of the Hindu Temple in Buffalo, addressed feelings of uneasiness often associated with the topic.

"Life after death is interesting, intriguing and also difficult," Sinha said. "It is probably the most fearful event to many and is looked upon as being dark because we don't understand it."

Sinha then contrasted this idea with the characteristics of a "true Hindu."

"For a true Hindu, death is not a fearful thing," he said. "It is just one event in the whole process. If we don't fulfill our purpose in one life, life goes through another step in evolution. [Hindus] call this reincarnation."

Sinha said that heaven is believed to be a temporary pleasure in Hinduism.

"Heaven is not all we look for," Sinha said. "It is not a final end, but more like a vacation between reincarnating."

The ultimate goal for Hindus is "Moksha liberation," freedom from the life and death cycle. This is achieved when a Hindu fulfils his or her "Karmic duties" and is then able to "march to God."

What is a Karmic Duty?

"A duty is a devotion, which is not done simply to reach an end," Sinha said. "If you're a teacher, do it to teach. Don't do it for the money."

While Sinha described the body as nothing but a material object, Rabbi Charles Shalman said the integration of the body and soul is confirmed by modern science.

"It has been proven that every thought and feeling corresponds with some electrical response in the brain."

But like Sinha, Shalman associated the end of life with a new beginning.

"We hear all the time that people stop doing their work and start planning for the weekend on Friday afternoons," Shalman said. "Jewish tradition focuses 99 percent of its energy and attention on this world. God will take care of the weekend plans."

But Imam Inamul Haq Kauser said Islam places emphasis on the afterlife instead.

"This life is nothing but a pastime," Kauser said. "After that, there is a very long future."

Kauser said that he finds evidence of a God and an afterlife everywhere he looks.

"There are so many signs of God Almighty all over the world," he said. "From head to toe, everything is perfect. If one thing were missing, none of us could live. I say to myself, 'There must be someone who did this.' "

Sikhism leader Surjit Singh and the Rev. James A. Lewis III both described heaven and hell, according to their faiths.

"Being in the presence of the Lord is heaven," Singh said. "Being separated from your beloved is hell."

Lewis provided a more comical portrayal of the Christian idea of hell.

"It's like having your relatives never go home," he said.

Pasha said the local chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community holds the interfaith symposiums to create dialogue between different faiths.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about the different religious," Pasha said. "We are trying to educate people. Instead of just one person talking, they can listen to someone who really knows each religion."


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