"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Extinction as Our Goal & A Bit about Heaven

So the other week when I was visiting ye ol' county library, I checked out a tall, rather slim Time Life volume (published 1968) on Historic India by Lucille Schulberg.  I've become increasingly fascinated by this country. Maybe The Amazing Race has something to do with it since it seems they make a stop in India during most seasons.  Sidenote: I thought it was the sweetest thing when the deaf contestant Luke was struggling in a task to the point of tears. The Indians overseeing this particular tea-tasting task looked on this touching moment as Margie encouraged her son to not give up. And when he was done, my goodness, I had tears running down my face as those sweet men clapped for Luke like he was their hero!

That's not the point of this post which is actually about heaven.  See in this book about India, there is a chapter on Buddhism since Siddhartha Gautama came out of this region.  So Gautama was the son of a lord and his father was fearful that if his son saw suffering people, he would become an ascetic.

1.  a person who dedicates his or her life to a pursuit of contemplative ideals and practices extreme self-denial or self-mortification for religious reasons.

2.  a person who leads an austerely simple life, especially one who abstains from the normal pleasures of life or denies himself or herself material satisfaction.

Right.  Since everyone loves denying himself pleasures to live in solidarity with those suffering.

Or maybe people back then and there were this way? It seems not Gautama's father however, if he was willing to remove any suffering person from his midst so his son wouldn't happen to realize some people are poor, some are sick, some are physically challenged by blindness and deafness and distorted limbs.

I just don't see it now. But I am from the United States in a society where most people are more concerned that the transmission went out on their car or their harddrive crashed than the fact some people in the world listen to their children cry themselves to sleep at night because they are starving.

Maybe Indians in those years before Christ were more intune with the suffering of mankind?  *shrug*

Ah, heaven.  Let me get back on track. So from the talk about Buddhism in this book I get the idea that we were born to suffer or rather "to live was to suffer."  I guess this means suffering is common to humankind and that makes some sense.  I know no one immune from suffering to some degree or another. 

But then I read about the ultimate goal - nirvana - which the author says literally means "extinction."  You are completely released from all desires never to be reborn again. Therefore: you are extinct.

Ah, sorry, but that does not sound good to me.  Yes, if I were starving to death, a really long sleep might sound good. But to be utterly extinct?  Does that not go against the natural longing* of humanity who wants to live forever?  Why do we take vitamins and eat rice cakes and exercise and use anti-wrinkle cream?  Why do we undergo face lifts and search for that proverbial fountain of youth? 

I guess it's because we aren't Buddhists. But still.

We put animals on endangered species lists. We speak of extinct things with some melancholy.  We procreate!  (Well, not me, but I am abnormal in this regard..ha!  My contradictory life amuses me!)

Extinction as our goal seems so, so not-human to me! 

Maybe I have found the "otherness" that I cannot abide. Extinction as my goal for eternity. No thank you.

How about you?  And while we are on the subject of heaven -- well, sort of.  What do you think of it?  Islam describes it in very earthly-sensual terms: fine wine, fine food and fine women. Revelation in the New Testament shows it more worshipful: all nations, tribes and tongues surrounding God's throne in praise and worship.  Eastern Orthodoxy gives me the impression it's being in God's presence and "one" with Him (whatever that means).  My preacher firmly believes heaven will be far grander than anything on earth and not the boring place some imagine where we will sit around on clouds eating grapes.  I wonder how it really is. 

*  Yes, I speak as one who believes God has put eternity in our hearts so we desire to live, we struggle for it!  And this fact makes me so not a Buddhist where my goal is to rid my heart of desires including the desire to live.

Aaaaaand I must say for those of you who have heard me say (or write) sometimes I wish I were never born (hey, to live is to suffer!), you might wonder why I think this way. Well, since I'm already born, it doesn't mean I want to now die. Especially if I believe what I do about the eternality of the soul.  C.S. Lewis says we are souls with bodies...not the other way around.  So where will my soul be a thousand years from now?  Extinct?



Amber said...

I only studied Buddhism in a really perfunctory fashion, years ago. But doesn't the 'extinction' in Buddhist nirvana merely mean that we cease to exist as discrete individuals? That our souls, our energies, merge back into the universal consciousness? So it's not that we go into non-existence, merely that we've reached the level where we've shed all our earthly concerns and hangups and can go back to being pure spirit, thus leaving the cycle of suffering that is reality. Of course, I could be making this all up. I'm honestly not sure at this point.

The whole, heaven is being one with God is a theory, as I understand it. And it doesn't mean that we merge with God in a fashion similar to what I described above. We remain discrete individuals, however our will, etc. is attuned with God. So we're 'one' in that respect, partaking of His energy, but not His essence. The honest truth is that we really don't have any idea what heaven will be like. Any description is something that was filtered through a human and thus becomes both unreliable and subject to their twists and interpretations.

Susanne said...

Amber, *tsk* Don't you know when I read,I take things literally?

So when I saw "extinction" I thought "bye bye, Susie." :)

So thanks for what you added. The book I'm reading is rather small for dealing with Historic India so it didn't delve too deeply into Buddhism. It may have covered what you said, but sometimes I miss things especially when I'm trying to wrap my mind around extinction.

I appreciate your clarifying things for me! Kind of ya. :)

Amber said...

Hah! We're going to have to expand your horizons, my dear. :)

And keep in mind, I could be wrong about how I understand it.

Sarah said...

Your post really made me laugh for some reason! Maybe because I don't really get it either and I liked the way you expressed your confusion! :)

Someone I know (wink wink ;) ) is rather into Buddhism but an unorthodox and humanistic interpretation of it. In that way of thinking nirvana would be extinction of craving, I think, and it only happens momentarily (and in this life, not some other life). Personally I see this as useful sometimes, but not as a whole way of life... I mean if I am stressing out over wanting my life to be different in all sorts of ways and it is making me depressed, then acceptance can be a good thing, but if I am homeless and have no money then acceptance might not be the right course of action! :D

Susanne said...

Sarah, ohhhh, thanks for explaining what someone you know (wink, wink -- ha!) thinks about it. Hmmm, so maybe being content with what we have and not longing for more stuff, more experiences, more whatever is the goal of this life according to your friend. That seems interesting.

I think Amber was probably right in how she explained it. The more I read now as the book has turned to Hinduism, I see how much these faiths seem to be against individualism so our extinction of our individualistic tendencies for the greater good or wholeness of the universe is probably what it is. Oddly some of this reminds me of Arab culture with its huge emphasis on doing what the community expects rather than walking to the beat of a different drum. I'm thinking Westerners just have a very different mindset altogether.

I'm glad the expression of my confusion made me laugh. :) Thanks for your reply!

Rebekka @ Becky's Kaleidoscope said...

Yeah I always found Nirvana difficult to relate to as well, although there are elements of Buddhism I find very beautiful (compassion for others), I have a hard time getting around reincarnation and belief in Nirvana.

Susanne said...

Yeah,it seems a very nice belief system in many aspects. I was only pointing out something bizarre to my understanding. I'm sure my beliefs would be astonishing to someone from that background. It would be cute to read a blog where someone is talking about my beliefs from a Buddhist point of view. :)

Thanks for your feedback.