Thursday, December 22, 2005

Heaven? what the hell?

I was watching TV last night, gasp, me watch TV say it isn't so but sorry true believers it is the case. Nonetheless, I was watching TV yesterday and more specifically the Barbara Walters Special on Heaven: Where is it? How do we get there? Suffice to say that as usual Barbara Walters was annoying and has a panache for the obvious, no one can state the obvious with as much surprise and bewilderment as her. Sorry about my tirade but she annoyed me.

Getting back on point, the show was about heaven and the various conceptions of it. It was strongly biased and only highlighted Judeo-Christian-Islamic views of heaven except for a tiny segment on Buddhism. Heaven is a very important concept to most if not all religious thought, more accurately it is the afterlife that concerns most religious thought. The very thought of Heaven as an actual place is an fascinating idea. It is fascinating in that despite living in the 21st century with the great intellectual and scientific knowledge that we as a civilization possess, most people believe that Heaven is an actual location in this world and furthermore it is a place we can enter with our spiritual bodies. The Christian and Islamic perspective presented in the show had some basic common ground:
1. There is a Heaven
2. It is a real place with physical qualities despite being a spiritual place
3. We as human beings can enter it in our spiritual bodies
4. Our spiritual bodies are reflections of how we perceive ourselves
5. In heaven we can interact with our departed friends and family
6. In heaven we keep our gender
7. In heaven we can eat anything we want, do anything we want, have sex (this last part is more Islamic faith than Christianity)

What primarily interests me is the fact that people continue to associate our world, our physical ideas to this spiritual idea. For example, it is a place, a world which is a perfect version of this flawed world we live in. We continue to possess physical qualities like faces, arms, mouths and organs. This stems from the idea in Christianity and Islam that we only possess this life and our bodies in this life are reflective of the spiritual bodies we possess. At the End of Days, God reunites the bodies with the souls and pronounces judgement upon them based upon the acts they have committed in life.

These visions of heaven seem to be our ideas of escaping the confines of our flawed and what appears to be inevitable world. My primary issue is not with the concept of heaven or afterlife but such a physical and mundane vision of the afterlife. The above vision of heaven is extremely restricting because it is limited to how we perceive ourselves now and our world. Heaven, here, isn't a place were we break free of our earthly and physical confines. It is a place where we must go for bliss and perfection instead of what we are. Heaven is distinct from us and the world around us, meaning happiness cannot be found in our current existence because somehow we are flawed and only in being in Heaven can make us whole and happy.

Buddhism does have heavens but they are only transitory states and dimensions until one reaches nirvana or nirodha, which means annihilation of movement (loose definition). Nirvana is the final annihilation of the self since the self is the source of all suffering. Hindu thought does not postulate a final heaven, there is moksha or salvation, which is the intuitive understanding of the true nature of universe, God and the soul. The term used in Advaita Vedanta is jivamukthi or salvation while living, which is a total change of perspective in which all perspectives are understood and "heaven" is the very existence that we are. It is not a place nor a experience but its our true nature. Hindus and Buddhists doesn't require the physical confines or preceptions of ourselves because of the idea of rebirth. Nonetheless, one important thing we can take from the Hindu and Buddhist viewpoint is that heaven or perfection can "occur" in this life but it requires us to change our views of the world, this world is perfect, it is pristine; it is we who bring the imperfections and flaws by failing to find the harmony with our ownselves, the people around us, the world and nature. Once we find that peace and harmony in ourselves, we won't need to search for any heaven outside of us or beyond us. Thoughts?

No comments: