Sunday, January 02, 2005

What is the afterlife really like?

· I have written a few times of Streams in the Desert, a book of daily devotional readings by the early 20th Century missionary, L.G. Cowman, that I read most mornings. This morning’s message was fairly typical, “…Not many of us are living at our best… We do not know what is lost by our self indulgence, what glory awaits us if we only have the courage to climb, or what blessings we will find if we only ascend the mountains of God.
· It is the nature of the afterlife that I have been puzzling about. Christian doctrine speaks of unremitting joy, of ‘living in glory’ and like phrases. This phrasing seems draw on peak human experiences of human being as a point of reference. But a peak experience – an act of creativity, a professional achievement, viewing a beautiful sunset or a full moon illuminating turbulent seas in the aftermath of a typhoon, an indelible moment of physical, psychic and spiritual union in loving relationship – is a source of joy because it is unique, because it is distinguishable from the flat lands that surround it.
· The Buddhist concept of Nirvana (Nibbana), linked to the concept of the reincarnation of the soul is different, and more difficult to grasp. (Perhaps Jesus simply did not live long enough as a human being to spell out this element of his revelations clearly.)One definition is “the ultimate truth” but this may simply be substituting one undefined phrase for another. Zen masters try to have their students grasp the idea of Nibbana by meditating on Koans such as “the gateless gate,” “the sound of one hand clapping” and others.
· Since life is uncertain, but death is certain, these matters are definitely worth pondering, so long as the pondering is not self indulgent, self destructive or desparing


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