Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Proper Way to Die (Part 6/7)

7. Into the Beyond

I'm dead. But where am I? What happens to us when we die? It's a question that will never be answered. People claim that they know the answer. But they are either ignorant or they lie. Because the truth is that you can't trust religious texts - a lot of what you find in them is made-up baloney. You can't trust people who have near-death experiences - they could just be hallucinating.
Some believe that there exists a heaven and a hell. A place of eternal comfort and a place of eternal torture. Neither place exists. Science has found no proof of it. But logic can disprove it too.
If you believe in an omnipotent omniscient God, ask yourself - why does God make people do bad things? And if Fate is pre-written, isn't it unfair to punish those who were fated to be evil? But then there are those who say God gives man freedom of will. In which case, he ceases to be omnipotent because the smallest choice can have massive repercussions, as we know. Then what use is a God? None.
Some try to ride both horses. They say God allows freedom of choice, but he only selects those whom he believes will make the right choices to carry out his will. Or he engineers circumstances such that there is only one path. In which case, human will is an illusion and reality is ultimately deterministic. Which brings us back to the unfairness of heaven or hell. 
And can there even be one heaven or one hell? What is desirable for one may not be so for another and vice-versa. If you hate rock music, then heaven should be rock-music free. If you love it, it should be everywhere. If you hate being whipped, Hell would involve day-long lashings. If you're into BDSM, that would be heaven. So does every person get their own personalized heaven or hell? Isn't that a bit confusing? 
Take another example. Say I'm a huge Beatles fan. Say my idea of heaven is an eternal Beatles concert. But only two out of four Beatles are dead. So I couldn't actually watch them perform until Paul and Ringo are dead. For that matter, what if the Beatles are tired of performing? Then wouldn't forcing them to play for me forever be hell for them? But what if they deserve to go to heaven?
One solution is that I see the Beatles performing, but it's not actually them - it's an illusion. The real Beatles are lounging in their own heaven, presumably filled with LSD and Elvis records. But then am I really getting my wish fulfilled? Isn't it all a lie?
And wouldn't freedom from cares and want and worries and death become... boring? It's the darkness in life that makes the light shine forth. Otherwise we take it for granted. In fact, it is often through struggle and tribulations that we arrive at Truth. In their absence wouldn't our existence be meaningless? Heck, there's even a children's animation movie that discusses this - All Dogs Go to Heaven 2.
Others say we cannot understand the nature of heaven. That in heaven, we shed all worldly form and desires. That we experience pure, undiluted bliss.
My earthly form and desires are an essential part of who I am. So are my vices and weaknesses which, presumably, wouldn't go to heaven or hell with me. So, technically, I would never enter the afterlife, someone else would. Because without my desires, my weaknesses, my emotions, my body... I'm not me.
And anyway, is there truly a right or wrong thing to do in every situation? Is there a balance to maintain? If I murder millions and help millions at the same time, where do I go? 
No, there is no heaven, no hell.
Let's look at Hinduism. Is it dharma, duty that matters? But dharma is a fluid concept. The Kauravas went to swarglok. The Pandavas experienced narak. Is that fair? Rama killed Shambuka, a shudra, because his tapasya was a violation of dharma as a result of which a brahmin's son died. The solution? Why Rama beheaded the shudra of course! That's blatant casteism. When the lower castes threaten the upper castes or rebel from their place in society, they must be exterminated. If that is dharma, it is truly execrable.
Some may argue that Shambuka was trying to attain celestial powers like Ravana. So why wasn't Ravana beheaded likewise before attaining his powers? Others may argue that one should not take these stories literally. Well, unfortunately, many do and kill and discriminate because of it. Condemn them before you condemn me. If it was possible to get one story so completely wrong, how do we know for sure that the rest of religion isn't equally messed up? 
Screw dogma.
Now let's look at Buddhism. Far more enlightened. Desire chains us to this world. It is only in detaching ourselves from the world that we can attain Nirvana. Otherwise we remain trapped in the Cycle of Birth and Re-Birth. A noble creed that has spawned noble people. And almost scientific in the idea that the lifeforce is constantly recycled. But then how is one expected to change? The cycle would be endless unless we learn from each birth. But I can't remember any past births, if any, very few people do and most of them are frauds. So how can I be expected to change? Is the change an unconscious one? In which case, the universe is once again deterministic. 
This is similar to the idea of perfection in Jonathon Livingston Seagull, one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. There, the seagulls are doomed to relive the same lifestyle over and over again until they learn something new and attempt to improve themselves. This then results in their ascension to a higher plane of existence where they learn even more. This isn't heaven though. The cycle recurs infinitely. The seagull must strive for perfection. To do so, perfection must cease to be a number, a goal. It must become infinity and the desire to become part of the Great Seagull that permeates all things. That's quite similar to Nirvana. 
Or in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, where all the dead, good or bad, descend into a gloomy subterranean world inhabited by harpies. They then have to make the journey back to the surface, telling the harpies stories of their lives along the way. If the harpies think you have truly lived, they take you onward. If you have wasted your life, they devour you. After reaching the surface, you become Dust, dark matter, and merge with the universe. Your consciousness becomes part of the fabric of reality, along with everyone you have ever loved. You literally become one with nature. And in doing so, your consciousness is used to construct the consciousness of new sentient living beings.
That's the most beautiful theory of the afterlife that I know. It incorporates ideas of punishment and the importance of a life well-spent. At the same time, there is a recycling of life, not involving rebirth. It becomes more scientific, more like a natural process. Conservation of matter and of energy.
And I believe that comes closest to the truth. Your lifeforce is recycled, but your consciousness is lost forever. The same theme is found in one of Edgar Allen Poe's lesser known (but one of my favourite) short stories, The Colloquy of Monos and Una, where after death, you retain your senses but lack any form of agency. Your senses are heightened and as you decompose, you become one with the environment. You can sense the life-processes of plants, the movement of ants, the range of biochemical reactions taking place in the soil. You become nature. In other words, the carbon cycle extended to one's consciousness. Your sense of being, however, erodes away with the time. It is replaced by a sense of Place and Time. You cease to be an individual consciousness. Instead, you become the soil, you become the grave. 
I believe that is the truth. Almost. There is no scientific proof of any of this. But it makes sense, doesn't it?
Both these theories have something in common - the dissolution of the individual consciousness. And even if neither is true, even if science alone can give the answer, that is what I believe death is.
You know Occam's Razor right? All things being equal, the likeliest answer is the correct one.
What is the likeliest answer? It is this:
Death is the end.
After you die, there is nothing. Darkness. Silence. No emotion. No sensation. Infinite nothingness.
Try to imagine it for a second. Nothing. Forever. That is perfection. That is infinity. That is Nirvana. No good, no bad. No right, no wrong. No flaws. Just... nothing.
It may seem terrifying at first. We're all scared of the dark, of silence. But it isn't, really. Our consciousness too is destroyed. We cannot feel fear or anxiety or unhappiness anymore. We too are nothing.
Doesn't that sound like what people say heaven is like? The shedding of all mortal cares, forms, desires?
Personally, I would love it if there was nothing after death. Why? Well, you see, whenever I've had a rough day, a long one filled with a lot of good things and bad things and excitement and disappointment and lots of running around and lots of work, after the end of a day like that, you know what I want most? You know what I yearn for? 
Uninterrupted, dreamless sleep.
I believe a man's day can be taken as an allegory for his life.
I believe that when I die, I'll welcome it. I will have become tired and disillusioned with life. I will have experienced enough joy, enough sadness, enough regret, enough anger, enough exhaustion for one lifetime.
All I would want is sleep. 
A long sleep. What could be better than infinity?
A quiet sleep. What could be better than the cessation of all feeling?
A dreamless sleep. Why would I want an illusory heaven or hell?  
To me, such a death is worth longing for. It is worth living for. And, of course, it is worth dying for.

And yet, it is horrifying. It means this world is all we have. There is nothing more. Do you understand now? 


If you are unhappy now, you will never be happy. Because this is the only world. People may remember you after you're gone, but it will mean nothing to you. You're not there. You're not anywhere.
Understand death. Understand now how monstrous an act murder is.

As Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven: "It's a hell of a thing; killin' a man. You take away everything he had and ever would have."

Do you understand now why there shouldn't be a death penalty? Death is not a toy. It is not something Man should wield. 
You kill a man, you kill everything he is. You rob him of everything. 
That is why murder is so monstrous. Why sentencing a man to death is unnatural. No man has the right to take away everything. Only monsters do that. It is the ultimate crime, No matter what the justification for it is or the intentions behind it are.
Death is the greatest force of nature in the universe. Trying to control it is like trying to control a tornado. It's wrong, it's impossible and it's dangerous.
So the next time you feel like killing someone out of spite, the next time you demand death for a crime... shame on you. 
It makes you no less human - we all think these things at some point or the other in our lives. I know I have. But, for that instant, we are the worst things human beings can ever be. 
If anyone deserves death, it is those who wish to inflict it upon others.
Shame on us. Shame on all of us.

To be concluded...

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