We humans are contradictions at times.
We are never the same person after new or painful experiences – are we?
We may heal – but we are not the same person. Our experiences play a role in molding our character and our outlook even in ways that we may not be consciously aware of.
But, we can choose to make the conscious effort not to allow our experiences (our past hurts) limit us or bind us.
We hurt others and we hurt ourselves. Living is a painful process. Just ask any child learning to roller skate or to ride a bicycle once the training wheels are removed.
One can look within one’s self and renew one’s self. Your immortal soul is unharmed.
Christian apologists and preachers often take an externalized approach to morality, moral living. Rules are told to you, many rules, and why these rules are needed and appropriate is often not explained very well, if at all. Some Christian denominations appear to us as being excessively ethical, with an, at times, extreme emphasis on the letter of the moral law and not on the spirit of the law. (At least a few of the many religious prohibitions do not appear to be on solid ground.)
Is it perhaps better to try to awaken an interior love for God and for our fellow human beings? Christians who recall Jesus’ 2 commandments and seriously cultivate in their hearts a true love for God and for their fellows will not need hundreds of rules. By keeping the higher principles in mind, they will act in ways that do no harm to others.
We are not saying that a moral code is not needed. The moral commandments actually call men to freedom – freedom from their tendency to self-destructive actions (both individual and collective actions). But, we do not want to be Pharisaic either. While scrupulously observing all the “thou shall nots”, we may fail to make the efforts to love others in an active way. (I cannot quote you chapter and verse here, but in a homily a couple of years back, I heard that Jesus had said that a terrible sinner, a woman (possibly a former prostitute), had been forgiven much because she had loved much, or words to that effect.)
When we say we have lost our faith in God, perhaps we really mean we have lost confidence in ourselves, in humanity. Let’s not fault God for humanity’s failures.
Modern men and women seem to have lost “the will to believe” (that’s my phrase).
When we attach too much importance to sense gratification, making it a central part of our lives, a priority, even the priority of our life – we then tend to identify with the physical body – and we forget our true identity as a spirit-soul. Some of us may not be conscious of this identifying with our bodies, and others may take it for granted and not question it. (The flesh is temporary, I think we can all agree on that.) Asceticism and renunciation is not the answer here, but rather achieving a mature and healthy balance in one’s approach to the challenging process we know as life in this world.
For the many that forget or who are ignorant of a spiritual component of human life, and that identify with the body, death is believed to be the end, as in their minds the body is the source of consciousness. (We believe that the body is a vehicle of consciousness and not the source of it.)
Taken to a rather grotesque extreme, there are individuals that have their bodies “suspended” after dying through cryonic preservation processes. (We have written on this once before, see link below.) They have a false hope that medical technology will one day be able to bring them back to life, perhaps in the distant future. Once the connection from the soul to the body is severed (known in occult writings as the silver cord), the soul cannot be called back to the body. (That is why “near death” experiences (NDEs) are just that – near death – and not a return or resurrection from having been dead.) Thus, “suspending” a body – by preserving it from decay in a capsule cooled by liquid nitrogen at minus 300 degrees Farenheit – is an exercise in futility.
Similarly, the recent speculations that “downloading’ one’s memories on to a computer chip and implanting it into the brain of a cloned genetic copy of your body would give you another life to live strike us as being unattainable. (Science fiction writers posed variations of this 50 years ago in the 1960s.) The life force, the spiritual monad that is you, that is your consciousness, cannot be mechanically captured and transferred. A cloned copy of your body, even with your memories artificially implanted, would not be you. Your consciousness would not be in that cloned body. Another consciousness would be in that cloned body. How to convey the point I am trying to make? If this were tried, a clone with your memories would be somewhat analogous to hearing a well done audio recording of a gifted singer. The recorded voice, as lifelike as it may sound, is not coming from the singer, but is a convincing copy of the singer’s voice. The record is not the original, but is a representation of the original. One’s implanted memories are not one’s consciousness, but merely a record of past experiences and past thoughts.
We have written before that mind is not an exact synonym for brain and that the mind overlaps yet transcends the physical brain. (Rene Descartes was neither unique nor original in his somewhat similar thinking about this.)
Living properly is the best preparation for death, and consciously practicing a certain detachment can be helpful. By detachment, we do not mean retreating into one’s self but rather living a constructive, loving life in the awareness and acceptance that this life is temporary and death could occur at any time. Recognizing that life in this world is not all there is, or all there will be for us, helps us to not be overly attached to this world. This is one helpful benefit from working for a spiritual level of consciousness. Obsessive fears of death and clinging to life in this world are the burdens that we must carry if we identify with our bodies, and deny our spiritual dimension.
Dogen, a great Japanese zen master of the Middle Ages, advocated living in the awareness of death and the acceptance of it even though we ought not seek death (as a release from the pains of living). When we approach life and death in equanimity, we are free to live fully in the present moment. (He was not advocating reckless, irresponsible behavior.) Dogen stressed that one is to continue with their duties and their zen practice even while dying. One could take medical treatment when ill, but one did not neglect one’s zen practice. Perform your duties (as you are able) even while death is approaching. This seems to us sound advice. Do not think that you cannot make a positive contribution or a positive impression on someone even in your last days. You can make a statement and set a good example in how you leave this world, in how you accept death, and in how you die. And, many hospice care nurses say that more than a few individuals as death comes very close can experience some profound realizations and find peace.
A personal reflection of mine on human life is congruent with the belief that our ultimate nature, our true nature is spiritual. When I look upon a disfigured, horribly mangled, deformed body of a child with very severe birth defects, I still see an immortal soul residing in that body. An immortal human soul that is worthy of respect and love.
Hope and love are in short supply in a world filled with despair and suffering. Yet we can as individuals choose to make a loving contribution to the world. Make loving choices in your life.
Here’s the link indicated above.
And, here is our feature image. A stand of trees early on a summer morning. We first shared this image in our photo series on the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.
Thanks for reading.
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