- Religion and Philosophy
After Death Experiences
Why Is This Not The End?
In 2006, Life After Death, the Burden of Proof, was published by bestseller, Deepak Chopra. Just about all my life, with some notable exceptions, I have shunned not only religion but the occult and almost anything associated with either. I could pay lip service. Anybody could. It was no harder than being part of a Rocky Horror Picture Show audience reciting lines just before they were spoken on-screen. In other words, in religious matters, all that was required was to strike the right pose and say the right words. The wacky Waco, Texas stuff, your basic David Koresh, was over the top and needs no comment. Now, nearly ten years after the publication of a book dealing I would have thought more with the latter than the former -- fanaticism rather than a credible, if unique approach toward the sacred -- I have thrown my own lot in with believers. I'm not sure if it is Christian doctrine across the board to think that there is more to life than this life, but within its confines lies the gist of the matter. I believe that there is more to life than this life, as conventionally understood, somehow kept hidden or veiled, possibly until death.
The paradox is that you have to be dead to get into the next life or heaven or rapturous corridor or whatever you want to call it. I already expressed my readiness to believe in what seems at first blush a far-out fancy in another hub on near death experiences. But Chopra opens the subject up from two points of view with which I had no previous familiarity: (1) Eastern Philosophy and Religion, and (2) Medical Science. Prior to all this, I could only randomly sift through You-Tube segments. Other men and women with experiences that won acknowledgement from the medical-minded came more easily to the attention of Dr. Chopra than ordinary writers. He not only related his reactions to their stories but invented a kind of parable of his own, involving, á là Ingmar Bergman, an incarnation of death. What I liked best about the Eastern angle was how less dramatic it was than Western testimony. It seems as though we really have a flair for the stage and probably cannot refrain from tempting embellishments. The Eastern religious merely recount an experience, such as a light turning on without a switch having been flipped. To be honest, light is never in religious context without some extra metaphorical and allegorical meaning. That much both West and East agree upon. It is probably only in the telling that we differ.
A Temple in India
There is No New Thing Under the Sun
This from Webster's Bible Translation of Ecclesiastes 1:9. I think the West gets it right in this oft-quoted phrase, however translated, from the Old Testament. Chopra, nonetheless, is familiar with a lot of the same type of thinking that has emerged from the East. Again, I can only express an appreciation for the way the East simply isolates its higher thoughts apart from riveting action-adventure stories. These have a way of giving birth to great art. The latter, by way of plays, music, movies, and Nobel Prize winning books is admittedly awe-inspiring. But what about just people who simply live lives, barely distinguishable one from the other, yet who also gain entry into a gorgeous landscape where it is no big deal, it seems, to either gaze upon Jesus or hear Him speak?
What I like about Chopra is that he includes several lists and definitions. It is much easier to discuss a rather unscientific matter if scientific methods can be made use of, such as terminology, which might be psychological, philosophical, neurological, or religious. The terms are important because they appear and reappear again and again in an assortment of experiences that defy drab mechanistic explanations. It seems as though I am glomming onto something that has been in the public arena for a while. An article entitled "Akasha Think" was posted on HuffPost, July 10, 2012. Akasha or "field of consciousness" to Chopra, crops up multiple times in his book. The article gives no less than sixteen definitions. Chopra, however, places Akasha somewhere in between waking and dreaming. It is difficult to pin down, but the essence of Akasha is that it becomes real when what was formerly real, either in dreams or while awake, goes the opposite route.
If this place or state of mind truly exists, as I am inclined to wager, then it, too, is nothing new under the sun. It is only that its form of spiritual thinking has either been discredited or fallen into desuetude. Either way, or both, it does not hinge upon technological innovation. Thus, it is not liable to attract a Congressional grant. But many are not as impressed by hi-tech as before, or what movie and television scenes might suggest. Touching screens, finding data immediately, and using a tiny smartphone screen to climb on board an airplane is basically child's play. There is a popular legend that the Island of Atlantis achieved a technological status well beyond what little the ancient world had managed. Plato himself wrote about it in ancient Greece. But the myth is probably misleading at best. If it had trumped its contemporaries, the lost civilization of Atlantis might well have done so because of Akasha, or, greater mental and spiritual agility. In our own time, we have witnessed stunning mental regressions, as though ancient idolators had been reborn. Our perceptions are, after all, influenced by prejudices and stereotypical thinking. The latter hinge more often than not on acquisition and esteem. That is to say, the great majority prefer things to thoughts.
If I could grasp this in its entirety, I believe I would have the whole solution. But Akasha seems to be one of those concepts that only allow various approaches to it, some of which are tantalizing, others not so dynamic. The concomittant idea that the cosmic world has mind, too, not limited to observers looking at or analyzing it, is not so bizarre. Consciousness could, theoretically, if nothing else, be an indispensable part of the universe, like dark matter, elliptical motion, or gravity. Chopra remarks upon several experiments and theories dealing with Akasha near the end of his study. Many are not particularly earth-shattering. But the very notion that there is more to the universe than meets either the eye, or a probing scientific mind, does not create a stir. Take, for example, the eerie concept that the mind is actually located outside its usual, designated place, the brain. The latter, in this theory, is merely a receptor. Life, too, is also merely a projection, not the other way around. Hard to swallow, right? Projections are thought of as mental phenomena, not physical products.
As Chopra points out, or, perhaps, implies, the West has more trouble than the East when it comes to envisioning the invisible. Common sense, however, tells that seeing is far from believing. Also, the unseen has, almost by definition, as much existence if not more than the seen. Experimenters of cinéma verité knew in the 1960s that when they went out to observe everyday street life in Paris or elsewhere that the camera changed reality. In effect, reality could never be captured. It was never exactly the same as it would have been without a camera. Chopra goes even further, describing ideas, familiar to Rishis (Seers), that observation alone changes reality, requiring no machinery whatsoever. If nothing else, testimony about other worlds, to which select individuals occasionally gain admittance, cannot be dismissed simply because some encountered them while skeptics did not.
Usually, the soul is mentioned within the context of moral constraints. It is either good or bad. But in the discussion at hand, it is also a part of life set apart. It has its own integrity. What else can account as nicely for out-of-body experiences? Now, it might seem that the hub author here is a sucker for every con artistry dealing with the afterlife. Admittedly, it is oftentimes hard to tell what is real from fake. But that is the nature of the beast. It just seems logical that the self as soul can transcend the physical. In the discussion at hand as well, it can also defy the logic of science, since it is invisible -- to both the eye as well as sharpened, polished lenses. Well, science has done a great deal of research, using expensive equipment, in forcing what is invisible to the eye to register or proclaim itself on a photographic plate or a mechanical graph. But it has also proven that there is a great deal of reality that cannot be seen. There is no scientific reason not to assert more than simply believe that much of the universe remains to be discovered -- essentially what quantum physics have to do with.
Ultimately, it does in fact come down to belief, that is to say, an unprovable position. Life After Death was actually a hard read for me. I very often faded out, just reading Chopra's words on a page, unable to grasp the deeper subjects, which were foreign to my more pragmatic way of thinking. Eastern thought and religion, by the way, is not only a challenge to the West, but now and again comes into conflict with Islam, somewhere in between. Thus, the term, Middle East, is actually preceded by a number of fuzzier versions. It was once the Near East, then the Ottoman Empire, succeeded by the British Mandate. My own ignorance serves to show, if I am correct, that I am not the only one. Westerners are largely unaware of how the East habitually thinks, behaves, and acts. Nonetheless, it can shift back and forth, just as Christians and Muslims do, from non-referential, abstract religious thought, having more to do with "the other world", to current affairs and the meta-language of cutting edge technology. Militarily, too, the East is quite strong, able to defend its interests perhaps as never before.
Creation and Physical Life: one man's vision
As one gets older, it is the body more than anything else that fits the definition of a personal hell from which there is no escape. The Eastern sages do not see the body as a single entity, but rather an assemblage of different layers (p. 144): (1) physical body, (2) prana (subtle breath or life force), (3) mind, (4) ego and intellect, (5) body of bliss. Chopra makes the point that during apparitions of the Virgin Mary, she is never seen as having aged. Her agelessness is attributed to being blessed rather than damned. The five physiological divisions listed above are called koshas, or, as already mentioned, layers. Naturally, it is hard to imagine very many from the West who would sit still for such an analysis without being made uncomfortable and dismissing the entire matter, not wishing any harm, with a condescending smile. Why the resistance to the physical as all there is anyways? Or to the body as a mixture of blood, tissue, and bones? A living organism starts out perfect, matures, then deteriorates. It should not be so tough to digest. No body is ever meant to last forever. Eventually, it becomes biological waste. Are not Eastern interpretations merely a failure to grasp the unassailable fact that life is subject to severe limitations? Why not accept the fact that real life is a crap shoot wherein some lead beautiful lives and others eke out subsistence level livings burdened by diseases, indifference, oppressive governments, and lingering problems? It is just the way it is in a godless world. The laws of the universe, after all, have to do with celestial bodies (stars, suns, moons, planets, asteroids), not human aspirations, ambitions, and personal and/or impersonal goals, regardless how admirable. Anyways, so the argument might go. . . .
One of the cardinal rules about writing is to write about that which the writer knows. I could offer a defense insofar as I have written more than 150 hubs. I do not know anything more. Therefore, by now, I have exhausted my own storehouse of theses with which I have a literary familiarity. But in reality, I could not resist a try. I was interested in the idea of life after death since my personal religious beliefs, such as they are, allow for this very hypothetical construct. In fact, I believe that eternal life is the true goal of every religious-minded soul. It is better, I would maintain, than anything Satan has to offer -- which is actually quite a lot! No need to elaborate! As such, some built-in component in human beings must transcend their rather fragile anatomy, subject to accidents, disease, misfortune, and, especially today, exposure to toxicity, poisons, and pollution. It should allow the existence of lives after deaths that are often enough premature, unjust, and due to causes beyond human control. If only major medical plans would include a relevant rider. But alas, they do not. Thus, we have life insurance policies and actuarial consolation prizes such as cash awards to survivors in the event of dismemberment. Given the circumstance of being a senior citizen, why would I not at least entertain the notion that I can somehow survive my own death, which might, for all I know, be just around the corner?