I was raised in a sort of religious tradition that placed a lot of emphasis on an afterlife. And the idea that based on your “good works” in this life, you were rewarded with stature and other sorts of things in the afterlife. As I grew older ( I think this easily may have started when I was in my teens), I grew skeptical about the idea of an afterlife (generally) and the idea that somehow my behavior in this life, some how affected what would happen in the world to come.
Like many of my peers, growing up in the scientific age, cause and effect were much more directly related to everyday life than, say, the idea of heaven or hell. If you misbehave, in other words, you get what’s coming to you. In other words, I got to believe in karma in a very immediate, very bone-crunching sort of way. Everything you do has consequences–now!
Once again, though, I have been challenged. What if this isn’t all there is?
There are two main schools of thought on what happens after you die. One school says that you have a soul and that when you die your soul leaves its “mortal coil” and you arrive in some sort of an afterlife–a heaven or hell, if you will. This school has several variants in several different cultures.
The second school says that your idea of self is purely illusory, and when you die everything that was you grinds to a halt. There is no ever after. This is all there is. That’s all she wrote!
Yes, there are some hybrid variants on these two world views but basically that is it.
Now, there are anecdotal representations of how these both work. Some claim to have seen a “white light”. According to the first school (that there is an afterlife) the “light” represents an opening or a passage into the afterlife. According the second school, however, this post-death or near-death experience, is merely evidence of the brain not getting enough oxygen, and the most common hallucination occurring under these hypoxic circumstances is the illusion of a white light! So, which is it? And is the “white light” even indicative of a near-death state of being?
So there you have it. The question remains: what if this is all there is? What if the white light is merely a figment of the imagination, a hallucination. And what if the near-death experience is actually nowhere near-death at all?
Hmph. So here we are. Still stuck.
I recently finished reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus seemed to me to be conflicted. At once saying that death is the end. And at the same time professing a belief in the gods (or a God). I wonder how much was lost in the translations (once from the Greek by Marcus Aurelius and once from the Roman by a slew of ancient history scholars).
Also, listening to a scattering of Buddhist adherents, there doesn’t seem to be any consistency or conclusion either on the nature of life after death. Some have identified (or invented) a world called the bardo which is supposed to be an interim state between what there is here and now, and what there is ultimately to be. It sort of makes things worse instead of better, if you are trying to answer the question above.
Is this all there is?
I’d be interested in your thoughts.