Tuesday, September 14, 2010

End of days

Another similarity between Christianity and Buddhism is a sense of urgency. Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven being immanent. By this I think he means two things - (1) that we are literally close to it, that it is a state that we can touch on now, and (2) that life is very short so we have only a short time to transform ourselves to live in the kingdom, both now and after death (more on the meaning of the afterlife in another blog). Buddhism also takes this point of view. Dogen said life is like bolt of lightning, meaning it is over very quickly. Again in Buddhism we see a pressure to transform before it is too late, to achieve enlightenment in this life. Like with the attitude toward family we see a break here with older religions such as Judaism and Hinduism (note I'm not saying they don't have this but that it is not emphasized as much)

So life is short and meditation and (real) prayer are hard. Therefore there is an urgency in these paths

It is true, the world, this world, will end, when you die. This is often symbolically portrayed in stories about the end of the world, such as Revelation. These are stories about the fact that you will die and the people you love will die. It is also the case that our civilization could end due to natural disaster and/or our own folly (e.g., nuclear war, global warming). This has happened in the past and we can realistically imagine it happening in the future. So these stories are also cautionary tales about the fragility of our society. Also, because we are social animals we care about others sometimes as much or more than we do about ourselves. These stories are also about the others that we love and reminders not to take our relationships for granted because they can disappear with no notice.

The point of the end of days is to focus on the now and on what's important. Treating such stories as if they truly portray the events leading to the end of the world is a complete waste of your short time on earth and can actually be dangerous. You might as well believe that Arnold Shwarzenegger movies are true.

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