This fleeting life…

If you wonder about the transience of butterflies, whose average life span is about month, here is news for you. Our life span of 70-80 years, is also fleeting and transitory, in the face of the age of the universe. We are were now, gone then!

We live only once in this corporeal body in this planet earth. We are then gone forever.

Under these circumstances it is important to be aware of the following
There is no heaven or hell, no swarga or naraga. There is no afterlife, there is no rebirth. Also there is neither a soul nor is there an atman.

This life, this existence, is all that we have.
Given this fleeting existence, in this lonely planet, that is lost in the wilderness of space, does it make sense to fret, fume, worry, be anxious etc.? It really does not make any sense at all. The suffering, pain, anxieties, worries don’t mean anything in the long run. So the next question is why worry, why be anxious etc.?

Unfortunately it is not easy to break out of this cycle of worry, anxiety, anger and other negative emotions as we have been programmed to behave in this way. These emotions that we experience are the result of centuries of conditioning in our mental makeup. This conditioning forces to react in a particular ways.

When somebody hurts our ego we get angry. When we are humiliated we feel hurt. When we imagine some outcome that is contrary to what we expect, we start to be anxious and begin to worry. We can’t get away from this cycle. However it is good to temper all your reactions with the thought, that your emotions, worries and anger are irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. It may not do away with the ill feeling, but it is still worth a try.

The centuries of mental conditioning will cause the neurons to fire is specific ways, and we can’t make the neurons to ‘unfire’. We can’t swim against this tide of emotions which are reactions to events.

While there is no soul or atman, these may be useful mental constructs to some in  helping them to stick to values.  The soul is supposed to be ennobled by good deeds and defiled by bad ones. The atma is above buddhi(intellect), manas (mind) and the indriyas( senses and is synonymous with the Self. Supposedly knowledge of the Self will result in bliss and peace.

But the soul or atman don’t really exist. If one needs to take recourse to these concepts to maintain a value driven life it is fine. But we should be aware that these are just concepts.

I was reminded of this John Lennon song, Imagine
Imagine there is no heaven,
It is easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky

So in essence, in this short span of existence we should live sensibly. We need to look at life in the correct perspective and not get embroiled in imaginary concepts like swarg-narag, heaven-hall, soul-atman.

While we cannot avoid some of the emotions we must be cognizant of the fact that all good and bad experiences must pass and we will leave this corporeal frame forever.

The many ways we deceive ourselves

We humans like to look at ourselves as the smartest species on planet earth. We are also the only species that has the unique distinction of being able to deceive itself completely. Why do we deceive ourselves you may wonder? To me this appears because of our need for a sense of justice, a need for a warm, fuzzy feeling and also possibly due to a little bit of narcissism.

Here are some common deceptions

The Myth of Karma & Sin: Karma & sin is a myth that has been propagated since time immemorial. Hindus believe, good begets good and evil begets evil and also that these consequences are the result of the working of karma. The theory of karma assumes that one’s good actions result in good providence and the evil that one does returns to destroy the doer. Similarly other faiths have the concept of sin and virtue. In these faiths sin results in punishment and virtue results in a safe voyage to heaven. There is no real evidence to support that punishment or reward for evil or good acts actually exists. There are many in this world of ours who go about their wanton ways yet live a full and carefree life. Then, there are others who go through a tough righteous path and live a life of hardships. Regardless, many of us have a value system because transgressions from the virtuous path can result in an unsettled and troubled conscience.

Though the laws of karma and sin are creations of the mind, they are really necessary to maintain the law and order of world. Without karma and the fear of retribution there would be anarchy and chaos in the world.

The fact that karma and sin are possible deceptions of the mind does not in any way justify evil or heinous acts. We must follow a virtuous path simply because it is the right thing to do. We should be governed by the maxim “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

The Myth of the Afterlife: Almost all the major religions believe in life after death. Why do we do this? There are 2 main reasons. Death is an inevitable part of human life. Since we do not like to lose a dear one, we like to think that our loved ones continue to exist in another dimension. This allows us to bear the loss of a dear one.

The other reason is that we don’t like the finality of death. Different religions treat afterlife differently. Some religions believe in re-incarnation where we shed our body, after death, and transmigrate into another body. Other religions believe in a hell where the dead person is tortured for their evil deeds and a heaven where they are rewarded. The punishment or reward follows from the mortal deeds in an earthly life. As mentioned before, without the reward and retribution theory there would be chaos on earth. But there is again no real proof of such an afterlife.

Some people claim to be able to recall incidents from their past life, Also there are others who have had ‘near-death’ experiences who claim to have seen a ‘white, brilliant’  light. However this does not substantiate the existence of re-incarnation, heaven-hell or an afterlife.

In my opinion, there is nothing beyond death. We come to this world; we live and then cease to exist. There is nothing after death.  Man has been on earth for a few million years. With a few 100 thousand generations before us heaven and hell would be pretty crowded by now.

Though there is nothing beyond this mortal life there is nothing wrong in trying to leave a legacy behind for future generations. This is not for any narcissistic reason but to prolong the ‘doing unto others as we would like to have done to us’ even after death.

These theories and beliefs were acceptable millennia ago when our understanding was primitive. But with the advances of science and our knowledge of the universe we need to relook at our beliefs. We may need to modify our beliefs with the changing times. We need to shed some of our old beliefs.

However, this does not in any way preclude us leading a virtuous and a value filled life.

The reward & punishment myth of karma & sin

The theory of karma and the belief in sin and punishment are mere myths. There is really no compelling evidence in support of them. We simply believe that evil actions result in retribution and good acts result in good providence. These are just theories of convenience. There is really no valid proof of these theories.

For e.g. when we witness another person perform something bad we mentally assume that nemesis will catch up with that person. We believe that justice will eventually prevail. Similarly when we do something good, perform some altruistic act we internally assume that we gain karmic merit. Others may believe that kindness and benevolence will ultimately result in a great time in heaven or some such thing.

In reality none of this is really true. Your life is ultimately the result of choices that you make. One could be evil and still make intelligent choices and navigate through life fairly successfully. On the other hand, there are altruists who suffer because they lack basic common sense.

Simply believing that “every action results in equal and opposite reaction” is naïve.

Having said that karma & sin are mere theories and have no substance does not mean that I am advocating an immoral or evil life. Ultimately every action that we do must be based on a simple maxim “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

It is likely that the theory of karma & sin/punishment play an important role in the maintenance of law in the lives of mankind.

Ultimately it is ability to maintain the highest quality of life for mankind as a whole that should be basis for any thing that we do or don’t do.