”Deep inside you are just a hollow bamboo and existence flows through you for no other motive than the sheer delight in flow. Existence flows because it delights in flow. There is no utilitarian goal”
I am going to use a well-known metaphor here to explore an idea, so forgive me if I beat it to death.
Most wisdom schools hold central to their philosophies the idea of some form of continuation of the essence of being. Some religions even hold out for resurrection of the actual physical body at some future Judgement Day, which is surely the crudest desire of a grasping creed. Or, according to others, the soul will rise to some Heavenly sphere to exist for all ”eternity”, or be condemned to Hell, if the person has been ”bad”. Most acknowledge that dust returns to dust and the body decays, but continue to hold onto an idea of a continuation of a spirit or soul or some essence which will be, in many traditions, from the Egyptian mystery schools, through Plato’s philosophy, to the Perennial Philosophies of the East, Shamanic mysteries and so on, re-embodied in some way, be it wholly, furnished with residual karma and/or knowledge/remembrance of previous embodiments or, as in some Buddhist’s views, a partial continuation of at least an imprint or thought-form or mind-stream.
This last view is the least committed in terms of a continuation of those schools that support the concept of re-embodiment. Pure Buddhism at core sees nothing there to continue.
After that we have the atheists and humanists and so on who often believe that nothing continues, for there is no special essence to consider in the first place. It is a purely material and temporal existence, they hold, though often informed by the highest of moral ideals and aspirations, which is a form of sacredness in itself.
What if there could be some resolution between these points of view? That life is indeed a one-shot experience, but that what it embodies briefly in that firefly moment is so vast and blissful that it is sufficient in and of itself and does not require a ”continuation”.
It is for this reason that I borrow the lightning metaphor. Lightning arises as a result of certain atmospheric conditions, conditions which could be used to illustrate the primordial source. Certain special conditions conspire to give rise to our own beings manifestation. Lightning arises due to the collision of certain states of matter ~ warm vapour and cold ice ~ the collision of which builds up a massive electrical charge in the atmosphere. This polarisation ~ almost like the shiva/ shakti analogy of positive and negative forces within the body ~ results in an electrical discharge which can be quite spectacular. Some lightning is big and impressive, some extra-terrestrial, some forms shapes and travels, other flashes fizzle and pop between clouds, but all varieties partake of the same visible qualities of intense light and magnificence, not to mention their qualities of invisible energy. All manifestations of being likewise partake of the magic of Source; all have the same potential and essential characteristics, though capacity to express that may be different due to many factors.
And then, when lightning has been discharged, it is over. It does not loop back. Yes, there is a change to the atmospheric chemistry, like a memory in the ions or the imprint of an existence, but lightning does not run around to the back of the slide, wait its turn, climb the ladder again and have another go. It is a non-repeatable phenomenon of arising.
In this analogy, being occurs, knows life and consciousness fully, partakes wholly of the mystery, and then disappears. Utterly. The Source, or primordial condition, that can give rise to beingness continues. Just not our specific and glorious blast of lightning. That lightning flash of a temporary embodiment partakes of the most refined and explosive energy of the cosmos, so there is nothing ignoble or small about it, in spite of its transitory nature.
“This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds.
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky.
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.”
Now, there is a lot of information out there about previous lives and past memories and experiences, and indeed it could all very well be true. Dr Ian Stevenson, for example, has done a very impressive study and collation of thousands of experiences which seems quite persuasive. http://www.near-death.com/experiences/reincarnation01.html
Also, for those interested in esoterica, we often read of saintly people or mystics who have gone before us and who apparently arrived into this existence with a powerful store of accumulated energy and effort from previous lifetimes, which leaves them fit to progress quite rapidly in this lifetime, in a spiritual sense. Yogananda and Ramakrishna spring to mind, for example. Patanjali refers to this in Sutra 19 : ”The videha (transl:disembodied) and prakritilaya (transl: those merged in matter) yogis have birth as the cause of ….. samadhi (possible transl: Communion).”
It occurs to me, however, that a past life is not the only possible explanation of such phenomena. Time and space and consciousness and energy may not arrange themselves quite as we presently imagine. Perhaps they fold in upon themselves, or spiral and nest, and so on, so that a new embodiment may be electrically influenced by non-local imprints which create a sense of memory, ‘knowingness’ or experience. Perhaps the electrical conditions present at the moment of conception of certain embodiments cause that temporary being to hold a greater charge for that time, manifested in that lifetime as spiritual development or another great talent. These are just some possibilities. Perhaps when we remember the past we tap into some morphic field or noosphere or collective unconscious, that has derived from Source and been augmented by the electrical discharge of all the flashes of lightning that have gone before us.
“Like vanishing dew,
a passing apparition
or the sudden flash
of lightning — already gone —
thus should one regard one’s self.”
This is all just wondering on my behalf. I have those certain familiar-to-me ideas and beliefs and practices to which I am by nature attracted, but I understand that this attachment arises because of personal conditioning. Thus an emotional conditioning channels one towards devotion or a belief in God, for example, and certain psychic traits or preferences will convince one of the efficacy of certain practices. But yet I always retain a sense of what could be called doubt, although I don’t see it as doubt. I see it as enquiry, which I do not think contradicts the state of simple beingness either. There is a great line in the movie AGORA where Hypatia is being threatened under pain of death to convert. She responds to her old friend and student by saying, ”You do not question your beliefs. But I must question mine.”
Questioning and enquiry does not mean that one is an unbeliever, nor does it undermine experience.
”When you drop the idea of meaning and goal, a strange phenomenon happens – the idea of meaninglessness also disappears. With the idea of meaning, side by side, parallel, runs another idea: the idea of meaninglessness. Buddha cuts the root. He says there is no meaning to be attained, hence there is no question of feeling meaninglessness. Life in itself is its value.”
And so a further enquiry arises if we can possibly, even briefly, consider that this is it. That this one spectacular electro-static flash is all that we will ever know between eternities of non-being. If we felt that this was true ~ this single, impermanent and non-recurring wonder in the cosmos, that is our life ~ would it make us live any differently? If there was no Heaven, no salvation, no rebirth, no reward, no accumulation, no way, no path, no effort. Just an is-ness, a brief moment of potential pure consciousness and awareness that arises from the Void and then disappears eternally into the Void, would we live any other way?
Somewhat related, I read this line yesterday, and found it extraordinary….
”It would be better, bhikkhus, if an uninstructed ordinary person regarded this body, made of the four great elements, as himself rather than the mind. For what reason? This body is seen to continue for a year, for two years, five years, ten years, twenty years, fifty years, a hundred years, and even more. But of that which is called mind, is called thought, is called consciousness, one moment arises and ceases as another continually both day and night.”
— SN 12.61
(Note : SN is short for Samyutta Nikaya ~ the collected discourses of the Buddha)
OM TAT SAT