Friday 10 April 2020

Nirvana is Sheol

This suddenly struck me yesterday, when I was considering that time is intrinsic, and creation is therefore irreversible.

We began as eternal spirits; but when we became incarnated (on earth, as mortal Men) this decision meant that we could never return to that pre-mortal state.

What happens 'naturally' (I mean in the absence of following Jesus Christ to resurrection) is that the body dies and the disembodied soul continues in a kind of life that was called Sheol by the Ancient Jews, and Hades by the Ancient Greeks.

Existence continued, but 'the self' was lost; the spirits remained alive, but lost self-consciousness - and therefore the free agency that comes from consciousness. This was seen in qualitative terms of existing as witless, demented ghosts - who were aware on a moment-by-moment basis; but had no memory, no anticipation of future, no sense of eternity.

This is indeed probably what the reality of Nirvana actually is. Since the consequences of incarnation are irreversible; the return to original unconscious passive spiritual life can only be simulated, sibjectively.

I mean, post mortal souls can subjectively experience Nirvana (blissful re-absorption into the abstract divine), they can believe (on a moment by moment basis) that they have re-absorbed into the divine - but the reality will be Sheol.

The experience of Nirvana is that the division between self- and the whole is lost; the individual merges-with, melts-into the divine - where the divine is seen as the totality of everything.

This may be understood to be a state of bliss; and for some people I expect it is - since some people are tormented by their separation from reality, are tormented by consciousness and want it to end.

Whether this unresurrected after-life is regarded as Sheol or Nirvana may depend on the way that the divine is understood: either as an impersonal abstraction (Deism; as with Hinduism and Buddhism) or as a personal God (Theism) - and if personal, further what the nature of the personal God is understood to be.

If the personal God is understood to be a loving Father, and we his children; then the state of souls in Sheol would presumably be pleasant - on a moment-by-moment basis: maybe even blissful. But if God is understood to be otherwise motivated (vengeful, tyrannical etc), then Sheol would be understood as more-or-less miserable.

As for Hell - it is different from Sheol, although Hell is also inhabited by spirits.

My best guess is that Hell is chosen by those souls who wish to retain self-awareness but to work against God's creation. The hellishness of Hell is that of a child of God and a product of creation, eternally in rebellion against these facts.

A parable of Hell (and how it is chosen) is a teenager who hates their loving family; and flees them, and cuts-off all familial relations; in order to live in the worst part of the city as a thief, prostitute, drug addict - and who exploits and is-exploited-by, torments and is-tormented-by, the other denizens.

Such people exist, such things happen; and therefore (by analogy) presumably some have chosen, and will continue to choose, Hell rather than Heaven or Sheol/ Nirvana.

Note added: As is probably obvious - the above is an explanation from my particular Christian perspective. I would not expect those with a different understanding of reality to agree with it!


William Wildblood said...

It seems that in the contemporary world not many people actively want heaven and what that means. Because if you really wanted it you would do everything in your power to make that desire come true which means you would change your way of being and thinking and feeling and everything. You would have to change because all these things are currently tailored to the reality of this world which stands in complete opposition to the actuality of heaven.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - "in the contemporary world not many people actively want heaven and what that means"

I agree, and further that they *actively don't* want it - like the teen who would *prefer* a life of depravity to a life of loving relationships.

This goes beyond not believing that Heaven is real, or not believing that Jesus has the power to offer it - which are matters presumably addressed after death, when the truth is made known (for those able to believe reality).

Mike A. said...

From Doctrine and Covenants Section 138:

35 And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross.

36 Thus was it made known that our Redeemer spent his time during his sojourn in the world of spirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the prophets who had testified of him in the flesh;

37 That they might carry the message of redemption unto all the dead, unto whom he could not go personally, because of their rebellion and transgression, that they through the ministration of his servants might also hear his words.

(and then here is the verse I think you will find most interesting:)

50 For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.

Read the whole section yourself. It's fascinating.

Robert Brockman said...

Your description of Sheol is much closer to the Buddhist concepts of the "Realm of Hungry Ghosts" or the "Realm of Formless Beings" than Nirvana. Your description of Hell mirrors the Buddhist description.

Note that in Buddhist cosmology, great Bodhisattvas acquire the ability to manifest in any realm at will so as to help beings there. Jesus's descent into Sheol / Hades to free the people trapped there is analogous to the Buddhist legend of Kstigharba, who works untiringly in Hell to free the victims of that realm.

Once again, Buddhist Nirvana is *not* a merging of one's consciousness with that of others, but rather acquiring a true understanding of how your self is *connected* to all other selves and the associated realms. Nirvana represents an unbounded *increase* in awareness and free will, not the negation of these. The Buddhists I am in contact with are quite clear that *each Buddha is distinct* in the sense that when someone reaches Nirvana they do not become the same being as, say Gautama Buddha.

In Buddhism, bliss and tranquility are *tools*, *means* that can help with the liberation of oneself and others to proceed. An analogy here would be a trauma surgeon -- if he became consumed by the pain and suffering of his patients he would become incapacitated and unable to help them. The surgeon must be *in* Hell but not *of* Hell in order to work.

Suspicion: what makes Jesus special from the perspective of Buddhism is that from all reports there was never a time when he was *not* fully enlightened. As far as I can tell there's no reason from a Buddhist perspective why this wouldn't be possible, but they have no reports of it.

-- Robert Brockman

Bruce Charlton said...

Comment from Aditya BSRK

First I am a Buddhist. If it an insider is capable of understanding what he is perusing - the (sincere/practicing/knowledgeable) Buddhist is working to
(1) Understand Stress (Understand here means dispassion, dis-aversion & disenchantment, as appropriate)
(2) Quench Stress-cause (craving)
(3) Realize Stress-conquered (which is to be clearly distinguished from not yet Stress-conquered & Stress-end)/Stress-end (which is to be clearly distinguished from not yet Stress-end)
(4) Cultivate Stress-overcoming-path

Now, onward to your post - You seem to suggest that a perception of unification with a great being (which sometimes occurs when entering or abiding in the second concentration) is what is being pursued by us (sincere/practicing/knowledgeable Buddhists).

And I say - perhaps. It depends on a case to case basis. Some (sincere/practicing/knowledgeable) Buddhist might be indeed be thinking "I will cultivate virtue, poise & wisdom. I might attain the un-excelled release in this very life. If I do not attain the un-excelled release in this very life, I will be reborn among the Radiant Brahmas or higher. And it's possible I will attain release from there." And He peruses the second concentration. He tries to stabilize the perception of unification with a great being front, behind, above, below, left, right, night & day. This is an avenue to power.

Is nibbana achieved because of this very pursuit? It's not the most possible result. The Buddha has described many powers. The most likely power that would come out of this is: "Having been one, he becomes many. Having been many, he becomes one."

It it so happens that stress is comprehended, stress's cause is quenched, stress-conquered/stress-end realized, then it just so happened in this case. He is not neglecting the stress-overcoming path though. Whoever cultivates the avenue-to-power is not neglecting the stress-overcoming path. That much is clearly said (and is verifiable by the observant).

Next, Your speculations. Our texts say that there are many powers that a monk can obtain. One of them is: "Having been one, he becomes many. Having been many, he becomes one."

Could a Radiant Brahma & an in-between-birth become one? It's a intriguing hypothesis. Perhaps it's possible?

Ultimately, it is said in the suttas that those that fasten, delight, and find satisfaction in the second concentration are reborn among the Radiant Brahmas.

A (sincere/practicing/knowledgeable) Buddhist might be indeed fasten, and delight in the second concentration - while also thinking "This is impermanent.". It's possible he might be released in the here & now. If not, he is born among the Radiant Brahmas. And he might be released there.

Bruce Charlton said...

Continued from Aditya BSRK...

PS: What is second concentration? With the stilling of thoughts, he enters & abides in the second concentration:
(1) With body-rapture-ease that permeates the body - born of poise
(2) With unification of awareness free of thoughts - born of internal reassurance.

For the beginner both poise factors are weak. The rapture does not permeate the body & the body has much dis-ease, and the unification of awareness is thorned by thoughts. As one grows in expertise, The rapture permeates the body (and the body has no di-ease left) & the unification of awareness is free of thoughts

Finally your comment on unification of awareness as passive. It's quite a different perspective coming from someone who is actively trying to strengthen the second factor (unification of awareness). It seems as if barely any provocation uproots & re-split the unified awareness into eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, touch-consciousness & heart-consciousness.

The imagery likens a poise factor to a stake & the split consciousness to 6 animals pulling in 6 different directions. The greater the dispassion/dis-aversion/disenchantment the more strain the stake can take.

For unification of awareness the most important factor is internal reassurance.

PPS: Because this reply is so long, I could not use the form reply. I hope it is understood that I have a great deal of information to convey.

PPPS: The crucial difference between sincere/practicing/knowledgeable Buddhists and others is how they relate to a poise state & it's corresponding realm analog. The crucial difference is that one finds satisfaction, where as the other thinks "This (both the poise state & the realm) is impermanent".

Those that do not fasten - If they are born in the corresponding realm, they have less glory compared to the one that do fasten. It can be said that they are less diligent in this regard. Both you and Willam (and many Buddhists too, I will concede) seem to suggest "Even if one cannot fasten, as it sometimes happens, that is not a great problem."

Instead, it is correct to think - the factors that influence one's entry to a poise state, what are they? The factors that exist in a poise state, what are they? How should each be attended to? How can they be strengthened? How can the thorns that plague this state be diminished? What perceptions lead to the next poise state? etc.

Thinking this way, it is possible for one to - whenever they want - attain a poise state. They have been diligent in this regard.

James Higham said...

Happy Resurrection Day or Easter, however you see it, Bruce. The cosmic mysteries continue.

Bruce Charlton said...

Thank you James. Happy Easter to you.