Friday 26 June 2020

Heaven is Not a place of perfect happiness (*that* is Nirvana)

Of course it isn't! Those who want perfect happiness, along with those who want freedom from all suffering, are seeking Nirvana, not Heaven.

Nirvana being just that: a place of unchanging bliss, in which time is not a factor and nothing happens. (Or, at least, we are conscious-of nothing happening.)

Nirvana is, therefore, a place in which the self, the person, awareness of individuality, is lost. Because there can be no awareness of oneself if perfect happiness and absolute freedom from suffering is required.

In Nirvana the individual is dissolved-into impersonal deity; experienced as a changeless state of simple being.

Heaven is altogether a different kind of place. It is a place chosen (as a permanent commitment) by those who wish to join the Good side in the spiritual war; it is the place where all participate in God's work of loving creation; it is a place of activity - in which motivations are Good, and all the inhabitants pursue these goals in harmony.

In harmony - yes; but harmony is more a matter of sharing (forever) a common goal, and dynamic harmony requires dissonance as well as resolution. Heaven is an endless, developing symphony; it is not a single chord (no matter how sweet that chord may be). 

Creation is dynamic and entails change, love is dynamic and happens between individual persons (God is a person, Jesus is a person, the inhabitants of Heaven are persons).

If loving-creation is the primary and eternal aim of Heaven, then max-happiness/min-suffering cannot also be primary.

One source of sub-optimal happiness would be that some persons whom we love will not choose Heaven; we will be saddened by their absence, at least to some degree.  We would prefer that they had chosen Heaven, but they did not. Our situation is by-that-much sub-optimal.

Another source of sub-optimal happiness is unrequited love. Especially when it comes to eternal spiritual marriage, it may well happen that our specific love for another specific person, and our desire to form a permanent dyad with them, is not requited.

Over the long term, presumably; adjustments are made and a better pairing emerges; but at least in the short term, it seems inevitable that happiness would be sub-optimal if we wish to marry another who does not wish to marry us - at least not for eternity.

In other words, the idea of Heaven as a place of perfect (= absolute and unvarying) happiness is a red-herring, a confusion, a case of mistaken-identity; or even a rejection of the actuality of Heaven and a preference for Nirvana.


TonguelessYoungMan said...

Individuality must be lost to obtain perfect happiness. To be an individual it is necessary to experience a range of emotions, at different times.

edwin faust said...

In Nirvana the individual is dissolved-into impersonal deity; experienced as a changeless state of simple being. - I have never found any place where the Buddha says this. Your information about Nirvana may be unreliable. The Buddha resolutely refuses to offer details about it. Likewise, Heaven is not presented with much concrete detail either. Your assertion that it is a place of ongoing "loving creation" where suffering is not absent and individuals are still, in some degree, in contention ("unrequited love") and where there is a spiritual combat whose resolution is (presumably) not in sight appear to be highly speculative. I have reflected, prayed, meditated, studied on it and I still cannot find what it is that constitutes an individuality that could transcend the ephemeral and transient. Are you suggesting that matter assumes a different quality in the afterlife? What is supposedly being created? And for what purpose? And, not to be flippant, but the notion of eternal marriage does not impress all of us as a heavenly thing.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Jesus’ precise choice of the phrase “eternal life” should have made it clear that he was offering the opposite of nirvana.

edwin faust said...

Wm. Jas: your comment assumes that the phrase eternal life, as well as nirvana, are clearly understood by everyone. Nirvana is described by the Buddha as: deathless, unconditioned, without impermanence or decay. Is that how you understand it? Eternal life, to be precise, is a translation from the Greek, which Jesus did not speak, as far as we know, and the adjective "aiwnios" - eternal - is used in different contexts to mean different things; most often, it means a very long time - an eon. The atemporal and univocal adjective is "aitios." This does not appear in connection with "zoe" - life.This is pointed out by the universalists. But putting all that aside, if we accept eternal life as either timelessness or ongoing existence on a different plane, the question remains: what is it? Jesus said it is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. This involves tow bits of knowledge. How can we know the only true God? Through Jesus Christ? And how do we know Christ? Through the Greek texts that offer a record of His words and deeds? There is a great deal of disagreement about these. If we turn to the Holy Ghost or spiritual intuition, we face a difficulty of discernment and certainty which is by no means a small matter. Relying on the Holy Ghost has produced about 30,000 Christian sects, some of which flatly contradict one another and many of which claim to be the exclusive path to salvation and the avoidance of eternal punishment. You, I believe, are a Mormon, which places you outside the tradition that encompasses most everyone else who goes by the name of Christian. Perhaps Mormons should make that clear when they offer comments so that misunderstanding may be avoided. What I don't entirely understand it why you, Bruce, and William Wildblood, so frequently attack Buddhism, as you understand it, or Vedanta and Eastern Spirituality in general. Why not expound the positive content of your beliefs and practices instead. Offer something more therapeutic than critical.

Bruce Charlton said...

@edwin - speaking for myself, I am doing philosophy - not sociology. If you want to read descriptions of the self-described beliefs and average activities of the majority of people who self-identify under the various labels of Christianity, Buddhism or whatever - this is not the place!

I could only be regarded as 'attacking' Buddhism by clarify the distinction from Christianity by someone who wants to conflate the two - but as I have said here, it is not possible to conflate things aiming at, aspiring to, two extremely different end points.

I suppose the confusion arises from the common error of regarding religions as primarily ethical systems, and noticing that these overlap considerably.

William Wildblood said...

edwin, if I could use Bruce's blog to reply, I don't attack Buddhism. I have frequently said that I have the greatest respect for it and I mean that. But what the Buddha taught and what Christ offers seem to me to be two very different things and I just wish to make that point in this time when either all religions are regarded as saying the same thing or else Buddhism is regarded as teaching a higher, more philosophically pure truth than Christianity.

Buddhism has no explanation for creation which is a point that needs addressing. Nor does it acknowledge the importance of the person. I believe reality is ultimately personal and that cannot be squared with Buddhism despite its many virtues and insights.

Mark Nelson said...

Can we touch on Edwin's other point though? How is it we know that "loving creation" is the highest aim?

Bruce Charlton said...

@MN - It's more a matter of whether loving creation is what we want as individuals. Thus, assuming Heaven is a place of loving creation - that is, a place of love in which creation is the aim (the 'work'); then we need to decide whether this is what we personally want (as compared with the alternative/s). Heaven is 'for' (and only for) those who want loving creation.

William Wildblood said...

If I may chip in, I think we can know this because there would have been no need for creation to have come about otherwise. Resting in impersonal bliss/eternal peace would not have required this whole process. Also, the loving creation option includes the other as and when required while the converse is not true. It's rather like asking, is the experience of day and night better than just that of eternal night (eternal rest) and the answer for anyone in normal circumstances would clearly be yes.

Mark Nelson said...

Respectfully, these are arguments based in logic. Combining imperfect human understanding with logic does not always result in truth.

If you'd say your conclusion is based in intuition, then fair enough. But ultimately, I'm searching for a scripturally based reason to say our "activity" in heaven is cocreation, as opposed to simple presence with our Lord.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MN - It is a teaching of thr Fourth Gospel: