Showing posts with label Catholicism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Catholicism. Show all posts

Monday, August 28, 2017

What is Meant by Hell? Is it Forever?

There are several key aspects of Christian dogma that require deeper understanding if ever Christianity is to be reconciled to other religions, and especially (from my interest, at least), to the Vedantic teachings of India. The Vedas and related teachings and practices predate even the appearance of Hinduism as we know it today as well as Christianity and the other major religions.

Some of those key aspects requiring deeper understanding include the Christian teaching that only by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior can you be saved from eternal damnation. This is two-fold because it posits the concept of eternal damnation as well as the singular role of Jesus Christ and the religion founded in his name.

Reincarnation is another key teaching requiring reconciliation. Reincarnation interfaces with both eternal damnation and eternal salvation in the ego (with a resurrected human body). 

Being saved by Jesus Christ alone interfaces with the dogma that Jesus is the ONLY son of God. Being the son of God is less of an issue than being the ONLY son of God! Considering what we know of the age of the universe, of planet earth, of the existence of other religions and cultures, well, gee whiz: it just no longer makes sense that Jesus Christ is the only savior for everyone: whether born before, during, after his mere 33 years in a human body. A Christian has to purposely hide his head in the sand, ignoring the teachings and the saints of other religions to stick with that. The fate of all those billions who never heard "the good news" is either eternal damnation (no fault of their own?) or sitting somewhere in a nowhere land called "Limbo!" (What an invention THAT is!)

So perhaps you can see that this question of Hell is, well, hell, an important question! 

Here are some thoughts about hell and what it means and how it was used throughout the Bible (New and Old Testaments):

  1. You don't have to die to go to hell. Look around you: war, disease, depression, mental illness, starvation, abuse and exploitation.
  2. During suffering, it is difficult to imagine it ever ending and easy to imagine that your suffering is forever. This is as true for addictions and desires as it is for mental or physical suffering.
  3. In fact, despair is the bottomless pit of suffering. When addicted to a harmful habit or substance, you stop even enjoying it but cannot imagine yourself living without it. This realization produces a numbing state of despair and paralysis of will (along with the effects of the habit itself). What else is despair if not the feeling of eternally being dammed?
  4. "In my Father's house there are many mansions." The rishis of India, including modern saints of India such as Paramhansa Yogananda, confirm that the after-death states of the soul include places that could be described as heaven and hell. The difference is that they are not forever. Instead, and somewhat more like the Catholic teaching of Purgatory, these states, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or simply a state of sleep, are but rest stations between incarnations. But their existence is affirmed in the east and their nature is deemed temporary. 
Accepting the personal and private intensity of living in hellish states of consciousness, in pain and suffering, is it not so unimaginable that they would be described in the strongest terms in various phrases in the Bible? Even without questioning the translations and the original meanings of the words, it is easy to see that the language of Jesus and the Jews in the Bible were typically intense and strong. Witness the dialogues between Jesus and Pharisees, for example. Jesus hurled the epithet "Ye Whited sepulchers" at the Pharisees (and that was on a good day)! I think it is safe to say that the Jewish culture has a long history of intense debate and hyperbole of expression. (I think of Jewish mother jokes!)

In the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, the centuries around the life Jesus were considered periods of relative darkness as to humanity's general degree of virtue and enlightenment. Fear of hell fire was a valid form of motivation in that long dark night of ignorance that extended through medieval times up to and prior to the dawn of the Age of Reason and Science. 

I don't know of any specific surveys, but I doubt many Christians really believe in eternal damnation. In fact, Catholics had to invent Purgatory because hell is such a draconian consequence of sins so inconsequential as missing Easter mass. 

And what about those poor children dying in childbirth or before the age of reason? For them, the Catholics invented LIMBO! From the view of reincarnation and eternity these inventions seem like patching a leaking boat with band aids. Never mind the issue of a just and merciful God wherein one person is born with mental illness or deformity or in seriously disadvantaged circumstances (even just spiritually) and another born with the proverbial silver spoon. Certain core Christian beliefs will never withstand the crushing forces of actual human experience as cultures and religions collide and integrate. 

I give no advice nor challenge to orthodox Christians. Each must find his own way and those many who stay rooted head down in the sands of ignorance can stay there for this lifetime but the future belongs to Sanaatan Dharma. This can be translated (from the Sanskrit) as the "Eternal Religion." It offers eternal salvation through ego transcendence into the state of eternal Bliss in God (who is pure love and bliss) to all beings, accomplished by the combination of self-effort and grace over untold lifetimes. Such a teaching applies in every age, on every planet, to every being. Meditation is the engine that accelerates the soul's journey to Self-realization for the simple reason that God's bliss is a state of consciousness; it is not a place in time or space. It does not require a physical body, or any form of body. It is the dissolution of our separateness (ego) back into the only reality that has ever existed: God. No loss of consciousness is implied: only expansion into Infinity!

As science searches for the "theory of everything" based on a deeply rooted impulse in human nature, so Sanaatan Dharma offers the "good news" for all Beings. As science, rooted to matter and circumscribed by the law of duality, may never find the "theory of everything," so too no outward form of religion can ever circumscribe that which is eternal and infinite. But as science can nonetheless be useful, so the different religions can help those who are attracted to them to advance along their personal journey to Self-realization.

Thus Sanaatan Dharma intends no undermining of Christians or other faiths. Instead it offers to those who are ready to seek "oneness with everything" the goal of soul liberation in God through the practice of meditation. Meditation is the science of God-realization. 

Blessings and joy to all on our respective journeys to the "truth that shall make us free."

Swami Hrimananda

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Many are the Pathways to Truth

Religious sectarianism is an afront to people of intelligence, sensitivity and goodwill. It's no wonder the number of non-affiliated but religious-minded people continues to grow.

In Paramhansa Yogananda's now famous story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, confronts the young swami-in-training (Mukunda, the future Swami Yogananda) and his adverse attitude toward organizations. Sri Yukteswar bluntly (was he ever NOT blunt?) asks Yogananda whether he would have found such wisdom if true teachers, current and past, were not willing to share their wisdom with others.

It was then that Yogananda vowed to do what he could to share with all the wisdom he had received. Thus, in short order, he embarked upon a life of self-sacrifice and service. Not many years later he came to America and against great odds and opposition began a nationwide (indeed, international) spiritual work.

I meet many sincere seekers in my work of teaching meditation, and in my association with the local East West Bookshop (in Seattle, WA). Among such people I find a distinct reluctance, even disdain, for participation or commitment in any form of organized spiritual work. This is understandable considering the bad name religion has earned for itself around the world. (Is not religion but organized spirituality--at least in principle?)

Oddly enough, despite sixteen years of Catholic education (grade school through university), I never felt the weight or burden of the organization. I took what inspiration I was blessed with and left the rest at the curbside. So I can't say I am a "recovering" Catholic. I treasure the inspiration and the great tradition of the saints and of mystical union that has been (more or less) preserved.

At Ananda, too, in my over thirty years of participation, I see the necessity of organization as separate from my inner relationship with God and Self.

What Swami Kriyananda has been saying in more recent years includes encouraging high-minded souls to join together in affirming their ideals. He points out that more good can be accomplished by cooperation and harmony than by separation and independence.

Ours is simply not a time nor an age where disappearing into the caves or hermitages either satisfies Spirit-seeking souls or serves the spiritual needs of those around us.

Yes, organizations are a pain. Indeed, both Yogananda and Kriyananda call them "evil" though in both cases I think more for effect than for absolute! After all, is not the creation, including our bodies and personalities, being dual, a kind of evil--at least if one defines evil as that which obscures the transcendent Divine nature of all things?

To grow spiritually we must learn to accept things as they are and be willing to serve and sacrifice. Self-sacrifice ("Yagya" in the Vedas) is a term that, in American culture at least, seems only to apply to military service! (Ironic, no?) We are, I believe, in the beginning throes of having to relearn this universal truth: all good comes from sacrifice.

Furthermore, to refuse to commit is all too often an affirmation of ego-separateness, perhaps hiding behind the veil of disdain and critique. It is a common truth that pride hides fear.

Therefore, I encourage those of goodwill and high ideals to "make your ideals practical" (advice Yogananda gave to Kriyananda long ago) and get involved. Better yet, committed. Like the old joke about breakfast: "The chicken's involved, but the pig's committed!"

Only by merging ourselve into a greater reality, expanding our sense of Self, can we ever find true and lasting happiness.

Joy to you,