Monday, March 21, 2005

there is no heaven or hell

“We’re just organic matters that would rot after death. Nothing follows after. ‘Might as well make the most out of our one lifetime,” Mhel said while we were in an FX last Thursday. (I was on my way to German class; she just came from the Bureau of Immigration to process some documents so she could return to New York for a two-month vacation.)

Nothing indeed, follows. You die, you rot, and become fertilizer to flowers and shrubs. And then the world keeps on turning.

All we could do at the moment is speculate about what lies ahead after death. Or, if you’re the religious type, you could lap up whatever the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, or any sacred book says about the afterlife.

“Do you think we would have any recollection of our past lives when we get reincarnated into something or someone else?” she asked, becoming suddenly interested in the Hindu concept of death and rebirth.

If we were to believe in reincarnation, I said, I think we’d start fresh again, like a tabula rasa. But somehow, we would probably have faint recollections of our past lives, like snatches of hazy dreams that we suddenly remember in our waking hours.

So that explains our déja-vus? she inquired.

Not exactly, I replied. It’s more like, it explains the stuff we seem to be unexplainably passionate about.

Like me, I’m crazy over religious iconography (I’ve visited the San Agustin Museum in Intramuros more than six times and I even bought a coffeetable book on its extensive collection), cathedrals (holy week or not, I do my visita iglesia in any city I end up in—I gawked at the interiors of Baclayon Church in Bohol, walked the sprawling stretch of the basilica in Lipa, lost myself with the devotees of the Sto. Niño inside the cathedral in Cebu, marveled at San Agustin in Intramuros, meditated inside the cathedral in Lourdes, France, wondered at the Notre Dame de Paris, and drooled over St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), and religious rituals (I once squeezed my way inside the Manila cathedral at 6 a. m. one Holy Thursday just to witness the elaborate renewing of vows of all priests in the archdiocese).

I do all these despite my lack of belief in institutionalized faith. What explains all that, then?

I must’ve been a monk in my past life. Hell, I even listen to Gregorian chant, both the real thing and the contemporary group that sings pop songs chant-like. I know Panis Angelicus and Salve Regina by heart. For a time, I even taught myself Latin not so much because of Cicero as because of my fascination with ecclesiastical pomp and ceremony.

But then, I’m not entirely sold out to the idea of reincarnation.

It sure is a more creative take on the cycle of life than Christianity’s boring images of fire-and-brimstone-lair-with-naked-horny-demons-cavorting-all-around or homosexual-archangels-with-Gaelic-harps-floating-on-fleecy-clouds.

I find something remiss about the whole concept of karma. I find the whole reward and punishment thing childish. Do good things and you’d get better karma and be part of the royal caste (or you’ll go to heaven with naked, gorgeous angels); be a complete ass and you’d get bad karma and get reborn as a flea (or you’ll go to hell with demons who are more frightening than Michael Jackson).

Jeez, give me a break. I do good deeds because I know it’s my obligation to my society. It’s what I should do as a human being. I don’t care about rewards after death, or heaven or hell or about becoming a cherub with a sissy outfit and large hairdo when I die. I do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.

This is a screwed-up world and the only contribution I can do is to make the world better by living my life well. To hell with hell and reincarnating into an amoeba inside someone else’s ass!

But I digress. Let me go back to my conversation with Mhel. I told her, the least we could do is to live life to the fullest. “Drink life to the lees,” as one romantic poet said (was it Cooleridge? Alfred Lord Tennyson? Hell I don’t remember). Do whatever you think would make you a better person and would help others bring out the best in them. Swim in the sea. Dance in wild abandon. Talk to the flowers. In the end, we would be nothing but fertilizers to these flowers anyway. I’m sure you’re familiar with all those sickening forwarded emails instructing you to pause and stop and smell the flowers and admire the sunset and all those crap. I don’t need to repeat them.

There might not be another life after we die. So, go ahead and take charge of your life now.

Gloomy and hopeless perspective? I don’t think so. On the contrary, believing that there is no heaven or hell makes me more alive, it gives me more reason to reach out to my fellow human beings (you have no idea how much I could sacrifice for another human person, friend or stranger), to make myself better (even if I don’t have much direction), and to live like there’s no tomorrow (I hate that cliché).

And speaking of doing what you want, I’d probably be flinging my ass off again to Marikina to join their Good Friday procession. Their religious icons there are fucking great, man. Almost every event in Christ’s last few days is represented by larger-than-life images borne by exquisitely ornate floats. It’s a fashion show of saints, if there ever is one. You should go see it.

Enjoy your holy week! Oh, and please, go easy on the flagellation thing, it’s so counterproductive.

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5 Comments:

At 8:19 PM, Blogger weng said...

ulysses, tennyson

"...i will drink life to the lees: all times i have enjoy'd greatly, have suffer'd greatly,
both with those that loved me,
and alone, on shore, and when
thro' scudding drifts
the rainy hyades vext the dim sea: i am become a name;
for always roaming with a hungry heart
much have i seen and known..."

it sometimes is a great wonder what awaits us in the end. will there really be a street of gold for the kind-hearted and a never-ending fire for the greater lot.

but does it matter, really? can't life be explained simply by people we love, friends we keep, struggles we survived, joys we shelter in our hearts.

i believe in heaven and i believe in hell. but i also believe there are more reasons to live our lives well.

 
At 10:35 AM, Blogger slim whale said...

It can all be summed up into one thing—love. Measure your life in love, as one song puts it. That’s what this life is all about. Where we end up in after death does not matter at all.

 
At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Steddy said...

Hey, Bro...It does if you're going to be aware of the 'After Life'.

 
At 11:58 AM, Blogger slim whale said...

steddy,

but i don't believe in the 'after life,' so obviously, it does not matter to me. :)

 
At 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you must read near death experiences...

 

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