Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Reflections on Death, Resurrection, and the Afterlife (reprise)


Weddings and funerals are major social events in every Orang Asli community, bringing everybody together - just as they are in every other community - obviously because they are markers in the cycle of life and death. At Bayo's funeral on June 5th, 2007, I listened to the lay preacher (a Temuan from Tanjong Malim Calvary Mission) recite the last rites just before they covered the tiny, hastily knocked-together plywood coffin with earth.

Bayo's family is one of two in Pertak Village who converted to Christianity, probably in the 1980s, before the Orang Asli Affairs Department began taking a dim view of missionary incursions (apart from Islamic) into Orang Asli communities.

"Let this be a reminder to us all," the lay preacher intoned, "that our existence on this earth is only temporary. What God gives, God also takes away. But even death is temporary, for our souls are immortal; and those who believe in Jesus Christ shall live forever in Heaven."

It's been a long time since I heard such outright nonsense uttered. I drifted out of earshot and let the brief ceremony proceed. The lay preacher was merely parroting a doctrine handed down a hundred generations. Few question these pious platitudes, because nobody I know has returned from the grave to report on the afterlife (apart from a few who survived near-death experiences and whose stories have been recorded).

True, the entire basis of Christianity revolves around the belief that Jesus was bodily resurrected from his tomb and appeared before the Magdalene and the Apostles on what is now known as Easter Sunday.

However, the Koran explicitly disputes that the Master Jesus was actually crucified. "Another took his place," the Koran says - and this view is supported by the account of the Christos Incarnations recorded by the oracle, A'shayana Deane (initiate of the Melchizedek Cloister Emerald Order), as well as many other esoteric writings. But as it all boils down to a question of belief and faith, it's pointless to get into a heated debate on this issue, since opinions widely diverge on the subject.

The Orang Asli concept of the afterlife isn't all that different from the Christian version - except it doesn't require believing that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. The physical form is only our fleshly baju (clothing), say the Temuan elders. Our roh (soul) does not die and already exists before we are born. Indeed, there doesn't seem to be much difference - apart from terminology - between what animists believe and what Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists claim to believe. The common thread is the idea that the physical form is temporary, and the spiritual essence immortal. Now that is difficult to dispute, seeing as how plants, animals, and humans all go through a specific lifespan and then wither away before our eyes.

What distresses me, however, is that this devaluation of physical existence tends to make humans careless about the natural environment, Mother Earth, that gives rise to and supports their being. It makes a big difference whether people regard their homes as permanent and bequeathable - or only rented, and therefore temporary. Why invest so much effort in beautifying a rented property when, at any moment, you might get evicted by the owner? Would this explain why the Earth has been so badly treated by her human tenants?

When generation after generation is told by professional priests (regardless of denomination or sect) that their sojourn on Earth is but temporary, that their true home is in the afterlife, can you blame humans for not taking proper care of their bodies - and, by extension, their earthly home? This sort of "teaching" also serves to placate the impoverished masses who might otherwise decide they've had enough of being exploited and oppressed by the "ruling class" and join forces to overthrow the Management (a scenario that has occurred several times within recent history, but invariably it's a case of "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" as Orwell depicted so memorably in Animal Farm).

Add to this the Buddhist and Hindu teachings of karma and reincarnation (which some interpret as "fate" or "predestiny") and you have a ready-made excuse to shrug off other people's misfortunes by saying, "Oh well, it's their bad karma that they got napalmed by the Americans."

Excuse me, but I'm inclined to view America's military adventurism as the result of an egocentric and opportunistic foreign policy rather than the workings of geopolitical karma. Bad management can be identified and redressed - and each citizen of every country shares the onus of restraining their leaders from gross, power-intoxicated misbehavior on the world stage.

And if we each paused for a moment and consciously decided to wholeheartedly appreciate and esteem the natural beauty around us - instead of taking it all for granted as we seem to have done for generations - then, perhaps, we may begin to realize that we lose absolutely nothing by investing our energy in making our earthly sojourn as heavenly as possible. So what if each of us can only enjoy it for a brief lifespan? Indeed we may discover that when life on earth becomes truly paradisal, we might decide to extend our visas indefinitely (instead of complaining that "life's a bitch"), thereby making translation to an abstract notion of Heaven merely optional.

Many of my friends have been interested in the idea of Ascension for years - though nobody appears to know exactly what the process entails. Some believe they can accelerate it by becoming vegan or by abstaining from sensory stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. They cling to the words of the Ascended Masters and secretly aspire to attaining similar spiritual status. Quite frankly, I seem to be looking at it all through the "wrong" end of the telescope in that I clearly remember what a joyous accomplishment it was to finally be able to inhabit a physical vehicle and explore reality in a dense body with all the miraculous sensory organs we have evolved over the aeons.

In this respect I'd much rather identify with the Descended Masters. Having experienced physical existence on this incredibly beautiful and boundlessly fascinating planet many times over (I've certainly had multiple flashbacks of parallel incarnations over the years), I've opted to adopt Earth as my base of operations and my permanent Home.

[First published 8 June 2007]

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