Friday, August 10, 2018

Interrogating the Enlightened Man, part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Q: What do you mean by liberation from the cycle of birth and death?
A: This world is a plane of suffering.  My teaching is to become free from this suffering, and that can't happen if you continue to be reborn.  After attaining liberation, the cycle of birth and death is ended.

Q: That is very perplexing.  All that we know and see is people getting born and dying.  What do you mean by "reborn"?
A: When the body dies, the soul does not die.  The soul is eternal, and is reborn as another living being.

Q: What is this "soul"?  I know of soulful music which is kind-of sentimental, but what is this eternal "soul" that you speak of?
A: Your sense of "I".  Death is just like falling asleep and then waking up as another body.

Q: That can't be true.  When I wake up from sleep, I still have all my memories.  Does soul also have memories from its "previous body"?
A: Yes, many children have been observed to speak languages that they had no exposure to during their known lifetime.

Q: That is highly doubtful.  I am not sure if there is such an incident ever recorded in a reputed medical journal.  That said, how come I don't remember anything from my "past life"?
A: You can, if you meditate.  "Remembering past lives" is a very high state achieved after a long period of meditation.

Q: But isn't memory a material thing?  We are born, our sense organs perceive many things.  We form memories.  Language, for example, is learned by reading and listening.  And this learning is then stored in the brain's neural matter as patterns.  The body is burnt to ashes after death.  How are that body's memories stored in the "soul"?
A: It was not clear for many hundreds of years how the brain stores memories.  Similarly, at present it is not possible to give a physical explanation of your question.

Q: But this much is clear that memory is a pattern formed from sense (matter) experiences.  To store this pattern somewhere, anywhere, must require a substrate.  Are you saying that the soul has a storage medium?
A: That is possible.  It may be a subtle form of energy which has waveforms/imprints from your present and past lives.  I'm sure you understand that a television broadcast signal can have all kinds of information.  Just like physicists discovered the weak nuclear force only recently, it is possible that this soul-energy is too subtle to be measured by our present instruments.  And it is possible that only some important memories are stored in the soul-energy.

Q: That is very interesting.  So the soul is definitely a matter/energy form which is able to store patterns.  I'm sure you don't think it is matter, because that would mean we could hermetically seal a body before death and thereby trap the soul from escaping and grant freedom from rebirth to the poor soul.  That would be a nice shortcut to liberation.
A: Yes, it is not matter.  It is definitely an energy.

Q: Hmm.  Till we are able to detect this energy in some way, what can you say that will convince me that the "soul" exists?  Why should we believe you?  I don't give credence to those stories of little kids speaking a foreign tongue.
A: You don't have to believe me.  You can follow the path of meditation and discover on your own.

Q: But that is quite an investment of time and energy.  You are asking a lot from an ignorant man.  It will be such a waste if after meditating for thirty years, I come to the conclusion that there is no soul.  I will be very angry with you then.  What do you suggest?
A: Up to you.  You can continue to live a worldly life, or start on the path of holiness and eventually attain liberation.

Q: Oh, that liberation again.  But actually I don't find life that sorrowful.  Yes, there are stresses and challenges, but also such joys, pleasures, moments of wonder and delectation.  If given a choice, I would definitely want to be reborn.  The future is bright, I feel, and we as a species will understand so much more, and create such intricate art and machinery in the future.  This liberation doesn't appeal to me that much.  I would much rather be here and alive.  And I would give anything to be reborn.
A: That may be so for you.  Many others have seen life more deeply and concluded that liberation is the only worthwhile goal.

Q: They must be really depressed with life.  Obviously for them, the sorrows over the longer term must be outweighing the joys.
A: Or maybe you are just chuffed with little delights, whereas they have seen the real tragedy of life.  All joys wither.  All mans' creations are toys.  Suffering is always there in the end, if of nothing else, than of the fear of death.

Q: Toys?  Don't you wonder at the design of a VLSI chip, the proof of Poincare's conjecture, man's landing on the moon, the work of great sculptors and composers?
A: All trifles, when compared to liberation.  Death conquers all of these tinkerers in the end.  At the time of death they will understand what was truly important.

Q: I'm sorry but I know many who are not afraid of death.  In fact, I know many soldiers who have preferred a glorious but certain death to retreat.  I know artists who died of penury in the service of their art.  Poets who composed their works in the battlefield.  I know a mother who gave up her life for her child.  Death doesn't seem to be the ultimate tragedy.  The joy they got from their creation, or from saving their community or their child seems to have been greater than the fear or pain of death.
A: Such people are attached to worldly things like "art", honor, community and their children.  If they knew that their human birth was the most precious of gifts, they wouldn't squander it that easily.

Q: So can one say that liberation appeals to those who don't really have anything to live for, who don't find joy in creation, who crave a meaning in this vacuum, and who don't find this life and world a place of wonder and delight?  In other words, the alienated, the depressed and the maladjusted?
A: Quite.

(to be continued)

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