Exploring Immortality And Time

Today’s post comes from Matheus Yuhlung, a Christian blogger who is pursuing an M.A. in Philosophy and currently lives in New Delhi, India. Matheus’ post today reflects the same philosophical spirit as his post on inspiration, but this time Matheus explores the concepts of immortality and time. This is a post that will make you think, and urges us all to explore these concepts on our own journeys.
Time, Philosophy, India, Prague, Travel, InterfaithIn the morning I was reading George H Morrison’s sermon entitled The Springs of Endurance where he quoted St. Augustine as saying: God is patient, because He is eternal; and it set me off thinking, can that be the same for us human beings as well? So I went off exploring the idea.
Things standing shall fall, but the moving ever shall stay.–Basavanna
 
This quote from an ancient Indian poet,  offers a contemplation on the temple of God as a state of being rather than a thing built with bricks and stones. These lines are the concluding verses of a poem where he is singing of how his soul is going to live forever (housing his God in the depth of his heart) while the temples that are standing now shall fail in the test of time.
 
Though originally written to a fictitious and formless god call Siva, those two sentences from the poem quoted above reminded me of what Apostle Paul wrote: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
  
Once, we had a pastor visit us from the Bible Society of India; and though he was young, he looked old as he was extremely thin and had an impoverished figure. He spoke in a low tone, in broken English with a heavy rural accent, yet, it was such a blessing to hear him speak.
 
The breath that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils, he said as he waved his shaky, skinny hands back and forth from the pulpit as if he was trying to contain his uncontainable ardour for Christ, that breath, he said again, still runs through, and inside, you and me and that is what that makes us cry with an upward longingness.
 
I believe anxiety and impatience gets us only when we limit ourselves under the matrix of time and space. The fact that God is always on time (though it may not seem like it to us) is because God is eternal, and is outside of time. The old Indian philosophers were very much aware that their souls were eternal, so much so that Sankara ended up saying: Brahm satyam jagat mithya – which can be loosely translated as: “Only Brahm is real and everything else is an illusion.”
 
For them ‘Brahm’ was an eternal-world soul, while ‘jagat’ meant the world. They believed the latter to be a complete illusion, a consequence of human ignorance. Hence, they ignored its existence in complete totality. Interesting, isn’t it?
 
Truly speaking though, time is real. This world is real and so is eternity. I sometimes like to think our bodies became mortal (and so did time and space) only when Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit. If that is true, we’re living simultaneously both in eternity and in time, only separated by a thin delay of mortality.
 
Anyhow, if we’re immortal beings, eternal,  shouldn’t we be patient with our lives as well, in the same way God is patient with us? Should we seek to believe and live out our faith and let God take care of the rest?
 
This whole exploration, these deep concepts are complicated, but I love it how Hermann Hesse puts it in his book Siddhartha, writing:
 
But the world itself, being in and around us, is never one-sided. Never is a man … wholly Sansara or wholly Nirvana; … This only seems so because we suffer the illusion that time is something real. Time is not real, Govinda. I have realized this repeatedly. And if time is not real, then the dividing line that seems to lie between this world and eternity … is also an illusion.
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Desire for Understanding

By: Jenni TaylorIMG_0518

My travels have just taken me to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Unlike, the United States, which prides itself on being a melting pot, Malaysia has not melted- it is a beautiful hodgepodge of cultures, religions, languages, clothing, and food from all over the world. Short shorts and tank tops are next to hijabs and chadors, with all the wearers using selfie sticks or shopping at Sephora. Harmony seems impossible, but there it is- a million differences passing each other on the street or eating at each other’s restaurants.

I am surrounded by swirling colors and culture, only to log on and see updates on Ferguson protests and now Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where three Muslims were shot and killed.

So, my desire is this: understanding. I want to understand where hatred comes from and how to stop it. I want others to understand that our similarities are far greater than our differences.

This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with wisdom. I am not asking for agreement, or even tolerance, which seeks to ignore rather than understand. I’m asking for patience, and a willingness to listen.

Here in Kuala Lumpur there is a Hindu holy place called the Batu caves. They just finished celebrating Thaipusam. It involves flowers and prayer, and also hooks and self-mutilation. The hooks are placed through tongues or through the skin on backs. It is described as a religious euphoria reached through intense pain.

I do not understand it.

I do not agree with it.

But I do understand that holy pilgrimage comes from a need, and I recognize that need. It’s a need I find in my own life, when I go into the quiet places and search for something bigger than myself.

I may not understand, but wisdom tells me to try. It tells me that if I sit down and have a cup of teh terik with someone different from me, we will find a shared point of truth. And as a wise man once said, the truth will set you free.

So I pray,

Teach us patience. Give us wisdom and understanding. Help us to stop feeling threatened and find our safety, peace, and comfort in You, and not in the reactions of our fears. Help us to be salt, to be light, and to be your love.

Amen.

Secular Spirituality: Is That a Thing?

Today’s post comes from Hailey Kaufman, who studies philosophy, biology, and religion at Webster University in St. Louis, MO.  Her post advocates for the possibility of  spiritual awakenings of atheistic communities, and she’s not talking conversion here folks! What Hailey offers us is a great deal of wisdom, and love, and intellect, on spirituality for everyone, regardless of their beliefs. You can find more of Hailey’s work on her Tumblr and her personal blog.

Coming from a community of a non-theistic persuasion, I notice a great deal of hostility toward the word “spiritual.” Most atheists with whom I spend my time never use this term, some making a strong attempt to avoid it. Even Tim Minchin, a fantastically intelligent musical comedian, whom I admire for his gift with words, has claimed he is not spiritual at all.

What bothers me is I can tell that he is. Look at his poem “Storm” in which he revels about the vastness and beauty of the corporeal world:

Isn’t this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable, natural world? How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap, manmade myths and monsters?…I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant bit of carbon. I have one life, and it is short, and unimportant, but thanks to recent scientific advances, I get to live twice as long as my great, great, great, great uncleses and auntses. Twice as long to live this life of mine.

The last portion of “Storm” is a spirited piece of writing. Minchin obviously feels a deep connection with something larger than he is. Whether or not his worldview involves “spirits” certainly does not dilute that fact that he feels spirited about his existence.

I want to argue that the spiritual life is something every human deserves. It is a practice, a way of being, that should be pursued regardless of one’s belief in gods or the supernatural.

Writers and speakers like Pierre Hadot and Alain de Botton have argued the need for spiritual guidance and exercises even outside the realm of religion. Hadot writes that according to a  Stoic-Platonic view of therapy, the spiritual exercise can be one of an array of practices. Attention (presence in the current moment), meditation (putting information into context with the big picture), intellectual endeavors (reading, writing, listening, research), and self-improvement activities are all, according to Hadot, ways to embrace one’s own spirituality.

De Botton argues that an atheism that simply rejects supernatural claims and stops there is “too easy.” The rejection should be just the beginning on a path to a more fulfilling, spiritual life. He suggests ways the secular world can “steal” from religious traditions in order to make the secular world more welcoming to spirituality – that is, more welcoming to ideas and exercises that enliven us at our very core.

De Botton holds that secularism should not be synonymous with stolidity. I would go so far as to argue that a fulfilled secular life cannot be without its spiritual moments. Think of the feeling you get when you lie out on a moonless night and survey the Milky Way above you. Think of the last time you felt a sense of awe, a stirring feeling in your gut that you’ve just witnessed something deeply important. Mysterium tremendum: a profound terror of the large and mysterious; mysterium fascinosum: a profound fascination with the large and mysterious.

These are not emotions reserved for the religious, nor should they be, and perhaps we should encourage them more actively in the secular realm. As complexly thinking and feeling animals, we each need a way to become orientated to our inner and outer environments, and that is precisely what spirituality is. A pupil of Epicurus, quoted by Hadot, puts the sense of the spiritual potently:

The walls of the world open out, I see action going on throughout the whole world…Thereupon from all these things a sort of divine delight gets hold upon me and a shuddering, because nature thus by your power has been so manifestly laid open and unveiled in every part.

Breath and Spirit

Today’s post is from Hailey Kaufman. Hailey is a student of  philosophy, biology, and religion at Webster University in St. Louis, MO, where she also organizes the school’s secular student group, encourages interfaith dialogue, and furthers scientific understanding. You can find more of her work on Tumblr and on her personal blog

What are the origins of the word “spirit”? Middle English borrowed it from the Old French word espirit, which could have referred to a variety of things but overall expressed the life essence, the vibrancy of life or something resembling life. Espirit comes from the Latin spiritus, which means breath.

Breath. Let’s think about that for a second. At its heart, to be spiritual means to exchange a life-giving wind with something, in some way. Breath is a fundamental constituent of a living being. When we breathe, we exchange particles with the world around us. To breathe is to ingest one thing for ourselves while chemically changing it into something else, then releasing it back. It’s cyclical, simple but powerful at the same time.

One of my religious studies professors once pointed out to me the resemblance some holy words have to the act of breathing. Amen, a kind of exhale to a prayer. Ra, the Egyptian sun god. Yahweh is a powerful word, so mighty that saying it has historically been taboo.

Think of the way we use the concept of breath in everyday language. We might say something about which we are passionate “breathes life” into us. When we feel existentially stressed or cramped, we say we need to “take a breather” or find “room to breathe” To return to our senses during a panicky moment, we “take a deep breath.”

This all indicates that for us, breath is to some extent associated with a much-needed sense of peace. Whether that peace comes in the form of relaxing us during our suffering, or whether it comes when we feel a connection to something meaningful, the principle is the same: breath is an orienting force, something that stills our worries and brings us into homeostasis.

Gods, prayers, angels, ghosts, fairies, alternative medicine…none of these things are necessary for a sense of spirituality. What is necessary is breath. What fills us with spirit can be anything that leaves us feeling tremendously small yet linked to a larger picture, like a knot in a net. There’s a fire in the heart that stirs us as that breath passes through. Spirituality is nothing more than that fire, and it burns somewhere in all of us.

Sophia, Stirring the Epistemological Soup

Today’s guest post comes from Hailey Kaufman who is writing from Thailand. Hailey is  a student at Webster University, where she studies philosophy, biology, and religious studies.  She works as a writer, a cartoonist, and a first-year-of-college booster.  Hailey’s  relationship with Sophia illuminates a wisdom that preserves and inspires. So here’s Hailey and her friend Sophia giving us wisdom, love …and lint by the spoonful…

Sophia makes herself present in my life to the extent that her name will appear on my college degree (a BA in philosophy). She weasels her way into my mundane moments, too, always asking me the hardest questions and leaving me hyper-focused on answering them, sometimes in a debilitating way. The way people talk to me sometimes, I wonder if she gets a particular kick out of poking at me while largely leaving others alone.

While I’m personifying Sophia like the other writers here, it’s likely that I conceptualize her a bit differently. Having been an atheist since high school, my understanding of logos, of wisdom and truth, is not a Biblical one.

But Sophia never left me when I renounced my belief in God. In fact, I think that’s when she found me. Setting the idea of God aside was liberating. It was as if my image of the world had been shrouded by information that had never really helped me, but of which I never felt free to let go. When I looked in the mirror and made that decision, I felt my mind running freer, my air clear and my floor swept. I was ready to consider anything.

This blank slate left me to figure out what is objective and what is subjective in this world. What are our best tools for determining what’s real? If there’s no final word on morality, how can humankind ever move beyond debating about it? Where am I finding solace despite no guardian watching over me? Who among the fallible is worthy of being a role model? Will death hurt; will it be scary, or boring; will it be joyful? Or will it be none of these things?

Many people tell me these kinds of questions scare them, but for some reason they never struck me that way. They’re like little puzzles, the handheld wooden kind that at first glance looks like it has a simple answer, but the more you stare and pull at it, the more vacuous it seems.

Still, with little steps of progress come bouts of inspiration. Sophia reminds me of that when she gives me insight. Her hints keep me feeling and twisting, digging deeper. What I found is that science offers a wealth of information in response to these questions, more than it is usually given credit for.

Sophia’s gift, when you develop a relationship with her, is that she never leaves you alone. She has all the audacity of a pioneer with the skeptical reservations of a scientist in the lab. When I picture her, I see a great, black void full of unfathomably large and complex things, glowing with vibrant colors and destructive characters. I see particles colliding and creatures decaying into new life, and I feel a tremendous balance, a safety in knowing that even if no one is watching out for me, even if I’m destined for hell, it’s all going to be okay. The cosmos will take care of itself, and we’ll all be okay. That I have the tools with which to learn about her infinitude and subtlety is reason enough to sit, be, smile, and embrace everything that makes this moment possible.

That sense of calm validated by numbers is what gets me up every day. I want to share Sophia with everyone I can, including you, but I can only do that if you know you have to look for her. If you peer into dark corners and reach for her hand, she’ll take you to new places. It’s exhausting at times, but the reward is a kind of awe that, if I could describe it, wouldn’t be worth searching for.