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January 24, 2008

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Interesting thoughts. You are a thoughtful writer - and very articulate. But I find it interesting that you would pigeonhole everything so neatly without more research. Your allusions to a Christian view of death are no more than what is often portrayed in pop culture, media, and some misguided, fundamentalist religions.

I used to think much like you until I took a deeper look into what the Bible teaches - on my own, without relying upon the hearsay of others. It has been an interesting journey.

I'd hate to think that a great thinker like yourself would fail to look at what the Bible teaches - on its own merits.

I am going to throw this one out one more time and see what sort of response it draws, if any...

Many worry that when they die they will be non-existent forever. But weren't they also non-existent forever prior to their birth? The imagined past goes on forever backward as does the imagined future go forever forward. Do you see what I'm getting at?

How could anything not exist forever and then suddenly be born? Forever is forever, right? How could this moment to exist ever arrive if we were unborn forever? Have I made myself clear? I'm trying to think of a better way to express it. The concept is simple and clear to me, but others often don't get it for some reason.

The concept is simple, but its resolution is conceptually impossible.

Birthless and undying, how could I live?
Never having lived, how could I die?
Timeless and infinite, unextended in space-time, unliving, undying, unbeing, I am. And so are you.

Gary, I'd be interested in learning more about what you feel the Bible really says about death -- what happens to the faithful, and to the unfaithful.

It sure seems to me that Christianity is based on the assumption that we're fallen, sinful beings who are headed for a nasty afterlife without the salvational intervention of Jesus.

I realize that a "universalist" interpretation says that we're all saved by the Son of God, whether or not someone believes in him. In that case, though, where's the need for Christianity? (since all good things should come to us automatically)

Tucson, I try to wrap my head around the idea that not existing before birth is the same as not existing after death.

I get stuck here: there are differences between (1) going from nothing to something and (2) going from something to nothing. Yes, nothing is the terminus in both cases.

But in (1) I'm becoming aware of existence after being unaware, and in (2) I'm becoming unaware after being aware. Sort of like the difference between having a piece of cake put on the table in front of me, and having a piece of cake taken away.

The cake not being present is integral to both acts. However, I'm happy when it's here, and I'm sad when it's gone. How is that the same?

What you seem to be saying (and I appreciate how difficult it is to say) is that the cosmos as a whole is aware in each of us. That each of us isn't really an ego-encapsulated "I" but awareness that erroneously considers itself to be separate and distinct.

I resonate with this. But it still doesn't solve the "problem" (if there is one) of death -- unless a person is able to genuinely feel at one with the cosmos before death. Then, I assume, death would be accepted with equanimity -- no change, no big deal.

I like what you say. It just seems to involve assumptions, and a certain way of looking at things. I could say, "When I burn this piece of paper, it still exists. The atoms just don't exist as paper anymore, but as smoke, air, ashes, and such."

Sure, energy/matter can't be created or destroyed. But it changes form. And when the form is changed so as to become unrecognizable, practically speaking we say it doesn't exist any more. Similarly, if my atoms are still around, that's fine. But that's not a conscious "me."

Tucson and Brian,

I like Tuscon's conception very much. But the problem is exactly what Brian writes when he says
"unless a person is able to genuinely feel at one with the cosmos before death..."
When someone suffers from an eating disorder, they may feel fat no matter what the reality is. Simply telling them they are actually skinny and beautiful doesn't help at all. While I agree with you Tuscon, that the reality is probably close to what you say, unless one feels this as a personal experience, anxiety about death will not go away. Maybe you have felt it. If so, I am very happy for you. I hope I do one day.

I have deliberated on this issue for many decades. My simple conclusion is this:

This sense of "I"-ness, and this so-called consciousness where the sense of existing, being, and aliveness appears...is simply the BODY. When bodies grow and then appear (birth), then consciousness arises. When consciousness arises, then the sense of "I"-ness or "me"-ness (existence/life) arises. When the body finally becomes no longer able to function due to injury, starvation, disease, or old-age, then we call that "death". When this so-called "death" or non-functioning of the body occurs, then the consciousness dissipates and ceases as well, and along with it so does the sense of existence/life, and the sense of "I"-ness. Both the consciousness and the sense of existence/life occurs/arises only as long as there is a functioning body (body & brain) organism. There is no prior existence of/for that consciousness prior to birth, nor is there any subsequent existence of that consciousness after the death of the body and brain. Consciousness and "I"-ness is only a result of a functioning body and brain.

Anyone who can prove otherwise is welcome to do so. [But please do not even bother unless you definitely have absolute conclusive proof. Because I have already heard ALL of the philosophy and speculation that anyone may attempt to use. In the final analysis, it just doesn't cut the mustard.]


Brian responded: "Similarly, if my atoms are still around, that's fine. But that's not a conscious "me."

--Some of you may have read Carlos Castaneda's books about the tutelage of the apprentice, Carlos, by the sorcerer, Don Juan.

In these books Don Juan teaches about the "assembledge point" where the various conceptual components of the "tonal" (the ego and structure of this world)) are gathered in order for this world to take shape and order. The apprentice sorcerer seeks to learn to consciously break up this assembledge point, thus leading to the ability to create "separate realities" such as taking the form of a crow, defying gravity, etc. In the breaking up of the tonal, the sorcerer becomes a "nagual" or the indescribable, formless void of infinite possibilities.

I have, several times, had the experience of the tonal breaking up which may be akin to what we experience at death. That is, the glue which bound 'me' together became unglued, so to speak. While there was no longer a defined 'me' there certainly was no lack of a fullness of awareness. It was simply transformed into, shall we say, a more comprehensive form where the universe was what I was. That is, I was but there was no 'me'.

Nothing in these experiences has led me to believe that after death I will continue to be aware of this thing I call me. I see "me" as a bubble of transient sensations, memories, and conditionings that will burst into infinity. Yes, the paper will burn and the atoms will float away, but not into annihilation or oblivion, but more like the proverbial drop merging into the ocean. Perhaps the ocean will splash and a new drop of "me" will form, I don't know, but being the ocean ain't half bad.

So, yes, at times the disappearance of me and things I care about is at times frightening. I don't enjoy the aging process and I'm not even really old yet, but at the same time each moment can still be wondrous like "a full moon rising over the tree tops" and deep down I know that is what I really am. It is not a lonliness, it is a fullness beyond measure.

Brian wrote:

"I get stuck here: there are differences between (1) going from nothing to something and (2) going from something to nothing. Yes, nothing is the terminus in both cases.

But in (1) I'm becoming aware of existence after being unaware, and in (2) I'm becoming unaware after being aware. Sort of like the difference between having a piece of cake put on the table in front of me, and having a piece of cake taken away."

--Once more into the breach my friends. Perhaps what I am demonstrating is the inexistence of time.

If: a) after death we will not exist eternally. Never again will we live.

Then: b) before birth we did not exist eternally. Never will we be born.

If 'a' is true, wouldn't 'b' also be true?

Eternity did not begin at some point of departure from whence the moment of our existence arrived. Eternity is eternity...forever. How could eternity begin? What was there before eternity? Another eternity? And before that? Absurd. So, we are unborn forever. Already eternally unborn, so how can we die? What would die?

So, you say, "But here I am. I exist because I think it, even if it is just an idea, and one day this idea will cease."

This is the conundrum of the ages.

And its resolution is the realization of the sages.

Perhaps I am stating the obvious here:
Death is either an open or closed door.
There is no third way.
Elizabeth W

I'm guessing that Gary was self-taught when he read the Bible. He learned what he wanted to learn. The Bible is just a book, like any other text. I am not putting down the Bible. If Gary has found or learned his own mental happiness, then that is his business.

"Marcus Aurelius"-Can't you do better than that Brian? He was a dictator of Ancient Rome. Sure, he's called by historians one of the "Five Good Emperors" but thats like saying Mussolini was a Good Fascist compared to Hitler! He owned slaves, fought German tribes and the Samatians. Still, compared to the likes of Nero, Caligula or Commodus he was the best that ancient form of government could produce.

"Sort of like the difference between having a piece of cake put on the table in front of me, and having a piece of cake taken away."


I see it more as a case of having a piece of cake, EATING the cake, then having no more cake. It's not the before or after that matters, it's the NOW.

When I begin to brood over the probable loss of my identity after death, I comfort myself by thinking that perhaps "consciousness" is what is really valuable and, in some way, we might retain consciousness even if we are merged with the greater spirit of the Universe.

Of course I recognize that this is a hope, not a fact, but it at least is not outrageously unrealistic and doesn't make that many demands on my credulity.

Recently, I read some material by Simone Weill, who I suspect would not be of interest to most people on the Forum because, besides being wacky & neurotic, she was also a theist of sorts & chatted with Jesus. Anyway, she wrote something beautiful which resonated with me...

"True immortality is not in the least the immortality of the individual soul, but the eternity of God. The eternal part of the soul mingles with God at death and even before in life; the part of the soul that is not eternal falls into nothingness."

Replace "God" with "Universe", and it's rather Vedistic, is it not?

Death is nonexistence. We didn't exist before we were born, and we won't exist after we die. We knew nothing before we were born, and we will know nothing after we die. Why should we fear the latter any more than we feared the former?

David, I have heard your argument before. It doesn't make much sense to me, because before I was born I didn't exist, so I didn't know about death. But now that I'm alive, I'm aware of death, so it is disturbing to envision that when I die, I'll be gone forever. So there is a big difference between fearing the nothing after we die versus fearing the nothing before we were born.

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