If you try to convert me,
I’ve thought about heaven and hell,
I’m prepared to face either,
if either of them exists.
– Lee Kuan Yew
(The Straits Times, 06.09.11)
But is it possible for anyone to truly imagine or to ever be prepared to face the endless terrors of eternal hell, if it really exists? Can one be extremely prepared for the extremely unknown? If we contemplate the possibilities of the afterlife as being simply nothing other than the extremes of eternal heaven or hell, and consider that being sufficient thinking, we are being extremely simplistic — because how can anyone do enough of any good and evil in a limited lifetime to deserve extreme reward or extreme retribution? Between such extreme ends, not that they are real, there should naturally be a spectrum of other possible and temporal states (realms or planes) of the afterlife for those who are neither extremely good nor evil – us. Many agnostics have not reflected on this thoroughly, while they might believe they have already done so, thus dismissing the need for further reflection.
There are two extreme misconceptions about the afterlife, as highlighted by the Buddha, which agnostics, free-thinkers and even some religionists might oscillate between, both of which we should avoid. The first misconception is Nihilism (断灭见), which proposes that since there is nothing after this life, that there is no state of existence hereafter and no rebirth, and nothing we do now to ensure a better (or worse) afterlife will ever matter. But how can something become nothing, when even scientists cannot destroy energy? Energy can only transform from one state to another. The mind or consciousness is very definite and powerful energy – that cannot simply fizzle out into ‘nothingness’. The second misconception is Eternalism (常见), which proposes that the state we are in after this life will be eternal – as an unchanging heaven or eternal hell.
What the Buddha realised is that the truth lies on the Middle Path between these two erroneous views. There is the phenomenon of ongoing rebirth for the unenlightened. Between the idea of ‘fixed nothingness’ in Nihilism, and the idea of ‘fixed somethingness’ in Eternalism, lies constant change of ‘everythingness’ via rebirth – from life to life. Agnostics should thus reconsider the laws of cause and effect, of how what one does now can karmically affect the afterlife, which is more likely to exist than not. We need to guard our thoughts, speech and deeds now – because they will lead us to somewhere and not nowhere. And when that somewhere is reached, we need to continue being mindful as what we do there will lead elsewhere!
If there is karmic afterlife, you will have a good rebirth if you do good.
If there is no karmic afterlife, you will live happily now if you are free of ill will.
If evil befalls the evil, you will not be affected if you do no evil.
If evil does not befall the evil, you will be pure both ways if you do no evil and do good.
(rephrased from Kalama Sutta)
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