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February 28th, 2022
Many religions and traditions have a vision of an idyllic afterlife. Calmness, relaxation, an end to suffering, a sense of true wellness - these are things to wait for and experience after life is over. It’s incentive for many people to grin and bear the toil and suffering and behave while here on earth. All the faith in the world can’t supply even the tiniest shred of evidence that such a paradisal afterlife actually exists, and so what’s to keep one from doubting that all the effort and work might be for nothing? There’s some clever arguments against this - that it’s a test of one’s faith, or that someone is somehow supposed to find the pain as the reward itself. But, to be honest, it’s just a shit deal, particularly because there’s a very sensible and practical alternative view that isn’t really at odds with the majority of belief systems.
It’s particularly odd because some religions advertise that such “divine” fruits can be experienced here on earth while we’re still alive. Jesus, for example, said that the kingdom of heaven is within you. Seems a bit strange to have to wait for the afterlife to experience it if we lug paradise around wherever we go, does it not?
Then of course there’s the offer from Buddhism that a lot of our suffering during the here and now is actually completely unnecessary and there’s a way to slough off this pesky aspect of existence.
So many people dream of floating in tropical waters, sitting on hot beaches, and yet, it’s perfectly possible to book that long-lusted-for vacation, go to that tropical beach, get in an unpleasant argument with a spouse and end up miserable on that beautiful beach.
Or simply move to that beach and slowly become inured to how lovely things are, and the same old anxieties and miseries will glide back into consciousness. The pleasantness of the tropical vacation is really in the novelty - just switching things up. So we fake paradise in the short term by using a different mechanism.
But there are mechanisms we can develop to unlock that paradise within each of us. It’s possible to be happy, calm and content for no reason at all, and every reason, be it good weather, or bad weather. It just requires practice. Paradise isn’t a place, or a time, it’s a state of mind, a shaping and maintenance of our very own consciousness that we can achieve here and now. Like all good things, it’s not achieved over night, and the flower for its fruit is slow to bloom - like physical fitness. A week at the gym will not create huge changes. But visiting the gym constantly, and consistently will yield results. Part of the practice of paradise is to cultivate a patience for its arrival.
Milton once wrote: The mind is its own place and, in itself can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven. The practice of paradise is a mental training, and strangely we don’t talk about mental training all that much. We talk about training for a job, or physical training, but explicitly mental training is a rather esoteric topic, despite the fact that virtually everything we think and do is a mental training for the mind we will have tomorrow. Considering it’s absolute ubiquity for our very experience of life, you’d imagine a bit more.. discussion.
Unfortunately, few of the ancient religions and traditions talk about it either. Buddhism is really the only religion where a practical regimen of mental training can be divorced from the actual religion, and implemented to great effect on its own, independent of supernatural beliefs. This allows meditation to lend itself to the adherents of other religions inoffensively and it also fits in very well with the scientific and secular culture.
Through mental training, paradise is on offer to absolutely everyone, even those without the slightest shred of faith.