“And then the Prince and the Princess lived happily ever after. The End.”
Sigh. Fairy tales are magical, aren’t they? For a few wonderful moments, you immerse yourself in this fantasy world of love, intrigue, and happy endings and believe that everything will turn out fine in the end. We love fairy tales because they give us hope.
That may be a big reason for why religion is so popular. It gives us a perfect ending – Heaven. Which is complete and permanent happiness with eternal freedom from pain. Sure, life is a blessing, but very few of us think of our current state as the final goal. Most of us aspire to move on to a better place eventually, where there is less of the bad and more of the good. Or preferably none of the bad and all of the good.
But while I would be ecstatic for that to be true, what I don’t understand is this – if we are able to exist in our current life form – whether it was due to some past sin that we are paying for, an attachment to sensory pleasures, or a random act of science – how are we so sure that we won’t come back again?
I am not referring to the Eastern philosophy of reincarnation, where one may take birth numerous times to pay off karmic debts. I am talking about once we’ve neutralized our karma or done whatever it takes to reach our final destination – good deeds, prayer, detachment, whatever. If we were able to be tempted by some apple and fall from “heaven” onto earth, how do we know it won’t happen again even if we somehow make our way back up to paradise? In other words, if we could fall once, couldn’t we very well fall again?
Thus how do we know heaven — if it exists – is permanent? If time is eternal and never-ending, then why wouldn’t the same hold true for life? How does it make sense that there was only one cataclysmic event that enabled us to reach the state we are in – which is the cycle of life – and only one cataclysmic event that will pull us out of it – which is enlightenment. Why couldn’t there be multiple such events?
Even if there is no heaven, and we are simply random products of the Big Bang and science, how do we know that the universe won’t drum up the right mixture of neurons, electrons, protons, croutons, etc. and give birth to us again? Yes, it is a 1 in a trillion billion gazillion chance that the earth and mankind was able to generate amongst trillions of billions of gazillion galaxies, but if it happened once, can’t it happen again?
Nietzsche famously posited the same fear in his publishing, Eternal Recurrence. He theorized that if time is eternal, then it is more than certain that life will recur endlessly as well. He was tormented by the worry that we may even circle back into the same exact life we are living now, because eventually the same configuration of neurons, electrons, and matter that gave rise to us once will eventually collide and give rise to us in the exact same life form. So horrified was he at the idea of having to relive his current life that he spent a whole book examining this scary concept. Oh, and he also became insane and went to a mental asylum.
It is partially for this reason that I don’t abandon my worldly life and become a detached, praying hermit monk in the Himalayas. I’ve thought about it – and tough as it would be, I would happily do it if I thought I could reach permanent Enlightenment that way. But I remain skeptical that all of that sacrifice is worth it, either because as an Agnostic I’m not sure there really is a Heaven or God, or because I’m not sure that our final resting place – free from all pain and suffering – is really permanent.
To begin with, it already seems like such a tough, self-sacrificing journey to get to Heaven in the first place, at least according to some religions. According to some it can take many lifetimes of being reborn into plant, animal, and human form, in order to atone for bad karma through suffering before the long arduous effort is finally rewarded.
And after all that, imagine if the finish line was only a temporary respite, one that could eventually end and culminate in the cycle of rebirth all over again?
I hope that isn’t the case. Instead, I hope there is a fairy tale ending in store for all of us – no matter how difficult the road may be to get there. Even if it’s tough, if we can finally achieve a state of happiness that lasts forever, then all the striving will have been worth it.
Here’s hoping that one day we can all live Happily Ever After – but somehow I doubt it.