Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dreaming of heaven

No matter where we go, in place or in time, across all cultures, we find that all human beings have one thing in common, without exception. We all have this idea that somehow, things are not as they should be, that there is something flawed about all we do, all we experience, in this world. There is always present this feeling of wanting to be home, but just when we think we’ve found home, it too turns out to be just another way station on the caravan of souls going… somewhere.

This idea, or feeling (because it seems to transcend mere thought and seems to issue from another part of our being, the heart maybe) can almost be described as what defines mankind and sets us off from other creatures. Though there are animals that build and organize, it seems that they always follow the same logic, and their creations never deviate very much from an instinctual standard. Could this idea of ours also be something of the same sort, an instinctual standard that is inseparably part of us, the very thing we were created to do?

In any case, we have this idea, but we cannot fulfill it. We are living in a world that is already perfect, yet somehow we find ourselves unable to be happy here. Some part of us keeps dreaming of heaven.

The one true American fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz, in its film version far exceeded the scope and content of the original children’s books, becoming in the process another heavily endowed myth of our dreaming of heaven.

Every religion and philosophy the world over has arisen out of mankind’s dreaming of heaven. It comes even before the discovery of God, and is probably what has pushed us into that search for Him. If there is a heaven, there must be a God. Does that make sense? Well, maybe not to all. Buddhism doesn’t need a God, but in some of its forms, it still wants, looks for, and promises heaven. It’s interesting that a similar experience can provoke at least two different responses.

Once there was a rich and cloistered prince who left the palace and walked through the world. He saw there four things that impressed him: a sick man, a poor man, a beggar and a corpse. All of these are things that he knew were intrinsically wrong, and the books about him say that ‘he was filled with infinite sorrow.’ Ultimately, after much searching and thinking, this man came to the conclusion that none of this was real, and that escape was possible and necessary. This escape, though, was not dreaming of heaven. It was something more like not dreaming at all. Why was this? Because this man considered that what he experienced in the world was itself just a bad dream. He created a path of escape from dreaming. This man was Gautama, called the Buddha.

In another story, there was a poor man who left his workshop and walked through the world. He saw there the brokenness of people, experiencing the rigor and hardship of their lives, joined them in their alternating sorrows and joys, tasted with them the bitterness of their exile from home, their dreaming of heaven. He shared with them this strange, inescapable feeling that things were not right in the world. He was born into a religion that tried its best to give men a system of rules which, if they lived by them, promised to make their lives in this world right, so that they wouldn’t need to dream of heaven. This religion even had a God who gave the rules and tried His best to get the people to follow them. Though they had the rules, and the belief that following them would set the world right, they didn’t follow them just the same. They didn’t, but the poor man did, and by following and fulfilling the rules to the uttermost, he opened a path of escape from dreaming of heaven, by opening a path of entering into heaven. This man was Jesus, called the Christ.

We all have the same experience as these two men, as have all men in all ages and cultures. Every time we think we’ve found home, somewhere to be comfortable, where everything is ‘as it should be,’ something or someone spoils it. In the film The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo, ‘It’s that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that something is wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad, driving you to me.’ Morpheus in Greek mythology is the god of dreaming. Dreaming of heaven. The Wachowski brothers sure packed a lot of truth into that first film.

Here, if nowhere else, is the common experience that unites everyone, the knowledge that all is not well with us and with our world. Religions and philosophies offer answers and explanations, hoping to strengthen our dreaming of heaven to the point where maybe the dreaming will be enough for us, and sometimes just trying to get us to not dream at all. But where did the need to dream originate? Who told us that all is not well? And people dream only of things that they have seen and experienced somewhere, even though the dreaming sometimes distorts them beyond recognition.

The answer to all this, does it come from the prince turned enlightened one, or from the carpenter nailed to a tree?
To dream or not to dream, that is the question.
And if we must dream, who will wake us up?

The reward of virtue is to see Your face,
and on waking, to gaze my fill on Your likeness.

Psalm 17:15 Jerusalem Bible

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