Is there any value in the idea of resurrection?
Distinguish this idea from related ideas of immortality and eternal life. (There are 3 posts on these two ideas in the Intellectual Well-Being category from Aug & Sep 2009.)
There is only incoherence in the idea that the process is a bodily one, in other words, one that involves Paul’s notion of a spiritual or heavenly body. The idea of a persisting heavenly body that somehow used to be an earthly body is simply an incoherent explanation of the Easter stories.
On the other hand, it’s readily understandable why Paul posits it. After all, without a body, what makes the reborn entity the same as the entity that died?
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which was written about twenty years after Jesus’s crucifixion, is the earliest extended Biblical treatment of resurrection. None of the four Gospels had yet been written. Different congregations of Christians produced their own sorts of evidence for Jesus’s resurrection, and they disagreed about its nature. Mark seemed to think that the reborn Jesus was a resurrected corpse, whereas Matthew’s view was similar to Paul’s view that the reborn Jesus had a spiritual body. Luke expanded on the Markan account. John provides different resurrection stories that are irreconciliable with those of the other three evangelists. [For more on this, see Randel Helms’s GOSPEL FICTIONS.]
Other major religions in addition to Christianity hold out the promise of resurrection. If we set aside bodily interpretations, is there anything valuable left of the idea? Yes.
Even a cursory examination of mystical literature from around the world quickly reveals a common theme that does provide a ready interpretation of resurrection that both makes sense and is important.
For example, Jesus advised his disciples: “If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind” [MATTHEW 16: 24.].
For example, consider this advice from Meister Eckhart: “Examine yourself, and whenever you find yourself, then take leave of yourself.” This way of renouncing yourself is “the best way of all” to “a free mind” that is “untroubled and unfettered by anything.”
Similarly, consider this advice from Dogen: “You should not practice Buddha’s teaching with the idea of gain . . . To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.”
Eckhart Tolle: “Because you are identified with it . . . you derive your sense of self from the content and activity of your mind. . . The secret of life is to ‘die before you die’ – and find that there is no death.”
Resurrection is just this idea of dying before you die and uncovering eternity in the present moment.
To die before you die, simply leave self behind (Jesus), take leave of yourself (Eckhart), forget the self (Dogen), stop identifying with mind (Tolle). These are all ways of making the same point.
This has nothing essential to do with theism, atheism, or agnosticism. It’s not about believing anything (such as a creed). It has to do with living well, authentic existence, abiding peace and joy, genuine freedom.
The eternal present is available here and now to anyone who lets go of self (ego, ego/I).
Since all suffering requires time and since time is absent from the eternal present, there is no suffering in the eternal present.
Since all suffering requires separation and since nothing is lacking from the eternal present, there is no suffering in the eternal present.
The eternal present is already available. This is why Jesus says, “in fact the kingdom of God is among you” [LUKE 17:21.]. It is why Dogen tells us to let go of the idea that we need to gain anything to live well; the idea of gaining is just more egocentricity.
All that is required is to uncover what is already available. It is not easy, but it’s simple.
What counts is letting go of all thoughts, emotions, sensations, and other mental objects. Instead of spending our lives ceaselessly attached to thinking about and rearranging such objects, the important task is to be able to let them go in favor of awareness itself. This is the way to genuine freedom and peace.
Living well is uncovering the eternal present.
This is worth remembering when you are suffering.
It is worth doing when you are suffering intensely.