Posted On 01 Sep 2009
What kind of evidence is there about eternal life? [Please don’t confuse this question with the related one about immortal life; see the two previous posts.]
My answer: There is knowledge, not just opinion, about it.
Those who have directly experienced it know that it is qualitatively different and incalculably superior to everyday life.
Whereas immortal life is supposed to be a continuation or more of the same, eternal life isn’t. Immortal life, if it is real, is only available after death; on the other hand, eternal life, if it is real, is only available in the present moment. We live our lives in the present moment.
In my view, the fundamental difficulty about immortal life is that it is based on confused, irremediably flawed thinking about the nature of individuals. Specifically, it depends upon the adequacy of a “substance” ontology. It assumes that individuals are, or have, separate “selves” [“substrata”].
Let’s assume, at least for the moment, that a nonsubstance ontology, which many thinkers including the Buddha or Hume have argued for, is correct. Let’s assume that individuals are empty of separate “selves.” If so, that’s a sufficient reason to let go of the idea of immortal life.
If you were raised with an uncritical acceptance of the idea that you are a separate self and that that separate self is immortal and you let that idea go after it fails to withstand examination, you may feel disappointed–or even upset or afraid. Actually, as Nietzsche argued, your mood should improve rather than deteriorate. Why?
Because letting go of attachment to immortality dissolves an obstruction to living well.
Any focus on immortal life is, since it is focus on death or non-life, not a focus on life. Letting go of attachment to immortal life permits full focus on life, on living well in the present moment.
How could eternal life be qualitatively better than everyday life? What, exactly, is it?
It’s ineffable. How could one clarify participation in the domain of timelessness? It cannot be conceptualized, understood by discursive thinking.
The reason is that conceptualization isn’t up to the task. A concept is a principle of classification (separation, sorting, division, categorization). We understand conceptually by dividing objects according to their similarities and differences. Obviously, it is logically impossible for conceptualization to understand unity. Separation cannot grasp nonseparation.
To know timelessness is to experience it directly, something like the way you occasionally experience a headache. When you directly experience a headache, you know that you have it. It doesn’t even matter if you are asleep and dreaming—it’s still a pain!
To experience eternal life directly is to have the unitive experience. It’s a direct consciousness of the unity or interconnectedness of everything.
If you haven’t had that experience, you just lack evidence concerning it. If you have had that experience, you have knowledge of eternal life.
That’s amazing, isn’t it? Though it’s impossible to know that immortal life is real, it is possible to know that eternal life is real.