Monday, March 7, 2016

Quest for Purgatory

My friend has been caught up in visions of Purgatory, a concept I've always had a hard time with. My patient reader knows that I am a practicing Hindu and even though we have layers of heavens and infernos, we do not have a purgatory; the very idea seems pointless from the perspective of a system of belief that revolves around reincarnation. After all, purging suggests subtraction of sorts and energy cannot be subtracted. The very thought of all souls leaning towards a singular direction makes me uncomfortable. The universe must be balanced, after all!

I have Read Literature and I am familiar with Dante and other stories of Purgatory. I understand the concept if I consider a monotheistic world; it would make sense that ALL souls have the propensity for being all good in that world. I have seen people inducing suffering on their flesh to "burn" away their indulgences and become worthy of Purgatory. In extreme cases, I have heard and read of people choosing a violent, unnatural death to directly attain Paradise, by-passing Purgatory by burning off all sins in a final conflagration of unimaginable pain that devours the very living body.

I am not convinced. I still have to squint to glimpse Purgatory. What makes most sense to me is that life itself is a place of learning and catharsis. After all, all the burning and punishments I have read about seem to be of a physical nature. People burdened by stones, people busily running around nowhere, people walking through fire, all of these seem to punish the physical body. Surely perils of the soul are different? If the soul is being purged of the faults it has paid for in hell, then surely, the purging should involve the spirit? Perhaps the prayers at the end of each circle of Purgatory are enough?

I do not have a Virgil to guide me, Also, I am not sure that I want to travel that rocky way.

However one believes, all of us are fascinated with the afterlife, sometimes more so than we are in love with being alive. My friend is not alone in her preoccupation about the afterlife. What bothers me the most about these visions, whether it is the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Greek Underworld, or Dante's song, is that they all seem to be built on the terrain of misgiving. A lot of one's moral compass, then, is driven by fear of afterlife than by an unclouded awareness of right and wrong. How can those choices, impelled as they are by apprehension of punishment or expectation of reward, be proper or clear?

If I leave Dante behind and fast forward to the 20th century and its love affair with the apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic, I have Sartre, who suggests a completely different kind of terror and hell: of a flower speaking and of other people!

 Perhaps Camus' Sisyphus presents the most comforting of all landscapes of afterlife.

I prefer my forests of between eye-blinks, of confused gods and wise demons, arrogant demons and graceful gods, of jatiswaram animals, who remember their past lives and clueless, ambitious humans, a world in which trees and stones are worthy of worship and evil is a matter of perspective, and all the time knowing that it is all part of someone else's dream. Even though there are several layers of infernos where souls that choose malice and harm are punished, they are punished only until their horde of faults is exhausted. After that, they do earn their time in one of the layers of heavens, depending on their horde of merit. There is no in-between land of purging as the premise is that the soul itself needs no purification; it IS pure energy. The only real sin is connected with self-awareness of the living; it is ignorance and the soul fixes that by exploring life from a variety of perspectives through lifetimes. At the end of each lifetime, the hollow body is the entity that is burned without suffering. The ashes immersed in water help with the further journey of the soul.

I guess what I, my friend, and the rest of humanity search for in stories of afterlife is some sort of comfort. Mine, I find, lies in the prospect of chances varied enough to learn all I need to by delving into Life itself. Perhaps it will not bring me any closer to the divine; but then perhaps that is not the point at all.

Perhaps the divine is not to be sought without or after, but like the monstrous, It too resides within and now.

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