Music, books and countries

If you have a PC (or Mac, or Android phone) you can use the Internet to store your music. Actually you can do that anyway – Ubuntu Linux has had this for at least a year – but it is new to Amazon. com. And unlike Ubuntu One, it is for Americans only. has launched a “cloud drive” service for their MP3 shop. People can save the MP3 files directly to these servers (not actual clouds, luckily) and play them from anywhere. Anywhere in the USA, that is. does not sell MP3 files overseas, although ironically they sell CDs, which you can then rip and upload to competing “cloud” providers. It’s a good thing sending all those physical objects across the globe does not cause some kind of climate change or anything, since the end result is exactly the same, with the addition of a CD on a landfill.

I think it is safe to assume that the restrictions on export of MP3 files are due to negotiations with the RIAA, the Recording Industry Asses of America or something very similar to that. It bears mention that I have bought several books in electronic form from Amazon, quickly and without hassle, across the Atlantic. This fits with my impression that book publishers may be greedy like the rest of us, but fundamentally sane. The RIAA, on the other hand, systematically comes across as a collective psychiatric basketcase, more exactly organized paranoia. These are the guys, if you remember, who wanted many millions from a single mother for a couple dozen pretty boring music tracks.

Not to sow doubt about their clinical insanity and need for strong medication and straitjackets, but there is a fundamental difference between books and music that may explain their behavior to some small degree. Whereas music has been with us since time immemorial, canned music is a far more recent invention than the written word.  Books, in some form, is a mainstay of civilization. It could even be argued that civilization as we know it would be hard to maintain without them. Certainly a high-level civilization is unlikely to evolve without a lengthy phase of written records.  So basically, we know books, their causes and effects.

And it so happens that people who read books tend to be regarded as civilized. Whether this is cause or effect, or perhaps both, I am not sure.  As a friend likes to quote from The Penultimate Peril: “Wicked people never have time for reading. It’s one of the reasons for their wickedness.” Music, on the other hand, is often seen as loosening the bands of civilization (although this varies with the type of music, I would say.)

It may not always have been exactly like this. During my recent reading of Dante’s Inferno, there was a mention of an adulterous couple who had supposedly fallen in sin by reading a romance novel together, and consequently went to hell as they never repented.  My immediate reaction was “Who the hell would read a romance novel together with someone of the opposite sex if they were not already planning to do that thing?”  But it goes to show that books may once have been viewed with a certain suspicion which is now reserved for more modern technologies.

Back from trip

I have returned from a two day business trip. It was not a pleasant experience, as these never are, and I’m likely to lose a moderate amount of money rather than getting paid for the extra time my job has kept me away from home. Nor was it voluntary, except in the sense that I volunteered to not quit my job or lie and say I was too sick to go. I may try to refuse next time. There will probably be a next time if I live, even though there is very little to gain from these seminars that could not have been achieved faster and cheaper. Or so it seems to me. Perhaps neurotypicals need these kind of experiences. They certainly don’t seem to mind.

That said, I love my job and it is like with friends: You can’t expect them to be perfect. Especially when you’re not perfect yourself, and I am not. (I think that should be obvious from my archives.)

I am grateful that I have a job where I can help people and get paid for it.  But this trip had very little of the first and less than usual of the second, so I am not enthusiastic about it. That said, it was not a soul-crushing suffering either. Kind of like a bad cold, I guess.

And I came home unharmed. Well, essentially. I usually get sick the day after a trip. At least it is something like 10-15 years since I have had an overnight trip and not got sick afterwards, if memory serves. It is not a big deal, just the body ridding itself of the unusual forms of food eaten at unusual times. I have eaten very little on this trip, so there should not be much to get rid of. But it means another day off from work.

Oh, and the tooth is broken again, the one that was glued on last year. (I think it was last year.) Usually it breaks when I buy a new laptop. I don’t really need any more laptops, but the trip made it clear that I could use a new battery in my HTC Hero. Either that, or a new phone, if the price is approximately the same. By now, it really only holds charge for actual use between home and work, where I recharge it again. For a day trip I can only use it a few times a day to check mail, twitter and Facebook, and it still runs dry.

At least it lasts more than five minutes, which was about how long the next-to-last phone held charge when I gave up on it.  Since I did not actually use the phone back then, I did not notice.  Now that there is Internet on the phone, I tend to use it to stay in touch, much like other humans do, except they talk and I read. And occasionally write.

Backdating entries

I did not get finished the entry I wrote on yesterday. I had hoped to finish it on the train, and brought with me my smallest and lightest netbook and a USB cable to hook it up with the mobile phone. Unfortunately, this particular cable did not connect properly with the netbook, although it worked well with the big heavy Vista laptop last winter. Oh well. So I am finishing it after the trip, and backdating it. And the same with this entry that explains it.

Generally I don’t backdate more than a few hours, but sometimes if I have skipped a day and have two entries the next, I will push one back a day instead of pushing the other forward.

Attachments of the soul

In Buddhism, to die a peaceful death you should be free from excessive or misdirected desire. Having no memory of being dead, I can only say that this also seems to hold true for living a peaceful life.

Still looking at the Butterflies book. Now we have come to the problem with attachment.  It is mentioned in various forms in various religions, and the word usually translated as “attachment” is particularly common in Buddhism. The classical Buddhism does not speak about sin, or at least rarely, although it does have precepts. Instead, its problem is with attachments. People get attached to this and that, and so they don’t make it to Nirvana, the freedom from suffering.

The book now goes into some detail in pointing out that desires are not the problem, and the objects of the desires are not the problem. It is the attachment to having your desire fulfilled that is a problem.

I will just have to take his word for him having desires he does not care whether are fulfilled or not. I am not sure I would have used a word as strong as “desire” about something I don’t really care whether happens or not.  A wish, perhaps. A fancy. A dream. Desire I reserve for things that cause emotion.  And emotion, according to this book, is bad.  Well, nothing is bad, but emotions are to be avoided, so I guess they are bad anyway. You know what I mean.

To take a different teacher, Ryuho Okawa says that our attachments are the things that our mind comes back to when we are at rest during the day. When we don’t think about anything else, if we have an attachment, the mind will be drawn back to that particular thing.

The obvious example would be falling in love. From what I have read about this phenomenon and seen on movies, the person who is in love will think about the other person whenever there is nothing very important going on, and sometimes even then. There is definitely emotion there, lots and lots of it. And the person in love is not relaxed about the outcome, to say the least. Or so I have been told.

On the other hand, Okawa says that love that gives without expecting anything in return is not an attachment, even if you spend time thinking about how to help people. I agree with him, but I am not an expert on Buddhism. I don’t think there is anything compulsive about love that does not expect anything, though, so he is probably right in this.

I don’t know how this works with your children, if any. In classic religions, monks and nuns were assumed to have a better chance of salvation, and not having to worry about the kids was probably a big part of that.  I don’t think there was much gain in the “not having to think about sex” department, at least for the monks. It seems that the only guys who forget about sex are those who have been married a while. But I may be wrong, having never been married.

But I think people who have children tend to worry about them a lot, and this seems to be a mixture of love and attachment. They think about how they can help their children, but they also think about many unnecessary things regarding their children, unrealistic worries and selfish thoughts about how the kids may cause trouble for themselves. (Or quite likely already have caused trouble, kids being kids after all. What is wrong with them that they Just Can’t Listen??)  So it is a very intertwined thing and not easy to find out. I cannot with a straight face give advice about kids anyway.

But some attachment are obvious and obviously negative. Like when you go back and think about injustice that others have done against you. I wrote about that recently, how this can turn people into demons while still alive, making a hell for themselves and those who listen to them. It is not the injustice itself that causes this infernal transformation, but the way people repeat it day by day, cutting the soul wound open again and again until it festers and goes gangrenous.

You already know from experience that your body can heal: I don’t think there is a boy who has not cut or scraped himself or broken or twisted something, usually several times. Yet with the exception of broken bones that are set wrong, you heal with just a small scar. You don’t go around and suffer for the rest of your life because you scraped your knee badly when you were 10.  But there are people who don’t realize that the soul can also heal. They keep suffering for decades because of something that is in the past. You can say that these are like bones set wrong, that grow back in a painful and debilitating way. It may be necessary to break them again to heal properly, and this needs professional assistance.

You may say that these attachments are desires to change the past. That is a crazy desire, of course. We can never change the past. But desires are often crazy. In fact, that is a main problem with them. To desire food when you have not eaten for a while is normal and healthy, and we don’t really talk about that. We talk about desires that bind the soul.

When I was much younger than today, obviously, I did not want Jesus to come back until after Christmas. That was pretty childish, although I was probably not an actual child – we never talked about the return of Jesus in my childhood – but obviously I was still very young.  This is a great example of attachment. The Christmas (probably the receiving of gifts) was the attachment, while the coming of Jesus represents the eternal peace or the heavenly world.

So from a theist point of view, you could say that if there is something we want more than Heaven, it is definitely an attachment.  There had better not be any such things when we die, or we won’t die a peaceful death. But correspondingly, there better not be any such extreme wants while we live, or we won’t live a peaceful life! Now that most humans actually live in countries that are not in war or civil war, it would be a terrible waste to inflict the suffering of unrest upon oneself.

But that’s what we do. And, to quote the standard ending for Norwegian fairy tales: “If they aren’t dead, they are still alive.” So it is also with our attachments, and the useless suffering they bring.

Alone in a cocoon

If your wife looks like that when cutting vegetables, you should probably give thanks that she does not think you are an imaginary person.

I have made it around halfway through the free online book, “Butterflies are free to fly”. Now reflecting on the spiritual autolysis. Following the butterfly metaphor, the author is now in his cocoon, breaking down the structures of his larval stage (when he was a human adult.)

What has actually happened, it seems, is that he has descended into the heresy of solipsism. Hopefully he will emerge from it when his cocoon phase is over.

In a sense, solipsism is the natural conclusion of the ego lifestyle. It is the belief that only I am real. The universe is all in my head. Other people don’t exist, or have their own universe where they too are alone.

We tend to think of solipsism as the philosophy of the sociopath, the criminal without a conscience. After all, if other people are not real, why not enslave them, rape them, kill them and eat them? After all, nothing is “bad” or “wrong”, as the author repeatedly tells us. I am sure it could be an interesting experience. And so would death row, hopefully, since the imaginary society in your head is unlikely to share your enthusiasm for post-coital cannibalism. (Unless you are a praying mantis.)

Of course, not all of us would want that. My sims are very happy imaginary people. But my opponents in the RPG Oblivion are not. I have to say my desire for setting bullies on fire has kind of disappeared over the last couple years, but it was an important motivation for playing RPGs until my midlife transformation at least. And there are many Sims players who build walls around their sims and watch them slowly starve to death, or set their house on fire and remove the doors, or take away the ladders while the sim is in the pool. So, I am not sure solipsism is suitable as a general teaching.  Of course, the Butterfly book is not aimed at the general public, but it is freely available.

That said, the intense lonesomeness of the spiritual path is a well known phenomenon. Let me see if I can find a YouTube video I saw recently where Ken Wilber brought up this. Ah, here: “Ken Wilber on the aloneness of the spiritual path.”

Of course, for Ken Wilber this is not the only reality. He famously says that Spirit has three “faces”, aspects or modes: I, It and Thou.  The first aspect, I AM, is the subjective experience of being the observer without which my universe would not exist. If I was not here to see it, it would not exist for me, and I cannot really know of anything outside myself as seen from this angle.

Another aspect it “IT IS”, the overwhelming scale of the world and the realization that I am such a tiny little part of it, my body roughly halfway between the size of a virus and the size of Earth, the planet itself only a speck of iron dust circling a nearly average star in the outer reaches of a galaxy among billions of other galaxies. Being one with the universe is being an extremely small part of it. In order for the ordinary human to find life worth living, the vastness of the universe has to be held at bay.

The final face of Spirit is “THOU ART”.  This is in essence the classical God, the Thou who art in Heaven but for some reason appear in our life, the overwhelming presence of the Other which can be experienced with as strong a reality as my own, or more so.  I personally suspect the reason why so many people never experience the Presence of God is that they have never experienced the absence. But I may be wrong. In any case, once one has experienced this overwhelming presence, it becomes possible to see this “face of Spirit” in other people as well.  By then you are well and truly out of the cocoon.

Having these three experiences of the three faces of Spirit is different from the starting position of having none of them, of just thoughtlessly accept that other people are kind of real because everyone is treating everyone else as real the same way they treat me, more or less.  Usually however we have a healthy dose of egotism (without which we would not survive the early years where all we can do is receive). Egotism accepts that other people are kind of real, just not very important. First me, then others if it benefits me. So that is different from seeing, in the words of Mother Theresa, that “every person you meet is Jesus in disguise”.  Or in other words, the Divine in the flesh.

So I guess there is a reason why most insects in their pupal stage are immobile, while butterflies are free to fly.

Meditation, observation & bzzness

“Because my role is observation.” (Yuki Nagato, from an anime about Haruhi Suzumiya.)

I am still in the middle of reading Butterflies are free to fly (parental, grandparental, angelic and divine guidance recommended, as this book may well cause insanity, suicide or lifelong unhappiness in the fragile or not exceptionally sturdy and well-prepared reader.)

The book quotes Jed McKenna, a probably fictional teacher of extreme truth-seeking. This is actually kind of true: “Ultimately, the only spiritual practice is observation; seeing things the way they really are.” Whether it is the only, I don’t know, but I have found it to be essential. That is why I used to call myself a “conscientious observer” for a long time. (It is a pun on “conscientious objector”, obviously, but I did not pick it only for its fun value.)

In light of this, it is puzzling that Mr Butterfly … Stephen Davis, I mean, is pretty much rejecting meditation as a kind of distraction that seeks to induce an altered state of consciousness. I am not sure what kind of meditation he has done, but he presumably has done some, being the new-age person he was. But something must have gone wrong. You see, meditation should make you MORE aware, not less. If you’re tuning out, if you’re entering the land of fuzzy, you’re doing it wrong. Sure, meditation should cause you to relax. Your body, that is. Your awareness however should increase.

There are actually two aspects of this. One is the very slow increase in your capacity to be aware or conscious, a process that takes years. A more immediate effect is the surge of available awareness when you sit down and detach from the self-generated busyness of daily life.

Usually we spend our time either doing something that requires attention, or thinking of something that has happened or will happen or ought to happen or should have happened or may happen if, but perhaps not if, and it was their fault and not mine. This is the standard human condition. When we sit down and shut up, the awareness is withdrawn from these habits, and there is a surge of free awareness. When we are new and lack technique and discipline, it is common for this free awareness to latch onto random things nearby: Either sights or sounds, feelings in our body, emotions in our mind, memories or internal images. More likely than not, the surge of awareness will magnify these so they become awe-inspiring, or deliriously pleasant, or terrifying, or otherwise larger than life. Thus we have an Experience.

The Meditation Experience is pretty much unavoidable, and sellers of related materials (such as brainwave entrainment programs) do their best to create positive expectations, which will (if all goes reasonably well) assure that you get a Good Trip instead of a Bad Trip during your first sessions.

In reality, the Experience is a side effect, and actually a distraction. What we want to become able to do is observe ourselves. We want to be able to watch our thoughts as we think them, our feelings as we feel them, without having to stop what we are doing and ponder. Usually we are almost completely absorbed in whatever we are doing, and are seeing completely through our eyes. We are not at the same time seeing ourselves from outside.

The purpose of the observation is not to evaluate, to judge. I mean, sure we can do that, but it is highly likely that this will distract us and we end up with a courtroom case with ourselves trying to defend ourselves against ourselves, and I cannot imagine how much awareness one must have to keep track of that AND the actual life we are performing the living of, at the same time.

Sure, we should judge ourselves. But before we do that, we must observe ourselves. The purpose of meditation is not to feel good, although stressed people usually feel good when their bodies relax. (Then fall asleep, which is pretty much the opposite of meditation. But if you lack sleep, and almost all modern people do, it will soon become a habit to fall asleep when you try to meditate. This is the reason for the unnatural and even painful positions of many meditation schools. A better alternative, I think, is to actually set aside more time for sleep.)

People who have been meditating deeply, frequently and regularly for a couple decades or more, may begin to become aware at all times, including during dream and finally dreamless sleep. They achieve a state of constant witnessing.

I am not saying you cannot achieve that by writing down truth, as the more or less fictional Jed McKenna proposes. Perhaps meditation is a relic from before paper became commonly available. But it works, if you do it right, or even reasonably right. You become more and more aware of yourself, without losing the ability to actually live your life while you observe it. At first you have to take time out from your life to observe yourself, but eventually you can be said to “meditate” all the time, to some degree.

I don’t actually do that, not all the time. Occasionally I am swallowed up by something I do. And I am still unconscious while sleeping, after all these years, with a few seemingly random exceptions.

But the idea of meditation is not to increase fuzziness, but to reduce the bzzness of thoughts and plans and daydreams that repeat endlessly in the head, absorbing all available awareness. Bzz! Bzz! Busy bee thoughts fly round and round in the head. Withdraw from these. Because your role is to observe, first and foremost. Well, unless you’re an ordinary human or something, I guess.

Better and better day by day!

This world is amazing! Except perhaps for America.

My llama-focused reader in Thailand has digged out some quite interesting links lately, and the latest (as of this writing) was an online book called “Butterflies are free to fly“. Not for the weak of mind, admittedly. I was positively amazed and kept reading until Chapter 3, where suddenly the author throws himself at the steering wheel and makes a sharp turn toward the nearest off-ramp from reality.  I quote:

~ when you look at the world today, do you really think the human race as a whole is more peaceful, more loving, more tolerant, more fulfilled, happier, safer, better fed and better housed than it was ten years ago? Or fifty or a hundred years ago? When you watch the evening news, doesn’t the opposite appear to be true? Doesn’t it seem like the world – as portrayed in the 3D movies surrounding you – is heading in the “wrong” direction, away from constant and abiding joy, abundance, power, and love and into greater depths of pain and suffering despite all the efforts of all the different groups that have grown exponentially over the same period of time?

Where to begin? And if I begin, how will I end?

These last ten years have been by far the most wonderful in human history, beyond any imaginable comparison.  Earth is certainly no paradise, but it is less hellish than it has ever been since the dawn of recorded history. There are less wars and conflicts than usual. The sheer number of people who have been lifted out of abject poverty during the past decade is comparable to the entire world population at the time of Jesus or Buddha or Socrates. One of the years in this decade was the first time there were more obese than starving people on the planet. With all due disrespect for obesity, I think that is an accomplishment of biblical proportions.  During last year’s economic crisis, Africa as a whole saw an economic growth of around 4.5%. All but a few hate-filled fringes of the developing world have been growing at breakneck speed this decade.

Are people happier? Yes they are, with one glaring exception. Americans, more exactly those in the nation of the United States of America, are NOT happier.  But America is not a very large part of the world in terms of population. It still has a sizable economy and military, but I don’t think we are talking about those here.

Now, if we go back fifty years – and I happen to have lived those years myself – the improvements are nothing short of miraculous. No, that is too weak. My lifetime has seen a miracle of such a magnitude that if God’s prophets had included a reasonably concise foretelling of this age in the Bible, people would have thrown the Bible in the trash bin as utter insanity.  It is one thing for Jesus to walk on water, Jesus being Jesus after all.  But for numerous people to walk on the moon? Nonsense. But it gets worse.  Ordinary workers flying through the skies from one side of the world to the other? Thousands, no, millions of them? Children talking with friends hundreds of miles away? The music of great orchestra carried in your pockets and playing for your ears only? The knowledge of a million books in a box in your living room? No, wait, now in your shirt pocket! The eradication of smallpox, and the banishment of most plagues from entire continents? Come on, it is insane. Even if angels came down from on high and said this would happen, people might have chased them away with sticks and stones. And that is only a sample of what I have seen.

But are people happier? Yes, I think even the Americans are happier than they were in 1960. The rest of the world definitely. More peaceful? Definitely, despite some stop and go. More tolerant? Ask your gay friends whether they would want to take a time machine back 50 years.  In fact, ask anyone.

People may gripe, but only a few delusional people, mostly Americans, would seriously want to turn the clock back 50 years. The ones who would want to turn it back 100 years are so few, I think I may possibly know 1. That’s the guy who is praying for natural disasters to strike his (and my) native Norway so its people can return to the Lord. Turning the clock back 100 years would probably qualify. He would be disappointed, however, to find that people 100 years ago were not the pious souls he imagines. In my childhood I listened for many long hours to my grandfather rambling on about his youth, which is now 100 years ago, and let me tell you: The drunkenness, whoring and fighting that was the norm back then was just shocking and disgusting.

Do the various spiritual splinter cells have any hand in the great improvement we have seen, or is it all due to secular science?  That is another matter. I think we cannot separate the two. Rather they are two prongs of a much greater wave of change that is coming, one so immense that it must be seen from a very great height to become visible at all. For the rising tide lifts all boats.

Now, the book will get back on track, at least for a while. I am still making my way down it, not sure where I will stop reading. But because this is a common mythunderstanding, I wanted to clear it up. If you are American, you have my pity. I am not quite sure what went wrong, but please consider getting out of there while you still can. For most of us though, celebration is in order. Perhaps we should adopt the American tradition of yearly Thanksgiving – much good it seems to have done them…

Got food? Thank Norway.

Picture of the river that runs right past my home. What has this to do with your food?  Read on!

The real world is a complex place. It seems unlikely that the chilly mountain country Norway would contribute much to the world’s food supply, although we do export plenty of fish and the excellent Jarlsberg cheese, known for its mild and pure taste. However, looking up the word “Yara” may give you a surprise.

In 1905 the Norwegian researchers Dag Birkeland and Sam Eyde invented a way to create artificial fertilizer from thin air, by extracting nitrogen through electricity. Norway had, and still has, plenty of hydropower. So Birkeland & Eyde set about supplying the world with cheap fertilizer. Hydro, now Yara, is still the world’s leading supplier.

With all due respect to manure, which is a sustainable and local resource, it remains a fact that the high yield farming of the modern world relies heavily on mineral fertilizer. If not for the curiosity of the two Norwegian scientists and the nearby source of cheap energy, extracting nitrogen from the air might not have taken place in time to feed the flood of humans whose lives were spared by antibiotics and improved hygiene during the 20th century.

Of course, this is only one of many megatrends that have converged during the last few generations.  I would probably not have known of this one if I was not Norwegian – we learned about it in school (repeatedly, I think) and the company that was founded on the invention is still in the news occasionally.

These many seemingly unrelated events seem to push us ever closer to something. It is as if some kind of rising tide is sweeping humanity with it (not in the tsunami sense, at least not literally.) But what that something is, I won’t speculate on today. It is a pretty spring day and the ice is breaking. Also, I have food!

Meanwhile, back on Earth…

Took this pretty picture recently, but not today, as I was home sick. I got better over the course of the day though, and feel completely healthy now.

We’ve had a couple beautiful spring days. The ice is breaking on the river. Relax, it is a quiet and dignified breaking this year, and even last year when it was more violent, there was no risk of flooding at all. Far from it. It is kind of fascinating to watch though.

The woodlice, however, live more precariously. They are coming out in droves and crawl underfoot. I am not sure whether they actually eat wood, but if so it is kind of worrying that they are so plentiful.  At least we don’t have termites here up north!

Meteorologists say that winter will return later this week, so perhaps we get two (or more) springs this year? For the price of one!  Actually there is still snow cover on the fields, although it is gone around the house and other objects that absorb the sunshine and gives off heat.

Spring is a wonderful time here up north. Yesterday it was sunshine both when I went to work and when I came home. It is not many weeks since it was dark both times. It really has changed fast. I think of these days as “white spring”, when the snow is still around many places but melting fast. Then comes the “brown spring”, where the plants seem uncertain as to whether they really can trust the winter to have ended. A few courageous flowers make a stand by the roadside. And finally the “green spring” when they throw caution to the mild winds and put on the light green dress, and the rest of the flowers hurry to open up.

But I wrote about this last year too, did I not? “Believe in the coming Age of the Sun.”

Mistaking Hell for Heaven

Does this look like Heaven to you? Actually it looks like the game Oblivion (which is the Elder Scrolls word for Hell), and is replete with demons, undead, monsters and criminals. Despite this, I bought a brand new computer in 2006 just to play it, and still occasionally enjoy it. This does not speak well for my soul, I suspect. Well, it may still improve. The soul, I mean.

“The path to Heaven passes through Hell. The sinner thinks this is Heaven, and stops.” That’s what the free thought in my head said this morning. I suspect it is only true in a poetic sense, but then again this is probably the case with nearly all references to Hell.

Depictions of Hell, from the time of Dante onward (and even earlier in the Far East) have had an amazing appeal to human curiosity, perhaps because so many of us have at some point suspected that we might end up there eventually.  In any case, I think these depictions are symbolic at best, even when made by the religious. And religious people are not the only ones who go into detail about this: A couple of my favorite fantasy writers in years past dedicated many chapters to the location. It is also a staple of cartoon drawings.

In fantasy, Hell is a terrible place and it seems highly unlikely that anyone would sign up for it voluntarily. But in real life, many people love hellish things.

To take an example that does not embarrass me personally, think of the people who comment on political blogs and online newspaper.  There can be little doubt that they really immerse themselves in anger, grudges, hate, suspicion and paranoia. And sometimes you can see the same people returning over and over to bathe in the lake of fire and lie down with the poisonous worms.  They can’t help themselves abstain from this suffering any more than a drunkard can abstain from strong drink.

These are examples of people who suffer voluntarily, perhaps foolishly thinking that they suffer for some greater good, although they end up simply tormenting each other and inflaming their own sense of victimhood.

These noble excuses rarely applies to those who are drawn into the Hell of Lust. To the saintly observer (not me, unfortunately) they appear similar to earthworms wriggling in mud. Their relentless fornication is simply gross. (And indeed there are many fetishes in this part of life that are just plain disgusting even to the average person. Just not to those who share them.)

A different case is excess and its consequence. Most of us learned during childhood that eating too much sweets caused a tummy ache, and during our youth we learned that staying up too late caused a very unpleasant tiredness the next day. Many adults have found that drinking to excess causes a headache, and that’s before you face the consequences of the things you actually did while drunk, which can vary from embarrassment to prison and diseases.  Despite knowing this in our brain, the temptation remains. Most debt problems also fall in this category. As such it may be said that entire nations go to Hell, financially. Widespread suffering follows.

To move on to the least obvious, there is the relationship of the perpetrator and the victim. In this world, the rapist may feel that he is in heaven while his victim is in hell. The thief may be similarly elated to abscond with your valuables, not thinking about your loss and the feeling of your home being violated, your security compromised. There are many such “pairs” where one feels a surge of satisfaction while another experiences a much deeper pain.

But in the spirit world, there is no such distinction.  Just as the pleasure and pain of carnal excess was separated by time, so the pleasure and pain of crime were separated by space: I am in my body and you in yours. But time and space collapse in the spirit world, and the murderer stabs himself. This is not actually something that only happens after death (in fact, I have no memory of ever being dead) but happens subconsciously in this life already.  Empathy is hardwired in humans (search for “mirror neurons” for more information on this). To resist it you need to amputate yourself psychologically, and your subconscious will not be fooled. It will give you hell already in this life. Crime is not a well documented source of happiness, to put it mildly.

In Buddhism it is taught that there are three Poisons of the Mind that lead people to Hell: Anger, Greed and Folly.  Here is my personal interpretation of this: Anger represents the animal mind that is overcome with passion. Greed represents the human longing for the eternal and infinite, gone terribly wrong by being redirected to material things. Folly is the insane notion that we are separate from others and that only I am real, the others are “non-player characters”, props that are placed on the scene where I alone act out my life. The three Poisons, then, permeate body and soul and intellect, causing them to malfunction. While this condition lasts, the more we strive for pleasure, the deeper we sink into suffering.  What we think to be Heaven turns out to be Hell.

But in this life at least, it is possible to wake up and realize that my suffering is trying to tell me something, that I have gone astray. Whether this awakening is possibly in the afterlife, is still hotly debated. Why wait? (Well,  except because I want to play just 5 minutes more…)