Integral eco-archetypal image

Integral eco-archetypal image
Integral eco-archetypal image

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Heaven and Hell

The information on Heaven and Hell provided by Elizabeth Gilbert's Balinese Medicine Man is intriguing and instructive. Here's what she says in her book "Eat, Pray, Love":

"At the moment, the person I'm enjoying the most is Ketut. The old man - truly one of the happiest humans I've ever encountered - is giving me his full access, the freedom to ask any lingering questions about divinity, about human nature. I like the meditations he has taught me, the comic simplicity of "smile in your liver" and the reassuring presence of the four spirit brothers. The other day the medicine man told me that he knows sixteen different meditation techniques, and many mantras for all different purposes. Some of them are to bring peace or happiness, some of them are for health, but some of them are purely mystical - to transport him into other realms of consciousness. For instance, he said, he knows one meditation that takes him "to up."

"To up?" I asked. "What is to up?"
"To seven levels up," he said. "To heaven."

Hearing the familiar idea of "seven levels," I asked him if he meant that his meditation took him up through the seven sacred chakras of the body, which are discussed in Yoga.

"Not chakras," he said. "places. This meditation takes me seven places in universe. Up and up. Last place I go is heaven."

I asked, "Have you been to heaven, Ketut?"
He smiled. Of course he had been there, he said. Easy to go to heaven.

"What is it like?"

"Beautiful. Everything beautiful is there. Every person beautiful is there. Everything beautiful to eat is there. Everything is love there. Heaven is love."

Then Ketut said he knows another meditation. "To down." This down meditation takes him seven levels below the world. This is a more dangerous meditation. Not for beginning people, only for a master.

I asked, "So if you go to heaven in the first meditation, then, in the second meditation you must go down to...?"

"Hell," he finished the statement.

This was interesting. Heaven and hell aren't ideas I've heard discussed very much in Hinduism. Hindus see the universe in terms of karma, a process of constant circulation, which is to say that you don't really "end up" anywhere at the end of your life - not in heaven or hell - but just get recycled back to earth again in another form, in order to resolve whatever relationships or mistakes you left uncompleted last time. When you finally achieve perfection, you graduate out of the cycle entirely and melt into The Void. The notion of karma implies that heaven and hell are only to be found here on earth, where we have the capacity to create them, manufacturing either goodness or evil depending on our destinies and our characters.

Karma is a notion I've always liked. Not so much literally. Not necessarily because I believe that I used to be Cleopatra's bartender - but more metaphorically. The karmic philosophy appeals to me on a metaphorical level because even in one's lifetime its obvious how often we must repeat our same mistakes, banging our heads against the same old addictions and compulsions, generating the same old miserable and often catastrophic consequences, until we can finally stop and fix it. This is the supreme lesson of karma (and also of Western psychology, by the way) - take care of the problems now, or else you'll just have to suffer again later when you screw everything up the next time. And that repetition of suffering - that's hell. Moving out of that endless repetition to a new level of understanding - there's where you'll find heaven.

But here Ketut was talking about heaven and hell in a different way, as if they are real places in the universe which he has actually visited. At least I think that's what he meant.

Trying to get clear on this, I asked, "You have been to hell, Ketut?"
He smiled. Of course he's been there.

"What's it like in hell?"

"Same like heaven," he said.

He saw my confusion and tried to explain. "Universe is a circle, Liss."
I still wasn't sure I understood.

He said. "To up, to down - all same, at end."

I remembered an old Christian mystic notion: As above, so below. I asked. "Then how can you tell the difference between heaven and hell?"

"Because of how you go. Heaven, you go up, through seven happy places. Hell, you go down, through seven sad places. This is why it is better for you to go up, Liss." He laughed.

I asked, "You mean, you might as well spend your life going upward through the happy places, since`heaven and hell - the destinations - are the same thing anyway.

"Same-same, " he said. "Same in end, so better to be happy on journey."

I said, "So, if heaven is love, then hell is...."
"Love, too," he said" (2006, pp. 261-3).

~Excerpted from "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert.