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Death and Eternity

Death and Eternity

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson presents death and eternity as two apparently polar opposites that in fact function symbiotically in drawing the individual to religion.

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Source: Music by Amy Fairchild "A Long Way Down"

Video Transcription

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Hello and welcome. Most of us are familiar with some of life's ultimate questions. In this tutorial, we're going to look at some of the questions that get stirred up, when we think about death and eternity, when dealing with death on an individual level. We're also going to look at these ideas from a more collective perspective, from an Eastern religion and a Western religion.

For any film buffs out there, there's a well-known scene from an Ingmar Bergman film called "The Seventh Seal." In it, there's a knight, a crusader, who's taking a pause from his busy, hectic, violent, and confusing life. And he's sitting on a rock, and seated across from him is a figure cloaked in black. And in between them is a chess set.

And at some point, the figure across from him cloaked in Black, Death, says to him, "your move." So action, movement, in life, in relation to death-- anyone who has stopped and thought about it, even just for a moment, comes into the dilemma of time, something that's so associated with motion. And we have no experience or reference with stopped time.

Occasionally, we say, it was like time stood still. But what does that mean? Nothing happened, or maybe everything was crystal clear, slow motion, maybe some combination of all of them?

But look at the words we used to speak of death, they're action words. They're verbs. He passed. Sometimes to simplify, we say, he went away. Or verb and an adjective to describe a state of being-- he is gone.

So if death is faced in life, the question might be, where is he. Where has he gone? To some place, somewhere. And it's not possible to grasp a place that has absolutely no movement.

Our conceptions and experiences of space are so intimately linked with time and motion. The contradictions and the confusions and the mysteries that erupt with all of this, naturally leaves many people to questions about divinity, life after death, and the purpose of life. And there are many religious conceptions that deal with these issues and these predicaments.

Let's look at a few of them first, from a Buddhist perspective. Buddhism has a very long and rich history and has many variations within it. In Tibetan Buddhism, there's an idea called bardo. There's a term called bardo and the bardo state. And it refers to a period of transition between death and the next life, in between death and rebirth.

It's considered a very significant time for insight and potential liberation from the endless cycle of reincarnation. And in most schools of Buddhism, the term nirvana refers to the state of ultimate released from suffering and from the cycle of reincarnation. And while there is some implication that things stop, it's not in the way that we usually understand stop or end.

In Sanskrit, nirvana means cessation or a going out, extinguishing. And in Pali Iniba, that means blowing out, like a candle. And all of these are active verbs. And the idea in both cases is that the suffering caused by desire and greed and aversion and ignorance is no longer experienced.

It's a release from suffering. And our word, the preposition from, comes from the Old English faran, which means to go. So we might want to associate extinguishing and blowing out with some kind of end. But in Buddhism, nirvana refers to another state of being. There is the movement of peace and who knows what.

In any case, on we go to Christianity. In the West, Christianity also is very rich with images and stories and depictions of the afterlife, the concepts of Heaven and Hell. Heaven is referred to as a return to the Garden of Eden here on Earth, paradise. And it's also referred to as everlasting life in the presence of God, spiritual life in the presence of God.

Hell, on the other hand is often translated from Hebrew Sheol, which means pit or subterranean retreat. It's also translated as eternal torment, where there's is a gnashing of teeth. So eternity could be rocky road, or it could be some kind of amazing, beautiful, crazy superhighway. In both Buddhism and Christianity. it's often believed that the road one ends up on depends on one's actions in this life.

In Buddhism, it's referred to as the law of karma or action, actions that determine one's placement on the wheel of suffering either a release from suffering or a return to that wheel of cyclic reincarnation; freedom from the traps that cause so much suffering or return. In Christianity, there are many interpretations of what the Buddhists would call right action. One's fate, in some denominations of Christianity, is generally based on the idea of righteousness in accordance with the scriptures and God's will.

As far as the other road, it's sin and corruption. And that dictates your end. In either case, we have to go.

Notes on "Death and Eternity"


Source: Music by Amy Fairchild. "A Long Way Down"

Terms to Know

In many religions, either the place or the experience of life after death.


A state in which time is either never-ending or does not exist.