The Road to Heaven or Hell?

by | 23 Apr, 2024

In Sydney during the past week we have had two atrocious outbreaks of criminal violence leading to deaths and injuries, leaving our city, country and all those who love Australia reeling. We think of ourselves as a land of peace. Random violent events can be very challenging to our sense of who we are as a nation.

And it is not only happening here. This year Google tells me that there have been 49 mass shootings and over 5,000 people killed by gun violence in the USA in the first 3.5 months of 2024. Then there are the thousands of people being killed in Ukraine, Gaza and God only knows how many other places.

The sight of overwhelming suffering in our news broadcasts and the replaying of atrocity every few minutes imprints deeply into our psyche if we allow ourselves to dwell on all this, to the exclusion of the good that also happens every single day in every nation.

Our hearts go out to all those who are affected, either through injury, death or grief. I invite everyone to pray for and give solace to those who are affected in whatever way we can.

One of the hallmarks of grief is that it creates waves of emotion, which is natural and normal. Anger is part of the matrix. So is depression, so is withdrawal, so is hopelessness. The temptation to fall into blame and rigidify life as consisting of ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’ can be very strong. We are going to feel our feelings for sure. But are we going to let these events overpower us and create an inferno of fear in which to live and suffer?

Philosophers have argued for millennia over the meaning of heaven and hell. Some doctrines proclaim that these are the outcomes of life, and that we experience them in the afterlife. While this may be true, I am more inclined to believe that they both exist right here on Earth, where we live. 

It seems to me that our physical, emotional and mental lives can be heaven or they can be hell.  And, that the experience of suffering is seemingly tied to worldly events but is in fact entirely subjective. Once we enter into a vortex of suffering, the highest and best outcome is that we walk the journey of inner transformation and healing, whereby eventually we understand the gift in the situation, even though we would never wish the situation on anyone. Compare this to the other potential, which is that we sink into an abyss of grief, fear or anger, rendered powerless by blame, become increasingly bitter and subject to dark mental impulses.

For most people, when things are good they feel good and when things are bad they feel bad. I have never met anyone who has not at some time or other found themselves mired in suffering of some kind. One could even say that suffering is part of the usual world order, a teaching given through the scintillating consciousness of Lord Buddha thousands of years ago. Knowing how to deal with suffering is a spiritual art, and something that sacred pathways and traditions have been developed to help us with. 

Human history has always entailed violence and cycles of war and peace, civic mindedness and civic destruction. In the current era we are more aware of the troubles going on in other parts of the world because of technology and media, and thus perhaps more affected by it than in previous generations.

We have a choice. Are we going to live in fear, or are we going to continue our spiritual practices, send love ahead of us in our day, do our best to cultivate grace, help others wherever we can and turn a hellish nightmare into something, which if properly dealt with, will strengthen us as souls? Turning harshness into kindness, affront into forgiveness and injury into pardon is the royal road advocated by the luminaries of all pathways forward.

Without wisdom and kindness, the very pathways to heaven themselves become pathways to divisiveness, anger, blame and are usurped by those who want to be in control. A bit of that has occurred in the second of the Sydney incidents this week and can be seen in other situations too.

There is no simple answer to any of this, and the pain must be felt. But remember that you have an inextinguishable resource in the Divine and your own higher self, which can give you the wisdom to understand your own personal dharma in the face of world heartache and adversity. Listen within, and see what emerges. And let’s all play our parts in holding the candle of hope and faith alive and strong, whatever looks to be the case. The cycle will always come to an end, and light always triumphs over darkness. May blessings rain down on all who are suffering. Amen.



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