I have no hope. No hope for heaven, no fear of hell. No hope for a better rebirth and no fear of worse. I know I will die. I seek no reward nor escape from any punishment. This life is all I have. And though I tell myself I could be wrong (what if I’m wrong?) I never seem to find enough faith or reason in such belief to spur action. Nor do I think I should.
How selfish is it to think “I am helping you so I can go to heaven?” How moral is it to believe “I will not hurt you because I don’t want to go to hell?” And we call this religion? And we call this religion good?
Heaven and hell exist here. Better and worse lives are but a second away. Do not pass the bardo, do not collect two-hundred good karmas, go directly to now. Reward and punishment are as constant as the daily movement of air through our lungs. I need nothing else.
This is not nihilism. If what comes after this life does not matter, then only this life matters. And in this life there is much to be done. This is the energy and urgency and motivation of all deeds.
It is fair to ask “If you have no fear of punishment, what stops you from doing harm?” The answer is myself, only myself. Because I am, like you are, not alone in this world. We should not make enemies of our neighbors. I have seven billion neighbors.
Others may follow with “If you have no hope of reward, what prompts you to help others?” The answer is that they do, always they do. I could hide in my selfishness, like a turtle in her shell, never doing harm but never rendering aid. But no shell is thick enough to shield the screams of a suffering world. The only relief is their relief.
I have no hope for joy other than this. My heart will stop beating, my blood stop flowing, the twitch of electricity in my mind will fall silent. My body will be burnt to ash and scattered. There will be no joy in me for that. But there is joy here, now.
There is pain, too. Endless, untold oceans of suffering. They got that bit right, these religions. So they sit in hard church pews praying for redemption and on soft cushions meditating for freedom. Escape, escape, escape.
They are not wrong. Prayer too can be joy. And meditation can be relief from suffering. And these things spread, like waves in the ocean, crisscrossing the ripples of a child’s smile and a baby’s laugh, spreading from shore to shore. They touch you and me.
But only so long as we continue to stand in the ocean. When I am gone from here, I will feel them no more. The ripples from each person’s life may continue after they are gone. Like a stone disappearing below the surface of the waves, nevertheless felt. We are all stones. Some sink with hardly a trace. I do not seek to make waves. I will not hinge today’s happiness on something so fickle as tomorrow’s sea.
I live my life hopelessly, as much as I can, but also fearlessly, as much as I am able. I will try (oh, how we try!) to harm none and help many. I am concerned with today’s joy and today’s sorrow. I heed no promise of after.
I do not advocate this for anyone. I do not say it is the way. It is simply how I must live.
In the languages of India, “mind” and “heart” are one word. My mind and heart are one in this. My reason and intuition agree. What I know, as best one can know, and what I feel are twinned.
In hopelessness, there is no despair. In fearlessness, there is no valor.
It is only freedom.