Tagged: religion

Why Mindfulness Fails

Using mindfulness to fix or gain something is doomed to fail, say Buddhist meditation teachers.

The practice of mindfulness, Western Buddhists argue, should be a sustained, quiet exploration and awareness of inside out, rather than a practice for gain of self, power, or control.

As Buddhism has been mainstreamed, its teachings have often been offered not as part of a religious, spiritual, or ethical whole, argues Magid and Poirier, Buddhist lay meditation teachers, but as a relief for pain, a way to build skills, or to better oneself.1

Practice as gain operates within a familiar frame of separate self, power, and control. …An ‘I’ seek to ‘fix’ something, whether ‘out there’ or ‘deep inside’, that is ‘broken’ or ‘unsatisfactory’, or to ‘gain’ something that is currently ‘missing’ [is what’s wrong with mindfulness]. p43

Buddhist lay-teachers: Critics of mindfulness

Barry Magid and Marc Poirier are critical of the Western mindfulness movement. Their essay, Three Shaky Pillars of Western Buddhism, appears in What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives [Read my post reviewing the book, What’s Wrong with Mindfulness: Zen Perspectives].

Barry Magid is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst practicing in New York City. He is a founding member of the Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York and author of several books, Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common ground of Zen and Psychoanalysis, Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide, and Nothing is Hidden: The Psychology of Zen Koans.

Marc Poirier (1952-2015) was professor of law at Seton Hall University Law School in New Jersey. He received lay entrustment from his teacher, Barry Magid, to teach meditation to students and faculty of his law school and was a longtime practitioner of meditation and active with Zen Teachers Association.

“McMindfulness”drive-through

Expecting meditation to produce a particular state of consciousness, that the practitioner hopes someday to be permanent, is doomed to failure writes Magid and Poirier. Why is it doomed to failure? The authors don’t directly say in this essay. However, the underlying Buddhist reasons for failure can be gleaned from other essays in What’s Wrong with Mindfulness.

Underlying reasons for mindfulness failure the book contends are: In Buddhism “nothing” is real and everything is impermanent. To expect anything to be permanent–especially enlightenment–is illusion and the path of suffering.

Magid and Poirier describe the “workshop” approach to meditation and mindfulness. Extracted from the religious and spiritual context of Asian Buddhism, mindfulness is being repackaged for mass markets and quick consumption, it is ridiculed by critics, including committed Buddhists, as “McMindfulness”.

[Read my article on Consumers of Meditation, Mindfulness, and Nirvana]

Buddhism repackaged for mass consumption?

Repackaging Buddhist meditation for mass consumption is counterproductive. The meditation technique, argues Magid and Poirier, needs its religious or spiritual context within Asian traditions.

Buddhist practices have, they argue, increasingly been adapted, simplified, and altered in the West. Often for the purpose of extracting meditation techniques from their Asian religious and cultural contexts.2. Extracting mindfulness from its Oriental roots puts the foundation of practice on shaky pillars.

Three shaky pillars of Western Buddhism

The Three Shaky Pillars of Western Buddhism described by Magid and Poirier are:

  1. Deracination,
  2. Secularization,
  3. Instrumentalization.

1. Deracination: Cutting off Buddhism at its roots?

Deracination is literally, “cutting off from its roots” the practices of mindfulness meditation from Buddhism. It has increasing led to a secularization (removal from religious context) of Buddhist meditation practices.3

Mindfulness and meditation techniques are being marketed and increasingly institutionalized as therapy and as personal transformation. p41

The mindfulness movement…

Threatens to obscure the fundamental nature of Buddhism itself. p41

2. Secularization: Buddhism that is areligious?

Secularization, removing the religious or spiritual context, has instrumentalized Buddhist practices as technique or therapy. Mindfulness or meditation becomes a commodified product for personal gain or self-improvement.

3. Instrumentalization: Mindfulness, instrument for gain?

Gain? The problem (of making mindfulness an instrument for gain), say the authors, is the value of the activity of meditation is not in the activity itself but in what it is to be gained. It’s commodified products or results.4

What’s the harm of removing mindfulness from Buddhism?

Removing Buddhism from its Asian cultural and religious contexts, say Magid and Poirier:

  • Obscures traditional practices [of Buddhism and distorts them].
  • Consequences [of practice ] are no longer considered sacred.
  • Loses lineages of Eastern tradition; mindfulness is no longer part of a religious container.

What is…

Most important is experience of awareness, of life as it is. Nothing is needed to be gained. p44

Meditation has always failed

Magid and Poirier argue that mindfulness is doomed to fail without a lifelong commitment to a practice, without a qualified instructor, and without a supportive religious Buddhist community. I ask: what is mindfulness meditation supposed to help us succeed at?

Mindfulness meditation, according to Fortune, is a billion dollar industry5. Many Americans are eager to consume mindfulness products, retreats, and workshops. Most consumers are not told that a lifelong or religious commitment is required for practice. The latter is the desperate plea from the authors of What’s Wrong with Mindfulness.

Last week a colleague confided with me that he has been struggling with depression and that he was considering using a mindfulness-based therapy. I cautioned him against expecting mindfulness or meditation to be beneficial. There are many adverse effects, read my posts on Adverse (Side) Effects, that are terribly underreported. I recommended he seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional to determine if meditation-based therapy might help.

We Americans can’t meditate away the problems we have behaved our way into. Meditation (and religion) has had more than 2000 years to prove itself as the ultimate solution to human suffering. Meditation has always failed.

Notes

1 What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives. (2016) Edited by Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum and Barry Magid. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p41

2 ibid p39

3 ibid p39

4 ibid p40

5 Meditation Has Become A Billion-Dollar Business. Fortune. 16 Mar 2016. Accessed 16 Jun 2017 at http://fortune.com/2016/03/12/meditation-mindfulness-apps/.

Problems with Beliefs & Practices of Hindu-Inspired Meditation Groups

meditation group Hindu yoga
premasagar, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

A 20 year insider investigates the worldviews and practices of Hindu-inspired meditation movements.

In Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements (2010, New York University Press) Lola Williamson explores the worldviews, mystical experiences, and guru-disciple relationships of Hindu-inspired meditation movements (HIMMs) and examines three famous gurus and the organizations they founded: Self-Realization Fellowship of Paramahansa Yogananda, Transcendental Meditation of Maharishi Maheshi Yogi, and Siddha Yoga Dham Associates of Swami Muktananda.

She interviews followers of these organizations who have 20+ years of tutelage under these famous gurus. These three organizations combine Hinduism with Western values that form a hybrid, new religion that Williamson calls HIMMs[1].

Williamson, at the time she began writing this book, had participated for 21 years in Siddha Yoga and saw herself as a devout disciple of Gurumayi, the guru-successor of that movement. Before that Williamson was involved for 10 years in teacher trainings with Maharishi in Transcendental Meditation.

As Williamson investigated these movements to write this book she learned of disturbing accounts of abuses and organizational dysfunctions that were endemic to many of these groups[2].

She and many followers of HIMMs felt it was necessary to distance themselves from rumors of scandals and negativity that was reported by persons who left the ashrams and the organizations.

In 2005, Williamson abandoned this book project and quit Siddha Yoga because of the “cult-like atmosphere pervaded by many of the movements”.

In 2007, she resumed writing of this book that offers a unique perspective on HIMMs from both inside and outside.

Two perspectives, insider and outsider, reveal bits of reality in different ways, like the lame man riding on the shoulders of the blind man[3].

Williamson, as an insider understands the “heart” of the tradition and what makes the HIMM faith attractive to its followers. Outsiders, on the other hand, like Williamson [and myself included], may provide a different perspective and a willingness to examine and critique abuses.

“I also realized that some people use Hindu-style meditation and the philosophy accompanying it to escape from facing hard truths about themselves or about people and events around them”- Williamson [For example, see my post Abandoning Family for a Guru]

This post is the first in a series that will summarize Lola Williamson’s book, Transcendent In America: Hindu-Inspired Movements as New Religion

Beliefs and Practices of Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements

Paraphrasing from Transcendent In America here are some of the beliefs and practices common to HIMMs:

1. Strong commitment to meditation as a means to attaining inner peace, and ultimately, to attaining a state of consciousness described by practitioners variously as liberation, enlightenment, or unity consciousness;

2. Belief that the guru of the movement has attained this state of liberation and serves as their guide;

3. Initiation into a deep, personal relationship with the guru, who is the center of charismatic authority;

4. Each HIMM sees itself as a sort of “family” centered on the guru;

5. Share common beliefs such as karma (natural law of retribution) and reincarnation and the ideal of “enlightenment”;

6. Share common lifestyle; purity is necessary for attaining enlightenment and adherence to dietary restrictions, most are vegetarians and try to avoid stressful situations or “negative” thinking;

7. Seek a balanced life that combines self-effort with a sense of ease, often limiting exposure to popular “worldly” culture or entertainments often viewed as not helpful to spiritual evolution;

8. Belief that self-reflection aids spiritual growth, may include introspection, psychotherapy, or participation in human potential groups;

9. Share common rituals (eg. chanting, meditation), myths (eg. ascending chakras in an astral spine service as a ladder up to samadhi, awakening of kundalini or serpent energy), and metaphors (eg. yoking the five senses to the “chariot” of yoga meditation–an allegory from the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture);

10. Conceive of HIMM practices and beliefs as more than or greater than “religion”, that it’s a universal, spiritual approach to life available to anyone irrespective of faith tradition.

The are several problems, says Williamson, with this interwoven system of meaning used by people who participate HIMMs.

Problems with Beliefs & Practices of Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements

According to Williamson, there are several problems with the beliefs and practices of HIMMs, including:

HIMMs do not adhere to “universal” beliefs nor practices

A. First, the notion that the beliefs and practices of HIMMs are universal actually disregards the fact that many religious practitioners do not believe that “God” dwells within a human being or that union with God is possible or even desirable.

B. The notion that differences in religions can be transcended if everyone where to experience unity consciousness is a particular dogma or belief system of HIMMs, even if it arises out of personal experiences.

C. Essentially, followers and gurus of HIMMs are asserting that unity among religions would be possible if everyone accepted the HIMM worldview or practiced the HIMM forms of meditation.

HIMMs adhere to dogmatic beliefs and ritualized practices, like other religions

D. HIMMs compare the inner depth of their religious system to the outer expressions of others. To outsiders, though, that observe HIMMs, the particular rituals, practices, and dogma appear as forms like any other religion, for only the external can be observed.

E. Rituals most valued by HIMMs center on practices of meditation and initiation into its methods. Traditional Indian Hinduism, like traditional Asian Buddhism [See my post From Monastic to Domestic Mindfulness], reserved the initiations and practices of meditation exclusively for monks and renunciates, not for householders as is touted by HIMMs as a way to recruit people from all walks of life.

Conclusion

Transcendent In America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion questions and discusses, from both insider and outsider perspectives, the problems, beliefs and practices of Hindu-inspired meditation movements (HIMMs).

In the above article I summarized and paraphrased what Williamson noted is the system of meaning of people who participate in HIMMs, including: strong commitment to meditation as way to peace and liberation or enlightenment, initiation into a guru-disciple relationship with a charismatic authority, share common beliefs such as karma (retribution), reincarnation, dietary restrictions, and a set of Hindu-inspired but Westernized rituals and myths that are similar externally to any other religion.

Some problems with HIMM’s beliefs and practices, paraphrasing Williamson in Transcendent in America, include: adherence to a dogma that meditation is universal when actually only if other religions believe like HIMMs do that god is within all human beings and that god may be found in their forms of meditation practice. Traditional, Indian Hinduism reserved meditation practice for monastics. HIMMs promote meditation as a necessary and desirable practice for people from all walks of life.

Question for readers: Have you ever considered yourself a participant in a HIMM, as outlined above? Are there other key components (not included in the lists above) that more clearly represent the system of meaning, practices, and beliefs of participants in HIMMs?

Notes

1 In defining HIMMs, Williams says, “There is a qualitative difference between people who have been raised in a tradition in which the rituals, the foods, the prayers, and the ethics are second nature, and people who have incorporated only parts of a tradition into their religious style. This is why I use the term ‘Hindu-inspired’ rather than ‘Hindu’ to describe Transcendental Meditation and similar movements….Western traditions of individualism and rationalism also influence the style and ethos of these movements.” p 4 Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements (2010, New York University Press). On p 25 of The Hindus: An Alternative History (2009, Penguin Books) Wendy Doniger says, “The books that Euro-Americans privileged (such as the Bhagavad Gita) were not always so highly regarded by ‘all Hindus’, certainly not before the Euro-Americans began to praise them.”

2 In future posts I intend to explore some of the abuses and dysfunctions of HIMMs as described by Williamson in her book.

3 Adapted from p 34 of The Hindus: An Alternative History (2009, Penguin Books) Wendy Doniger

Her stigmata crashed into my karma

Stigmata_mini
Therese Neumann

I was 27 years old, and what I remember is that everyone in my monastic community, except my younger Indian monk-friend, Kabir, believed that saints could get stigmata–manifest the wounds of Christ crucified on their bodies. My other monk-friend, Brahmachari Jake, who worked in the ashram gardens and an ex-Catholic like me, snickered and said, “Don’t you know that a true saint has the power to work out on their own body the ailments of others?” My brother monk, Kabir, replied in a irritated voice, “Jake, stigmata only happens to Catholics, not to Hindus or yogis”.

Kabir’s comment provoked my wonder. Why don’t Hindus or yogis get the stigmata?

Therese Nuemann and Yogananda, 1935
Therese Nuemann and Yogananda, 1935

That evening after meditation, I grabbed off my bookshelf a dog-eared, marked-up copy of Autobiography of a Yogi and turned to Chapter 39 Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist. I read about Parmahanasa Yogananda’s his visit in 1935 with Neumann. Apparently every Friday, since 1926, she experienced the stigmata: blood oozed from wounds on her head, breast, hands, and feet. Her younger brother Ferdinand, told Yogananda that Therese had the power, through prayer, of working out on her own body the ailments of others.1

I read dozens of biographies (mostly hagiographies) of bleeding, stigmatic saints. My “research” convinced me stigmata was a miraculous sign of a true saint. (The Mt. Washington Monks’ Library contained dozens books on Catholic saints, stigmatists St. Francis, Padre Pio, Therese Neumann, and Catherine of Siena–all Catholics. My monastic order, it seemed, was as much Catholic as Hindu).

As a former Catholic-sinner, I’d “progressed” to newer-age notions of Hindu-karma. [Read my post From Christian-Catholic to Hindu-Yogic God].

In Hindu-Yoga tradition, a guru-saint takes on the karma (disease or sins) of her disciples to speed the devotee’s spiritual evolution. The guru willingly takes on the burden of another soul’s karma out of her compassion and desire to spiritually liberate the disciple.

Last week while listening to a radio show I was reminded of the banter above with Kabir and of the Christian-Hindu-Yoga rationalizations in the ashram for why a perfected, divine master would get physically sick.

The radio show was Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcasts- Stigmata: Madness or Miracle? and Stigmata Patient Zero

Why don’t Hindus get the stigmata? Probably religiously interpreted states of consciousness are culturally driven. Christian saints may get the wounds of crucified Christ on their body. Whereas, Hindu tradition holds that yogi Siddhas (liberated, divine humans) are able to enter the bodies of others. Christians may receive into their own body the stigmatic body of Christ. Whereas, Hindu-Siddhas take possession of other beings bodies. Both, yogi Siddhas and Catholic stigmatists only get sick to heal others and to liberate a devoted flock of followers.

In East and in West, religious interpretations of normal and abnormal phenomenon can be down-right strange.

Read my posts of the seldom discussed, in the West, supernatural powers of yogis: Yogic Bodily Possession and Shankara: The King and the Corpse

Notes
1 Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist, Chapter 39, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

Souls, Selves, and Afterlife Contradictions

Afterlife, Keoni Cabral, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Afterlife, Keoni Cabral, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

More powerful than beliefs in Gods, our notions of the afterlife shape our self-consciousness. What we think of death drives our desires and actions in the here-and-now.

My quest for self-realization–of life after death–was pursued in decades-long practice of yoga meditation. Paramahansa Yogananda taught the disciples that when yoga meditation was properly practiced it led to voluntary death of the ego and body.

“Many yogis in India can say with St. Paul, ‘Verily, I protest by our rejoicing which I have in Christ, I die daily.’ Yogananda goes on to say, “Death may be either an involuntary or a voluntary switching off of the life current from the bulb of flesh, Yogis who know how to operate the switch of the heart, and to control their heartbeats, can quit the body quickly and at will; or stay in it as long as they wish. [See also my posts Can Yogis Stop Their Heart? and The Evidence Against Breathlessness and Samadhi]

Given the primacy of afterlife beliefs in shaping human consciousness and activities, it is vitally important to examine notions of life after death.

Our post here continues these afterlife explorations with eight quotations from the highly recommended book Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion by Alan F. Segal.

The democratic West is based upon the internal experience of self-consciousness and the conviction that this individual self-reflection is the basis and definition of a unique, even a transcendent self. It valorizes that personal experience as transcendent, saying the examined life transcends our short span of years. p 714

Modern America, Christian or not, has ineluctably retreated to the position of the pagan philosophers of late antiquity: Our souls are immortal by nature; all will be saved…that it is really self-realization that guarantees our salvation. p 715

It was Plato’s doctrine of immortality of the soul that allowed us to focus on our conscious experiences, that valorized those experiences and eventually made the “self” the center of philosophical interest in the West, that made the “self” as well as God, a transcendent value in Western thought. p 716

In traditional religious parlance, notions of the transcendent self are not universal. In many kinds of Buddhism the concept of the “self” is itself a fundamental mistake; for many Buddhist intellectuals there is, in truth, no continuous self. Realizing that we are not ultimate is the better part of reaching enlightenment. p 718

In the great Asian religions, transcendence is often signified by inscrutability: the Tao (way) that can be uttered is not the real Tao, say the Tao te Ching in its first statement. Confucianism believes it cannot be fully understood by any one person or in any single instantiation. One cannot reach Moksha (liberation) merely by trying to understand it with the discursive mind but must meditate on it. By claiming that the mind cannot understand or comprehend a value, these systems are affirming transcendence in the values named as “inscrutable”. p 722

People who live with faith today, whether in the majority or minority, are living in a world that does not need the hypotheses of religion to explain the universe. We can live perfectly complete lives without it if we want. But few do. p 730

It is the afterlife that provides the answer to every unbalanced equation. Every injustice can be righted there, every disability can be made whole, every individual, rich or poor, can find solace from personal trials and tribulations. p 697

The sureties provided by the afterlife normally demand that it be a socially shared phenomenon. That confirmation is normally provided by powerful, religious institutions in society. p697

Perhaps even more powerful than beliefs in Gods are socially shared notions of the afterlife. Our beliefs in what may happen after death shape our self-consciousness and actions in the here-and-now.

My own quest for self-realization led me to decades-long practice of yoga meditation under the tutelage of an Indian guru, Paramahansa Yogananda. Yogis and devotees claim that consciousness survives death. Yet, for many Buddhist intellectuals there is no continuation of the self.

Amidst the contradictions, why are so many people confident humans have a soul, a transcendent self, or a life after death?

Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion

Life After Death_coverAfterlife notions are mirrors of our cultural and social needs

Our notions of heaven and the afterlife reflect what is valued in our Western culture–today it’s eternal youth, reunion with loved ones, and spiritual prowess.

In an epic 866 page book, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, religion scholar Alan F. Segal thoroughly examines the development of afterlife beliefs in Western culture.

For 4,000 to 5,000 years, society’s afterlife beliefs have endlessly morphed and twisted to fit mortal desires and social needs.

Romping through ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Canaan, Iran, Greece and Christianity, Segal unveils the spell-binding metamorphosis of Western notions of life after death. The fore-bearers of contemporary afterlife beliefs included Rabbinic Jews, the Book of Daniel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament Gospels, and Church Fathers such as Augustine and Aquinas, the Qur’an, Shi’a mystics, Zoroastrians, fundamentalists, and end-times Apocalypticists.

Our journey through the catacombs of afterlife beliefs is broadly summarized in these excerpts from Segal’s Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion.

Egypt: From mummies arise eternal stars

The identity of the person was symbolized in the very image of the person, represented sometimes by the corpse itself, first perfected into an artful representation by mummification, then transformed into an eternal star to enjoy the breeze on a day of leisure in a perfected Nile valley. p 700

Mesopotamia: Only Utnapishtim survives death

In Mesopotamia the afterlife was less optimistic; it was a poor consolation compared to the Egyptian notion of immortality of the gods…We never become immortal. Everyone must die. The fate of the dead is hardly pleasant in this culture, condemned to shadowy existence in the underworld. Gilgamesh tried for immortality but lost it. Utnapishtim, the only mortal who had escaped death, explains that no one else will ever be given this divine reward. p 700

First Temple Israelite and Canaanite Religions

Israelite notions of the afterlife emphasize the same truth as the Mesopotamian and Canaanite ones: Like us, animals have earthly life, we have life and, if we act properly, we will gain wisdom; but only God has immortality. p 701

To summarize, so far: The person dies. No one escapes death. Only God or gods have immortality in Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and First Israelite/Canaanite cultures from 3500 to 500 BC.

Enter the Second Temple period circa 500 BC.

What’s new in Afterlife version 2.0? The Persians, Greeks, and Jews developed philosophies about conquering death and immortality of the soul. Though Christians wanted nothing to do with immortality of the soul: it was bodily resurrection, especially of Jesus, that set Christianity apart from the pagan religions.

Second Temple Judaism

By the time the Persians and the Greeks made contact with Jewish culture, both had developed significant myths that spoke of conquering death…Zoroastrianism was virtually the national religion of the elite Persian rulers and left us clear evidence of bodily resurrection and a beatific afterlife. These surely stimulated and encouraged similar notions in Jewish life, though we lack proof of how the transfer took place. p 701

Greeks: Immortality is for heros

The early Greeks could envision a hero’s choice of fame over immortality, the very choice which Odysseus makes at the beginning of the Odyssey; they could envision a ritual process of immortalization in the Eleusinian Mysteries, perhaps aided by drug-induced experience, make this mystery religion into a weekend “rave”. Or they could believe the proofs of the immortality of the soul offered by Plato’s Socrates.

All these [Greek] notions were adopted into Israelite culture, after being retailored for adoption into a monotheistic scheme. The most long-lasting Greek contribution to Jewish culture was from the aristocratic, Platonist intellectual elite of Greek society that said that the soul was immortal. In return for a life of moderation and intellectual development, the soul went upward to receive its astral rewards. p 702

Christianity: Wanted nothing to do with soul

Apostolic Christianity at first wanted nothing to do with immortality of the soul… Christianity’s beginnings were in the apocalyptic groups that believed in resurrection of the [physical] body [after death]. p 705

What demonstrated that Jesus’ death was uniquely meaningful for human history was not the fact that he survived death but that he was physically resurrected…p 706

The Synthesis of Immortality of the Soul with the Resurrection of the Body

As Christianity moved slowly around the Roman Empire and slowly up the social ladder, it met a much more formidable form of the argument against the uniqueness of Jesus’ post-mortem existence: the immortality of the soul…The soul was immortal by nature in Platonic thought, not needing the redemptive sacrifice of Christ…The doctrine of the immortal soul was eventually adopted because it allowed Christianity to talk about an interim time when the good could be rewarded and the evil punished without waiting for the delayed, end-of-time [apocalypse]. p 707

Standing Back to Look for Patterns

With such an enormous time span to look at, some interesting reassurances emerge. First, the basic questions of life four or five thousand years ago are still the questions of today but our answers are far more comforting to us: We see a refreshing trend to include more and more people within the rewards of the afterlife. p 709

…Afterlife notions are mirrors of our cultural and social needs, available to development and manipulation, and that they tend to mirror our social wants. p 710

The first victim is the reassuring notion that the afterlife is part of unchanging, revealed truth…The notion of heaven and the afterlife always reflects what is most valuable to the culture. p 710

Humans have been traveling to heaven to see what was there before heaven was a place where the beatified and sanctified dead went. But that is no guarantee that they are true. p 711

Conclusions

Afterlife beliefs reflect the cultural and social needs of the time: ever-changing reflections of our immortal aspirations.

In 866 majestic pages, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West, reads like a smart novel and examines 5,000 years of development of afterlife notions in Western culture.

Understanding how life after death beliefs evolved doesn’t take away from the poetry. Like beauty and love, says Segal, notions of life after death are no less important because they are unverifiable.

For more from Life After Death; see my post Religiously Interpreted States of Consciousness