Article 39 Why the gods are immortal
In another article, I might explain how ‘the gods’ might relate or not to the one God in the three main ‘religions of the book’ but to keep things simple for now let’s assume we are talking about something entirely different. In this series, ‘the gods’ refer to an experience of sacredness which always involves some combination of awareness and situation or more simply mind and body.
Before delving into immortality first let us consider what is mortal, what dies. Obviously, all creatures die. As the Buddha said himself just before passing away: ‘everything that comes together falls apart.’ This implies not only living organisms but also everything in what we think of as the ‘real’ world of concrete forms such as people, chairs, trees and mountains all of which dwell for a while and then at some point are no more. Mountains may have different lifespans from ourselves but the impermanence principle applies to them as well for even our planet is at some point supposed to burn itself up into the nothingness from whence it came along with our small local star the Sun and so on.
Simply put: all physical forms including our bodies die, meaning at some point they simply cease to be.
Can we say then that the body dies but the mind somehow lives on? Perhaps. But first let us consider how it is not just physical forms that ‘die’ but also situations. This is getting closer to the truth of ongoing and thus perpetual change. Seemingly it is a law of existence that everything from the microscopic to the macrocosmic is in constant flux. On our human scale this means that every experience we have as such is fleeting. Every moment we experience is unique and never to be repeated including whatever location we are in, the objects involved, the people involved, the feelings involved and of course what happens moment by moment until there is a new situation. You can argue that each moment is a new situation but again, let’s keep things simple and human scale:
You walk into a party, say, and chat with a few people for a while; some of them you enjoy being with, some of them you can’t stand, some feelings are pleasant whilst others are excruciating as you put our foot in your mouth for the umpteenth time and then at some point you leave and that situation is over. Actually, this is another good context in which to use the term ‘mandala:’ first we are in the party mandala for a while then we go into the taxi mandala on the way home (because we are responsible drivers!) then we enter the neighbourhood mandala then the home mandala and finally finish off horizontally happy in the bedroom mandala. And so it goes. (Quentin Tarantino loves presenting various sequential mandalas like this, savoring each one’s atmospheres and particulars for a while – often featuring hilariously ordinary-but-also-surreal conversations between the lead characters – before segueing onto the next.)
So not only is the physical body mortal but also all the situational mandalas we experience in life and thus also in the realm of mind. This is no doubt why after Tibetan Buddhist monks have spent several days creating their elaborate two-dimensional sand mandalas for ritual empowerments during which various sacred perception deities are introduced to the assembly then they wipe them away in a matter of moments once the ceremony is completed, for so it is in real life.
So if everything that arises or ‘comes together’ at some point ‘falls apart’ and if the notion of ‘me’ is a fictive mental construct what if anything can be said to endure after death? If all forms are transient can we say that anything endures at all? What might possibly be immortal?
Most of us think of immortality as involving some sort of eternal Me-ness, a transcendental type of ego living in perpetuity. But ego is yet another thing that comes together for a while and then falls apart; plus it’s not actually all it’s cracked up to be in our imagination since there isn’t actually any ‘me’ or ‘there’ there when we dig into its deconstructed bowels. It seems like there is someone continually there even though actually there isn’t. That being so, how could any sort of ego-like construct be immortal? Indeed, imagining such continuity is essentially the ‘false god’ of the previous Article.
Is it possible, though, that unlike a fictive self ‘the gods’ are immortal, and if so how? To answer, let us turn it around: the only things that might possibly be immortal must be those that are never born into the world of form in the first place. Simply put: only that which is never born can never die. The experience of sacred presence depends upon all sorts of causes and conditions including having a body and a place to have such experiences making any such ‘the gods’ experience clearly not immortal – they are just more situations we experience for a little while and thus something which comes and goes like everything else. However, along with such experience is something which is never born and thus never dies, something which is the essence of the experience and that something we can call its ‘qualities.’
Although the situation in which they arise is decidedly transitory, or mortal, the particular qualities of any given experience are never born and never die. ‘The gods’ is a term describing the qualities of sacred perception which again always comes along with particulars; viewing a particular mask, hearing a particular speech, standing on a particular spot, witnessing a particular birth, wedding ceremony – or execution for that matter. *
Such highlighted particulars merge with general awareness-presence together creating particular qualities, like different colours such as blue, red, green or yellow, all of which are equally colours and yet each of which has unique, particular qualities. Blue has a different quality from red green or yellow and each blue in every particular situation has particular qualities different from all other blues in all other situations. So we have objects, bodies, situations and all sorts of stuff happening on the mortal plane, let us say, but along with them ‘the gods’ are always present, the various transcendent, formless qualities engendered in such situational mandalas.
These qualities can be said to dwell in the realm of speech, that magical plane which is neither form-bound or formless whose qualities ‘echo in eternity’ as General Maximus proclaimed in The Gladiator for those qualities, being without form or being, are never born and thus never die.
All of which is an esoteric, meditator’s way of explaining in ordinary terms why ‘the gods’ are immortal.
Next, we’ll look at different types of qualities especially their more energetic characteristics as in those which are more impactful.
- * What distinguishes a sacred versus a profane experience is the degree to which the experiencer is connected to the heart via clear and open awareness versus being speedy, preoccupied, self-centered and thus confused – but that dichotomy we can leave for another time. The birth, wedding ceremony or execution examples were offered because they all involve a sense of heightened awareness and thus presence.