Differing perspectives on life after death
By STEPHANIE GARBER, Staff Reporter
In anticipation of Cleveland Public Theater's world premiere production, "Blue Sky Transmission: A Tibetan Book of the Dead," a series of free public events were held at various locations around Cleveland.
For the past year, 14 people, under the guidance of executive director James Levin, have worked on the play's creation, the central theme of which is death and the afterlife.
One of the events offered through the theater was an interfaith discussion of the afterlife held at Cleveland Public Library on Sept. 4. Five religious leaders, including a panelist, spoke about the tenets of their respective faith regarding the afterlife.
Ann Warren, western in her appearance but Eastern in her belief in Buddhism, began the evening's discussion. She pointed out that the different practices of Buddhism have different beliefs as to what happens after life.
Those who believe in an afterlife feel, "A good life means a good death." Reincarnation is a possibility but, "it's not always good." Someone whose life was less than exemplary may return as "a pig in a bad Calcutta slum."
"Death is just a stage in life," said Imam Ramez Islam Bouli, a Moslem. He compared earthly life to the comfort a baby experiences prior to birth. In the mother's womb, the baby is comfortable, warm and safe. When it's time to leave what it perceives as an idyllic existence, the baby is upset. In the same respect, our human nature causes us to cling to this world, which is all we know.
Pastor Kate Huey of Pilgrim Church (Protestant) believes that we are limited by our finite imaginations as to what our souls will encounter after we die. "One thing's for certain - eternity won't be boring," she quipped.
Bahai, said Dr. Daryush Hagigi, follows the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, and Bah'a u'Ilah, the founder of the Bahai religion. True life, he says, is not the life of the flesh but of the spirit. "An individual who has believed in God deeply, sincerely and honestly is crowned with immortality."
Incorporating a generous amount of wit and deep philosophical beliefs into his talk, Rabbi Yakov Travis, assistant professor, Siegal College of Judaic Studies, and director of Ruach Cleveland, said he was "astounded" to learn that many Jews don't believe in the afterlife. Often, he said, we frame our beliefs against those of Christianity because it's the dominant religion in our culture. "We feel if they believe it, we don't," he added with a laugh.
The Hebrew scriptures don't dwell on the afterlife, Travis explains. The Jewish focus is on this world and the concept of tikkun olam (repair of the world). But there is a concept of afterlife in Jewish tradition, and Judaism has words for heaven and hell.
According to Jewish belief, there are stages of transition after death. One is a sense of shame when the soul realizes the potential it could have attained during life. That burning shame could be the Jewish perception of Hell. The soul feels naked and ashamed, like Adam and Eve did after they transgressed.
On the other hand, explains Travis, the good deeds a person does weave a garment to cover that person. Depending on how one lived one's life, that garment could be ragged, dirty, or beautiful and whole.
The idea of reincarnation also exists in Jewish mysticism. "This could perhaps help an individual whose garment was not all together in a previous life," says Travis.
"If you don't get it right," warned Travis with a smile, "you're going to have to come back."
©Copyright 2002, Cleveland Jewish News