Buddha’s disciples were often puzzled by his conflicting comments about Nirvana. Sometimes he would talk about it as future, as a hope, as a far-off happening that would come to the faithful at the end of life as we know it. Yet, just as often, he described it as a present possibility, something for which his disciples should strive to have, and something that they could have, here and now. His confused disciples finally asked him, “Tell us plainly, is it present, or is it future?” Buddha answered, “It is both.” Apparently, Nirvana, from Buddha’s perspective, is the ideal, the best that the mind can think which begins here, but ultimately widens into something better on the other side.
Jesus did the same. He, too, would speak of “Eternal Life” as being a future possibility, the final consummation of all things. But just as often he implied that it was a present reality. Well, which is it? Jesus seems to join with Buddha in saying, “It is both.” The world, he says, is a passing incident, a mere episode in life. Build your life on the future for you are an immortal spirit. On the other hand, he seems to say it is a mistake to define life simply as a synonym for immortality—that which awaits us when life here ends. It is that, he seems to say, but it is more. It may end in that, but it begins here—eternal life in the midst of time. Jesus’ clear message is that we should begin to live it now!
|Black Canyon of the Guinnison|
I find most people look upon this “life after death” business with the same suspicion as when they hear a person say, “the check is in the mail.” Most want “cash,” something tangible that can be used in the here and now. But what if? What if “It is both?”
“This,” says John in his gospel, “is life eternal, to know God”—God as we see God in the face of Jesus. For to know God is to see life as He lives it. To see that life helps me know what my own life can and should be—that same life, lived in the same way, within the limits of my frail human nature, inspirited by the “mind of Christ.” This is real life and to do anything else with your life, says Jesus, is to lose it, to throw it away, to waste it. What if it is “both?”