Who will be in your heaven?

There is nothing after death. One moment you are and then you aren’t. There is no pearly gate to enter and no hot furnaces to take a warm dip in. There is nothing after death.

This sad truth however does not stop the various religions and cults to create their own fantasyland. If you live your life saintly you will get to spend eternity praising God. I don’t know why they would call it heaven. Some people do spend their life on earth praising politicians or movie stars or sportsmen or ideas. How would heaven be any different for them? Some belief systems give you the carrot of lots of carnal pleasure in heaven with the stick of burning eternity in hell if you do not do as the Book says. Some says that you will reach a stage of Nothingness if you live a good life. The truth is somewhat closer to this, you don’t have to be good to reach Nothingness. You will reach there auto-magically when you die.

In any case, my intent is not to criticize any set of belief. Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe in. To paraphrase Voltaire, I may not agree with what you say or believe but I will fight for your right to not agree with me. Or I may not.

This lack of belief in afterlife does not stop me from creating my own fantasy heaven. Remember that you have to spend an eternity there and there are no modern conveniences like electricity or movies or Internet. Lack of internet should make it Hell but let us proceed without getting into the semantics. I am an introvert and as such I am more comfortable alone than with people. However I would stock up my heaven with people. Lots of interesting people.

The setting of my heaven would be a grassy knoll with some trees for shade. There is a clear stream flowing nearby and I can see fishes swim in it. The air is filled with songs of the birds. It would always be sunny with a mild chill. You would not feel the heat but you would not be cold either. Some days there would be a slight drizzle to fill the air with the scent of the soil.

I would not want my family or my friends there. Their presence there would imply that their time on the Earthly Dimension is complete and I would not want that. I would rather spend an eternity feeling the pangs of separation than have them there.

So my heaven would be filled with strangers. It would be filled with people I have never met during my employment with Earth Inc. It is not a crowded place though. Each individual is carefully chosen for a specific skill-set. Ideas. I would have originators of religions and destroyers of religions in my heaven. I would have Communists and Capitalists. I would have Fascists and Liberals. I would have Freedom Fighters and Oppressors. I would have Conquerors and Rebels. I would have Inventors and Destroyers. And I would want to spend my time understanding their ideas and what made them tick.

I would spend mornings listening to Jesus talk about his beliefs and I would ask Gautama Buddha what he thought about Jesus’ ideas. Some mornings we would talk about role of religion in a society and other days what they thought about the way modern humanity has perverted their teachings. Afternoons would be for weighty matters so that I can have a good sleep. So it would be up to the Aristotles and Kant and Nietzsche and Karl Marx’s of the world to talk about important things while I doze off.

Evenings would be spent with Alexander and Patton and Genghis and Che and Rommel and the re-enactments of great wars and battles. They would each argue how they would have fought a particular battle and changed history. Other days it would be the Storytellers who would entertain all of us with their stories. We would have Shakespeare read us Henry V. Some days it would be Tolkien who would give a talk on the economy of Middle Earth. Bear in mind that Keynes would be free to interrupt and expound on how the fall of the Dark Lord would have led to an increase in supply of weapons and consequent free fall in metal prices in Middle Earth version of commodities markets.

Nights would be spent listening to Mozart and Bach and Schubert and Vivaldi while I gaze up towards infinity and ponder about my life that was and the beauty of the world that is no longer mine.

Who will be in your heaven?

Orochimaru

I am watching the anime Naruto at the moment. There are lots of things to NOT like about the anime. Stupid kids, boring teenage love and angst, one dimensional characters and the list can go on. However, there are a few things shown in the anime that makes you think. One such thing is the character of Orochimaru.

To give a brief background, Orochimaru is one of the main villains of the series that I have seen so far. Watch his theme song below to get an idea of the pure evil that he radiates in the series.

Now before we get into the reason why Orochimaru’s character is interesting, we will digress a little. Read the below article on Absurdity of Life by Rivka Weinberg, written as an opinion piece in NY Times.

Why Life Is Absurd

The article is a take on the philosophical theme of Absurdism. Absurdism talks about

a) the human urge to find meaning and inherent value in life

b) but the inability to find any.

The inability to seek value where none exists is what makes life Absurd. In the beautifully written article, one of the idea that Rivka posits is that Life is made absurd because of its short duration. By the time we find something that may give meaning to our life, we are already too old to do much about it. If we were to live a much longer life, we would have the opportunity to search for more things that can give value to our lives as well as have sufficient time to explore them more thoroughly. Not everyone can be a polymath like Leonardo of Vinci or Sir Isaac Newton to do so much in a small life. Albert Camus’s view on how to cope with an Aburd life was to emulate the mythical Sisyphus. Like Sisyphus, we are bound to roll the stone up the steep hill of life for it to crash back down again. Even though this task is meaningless we should find joy in the task rather than in the goal. As Krishna says,

Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani – Do not let the fruit be the purpose of your actions, and therefore you won’t be attached to not doing your duty.

There are however, characters like Orochimaru, who have found a different solution to the absurdity of life.

Orochimaru is one of those rare individuals who have realized what gives meaning to his life. In his case, it is knowing all the Ninja techniques in the Naruto world. In this fictional world, different individuals get some kind of powers through genetics, some secret techniques that can be taught and some that you develop because you have monsters living inside you. Orochimaru would require hundreds of years to master all the Ninjutsu techniques and hence it is an impossible task in a short life. He realized that life is too short for it to have any meaning the way he understands it. He embarks on a drive to become immortal by any means possible. All that he does, the people he manipulates, the murders that he commits are all geared towards this goal. Now you may say that there is nothing new in a villain looking for immortality, even good ol’ Voldemort aims to do that. There is a big difference though. Voldemort’s strive for immortality does not have any meaning. He does not have an aim that he wants to fulfill if he doesn’t die. He just doesn’t want it to end. Orochimaru however does not want to die because it is a stumbling block in a specific goal that he wants to achieve in his life.

One of my favorite quote is from the novel, Lord Of Light by Roger Zelazny

An army, great in space, may offer opposition in a brief span of time. One man, brief in space, must spread his opposition across a period of many years if he is to have a chance of succeeding. ~ Yama to Sam

Orochimaru understands this.

What a wonderful world

Louis Armstrong – What a wonderful World

Sir Richard Attenborough – What a wonderful World

[Edited]

This is a truly a wonderful world and what amazes me is that there is so much to do and so much to learn in this wonderful world. Some days you come to know about the people who lived thousands of years ago and wonder what they thought and how they lived. You learn about conquerors and thinkers who through their sheer will changed the world.   Some time you come to know more about people like Andrei Sakharov and Sophie Scholl who stood up for what they believed was right in the face of overwhelming might of oppression. The courage that this would have required knowing that you and your family would suffer for your beliefs! Other days you peer into the space and wonder if there is somebody peering back at you. You wonder how far the space probes like Viking and Pioneer and New Horizons have gone and you also think about the scientists who made these amazing things possible. You just cannot imagine that human beings could do such things. There are frozen worlds in our solar system that may have liquid water and consequently life beneath their surface while there are planets on which its raining diamonds. Some days you come to know about some new discoveries like the possibility that life formed in the universe within a few millions years after big bang and you wonder whether there were galactic empires that rose and reached their zenith and spread across multiple galaxies and then collapsed millions of years before life began on earth. Some time you wonder if there are space stations at the edge of the solar system looking back at earth and relaying our thoughts and our progress to some distant empire who is worried about whether we are a threat. There were explorers who sailed the world’s oceans in boats that were powered by winds on their sails and there are aircraft carriers now that run on atomic energy and have 5000 people on board. 

I started this blog on 28th February 2010 with the reason for existence of this blog in a post titled Why.  After almost four years and 150 posts later, it seems to me that I have just scratched the surface of things that I do not know. Four years ago, words like Levant, Asia Minor, Polynesia, Mesopotamia, Kuiper Belt Objects, Milwaukee Protocol, Huaxia, Significant Figures did not make much sense to me. I would have guessed what they mean but I would not have been sure of it. But now the story is different. I also know that there would be infinite more terms that I have no clue about. As Donald Rumsfeld would have said, the known unknowns have increased but the unknown unknowns remains unfathomable. There is so much to explore!

Lets go exploring
Lets go exploring

Afterlife

Google has introduced a new facility in which Google, in addition to knowing everything about you when you are alive, also tries to determine if you are dead.

http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.in/2013/04/plan-your-digital-afterlife-with.html

The facility is like a will for your digital property, at least on the Google services. You can specify after how many months of inactivity should your online data be shared with your “digital executors”. You can also specify a goodbye message to whoever mails you.

This made me think, what message should I set for people who will mail me?

I remember reading an after death blog of a US Army Major a few years back. I felt as I if knew him from his blog. PS. Google is f* awesome! Here is the links. http://www.andrewolmsted.com/

A few ideas that comes to my mind:

  • That’s all folks? (Is it plagiarism if you steal last words?)
  • Hi, Thank you for your mail. I am currently out of life and will respond to you once I am reborn. In case of any urgent issues, please escalate to God.
  • If you are seeing this, it means I am already dead. I have found the hidden wealth of < a prominent Indian politician>. Just send 10,000 Rs to the below account so that my accomplices may finish the paperwork and transfer a billion dollars to your account. Oh I almost forgot. For quick processing of the transfer, we need your internet banking account credentials as well as some other personal information. Don’t worry, this is all legit. Do you think I am going to lie on my death bed?? (Did you get the pun in the last sentence?)
  • Should it contain the regrets in the life I have lived? Regret for giving up on loves that mattered? Regrets on decisions not made? Regrets on the mistakes that I am guilty of? Regrets for not eating proper, taking stress, not exercising? Regrets on things that I should have done but have not? Regret for running after things that are of little consequence? For that matter, regret for not realizing what are the things that do matter? Regret for not taking care of my loved ones? Regret on killing all those people? (I am joking for Chrissake!)
  • Should it contain fake assurances for the dear ones that life will not change and that I still love them? Should it contain fake assurances that I will meet them in the afterlife but not anytime soon? Should it contain advices, “best practices” in the language of consultants, for them to follow based on the glorious life that I have lived? Can my words fill the void in their life?
  • Should it contain a montage of the life that I have lived? Should it contain a dispassionate view of my life, people that inspired me, the dreams that I wove, the events in my life, fellow travelers that I met who may have forgotten me, books that have changed the way I think, movies that made me think that it was worth watching them again and again (Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.)? Good deeds that I have done? (Does  anybody do any good deeds nowadays? I can’t remember any that I have done recently.)
  • Achievements of my life? I don’t know if having a job (at the moment) and getting married counts as an achievement? I think I can put my top scores from the games that I have played, they are called “Achievements” you know.
  • Should it contain my beliefs and my thoughts? What I was afraid of? What I secretly desired? What I abhorred? People that I loved?
  • Or should it contain little of everything? I am the sum of every moment that I have lived. Every thought that has crossed my mind. Every emotion that I have felt. Every individual interaction that I had.
  • Or should it contain only a simple goodbye  and nothing else? I am the sum of every moment that I have lived. Every thought that has crossed my mind. Every emotion that I have felt. Every individual interaction that I had. Isn’t it unfair to sum up in a few paragraphs or pictures or videos an entire lifetime that I have lived?

There is a very beautiful scene at the end of the movie American Beauty.

<Don’t watch the video if you have not seen the movie. Get up and watch the movie now!>

I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all. It stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout Camp, watching falling stars. [Gunshot] And yellow leaves from the maple trees that lined our street. [Gunshot] Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper. And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird. And Janie, and Janie. And Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry. You will someday.

~ Lester Burnham

Ur III

After the collapse of the Akkadian Empire, there was a long period described as a “dark age” (Not to be confused with the post AD dark ages) which was characterized by the invasion of Gutians. Gutians were barbarians from the Zagros mountain region. Gutians, by their mismanagement, brought about famine, widespread decline of civilization and the cities were increasingly abandoned. The once great city of Akkad, that gave birth to Sargon of Akkad, was so thoroughly destroyed that its location is still disputed.

The Gutian rule was brought to an end by Utu-Hengal of Uruk. Weidner Chronicle, (part of Babylonian Chronicle, tablets that details Babylonian history) mark him as a fisherman who was given the rule by Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon. Utu-Hengal was thus the progenitor of the Sumerian Renaissance. After Utu-Hengal, Ur-Nammu became the king of Sumer. Ur-Nammu was from Ur, the famed birthplace of the Abraham, the first Jew and the patriarch of the Abrahamic faith. Today almost 54% of the world population belong to one of the Abrahamic Religions. Ur-Nammu gave birth to the Third Dynasty of Ur, also known as Neo-Sumerian empire or abbreviated as Ur III, though in some places, Utu-Hengal is named as the first king of Ur III.

Ur-Nammu is known for the Great Ziggurat of Ur and the Code of Ur-Nammu. Ziggurat were massive step pyramids built as religious and administrative centers. The Great Ziggurat of Ur was finished by Shulgi, Son of Ur-Nammu. Ur-Nammu is also known for Code of Ur-Nammu. Though the preamble of the code credits Ur-Nammu, it is believed that the code was given by Shulgi. Thus like a good son, Shulgi completed both the Ziggurat and the code that made the name of his father.

Code of Ur-Nammu is the oldest extant code of law, about three centuries older than the code of Hammurabi. Of more than 57 laws, 40 have been reconstructed. The law is very strict about serious crimes with capital punishment for  murder, robbery, rape (of virgin) and adultery (Woman dies but the man goes free).  But unlike the later laws, an eye for an eye is not the evident. An eye was worth three times (half Mina = 30 Shekel) than a foot (10 Shekel) while a limb was worth a full Mina. Perjury was also punished. Surprisingly, there is a strict recompense to be given for cutting of a nose, 2/3 thirds of Mina compared to 1/2 Mina for taking out an eye. Seems like losing nose had the same modern connotation of losing one’s honor. Sorcery was punished by the ordeal of water, in which the accused is submerged in water and is declared not guilty if s/he survived. Accusing someone of witchery was an easy way to get rid of them. And if by bad luck the accused survived, you just needed to pay 3 Shekel. Equality before law irrespective of means and social status (except for slaves) is professed.

Ur-Nammu was followed, as we have already seen, by his son Shulgi. Shulgi was deified in the 23rd year of his 48 year rule. He built resting places along main roads for travelers and boasts of running the 100 miles distance between two cities. He standardized the tax system. No wonder he was a “God”.

Within 50 years of death of Shulgi, the third dynasty of Ur was no more. Severe drought and attacks by Amorites weakened the dynasty making it easy for the Elamite rebels to attack Ur and capture Ibbi-Sin, the last king of Ur III. The Third Dynasty of Ur lasted from 2119 BCE to 2004 BCE in the Middle chronology. Even though the dynasty saw its sun set almost 4009 years ago, the gifts of administration, law, culture it gave humanity is still present. As one Amazon reviewer of the book History Begins at Sumer by Samuel Noah Kramer says, “We are all Sumerians”.