Two Worlds

World Number One is darkness, life feeding on itself, forms eating other forms until they are eaten themselves. In this world, everything born is fated to be eaten by something—wild animals, vultures, insects, worms, microscopic bacteria, cancer cells. Every living thing, from the most “noble” king to the lowliest maggot, will disappear into the mouth (or roots) of some other living thing, thereby vanishing.

Common sense tells us there is no afterlife. Sure, we might become part of the shark if we are eaten by a shark, or part of the worms if we are eaten by worms. But that is not an afterlife worth mentioning.

Nor do we live on in our children. We may look like them a bit. We may emotionally identify with them while we are alive. We may even have something to do with the shapes their lives take. But we don’t live on in them in any significant way.

World Number One exists only as an eternal present. There is no actual past. Remembering is always in the present. There is no future, either. Whatever comes to pass will do so in the present. Imagined futures are already present.

The central activity of this eternal present is eating other forms of life, and being eaten by them. People live this out symbolically as well as literally—in the battle of the sexes, for example, or in the dog-eat-dog competition of the business world.

World Number Two is another kind of darkness, exclusively human. It is the world of human illusion, of unconscious pretending. Some of the pretending is very crude and obvious (except to those absorbed in it, of course). For example, some pretend there is literally a human soul, which we cannot see or touch or taste or smell or hear, but which is supposed to be more us, more real, than our actual bodies. And this soul is supposed to live on apart from our bodies after our bodies have been eaten.

There is also the more subtle illusion in World Number Two that individual lives are important. This importance is usually described in terms of another illusion, which conceives of the universe as going in some particular direction and suggests that each individual (if she or he doesn’t want to be left behind and forsaken ¬i.e., eaten) must help it along. The tools for this movement are called love, truth, justice, compassion, generosity, sacrifice, and so on.

World Number Two generally hates World Number One—hates even the thought of it—and spends its whole existence denying it, making up all kinds of fancy theories and rituals based on nothing but the fear of being eaten. World Number Two is willing enough to eat—a process dressed up and disguised with rituals and manners—but not to be eaten.

Occasionally, someone from World Number Two wakes up from this dream of eating without being eaten and re-enters the reality of World Number One. Because those who are awake always have greater power than those sleeping, this person then seems to get an extra measure of living, as he or she comes to peace with the world of eating and being eaten, and as the past and the future drop away. Since there is no direction in World Number One, this person lives without hurry or ambition, without claim on any virtue.

One who awoke, Jesus, said that release from the grip of World Number Two made earthly existence feel as light as air, which he called heaven, its darkness bathed in glorious mystery, which he called light. And another, Buddha, had compassion for those who found the sleep of World Number Two restless and uncomfortable, and said that he could help them come out of their suffering if they wanted to wake up.

But World Number Two doesn’t generally want help from those who have escaped its illusions. Indeed, the very nature of illusion is the psychological need to believe in it. For Jesus’ help, they crucified him. And to quiet his disturbing ripples, they encased him in a church and made drowsy monotones of his sayings to abet them in their sleeping.

 

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