What is Humanity

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My first meeting with death left me confused and uncertain. I can remember every detail of that sunny afternoon where I first saw him. I can recall an event that takes me back to my old neighborhood. Like most average neighborhoods, there were your typical kids playing in the streets, getting into trouble, and living life without a care. On one specific occasion, a few friends and I were climbing a rather large tree across the street from my house. We had never climbed this tree before, although it had tormented us forever. Being the largest one on the block, it called out for us to climb it. Swinging from limb to limb, climbing higher and higher, never wondering if the branches below our feet would hold, and one suddenly snapped. I can remember falling for an eternity, staring up at the sky, watching myself fall into oblivion. It was at that moment I felt death’s presence, as the fear of death pulsated through my body.

Suddenly, my world turned black, and all I could feel was my beating heart, resonating in the eerie silence of darkness. Then there was a sharp tug, a pull at my chest, and my eyes burst open. Before they had a chance to adjust I slowly sat up, hearing the crackling of dead leaves as they fell off my back. A pile of leaves saved my life! I was relieved, but before I could regain my composure, my father had already whisked me away. I sat on my bed while he spoke of my punishment, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t hear him. All I could think about was death, and how my life could have ended. I began to obsess over this notion, and found myself seeking answers to new questions. Is humanity simply life to death? What happens after death? In this study of humanity, I will analyze the three distinct phases of being human; life, death, and the potential afterlife, with the emphasis on defining what it means to be human.

What is Life?

Life is what we wake up to everyday. Life is our reality, its what you experience, what you feel, and is sustained only till death. According to the Jain Parable: The Man in the Well, our fear of death compels us to live. We as humans are naturally afraid to die, and it is this notion that acts as an igniter for our desire to attain life experiences. “All his limbs trembled with fear…afraid of death, craving to live if only a moment longer.” (pg.537) The man in the well, who represents the human soul, is compelled to escape death’s grasp. All elements of his life are influenced by death. It effects choice, fuels desire, and stimulates the consumption of trivial pleasures.

Life begins and sets you on a path in preparation for death. However, the body determines the expansion of this path, and is the vessel that holds life. The body goes through many stages on this path in which one cannot prevent. “Shame then verily be upon this thing called birth, since to one born old age shows itself like that!”(pg.472) To the very young, the thought of old age isn’t present. Unfortunately, it is unavoidable, and as the body begins to age one slowly realizes that there path may be coming to an end. . “Shame then be upon this thing called birth, since to one born decay shows itself like that, disease shows itself like that.”(pg.473) As the body begins age, it is likely to decay and fall ill. It is vulnerable to sickness and disease, which may cause suffering and pain. After all, the body is a living vessel that carries life down a path; it is born, grows old, and eventually yields to death.

Life is a journey that begins with birth and ends with death. Throughout this journey one is driven to experience life due to the unfortunate reality that life isn’t very long. We as humans are driven to experience as much as we can, because as one goes through life, there vessel begins to corrode, and we can only experience life for as long as our bodies can carry us.

What is Death?

All human beings die, it is inevitable. There is no escaping it, no prolonging it, and no method to deny it. However, what is death? Is it simply the end of all days, or a point marking the beginning of new? It is difficult to simply describe what death is, however, according to Buddhist ideals, “a human dies and is going to be reincarnated as a human being…” (pg.336) The Buddhist believes in reincarnation, and death marks the end and beginning of life. Humanity simply doesn’t end with death, but uses death as an intermediate state, which allows life to continue in a new vessel.

Death is a mystery and so are its origins. However, what caused death to come? “Had ye chosen the stone, your life would have been like the life of the stone changeless and immortal.”(pg.140) According to Indonesian myth, humans were originally meant to have immortality, but death fell before them and “they mourned over their fatal choice.”(pg.140) Contrary to Buddhist ideals, this notion suggests that death was induced upon human beings by a higher power, indicating some sort of god, and has no recognition of reincarnation. “And now all of us die and are annihilated forever; and there is no resurrection for us…”(pg.142) is the conclusion to one Australian myth which shares similar premises with Indonesian ideals. Again we see that human kind had the ability to rise again, but were later afflicted by death.

One cannot truly know what death is till they physically approach it. We can theorize, predict, and even guess what happens, but the ultimate reality is that death marks the end of your current life, whether or not reincarnation exists.

Is there more to life than death?

What happens after you die? A question that has no scientific explanation, but different cultures and religions believe they have the answer. “They say the soul of man is immortal,”(g.377) which are the words of Plato as he explains the immortality of the human soul. He expresses how the soul “has seen all things both here and in the other world,” and exists passed death of the body. However, where and what is this other world? Plato, along with several other texts, indicates the existence of some kind of heaven, or afterlife. After the body dies your soul leaves it behind, and embarks on a journey towards heaven. Buddhists describe heaven as a land where nobody hears of “anything unwholesome, nowhere of the hindrances, no where of the states of punishment, the states of woe and the bad destinies, nowhere of suffering.”(pg.384) Heaven is seen as a paradise, or a pure land. But whether or not heaven exists, the constant is that the human soul remains, and embarks on a new journey, leaving behind the life it once had.

None of this may be true, and one’s own personal beliefs are different from the next, but the important thing to notice is how humans attempt to make sense of the unknown. We as human beings cherish life, and don’t want it to simply end with death. Our fears lead us to believe many different notions of life after death, however different and obscure they may be.

As I look back and remember the face of death, all that comes to mind is the mental anguish facing the ultimate reality that I shall die one day. However, analyzing the situation again, I rather applaud my interaction with death. For it was due to my fear of dying, that has inspired me to live. Life is a passage that inaugurates humanity. Life inspires, it teaches, and lasts for a short while. And it is this notion that compels existence. Life is too short, time and decay wait for no one, and your life ends when your body can no longer support it. The body is a living vessel, and like all living things eventually dies. Is this the end of existence? Does death mark the end of human life? Most seem to believe that the soul of man endures once the body has diminished.

The soul will leave the body behind, and either is reborn in a new vessel, or dawns on a journey towards a pure land or heaven. Death marks the beginning and end of new days. Although, humanity stems from the body, it is difficult to affirm the notion of a soul, since it cannot be measured or seen. But humans rely on this factor. Our uncertainties and fears push our existence, drive our willingness to experience life, and help us cope with the inevitable conclusion that our time on earth will end. Humanity is a cycle, beginning with life, which is driven by death, and as the body begins to whither, so does your time on earth. And as we all gradually age, the notion of life after death can only be answered when you get there.

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