Endings and Beginnings

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Endings and Beginnings

Death, while in many respects an "end," actually serves as more of a beginning for all but the most pessimistic of religions or philosophies. Even Socrates, at one time near the end of his life, at least, felt this sort of hopefulness. According to Plato, on his deathbed after having drunk the hemlock, Socrates mumbled these last words to Crito: "I owe a cock to Asclepius; do not forget it." In his time it was customary to offer a cock to Asclepius, the God of Healing, upon recovering from a sickness, so at a time of impending death Socrates was actually thinking of healing in one way or another and beginning anew. When he confronts the idea of his own death earlier, however, in Plato's Apology, he says: "If I were to claim to be wiser than my neighbor in any respect, it would be this: that not possessing any real knowledge of what comes after death, I am also conscious that I do not possess it." On his deathbed, then, Socrates seems to be offering the cock just in case, a common reason for religion for many dying people.

All religions have death rituals or hopeful ideas of where they will end up after their death: Hindus seek to escape repeated reincarnation by practicing yoga, by adhering to Vedic scriptures, and by devotion to a personal guru; Buddhists seek a state of living Nirvana by following the path of righteousness--if they are not perfectly righteous then they repeat another lifetime that is either good or bad depending upon their actions (karma) in their previous life; Christians believe that if they take Jesus Christ as their savior they may gain access to heaven after their life on earth. Joseph Campbell believed that all of the world's religions are tied together by the similarity of their myths. Stories of creation, holy trinities, resurrections, deaths, and heavens repeat over and over again in slightly different forms. He believed, then, that all the world's religions are the same, but they're cloaked in different masks that betray the prejudices of the culture. One thing all religions have in common, however, is this: When we die, we all go somewhere else in one form or another.

The beginning of a thing is its birth. The end of that thing is its death. Within the broad framework of our lives--the coordinate system that begins at age zero and completes some sort of cycle when our bodies stop breathing--we experience an infinite number of

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