Extremes : Eternalism & Nihilism
In ‘Eternals’ by Neil Gaiman, Sprite the immortal utters this about becoming human -
‘I can even die - Do you know how cool that is?
Every moment can be my last.
How amazing is that?’
Some of us want to live forever, while some who live forever want to die forever! A case of the grass looking illusorily greener on the other side? Immortals, not that they really exist (unless they are the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who have attained the timeless), might envy mortals when they harbour the delusion that death is an escape from the suffering of existential dreariness, that the possibility of sudden death is intriguingly ‘comforting’. The truth is, death is not the end for the unenlightened; there will be rebirth. In this sense, we already are immortals – since we don’t really ‘die’! And untimely death is mostly a result of negative karma actualising, because the deceased might have little time to be spiritually prepared.
Buddhism speaks of two seriously erroneous concepts about the nature of life and death, which many oscillate between. The first is called eternalism, which is the belief that there will be one fixed perpetual afterlife at the end of this one – usually thought to be eternal heaven or hell. On the other end of the spectrum is nihilism, which is the belief that with death comes eternal annihilation of body and mind. The first belief clings to unchanging existence (and is related to materialism) while the latter clings to nothingness (and is related to morallessness). Both are extreme views which the Buddha refuted of any reality. The Middle Path of truth is between eternalism and nihilism – which is ‘changing-ness’ from moment to moment, from life to life. With Anicca (impermanence; change), we evolve, and with mindfulness, we can evolve into the way we want.