Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thoughts After Reading "Jonathan Livingston Seagull"

 I recently read Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach for the first time. I had heard of it and I knew that it was a moderately famous book but I had actually never bothered to pick it up and read it. It had to do with seagulls obviously and I wasn't (and still am not) very interested in seagulls. But several days ago, one of my friends let another one of my friends borrow it to read. I asked if I could read it and he said that I probably wouldn't like it because I didn't believe in what was written there. I said I didn't care because I was still interested. And so, yesterday, I sat down and finished it in an hour. It's a very short novel and very easy to read to the point of being deceivingly easy. I'm still trying to understand it and to see if I actually believe in what it says.

"We choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome."
"Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect."

So from what I gathered, the novel has to do with reincarnation. You live one life, and then you live another, and then another until...what? Bach proposes until you reach "Heaven" or "perfection". We live a life and in the next, we take what we've learned and what we've experienced in the past and use that to reach perfection. It is an upward slope, and a steep one at that, but there is still a light at the end of it.

Reincarnation is another way (just like the belief of Heaven and Hell) to make people think that their lives are meaningful, that there is something after death. Because if there isn't, then why should we have lived? After all, "one who lives once might just as well not have lived at all." If one thinks about it, living one single life is a bleak concept. We have this short time to learn all we can, to make all of the mistakes we will make. And perhaps we will not learn all we want, nor will we right all of the mistakes we have made. 'Heaven and Hell' give us a reason to strive to be "good", with the reward of Heaven if we are and the punishment of Hell if we aren't. But reincarnation is much kinder and a much happier concept than either of the two above. We learn what we do in one life and we are able to continue learning (and making mistakes) in the next. The point is to learn, to learn continuously and with delight and joy until one earns perfection. But what comes after perfection? Death? Does one finally enter one world (Heaven, let's call it) in which one can permanently stay in without having to live again and again and revel in one's perfection? For even if those multiple lives do allow one to get closer to perfection, the number of lives changes for each person. One who learns more in the first has to learn less in the next. One who learns nothing in the first has to learn everything in the next to catch up. Even though learning is a joy, one gets tired, frustrated, and angry of not being able to reach perfection. Reincarnation is two-sided. On one hand, it is hope after the first life, hope for more life, for more time, for more knowledge. On the other, it is a never-ending infinite loop in which one must rise and fall repeatedly.

But now, here's the question of questions. Do I actually believe in this concept of reincarnation? As I was talking who the same friend to gave me the book, I was explaining to him that for me, it didn't matter if there was a life or not after this one because for the moment, only this life matters. If there is life after death (hawr hawr), then one should worry about it when one comes to it. If we do think about it, it doesn't make any difference to this life. If there isn't life after death (Heaven, Hell, reincarnation, etc.), then why not live this life to the fullest? After all, it's the only life we have. If there is, though, then the same technique applies. If we live this life to the fullest, we get a reward either way in the next. But I realized that by ignoring the concepts of life after death, I was only avoiding thinking about those ideas and choosing if I believed in them.

Well, for reincarnation specifically, one does not need belief to enter the loop. One is already in the loop itself. It's inevitable. One does not know at what level one is at. So it doesn't really matter if we believe in it or not because if it's not true, we don't lose a thing, and if it is, we still don't lose a thing. Does one remember one's lives before though? In Bach's book, Seagull remembers the time he spent on Earth and even returns to it in order to teach flying to the seagulls who are interested. Personally, I don't remember any life I've lived before so I guess this must be the first one. Also, in Bach's book, Seagull stays a seagull in his second life (and probably in the ones to come). Of course, this is Bach reincarnation (and I'm not sure whether it coincides with the more conventional concept of reincarnation) but either way, what I have just realized right now is that I don't know really much anything about it. :]

And so I say...I shall finish this blog at another time because I need to read on reincarnation.


  1. I read Jonathan Livingston and saw it raising different questions, but the question of reincarnation, life after death and what are these about, seems interesting.

    Does life after death really gives a meaning to life? I fail to see how... For the non-religious there is no after life, this life is all you have and that means every second of it is precious.

    On the other hand, the problem that all religions struggle with is to explain how living the ever-lasting life still leaves any value to the life on earth... Wasting a second here and there doesn't mean anything when you have the ethernity to cope with. Actually, it makes it pretty boring, if you ask me. That's the price you have to pay for healing the anxiety of death? That's a big issue, and different religions deal with it in different ways:

    Buddhism and Hinduism religions focus on sufering and reincarnation is seen as a reiteration of the cycle of suffering into the next life. Escape from the cycle of suffering happens when the cycle of rebirths comes to an end and a person is said to have attained the state of liberation: state called Nirvana and Moksha respectively. One uses every life to get either closer or further away to the much coveted exit.

    Crhistianity and other religions of Egyptian provenance offer life after death, but you have only one chance to make it to the right exit: the after life.

    So Budhism and Hindu give life a meaning of accummulation of knowledge or wisdom, or other progess towards perfection. Christianity seems more like a time limited exam where either you make it or not, perfection here is less of a process than a state.

  2. i prefer buddhism. it's more of a learning process and it's easier on the human.