18 Apr Hell would become overpopulated in a hurry – and it is, right here on earth. (LOU MARINOFF)
DOORWAY TO HEAVEN
Imagine a prisoner in a cell with heavy bars, in a prison with high walls, with armed guards everywhere. But this is a most unusual prison. The cell door is always unlocked, as is the prison gate, and the guards are there to keep people out, not in.
The prisoner, however, believes this is the usual kind of prison, and so remains in the cell, which is actually quite comfortable.
It has decent furnishings, and a lot of distractions to help pass the time. There are books and CDs, cable TV and a personal computer. There’s a fully stocked bar, decent food, regular conjugal visits.
The prisoner has to do a certain amount of boring work, but can also indulge interests and hobbies.
Pretty good, for a prison.
But this prisoner is in fact quite unhappy, simply by virtue of being aware of being imprisoned. He would like to escape, and believes that if he did, then he would be happy. But he also believes that escaping would be dangerous and probably impossible, so he stays put. The prisoner resorts to various other “escapes” within the cell – food, drink, drugs, sex, books, TV.
All of them work, but only temporarily.
The return to reality is more painful each time, making a greater intensity of diversion necessary to achieve the next temporary escape. These diversions also lead to fantasies of how wonderful life must be beyond the prison walls, and so to regrets about how much one is missing by being imprisoned.
Millions of people are living in a prison just like this. It is the prison of suffering. You suffer when you are wronged, when you confront evil, when you are treated unjustly. You also suffer when you wrong others, when you do evil, and when you perpetrate injustice. So you, like the prisoner, seek to alleviate the discomfort with tangential distractions, thinking all the while that you must stay in the cell.
But that’s an illusion.
In fact you are free to walk out any time you wish, if only you can tear yourself away from familiar diversions and realize the way is open to you.
Every human being suffers, sooner or later, so the operational question is not whether you will suffer, but what you will suffer from. By far a more important question still is how you will seek to alleviate your suffering. The answer you arrive at will determine whether you increase your own suffering (and that of those around you), or diminish it.
Unfortunately, there are many ways to increase suffering. Fortunately, there are comparatively few ways to alleviate it.
Because limited options make your way much clearer.
Suppose you were in a room with a thousand doors, and you had to choose one, and only one, to go through. If nine hundred and ninety-nine doors led to hell, and only one led to heaven, would that be good or bad?
That depends on whether they were marked or not. Because if all the doors looked alike, and you had to choose your door by chance, you’d have pretty poor odds of picking heaven: one in one thousand.
Hell would become overpopulated in a hurry – and it is, right here on earth.
But if the doors were clearly marked either “heaven” or “hell”, you would be certain of finding heaven sooner or later. That is, provided you could read the signs.
No matter what room of what building you are in, you can always find myriad doorways to hell – and you can always find at least one doorway to heaven. Al- though everybody says they want to go through the doorway to heaven, a great many walk right through all kinds of doorways to hell. Perhaps we need to learn to recognize the markings on the doors and see that our cells are open, so we can leave suffering behind us.
The Big Questions: How Philosophy Can Change Your Life