Nobody leaves this planet alive, but everyone does.


“In death, only the body dies. Life does not, consciousness does not, reality does not. And the life is never so alive as after death.” Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, spiritual teacher and philosopher

I received an email from my cousin Burnadette, who was outraged by a TV news story from a network in Great Britain. Watch the video and tell me: Is this an infuriating news story about a two-year-old boy who is addicted to cigarettes—or do you see something more? Let’s look at the facts that were reported here:

  • Two-year-old Ardi Rizal of Jakarta, Indonesia is addicted to cigarettes.
  • His father introduced him to smoking when he was 18 months old.
  • The toddler is a chain smoker who consumes two packs a day.
  • Efforts to stop him have failed.
  • He throws a tantrum and even becomes ill if he doesn’t get his cigarettes.
  • He’s now in government-mandated rehab.

Undeniably, these are the facts, but are they the truth? I know you’re wondering: Aren’t facts the truth? Not always. When we’re standing on Earth’s stage, our vantage point is limited. Often we can’t see beyond the footlights. And rarely can we see what’s going on behind the curtain. But when we climb into the balcony of Earth’s theater, we can see beyond the actors’ peripheral vision. Our vantage point is 360°, broader and often deeper. We can see on all sides of each character and quite frequently, backstage of the entire scene.

Ardi Rizal-infant chain-smokerThis smoking baby drama is fascinating, even on the surface. Anyone who’s watched an infant transition into a toddler expects certain developmental milestones—but smoking? I’ve seen college students, dying (literally) to look more mature, who aren’t as proficient with a cigarette as this baby.

How in the world does an adult teach an 18-month-old to smoke? How do you teach a baby to hold a lit cigarette—let alone twirl it like a baton—without burning himself? How does a two-year-old develop the fine motor skills to light one cigarette with another? How does a toddler learn to deeply inhale and blow out rings of smoke without choking?

Did you see Ardi’s mannerisms? Was I the only one who saw an “old soul” in that young body?

Little Ardi reminded me of a case study I read several years ago. In this case, a toddler in another country stunned his parents by asking where was his wife. They hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. He insisted that he was married, told his parents his name—which wasn’t the name they had given him—his wife’s name and her address, which was in a city that they had never discussed with him. He also gave them details about the home he had shared with his wife, his secret hiding place in that home, and the items he had stashed there.

After the boy had pestered them relentlessly for weeks, the parents decided to prove to him that he had no wife or home elsewhere. After traveling to the nearby town, they were surprised to find a house at the address he’d given them. At that house was a woman the boy instantly recognized and who answered to the name he called her.

He insisted to the frightened woman that he was her husband. She insisted that her husband had died years earlier. Frustrated, the toddler went directly to his hiding place and retrieved the treasures he’d claimed to have stashed there.

What if we really leave Earth alive?

Over the years, I’ve read a number of dramatic (and often traumatic) soul testimonials such as this—including powerful eye-opening stories from those who survived near death experiences. Afterward, they no longer feared death. Most looked forward to it.

In some cultures, elders watch a new baby very carefully, looking deep into the eyes, searching for clues that might reveal which ancestor’s soul is inhabiting this new body. This information provides a different context for scenes such as the one in Jakarta. Plus there’s the accidental discovery of some of my own soul history, which I shared in my metaphysical memoir, EARTH Is the MOTHER of All Drama Queens, that influences my world view.

Most of us believe that every human has a soul, and that our souls live forever. It’s at this juncture that we begin to confuse ourselves: We believe that there is something invisible and immortal inside of us. We believe that it leaves when the body is dead. Or did the body die because it left? Was it, in fact, the Life in the body?

We also believe that we’re not that immortal soul. We are the part that remains here on the planet; we are the carcass.

Since we believe that we are made in God’s image, we’ve concluded that God looks like the mortal part of us rather than the immortal soul. In our confusion, we’ve given God a body, gender and the temperament of a sadistic sociopath whose “behavior” is unpredictable: He grants favor to some of His children, has savagely murdered many, and has promised to torture most throughout all eternity.

No wonder we’re afraid of death.

Believing that we’re going to die—or that we have to do or say something to earn eternal life—doesn’t make it true, and it doesn’t make death fearsome. But if it brings you peace, if it inspires a deeper trust in God, and if it makes sense to you, by all means, believe it.

Nobody has ever come onto Earth’s stage and stayed forever. Have you ever wondered why? Are we immortal souls who have infinite possibilities or mortal bodies with a finite lifespan?

If every soul is leaving his planet alive, but every body will be left behind, which are you?

Let’s exonerate Pope Benedict XVI

Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that hateful, hurtful, homophobic speech by a church that oddly enough calls itself “Christian” is protected as a First Amendment right seems to have eclipsed other really big church news: Pope Benedict XVI has exonerated Jews for Jesus’s death.

Pope Benedict's new bookAccording to the Associated Press, the revelation was unveiled in excerpts from Benedict’s upcoming book, “Jesus of Nazareth-Part II.” If this declaration had been reported by The Onion, rather than the AP, I would be able to wrap my head around it. But this was not satire; it was just…well, sad.

Reportedly, the Pope’s new book explains biblically and theologically why there is no basis for “claims that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus’ death.” Wait a minute!

As a whole? Hmmm, is that like: Saudis, “as a whole,” were not responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks? (Fifteen of the 19 suicide terrorists were Saudis.) Or is more akin to: Iraqis, “as a whole,” were not responsible for 9/11? (Not even one terrorist was Iraqi.)  There’s a big difference.

Methinks the Pope hath forgiven too much; he has actually perpetuated the un-Christlike myth that the Jewish people killed Jesus. Anyone who’s read the New Testament or has seen a movie about the crucifixion knows that the Jews did not commit the crime, just as the Iraqis had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. By dismissing the facts, the Pope’s grandiose forgiveness of the Jews is as much an attack on an innocent people as America’s violent invasion of Iraq to “free” its people.

Centuries before Benedict put pen to paper, it was an indisputable fact that the rabbi we know as Jesus was tried in a Roman court and suffered an inhumane execution at the hands of Roman military torturers because the declaration that he was the King of the Jews was a threat to the Roman empire.

So why isn’t the Pope forgiving, oh I don’t know, the Romans who conveniently live in the city surrounding his walled compound? That loving gesture would be such a warm and fuzzy highlight to this year’s Lenten season. Forgiving the innocent, not so much.

But here’s the beauty of his declaration of forgiveness: What Benedict unwittingly has highlighted are the impossible-to-connect dots that form the foundation of our beliefs as Christians—and the gaps that simply cannot support us, except through blind unquestioning faith:Connect the Dots puzzle

Dot #1: Jesus’s life purpose. For centuries, the Church has taught that God sent Jesus to Earth to do a couple of really important things. One was to spread the good news that God is Love, and does not do things that Love would not do—i.e., is not intolerant, violent, punitive, unforgiving, condemning and judgmental. Jesus also taught that the kingdom of God is within. We don’t have to go anywhere to find God, and we are not an abomination, filthy rags or unacceptable to be in God’s presence. Wherever we are, God is—truly good news.

Dot #2: Jesus’s fulfillment of his mission. What theologians tell us is that Jesus’s Good News ministry lasted all of three years. With today’s technology and air travel, the good rabbi could have spread the word to everyone in the entire world in that time. But he didn’t get very far on foot and donkey before it was time to complete his other important task: Be brutally slaughtered for crimes that he didn’t commit.

Dot #3: Barbaric live sacrifice demonstrates God’s love. This is a critical dot. The premise here is that God loved us, His guilty children, so much that He sadistically forced our innocent brother to die a protracted and excruciatingly painful death so that we wouldn’t have to. Christians generally protest unfairness, particularly an innocent person being executed; but we’re glad as hell that it happened to Jesus because…

Dot #4: Jesus died to save us from eternal damnation. We Christians rejoice that we are “washed in the blood of Jesus,” a satanic concept, to be sure. But more damning, we believe that contrary to Jesus’s famous parable in which a faithful father excitedly rolled out the red carpet upon his sinning child’s return, God’s forgiveness has strings attached: Only sinners who believe that God inhumanely subjected Jesus to a slow and tortuous death will be spared worse treatment throughout all eternity.

Those who believe that God is Love—and believe that Love would not do something so barbaric and satanic—will regret that mistake throughout a God-awfully painful eternity. Which brings us to…

Dot #5: God’s orders should be obeyed. So many dots, so little time. Let me simply cut to the chase: If the Pope believes what Scripture tells us to believe, exonerating the Jews is utterly oxymoronic. What is he forgiving them for exactly: Following God’s orders?

And that, dear Thinkers, is the question of the day: If the Pope believes that God ordered Jesus to be brutally tortured to death, and he believes that the Jews obeyed, I’m wondering if Benedict couldn’t have exerted his authority as a spiritual leader more effectively by forgiving Christians for reviling the Jews for centuries.

In the interim, why don’t we simply exonerate the Pope?