Sunday, February 2, 2014

From Miskawayh’s “Treatise on the Deliverance from the Fear of Death”

Scholars have distinguished two kinds of life and death: a volitional (i.e. according to will) life and death, and a natural life and death. The volitional death is the mortification of mundane desires, whereas the volitional life is the satisfaction of all sensual desires. As for the natural life, it consists in focusing one’s attention towards preserving the eternal soul from ignorance with the help of knowledge, according to Plato’s saying: “Die volitionally, you will live naturally. He who fears natural death fears all that he should love and hope for, since for rational living beings death is the end of earthly life and its fulfillment, after which the soul ascends to the highest heaven. Every living being must necessarily undergo the dissolution of the parts that compose it, and there is no worse ignorance than that which inspires in us the fear of perfecting our nature and which causes us to confuse the true life with annihilation, and progression with disintegration. Whoever has the weakness of fearing that which would perfect him ignores the nature of his own soul. As for the sage, he loves all that contributes to making him more perfect and to making him gradually rise in dignity, and so he turns away from everything that tends to reinforce the bonds that tie him to matter and that reinforces his composite nature. He believes that his spiritual substance, divested through death of the impurities inherent to the body, will ascend to the eternal heavens and rejoice in the beatitude of the celestial realm, intimate with the Lord, and surrounded by the elect souls that preceded him. But the ignorant fears abandoning his body, and he is thereby plunged into misery and torment, seeking rest in a place where rest is impossible. [...] Whoever fears death fears the wisdom and justice of God as well as His mercy, for death is not an evil to be feared; rather, fear of death is an evil to be avoided. Those who are troubled by fear ignore both the nature of death and the conditions of their own existence. At death the soul leaves the body, but the soul’s substance remains intact, possessing eternal existence. Since the soul is incorporeal, not occupying any location in space, it is not bound by the conditions that govern the body and the accidents that affect it. [...] Freed from the limitations of time, the soul no longer needs to yearn for eternal life. Rather, after having developed itself by means of the body’s senses and having attained its perfection once it has been separated from the body, the soul passes to the celestial realm, in the presence of the Lord, its Creator.

[my translation-paraphrase]

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