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5/22/07                                                                                       View Comments

Heaven, Hell and My Bodhisattva Vow

by Astreja

My name is Astreja Kaéren Odinsdóttir, and I am a Heaven refusenik. I have made a conscious decision to deliberately choose Hell over Heaven, in the unlikely event that these places actually exist.

Somewhere between age five and seven I read the Bible for the first time. My parents' library included an illustrated volume with some rather striking lithographs, and one of those illustrations still haunts me forty-five years later. I remember a mass of humanity standing in a pit, hands aloft, pleading for mercy.

Fortunately for my sanity, neither of my parents are overtly religious. Although I was baptized without my consent at the age of three months, I somehow managed to avoid the standard indoctrination into Christian mythology. Imagine a seven-year-old girl commenting to the boy next door that threats of eternal punishment are useful for controlling the masses, and you'll get a good picture of my skeptical fascination with religion.

I've tried to approach philosophy, mysticism and theology with an open mind, but everything ultimately gets filtered through that religion-as-societal-tool epiphany that I had on the neighbours' front steps. At age 11, I could "see" time as a finite line, and grasped the inherent meaninglessness of all time-dependent events. A year later I had recovered from my brush with nihilism and had adopted Athena as my patron. I wrote a novella about a saviour-ish mystic with stigmata on his hands; researched Hinduism for a history project on India; and hung out with science geeks who made "velocity vectors" away from annoying evangelists. By the end of high school I self-described as an atheist, but only because I had yet to hear the word "agnostic".

Somewhere between high school and the working world I did have a rather close call. A born-again Christian in the laundromat across the street did try to convert me. However, when he asked me to recite the Sinner's Prayer, I balked. I do not believe in sin, let alone the involuntary and indelible Original Sin. I find the very idea disgusting. I believe in Original Neutrality, with value found only in conscious action.

On top of that, I did not care much for the god of the Bible. The concept of one and only one god is illogical to me, and I kept seeing that pit full of scared, suffering people. Jesus was a bit more interesting, and I did like what he had to say about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, but to me he was just another victim in the same sad story.

Then (after several decks of Tarot cards, some do-it-yourself magick, and visits to a synagogue and a Christian Science church), I discovered Buddhism. More specifically, I discovered the concept of the bodhisattva: Someone who wins the struggle for personal enlightenment, but stays behind to help everyone else climb out of the pit. That, to me, sounded honourable and worth pursuing.

Finally, I rediscovered my Scandinavian roots and became an Ásatrúar. The mythology, where even the gods can die, agreed with my love of polytheism and with my Life, the Universe and Everything vision from age eleven. The Norse heiðinn ethics (the Nine Noble Virtues of courage, truth, honour, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industry, self-reliance, and perseverance) are reasonably compatible with Buddhist ethics. With the possible exception of the admonition against intoxicating substances, that is.


...If there is an afterlife (Which I rather doubt)...

...With a place of reward (Anything is possible, I suppose)...

...And a place of eternal punishment (Oh, please; stop insulting the gods with such a barbaric idea)...

...I vow to go there and stay there until every other sentient being is released from torment.

In the meantime, I'm going to hang out with the Æsir and Vanir, brew me some mead, and perhaps translate the Prajñāpāramitā Hridaya Sūtra into Old Norse. Just call me the Zen Valkyrie.