Certain religions seem to promise long life to virtuous people. This promise can be confusing when a good person is broken early in life like precious crystal, and a vicious bully causes misery well into their golden years. Some religions get around life’s unfairness by believing that, in heaven or in some future reincarnation, good actions will be rewarded and bad punished.
When spiritual teachers talk about life, they must be very careful not to invent an imaginary world that corrects the imperfections of this world. Symbols like “heaven” and “reincarnation” must lead us more deeply into the real world, not distract us by inventing some future life. Eternity has already started, so the consolation of religion is not the false promise of some other life, but a revelation of the depth and vastness of this life.
There is a word “macrobios” from the ancient world that is sometimes translated “long life,” but probably should be understood quite differently. “Macrobios” can indeed mean “long life,” but it can also mean “great life” or “big life” as well.
When we feel at one with nature, we have a sense of a larger life of which we are a part. At birth we are born out of, and at death we return to a larger life. “Macrobios” can be understood as referring to this sense of vastness. When we live selfishly, the boundaries of our perceived world begin to shrink. We feel small, cramped and easily threatened. When we act compassionately, the horizons of our life begin to widen and open to a larger beauty and purpose. We come to see every being as cells in one common body. When we can see ourselves this way, we live in peace.
Jesus, Buddha and the other great friends of humankind embodied what it means to live life as a part of the whole. “Macrobios” can mean “long” life, but it can also mean something much better. “Macrobios” can mean living in the intimate vastness of our common life. And living in the whole does have it’s rewards. We may not even see the connection between our kind actions and the beauty we begin to experience all around us, but joy naturally follows a life in harmony with the whole.
It is silly to think that compassion will necessarily make our lives longer, but it is also sad not to know that love will always make our lives bigger.