Is not waiting to be rewarded in Heaven the same as waiting until tomorrow to make a change? Think about it. When one says to himself, “Perhaps this will be different tomorrow,” is not one really saying, “I hope that someone else makes this change for me,”? Of course. Does one then inappropriately use the notion of Heaven to keep one from making the necessary changes in one’s life in the hopes that they will “spontaneously change” tomorrow? Well, who is going to make these changes, if not the one who is hoping for the change? As Gandhi has said,
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
There is no shade without a tree, no smoke without fire, and no effect without action in this world. Therefore, in order to affect this world, one must be like a drop of water in a placid lake, or rather, one must do things in order to create ripples, like the sound of a gong which hangs in the air even after it has been struck. So, when the gong, or the mallet, disappears, what sound remains? None, of course, and such is the nature of waiting until an after-life, or heaven, for one’s reward, or for one’s world to be perfect. That simply is not how it works. Just as Homer shows that immortality of the body does not exist by showing both that those who have died remain the same in the underworld as they did in the upperworld (Orion hunts, Minos judges, Aias resents, Agamemnon blames, Achilleus is discontent), and by suggesting a distinction between being a shade and being an immortal through the figure of Herakles. The shade of a man, like the shade of a tree, exists through the action or position of the mortal man during his life. His shade, therefore, is not a “living version of him” in the underworld, but more an impression, without substance, created by his living actions, which no longer learns or grows or changes. For how could it? Once the impression is made in the wax, there it stays. And Herakles’ immortality is not his physical immortality, because of course he physically dies and is burned by Philoktetes. His immortality, or his heaven, exists precisely in the fact that his story continues to live on through others and teach them what he himself learned: the value of perseverance and overcoming obstacles in this world. This lesson is also taught by Odysseus, favorite of Hermes and Athene, as well.
Source: (Herakles receiving (wisdom) from Athene)
Is it then appropriate to wait for death or heaven or paradise to change one’s self today? Not at all. This situation is similar to the perception that “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Let us analyze this image: if one perceives the grass to be greener from one side of the fence, and then changes positions and the grass appears greener on the other side, then has the grass changed at all? No, of course not. One has simply shown that what one truly desires is “that which one does not have”. And like the concept of “tomorrow”, does “that which one does not have” ever come into one’s possession? Of course not, so to believe the grass is always greener, is always to deceive one’s self. Similarly, because whatever one’s conception of the after life is, it is perfect to one’s thinking, which means complete, and also non-existent in the traditional meaning of the word–for that which exists, as it is subject to time and space, must always change. That which is complete, whether it be heaven or hell or nothing, cannot change, for a change would suggest incompleteness. So, might not a more motivating and accurate vision of “the after-life” be considering existence as a spectrum, or circle, ranging from being to non-being? And if one extreme tends towards the opposite extreme, where then would being come from?
Well, simply put, “the source” of all being, by this reasoning, must be non-being, or space– the place in which all things are made and from which all things come. And to which all things return, the alpha and the omega–ever-appearing to change, but always remaining–the great final cause and source. Why else would Dante have to be “clear and ready to go up to the stars” (Purg. 33.145) if not to indicate that in order to receive from space or heaven, one must be like space or heaven, and empty one’s self in order to be clear and therefore to receive in order to create.
“Kind prince, many people are pleased and satisfied with the various limited religious doctrines existing in the world today. They all hope to live in the Kingdom of Heaven someday and sit sublimely at the side of their personal deity, but by entertaining such hopes and beliefs they only foster concepts of self and others, longevity and brevity, life and death, and so on without end.”
(Lao Tzu (Laotse), Hua Hu Ching Ch. 16)