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  • In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “What is hell?

  • I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”

  • Hell is usually imagined as a world after this one, where someone is punished and made

  • to suffer, but that vision of hell never really spoke to me.

  • What Dostoevsky says is much more interesting and relevant to me, and when understood, I

  • think one learns to see hell and heaven as real entities inside of ourselves, not just

  • some imagined world.

  • As usual, I'm gonna explore this idea through a dialogue.

  • ---

  • After years of reading and believing in the bible, a young student (S) had a sudden crisis

  • of faith.

  • He went to the house at the end of his neighbourhood where it was rumoured that a retired priest

  • lived, one who had walked away from the church.

  • The retired priest (P) allowed the student into his home, and after a bit of small talk,

  • the following conversation ensued.

  • S: Do you believe in any of this?

  • Do you believe there's really a heaven or a hell after we die?

  • P: Does it really matter?

  • If I say yes, so what?

  • If I say no, so what?

  • We'll never have any proof either way.

  • But there's one thing I am certain of: hell and heaven exist inside of us, right now.

  • S: What do you mean?

  • P: Surely you know how it feels to suffer.

  • Well that's what hell is, isn't it?

  • The place where we suffer.

  • The place where we are full of conflict.

  • And well, heaven must be that place where we are free of suffering and conflict.

  • S: I can agree with that.

  • But how do I free myself of conflict?

  • P: Well, what is the source of conflict?

  • Isn't it frustrated desire?

  • Isn't it wanting something but not having it?

  • Think about it.

  • Examine your own life.

  • Is this the source of all your conflict?

  • S: Hmmyeah that seems right.

  • But as long as I'm living, won't I always want things I don't have?

  • And as long as I want things I don't have, won't I suffer?

  • So are you saying my entire life will be suffering?

  • P: If you spend your life wanting things you don't have, then yes, your whole life will

  • be suffering.

  • But let me show you something: between wanting and having something there is a gap.

  • This gap is conflict.

  • The bigger the gap between wanting and having something, the bigger the conflict.

  • The biggest gap, which is wanting something but never having it, is what we can call hell.

  • Read any story or myth about hell, whether it's Tantalus, or Sisyphus, or Satan, and

  • you'll hear the same story: someone wants something but can never have it.

  • Now the smallest gap between wanting and having something, which is to never want because

  • you always have, is what we can call heaven.

  • Do you understand all of this?

  • Do you agree with this?

  • S: I think I get what you're saying.

  • You're saying the gap between wanting and having something produces conflict.

  • So if I can shrink the gap between wanting and having something, I shrink the conflict

  • in my life.

  • Is that right?

  • P: That's right.

  • S: So how do I shrink the gap?

  • P: You can't.

  • I know why you're asking that question, but let's approach this from a different

  • angle.

  • Imagine that you had a perfect understanding of the world, that you knew the relationship

  • between all causes and effects.

  • There would be nothing you couldn't do instantly.

  • You'd know the exact blade of grass to pluck to produce an earthquake on the other side

  • of the world.

  • So if you had a perfect understanding of the world, there would be no difference between

  • what you want and what you have, because you could have anything you want in an instant.

  • So the gap between what you want and what you have is time, and it's also conflict.

  • So time is conflict.

  • This is very important to understand.

  • Do you understand this?

  • S: So you're saying time is conflict.

  • I sort of get it, but not quite.

  • P: Ok.

  • Let me go back a few steps.

  • Listen carefully.

  • If there is a gap between what you want and what you have, there's conflict in your

  • life.

  • Do you agree?

  • S: Yes.

  • P: Okay.

  • Now if what you want takes time to get, that means there's a gap between what you want

  • and what you have.

  • Do you follow?

  • S: Ohh!

  • Now I get it.

  • So you're saying if I want something that takes time to get, there's a gap between

  • what I want and what I have, and that gap is also conflict.

  • So if I want something that takes time to get, I'll be in conflict.

  • So time is conflict.

  • It makes sense now.

  • Sorry, go on.

  • P: No problem!

  • So if you genuinely want something that takes no time to have, then you eliminate the gap.

  • You eliminate conflict.

  • Do you understand?

  • S: Yeah, but what takes no time to have?

  • P: As long as you want something from the world, as long as you want to get something

  • from it, you introduce time into the equation, or in other words, you introduce conflict.

  • You can only get things from the world that you don't currently have.

  • But if you want to give something to the world, time never enters the equation, because you

  • can only give what you already have.

  • So if your only desire is to give something to the world, the gap between wanting and

  • having something collapses, and conflict disappears.

  • Now I have a little riddle for you.

  • What can you give that you never have to get?

  • And even though you give it, you will never lose it.

  • S: I don't know.

  • What?

  • P: Your complete attention.

  • It is always yours to give, even though you never have to acquire it.

  • And even when you give it, you never lose it.

  • To give something your complete attention is to love it.

  • S: Love?

  • How is it love?

  • P: You've been taught to think that love is a feeling or an idea, so what I'm telling

  • you is confusing.

  • See, when you completely attend to something, you understand it.

  • And when you understand something, you know how to relate to it.

  • For example, when you attend to the tree, you understand it.

  • And when you understand it, you know how to relate to it.

  • You see that it needs water, so you water it.

  • And then what happens?

  • It bears you a fruit.

  • Do you understand what I'm saying, that love is the doorway to heaven?

  • That the man who gives is the one who gets, and the man who gets is the one who really

  • gives?

  • Another riddle for you, perhaps.

  • S: Yeah, I think I'm finally starting to see what you're saying.

  • ---

  • In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “What is hell?

  • I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love”, and I explored the meaning

  • behind this idea through a dialogue.

  • To love something is to give it your complete attention, and when you give something your

  • complete attention you understand it, and when you understand it, you know how to relate

  • to it, and when you know how to relate to it, there is no conflict, and when there is

  • no conflict, internally, that is heaven.

  • And on the flip side, when you don't attend to something, you don't love it, and when

  • you don't love it, you don't understand it, and when you don't understand it, you

  • don't know how to relate to it, and when you don't know how to relate to it, there's

  • conflict, and when there's conflict, internally, that is hell.

  • So we can say that love is the doorway to heaven, and as Dostoevsky said, hell is the

  • suffering that occurs when you're unable to love.

  • As always, this is just my opinion and understanding of Dostoevsky's words, not advice.

  • Feel free to use this information however you like, and if you have a different take

  • on Dostoevsky's words, I'd love to hear your perspective in the comments.

  • And if you're interested in reading The Brothers Karamazov, you can find a link to

  • the book in

  • the description.

In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “What is hell?

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Dostoevsky - Love is the Doorway to Heaven

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    Summer posted on 2021/09/10
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