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C.S. Lewis, Closet Buddhist - Elf M. Sternberg
C.S. Lewis, Closet Buddhist
I've often wondered if C.S. Lewis didn't read just a bit too much Buddhist literature in his time. The Great Divorce is one of those books that reads like a Buddhist tract. It starts with a premise of universalism, if not a reincarnate one: We all awaken in the Hell we deserve, and there we are given one (or more) chances to make it into Heaven. The unnamed narrator accompanies a party on an expedition to the edge of Heaven, where he witnesses several people make (and fail) the attempt to acheive a Christian notion of Grace.

But every example is one of those things that makes a Buddhist smile. In every example, the person failing to reach grace does so because of his or her attachment to something. More to the point, that attachment causes great suffering! Lewis manages to circle back to a Christian viewpoint with his emphasis that every attachment is associated with another person in each seeker's narrative: it is not that we are attached to things, but that we are attached to (and suffer by) our refusal to see other individuals as people rather than things. (Which, in the current discourse, immediately brings to mind Mad Max: Fury Road and its underlying theme that women, indeed all human beings, are not things to be used by the powerful, but other souls worthy of respect and compassion.) Most of the seekers in The Great Divorce simply cannot forgive or reconcile their feelings with their beliefs that some other agent has the responsibility to "see it his (or her) way."

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