After half a century of living and observing life, I see that we humans die twice—the death of our ego, and the death of our body. Our happiness on earth depends on which death comes first. If the death of ego comes first, we will live a happy and successful life. If the death of body comes before the death of our ego, we miss the best life has to offer.
This article is not about the happiness we may experience on the other side of eternity, which is another subject. I am talking about the happiness on this side of life. The truth is we don’t have to wait until next life to enjoy the eternal happiness. We can start to enjoy heaven on earth here and now!
The question is how? How do we get there? The answer, again, depends on which death comes first—the ego or the body. The sooner our ego dies, the sooner we start living the real life—the life of heaven on earth.
The cliché “Let go and let God” sounds worn out, but as we grow older and wiser, this cliché becomes fresher and clearer. However, what do we need to let go? You might think, we need to let go of anger, pride, grudges, etc. In fact, what we really need to let go is our ego. The sooner we are able to, the better.
Life is like the journey of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem and to the cross. Matthew recorded Jesus’ life in chapter 16:21, “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Mt 16:21)
His journey to Jerusalem resembles our spiritual journey as his followers. Even though we are not physically journeying to Jerusalem, we are spiritually heading there to let our ego be crucified and experience the resurrected life—the egoless life and the life of heaven on earth, just as he was going there to “be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
The irony is “he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes…”. Jerusalem represents the holy place; elders the holy people; chief priests the holy leaders; and scribes the holy intellectuals, all have become part of the crucible or crucifiers for the death of our ego.
Hearing this horrible goal, Peter objected, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” (Mt 16:22–23).
Peter was just praised for his spiritual insight a short moment ago (Mt 16:17-29), but now he was called Satan. Ouch! In fact, Satan means “the opposition” or “the resistance.” Sound familiar? Jesus rebuke him back for being an obstacle, a stumbling block.
In life, there are people around us, like Peter, with good intention to make us preserve our ego. However, Jesus calls them, Satan!
According to Jesus, being satanic here is having the mindset of ego (human things) and not that of “divine things.” We must tell the brown-nosed people around us not to be on our way to the cross, and don’t be a stumbling block?
Those that challenge us and make us suffer—like those holy men in Jerusalem—may appear more satanic, but they are doing a great service for the death of our ego.
Then, Jesus revealed the profound divine things, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Mt 16:24–26).
To follow Jesus is unlike following a guru or a wise man as pupils to learn. To follow him is to “take up the cross,” which means to bind our ego toward its crucifixion. It’s a painful journey, but it’s a journey to freedom—“those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” It is more desirable than gaining the whole world because being able to live in heaven on earth is priceless.
There is a way to make this journey to the cross less painful. That is to get there fast. I admire those who are there before me because I’m still on my journey. I am like those who put down the cross and wander about, and then come back to take it up for a few more steps. I like to stop and smell the roses. However, the slow journey is more painful because it’s like a slow death.
Despite my meandering, I think I am getting there because the older I grow, the more I realize there’s no other way. Stretching the journey will not make things easier. I don’t want to let my body die first before I enjoy heaven on earth.
If you are like me still on the journey, the secret is simple: let go and let God. Just don’t take a long-winded route because it will only prolong the pain.
Jesus concluded this segment of teaching by saying, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Mt 16:28). He is saying that those who take up the cross and follow him will see God and heaven before tasting death. That is because of the death of their ego comes before the death of the body.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt 5:8) The purity of heart is attained by the death of ego, returning to the state of a child.
In fact, Jesus began his ministry by teaching people to “seek first the kingdom of God.” That is to strive for the godly state—the state of heaven on earth—because everything else in life falls together when we enter the state (kingdom) of God.
So, let us seek first the kingdom of God and get there as soon as possible because happiness is waiting for us!