(Caution: Exposure to this post could be hazardous to your health, particularly if you were raised Catholic with a taste of Buddhist and Kabalistic ingredients thrown in the mix.)
Indulgences are some things I never thought I’d think about once I finished with my Catholic upbringing and moved onto Eastern Studies and the spiritual advice from the Kabbalah. But, there I was reading how someone could limit their time in purgatory by performing certain acts and saying prayers.
Purgatory, for those not indoctrinated by nuns rapping knuckles for rapt attention, is the place all souls go to “purge” the ethereal beings of sins. Not ordinary sins that may have been “forgiven” with absolution following a sincere act of contrition and a penance to fit the crime one confessed. You get absolved of those sins, but there is something called a “residual” substance that remains. This can only be “burned out” (my words) by years and years of suffering in a place akin to Hell but with a shorter life span than all eternity. You need to purge this scum on the soul before entering the Kingdom.
Of course, if you die under circumstances that only a saint could prevail — such as being martyred for your faith — then you get your ticket punched for immediate entrance into Heaven.
Indulgences, or rather, the sale of indulgences led to something called the Protestant Reformation, and reforms soon-to-be-ex-Catholics wanted in the Church where some people were abusing their powers. (Can we say “Spanish Inquisition” or a plenary indulgence for 1,000 gold coins needed to build a pope’s cathedral?) Indulgences helped to decrease the amount of time one’s soul would be committed to Purgatory. We’re talking thousands and thousands of years, according to some sources. Some indulgences could knock off a week here, a month there, and it could and up when you’re dealing with millenniums.
I started to wonder what an indulgence could be like from another viewpoint, say one which believed in not just one life, but many lives, one after another through a process of reincarnation, suggested by students of Buddhism as well as the Kabbalah. Let’s say that Purgatory is not some place where a soul is roasted over some spit on a fire, but a “prison-like” sentence that one must serve life after life because of past misdeeds.
This is where the idea of Karma would enter. You could not escape the suffering from one life through another until or unless you’ve “paid for” your previous bad dealings. You’d get merit for good acts, and “demerits” or time in Purgatory for bad ones.
Buddhists believe that our actions cause something called an “imprint” within us. We can remove anger, ignorance, greed and pride, but the “imprint” of such emotions or states of mind remains. Like a piece of garlic that is removed from a jar, the smell or imprint of the garlic remains. One must dig and dig some more to remove it. Perhaps acts or prayers for indulgences are needed to ease such residual clinging.
Purgatory then would not end until one is completely enlightened or “corrected” as Kabbalah says, and every other sentient being is on the same path back to the Perfection of our first incarnation.
Thank you for this indulgence. See you purging in our next life together.