From now until November 26th of this year, attendees of the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City will be treated to an impeccable mask that is almost two thousand years old. The Mask of Calakmul was recovered from Tomb 1 of Calakmul, a Mayan archaeological site that lays right at the edge of Guatemala. Estimated to have been made between 660 and 750 C.E., the mask is made up of a combination of jade, seashells, and grey obsidian and is the central piece of the museum’s current temporary exhibition, “Universe of Jade”. As such, the mask represents larger beliefs of the Mayan culture from that time period representing the endless cycle of existence. The jade in the mask was essential for the deceased to be able to travel to the underworld before the wearer was reborn.
Now, thanks to the Museo Nacional de Antropología, you can see and download the Mask of Calakmul for yourself via Sketchfab, allowing you, too, to pass through the underworld and into rebirth.
Death, as a concept, is only a linguistic and perceptual delineation between what one experiences in the present and an unknown experience that takes place at some point in the future. Because we have no empirical evidence of what occurs after brain activity ceases, there’s really no reason not to believe that death feeds back into life in the same organic way that a dying plant feeds the environment around it.
Interestingly, the Mayans weren’t the only ones to believe in an endless cycle of existence. A whole host of people from the Buddha to Nietzsche has suggested that life is recycled after death. In Buddhism, this is a motivation to do good to all others in this life, as you might be reborn as any one of these people in the next. For Nietzsche, Eternal Recurrence was a thought experiment that, if accepted wholeheartedly, would signify the living of a meaningful life. If you’re doomed to repeat this life over and over for all of eternity and are able to accept that scenario with a wonderful embrace, then you would have expressed the ultimate affirmation of life. He writes in The Gay Science (according to Wikipedia):
What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’
Even some modern scientists suggests that life may not be a straight line from the Big Bang to some end point, but, instead, that we live in an oscillating universe, like a balloon that inflates and deflates every infinity. Big Spring, Eternal Recurrence, or endless cycle of Samsara, some of us might end up relying on philosophies such as those espoused by the late, great Kurt Vonnegut in order to keep these endless possibilities from existentially crippling us:
We are here for no purpose, unless we can invent one. Of that I am sure. The human condition in an exploding universe would not have been altered one iota if, rather than live as I have, I had done nothing but carry a rubber ice-cream cone from closet to closet for sixty years.