What is the meaning of life? The impossible question. The question easily invites us to posit the importance of human goodness upon the appearance of life. Owing to our vulnerable consciousness, we ascertain a meaning or a series of meanings to try to make sense of a fluctuating and insecure dynamic of incalculable presentations. Nothing presented to consciousness, through the senses, has any essence, yet we search for meaning or declare what has importance for us.
We vacillate or change our minds to what we grant meaning and to what we don’t. We stop imposing a meaning on specific matters and generalities owing to loss of interest or we hold onto to a meaning to life, as if life depended upon it.
We like to give meaning to life, via the idea of the good. Why should we impose the good when every act of so-called goodness reveals non-goodness in the world, the harm, unhealthy circumstances, evil, violence and war? Are we not disillusioned with all those who tell us what is for our good – politicians, corporations, scientists, media, religious, educators and so on? The consensus of the powerful and privileged claim to be on the side of the good. The influential determine what is good at the expense of the many who identify with the views of the influential.
Aren’t we tired of telling others what is for their good, as well as telling ourselves? Adherence to the identity with the idea of the good confirms the banality of the good. The belief in the good reinforces the seeing of the not good. We find ourselves imprisoned to a belief that life is good and bad, right and wrong, progress and regress.
We may want to impose on life a value or set of values in accordance with our beliefs. We give life meaning through these values, helpful or harmful. This enables us to apply a reason, purpose for our existence. We grasp onto a narrow purpose to determine our self-importance.
Human beings give a variety of meanings and purposes to life. Nobody is consistent. An activity can mean a lot to us for one period and then change. Numerous circumstances influence what matters to us. Our primary purposes and secondary purposes change and adapt. Family, work, money, religion, a political party, the arts, science, services to others, identification with the nation state and much more can give our life meaning. We may share our view with others to give a similar purpose to others. We might conclude we simply wish to get on with life as best we can.
Putting aside every construct of the mind around meaning and purpose, there is the potential for immense discoveries, via silence, solitude, nature and depths of meditation. What you do with your life constitutes a minor detail in the scheme of things. Your life might be heaven, hell, a combination of both or somewhere in between.
When our mental construct claims that life has a specific meaning, we may place pressure upon ourselves and others to identify with such interpretations of existence. There is no evidence to show that life has any inherent meaning; we cannot find statements in the nature to indicate a higher or lower purpose to life. Such wishes and determinations of our species to have a higher purpose reveal a heartfelt need to try to make sense of it all. We might have an aspiration to fulfil a potential or a desire to escape dealing with mundane daily realities.
Faced with birth, aging, pain and death, we experience the failures of the self and will power to control over our life. Despite all our efforts, life makes redundant the absurd notion of choice, self and will power when faced regularly, if not daily, with the unwelcome, the unwanted and the unnecessary. We can choose to do the right thing to give significance to our life, only to find that our mind takes little notice of the choice. We find ourselves facing the unchosen. The idea of meaning carries itself into our varying relationships to life, to oneself, to others, to the good, to a spiritual search or transcendence. We take up such as fashionable or unfashionable concepts as Being, the Now, the Non-Dual, Oneness, Stillness or God for consolation to the challenging presentations of life.
Yet, we foolishly can slide from belief in doing good and finding the good, to give meaning to our life into the other extreme of meaninglessness, of the selfish gene, of a dark, empty universe, full of desperate forebodings. These views, too, impose upon life negative and hostile attitudes that reveal a superficiality of perception. There is no evidence to confirm a pointless, meaninglessness existence either. A meaningful life and meaningless life have little relevance.
We have the capacity to keep uncovering unfolding processes, large and small. Global or particular, these dynamics of change confirm the unreliability that impact upon our sensibilities. Upon experiencing unpredictable events, we might pursue an upliftment, a purpose, a divine, to make us feel good about ourselves, and feel good about the impact that we make. The wish to leave a little mark in history, even if it is only with family and one or two friends, smacks of absurdity.
The multiplicity of thoughtful views from caring people confirms that life has no grand purpose, no guarantee of an evolution to a higher level, no promises, no assurances about anything.
We read and applaud the precious contributions in our varied communications. Every single view of life finds itself thinned out or cancelled out under the weight of numerous other designations about our relationship to life. The infinite number of interpretations of life emerges from the infinite diversity of expressions of life, internally and externally. Not a single standpoint has any enduring substance to it. The language of meaning lacks any gravitas.
We can approve or disapprove of the reasons to live from the variety of written views of different people. Our affirmations and rejections only confirm we produce views in response to views of others or the absence of them. Life does not invite any specific purpose or a range of them, yet they still emerge. There is no inherent truth to any evolutionary or divine purpose. There is no inherent truth to the view that life does not have any meaning or purpose. Our views about life often depends on how we feel at the time.
We pay respect to life through being devoid of any interest to impose meaning, since there is no evidence to confirm a meaning. We also pay respect to life by not thinking of it as meaningless. Such impositions upon life obscure the free expression of the movement of what unfolds. Common views such as “You live. You die” obscure discovery.
Life does not require the drumbeats of human beings since humanity, itself, expresses and confirms life. There is nobody outside of life to determine life and what it is and what it is best used for.
Let us vanquish to history the notion of some specific purpose to life. Let us vanquish to history that life has no purpose to it. The tree cannot get outside the wood to determine the wood.
It is a relief and liberating to live without the rude imposition of a meaning. The wind is free to blow through the trees.
~Christopher Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, teaches Awakening and Insight Meditation around the world. He is the founder and director of the Dharma Enquiry Programme and facilitates an online mentor programme for Dharma practice and mindfulness training. Poet, blogger and social critic, he is the co-founder of Gaia House, an international retreat centre in Devon, England.
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