My favorite book of all time is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. For over a decade I read that book annually and always received new insights. Frankl asserted that even if we don’t see inherit meaning in life, we must either find meaning or create meaning for ourselves.
When I started to study the world’s religions with intensity, I noticed two themes of meaning running through all the traditions. One seeks meaning through an experiential unification with Ultimate Reality. The other seeks meaning through nurturing the seeds of goodness within.
Because of the pervasive nature of these themes—there is some form of them in all the religions—I have come to believe they signify the meaning of life, each in its own way.
Mystics of all traditions have experienced oneness with Ultimate Reality (which must be both all encompassing and always present to be called that). Such an experience of unification, of piercing the veil and seeing the underlying Reality, has shown itself to be life changing because it challenges the very presumption of what life is. I have been lucky enough to get a peek and can confirm that. Therefore, one meaning of life is to unify with that which never changes, the underlying essence of everything.
Nurturing the seeds of goodness within is a better-known spiritual path and a common theme in every religion. We humans are curious combination of divinity and dust, like Huston Smith used to say. We are evolved animals, and, as such, we have animal instincts. Rising above those instincts of violence, unbridled sensual gratification, aggressiveness, fear, and other lesser predispositions has always been at the heart of what religion has preached. “Be better than that,” we are urged. The seeds of love, compassion, grace, kindness, and altruism are within each of us, but they need to be nourished and cared for if they are to reach their potential.
And so, I have reached the conclusion that meaning is not merely subjective. There appear to be built-in mechanisms for it in our lives and they have been unveiled by the wisdom traditions. The two paths of seeking oneness and nurturing goodness are neither easy nor apparent, but they do provide meaning to life.
~Gudjon Bergmann is an Interfaith Minister, author of more than twenty books, and the founder of Harmony Interfaith Initiative. His latest book, titled Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion, is about interspiritual explorations and interfaith communications. He also writes columns for Patheos and teaches meditation.
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