Eastern Philosophy and the Meaning of Life
The Purpose of Life
When one thinks about the purpose of life, some questions come to mind. First some may wonder how exactly we should be living our lives. Next, some may wonder what will happen to us after we die and if there is any purpose to life. Finally, some may wonder if there is a God. This article is going to attempt to answer some of these questions from the perspective of four eastern philosophers.
How should one conduct oneself throughout life?
This is a question that people have struggled with since the beginning of time. Some may say that one must be out for Their selves because it is the only way to get ahead. Others may say that one must be peaceful and let the world unfold around them because that is the only way to become a good person. Is "good", in the eye of the beholder? Is the world so chaotic and crazy that good actions are not relevant anymore? Is it a “good” idea to sit in constant worry; always in fear of the next great havoc that will rain on your life? Should we stand up and fight for ourselves and for others? In this crazy world, we live in; is this, the only way to survive?
Eastern philosophy claims, life is uncertain for us, however; it will unfold as it will. When one tries to change the way life is unfolding it will only bring pain. One must always look out for others, leave no footprints, and let go of earthly desires. In addition, one must only fight when there is no other choice. If it's possible to step back and talk it out, that is what should happen.
What happens after we die?
Again, this is a question that has been plaguing humans for many years. People have a natural urge to question the unknown. Does the soul move on, or is death the bitter end? Are we reincarnated; forced to live our lives over and over, without the chance of escape? Is there an afterlife or a heaven that our souls move on too? Do our souls go straight there when we die? If not, how do we get to the afterlife?
Eastern Philosophy claims that our souls may move on to Nirvana, or may be reincarnated to live another lifetime. When one is reincarnated, they have another chance to choose the right path. Every lifetime builds up Karma both good and bad. One must make up for the bad Karma and walk the correct path in life before they can reach Nirvana and transcend into a blissful and peaceful state, stopping the cycle of rebirth.
Is there a purpose to life?
This question seems to be the question that has shaken many people’s faith in life, society, and God. Why exactly are we here on earth? What is the reason? Why do people suffer so much? Why is there so much injustice, so much pain in the world? Can people change their path in life? Should we fight against whom we seem to be destined to become? When we die, will our whole lives be for nothing? Will we die in vain?
People have distinct paths, they are meant to take. If the correct path is not taken, There will be another chance to try again in the next life. The world is chaos, and the uncertainty causes people pain. If they let go of earthly desires, they will be able to get on the right path. Every time a soul lives a life it is closer to it's destiny. One must be self sacrificing, build up good karma, and find their path before they can find Nirvana and transcend.
Is there a God?
The subject of God is a touchy subject for most people. Everyone seems to have an opinion. Is there even a God at all? Is this God a vengeful God that would be okay with the hate that was spread in his name? Is there an angry man in the sky, ready to smite all who disobey? Is this man responsible for making man and then making the woman out of the man? Did this god know, he would be responsible for dooming woman to the fate of lesser-human being, for all of eternity? Does it even matter whether there is a God or not?
Eastern Philosophy answers this question with a yes, there is a god. No, this god is not a man or a woman. God (AKA Tao) is a cosmic energy that is the beginning and the end every action has an opposite reaction. One needs to understand this and build up good Karma before they are able to transcend. Since the world is unpredictable, and everyone has to become whom they are meant to be, judgment is not necessary. If a person takes the wrong path, then the soul will be born again so that it will have another chance to do it right.
Siddhartha Gautama was the son of a wealthy king and lived in luxury. He was extremely sheltered and did not have knowledge of the suffering in the world. One day he went to market in the town of Kapilavastu. Gautama was profoundly affected by the anguish he saw when he visited Kapilavastu. After that day, he made it his mission to find the cause of human suffering. He came to the realization that humans suffered because of the ambiguity of the world and because of Karma that has been built up over many lifetimes.
The quote that best represents Siddhartha Gautama is: "attainment of nirvana requires more than merely letting go of selfish desires; it requires understanding that what are ordinarily thought of as one’s body and one’s consciousnesses are not real, are not the true Self” (Moore & Bruder, 2008 p. 530). This quote is a preview of Gautama’s four noble truths that lead to his eight fold path.
The eight fold path is Gautama’s approach to ending an individual’s suffering. He believes that people can only end the cycle of reincarnation when they follow the four noble truths and the eightfold path. Suffering is due partly to the uncertain world and partly to Karma. Karma means action or deed; it is the intent behind the action that decides whether the karma is good or bad. Karma can last over several lifetimes and determine where you are placed in the next life. Human suffering is caused by selfishness and ignorance. Through meditation and self sacrifice one can achieve enlightenment and find peace (nirvana) and end the cycle of life (Moore & Bruder, 2008 p.530-535).
According to John Makransky (2005), “Gautama was viewed as someone who became perfectly transparent to the unconditioned reality, nirvana, So as fully to embody its qualities of unconditioned freedom, all-inclusive love, and penetrating insight to disclose the means for many others to realize them” (Para. 2). This coupled with the quote from Gautama sums of Gautama’s ideas perfectly.
Lao Tzu believed that one should not interfere with the world because to do so would be futile. He believed in an energy called Tao that connected all things together. In his opinion, Tao was indescribable and un-changeable. He believed that if one frees oneself of selfish desires than they would achieve the ultimate goal which is peace. He believed that violence should be used only as a last resort. The quote that best represents Lao Tzu is, “Can you understand all and penetrate all, without taking any action? To produce and to rear them, To produce, but not to take possession of them, To act, but not to rely on one’s own ability, To lead them, but not to master them—This is called profound and secret virtue” (Bruder & Moore, 2008, p. 536).
Lao Tzu believed that humans cannot force change on the world if they try they will injure themselves in the process. He believed that the Tao is the natural order of things it yields the Chi which is the vital energy it is the beginning of everything. It gives rise to the opposite forces of yin and yang. It is hidden and indescribable so one should not even try. He believed that gentleness brings victory without effort, and one can win over their enemy by retreating instead of attacking. His way of life encourages open mindedness, is simple, tranquil, unselfish, patient. One should sit back and watch the world unfold naturally (P.535-540).
Chuang Tzu had a lot of the same philosophies as Lao Tzu. He believed that people should accept their lot in life without constant worrying. He believed in the Tao, and that life was unchangeable. He did not place as much importance on political issues as Lao Tzu. He believed in the equality of everything through opposites. The quote that best explains his philosophy is, “Nature cannot be forced or hurried because nature, unfolds according to the Tao: a tree’s fruit must be picked only when it is ripe, not before and not after. If people choose to impose their will on the world, the result is strife, disquietude, and disruption.”
The major difference between what Confucius believed and what Chuang and Lao Tzu believed is about change. Confucius believed that one can change their path if they model themselves after great people from the past. The quote that best describes Confucius’s philosophies is “A virtuous man wishing to establish himself seeks also to establish others, and wishing to enlighten himself, seeks also to enlighten others; just as nature is built on a principle of reciprocal cooperation rather than strife, so reciprocal cooperation must reign in human affairs” (Bruder & Moore, 2008, p. 546).