My Search for the Meaning of Life
"Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” ― Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987)
Have you ever wondered "what is the meaning of life", or more specifically, what is the meaning of your life?
Coming from a very sheltered family life where my parents took care of everything, this question became an obsession when I initially left home for the first time in my life for my university education. I suddenly realized that I could not cope with my day-to-day life. To compound my problem, I was caught in a love affliction at about the same time, a victim of someone's rebound.
It did not take me long to figure out my first conscious answer to the question, "What is the meaning of life?", once I set my mind to it. I guess it took me less than a week to figure out that "life is what you make out of it". I likened life to a piece of blank paper where you can write your own life story, as you want it to be. Whether you write a tragedy or a comedy, it's all perfectly up to you. You can even choose not to write anything, if that's what you want. That discovery is no big deal, given that even a 9-year old boy (see video below) could answer better than that. And I was 19 years old then.
Surprisingly, it did not occur to me then that since I did not choose to be born, the question, "What is the meaning of life?", is actually an afterthought. It is like me giving you a piece of furniture and you starting to ask what to do with it, after having accepted my furniture. Common sense will tell you that you need to answer that question first before you accept. But as to whether we want to be born or otherwise, we have no choice. We just have to accept and after accepting, we just have to make our life meaningful. The alternative is to lead a life of misery and despair.
9 year old discusses the meaning of life and the universe
A biological purpose to ensure the survival of the human species
One of my classmates came up with the answer that we are here to ensure the survival of the human species. It seemed so far-fetched an idea to me then because to me, life is more than just about sex.
As the years go by, however, that reason became more and more tenable. Aristotle Onassis (1906-1975) once famously said: "If women didn't exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning". Sigmund Freud saw human sexuality as the cause of most human behaviors, the repression of which, he claimed, is the cause of many of the psychological problems that people experience.
Biologically, Man is from the family of primates which includes the chimpanzees, the bonobos, and the gorillas.
Some 50,000 years ago, humans began to exhibit full behavioral modernity. Beginning as hunter-gatherers, they began to domesticate plants and animals some 12,000 years ago, thus allowing for the growth of civilization. The Industrial Revolution that began in the mid-18th century brought about dramatic changes in people's life. Jobs became even more specialized than ever before. While we still need to "hunt" for food, we no longer need to be hunter-gatherers, nor do we need to plant our own food. However, we now need to find a job to earn the money, so that we can pay to those who do. And with so many types of jobs available, it can become a daunting task, just to decide what career one wants to pursue.
Technological advancement also leads to higher standards of living via increased productivity. Unlike primitive men who had to spend almost all their life looking for food just to survive, people now have more leisure time in their hands, so much so that they have the luxury to wonder what life really means to them.
In short, human intelligence has made our life so very different from those of all other primates that we tend to forget that we are, in one sense, not much different from the chimpanzees and the bonobos. Without doubt, science and technology has helped mankind tremendously but in the process, it also makes our life very complicated, just trying to decide which of numerous options is the best for us. As a result, we oftentimes suffer mental constipation, trying to decide which college to go to, which career to pursue, or which house to buy and live in.
A karmic reason for our existence
The monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as they stand today, do not offer a reason as to why we are born into this world.
Reincarnation is mentioned in both Greek and Vedic philosophy. In Buddhism, humans are said to be reborn in order to progressively attain Buddhahood. On the other hand, in Chinese folklore religion, the aim of reincarnation is to fulfill one's karmic debts. Karmic debts between parents and children, as well as between husband and wife, are said to be the greatest. In general, the closer the relationship, the bigger the outstanding karmic debt, and the greater the opportunity to repay them, due to their frequent contacts, resulting from their earthly relationships. That, then, is the raison d'etre for our reincarnation. However, instead of settling those debts, many of us, oftentimes, aggravate our karmic debt even further, making us return at a future time in order to try and settle the outstanding balance.
I will not belabor on this point, since reincarnation is a controversial topic which not everyone believes in, but I felt that this article would be incomplete without a brief mention, for those who believe in it, just as I do.
Conclusion: Follow your passion
Actually, we shouldn't even be asking, "What is the meaning of life?", since we did not choose to be born. What we should be asking is, "Now that I am born, what meaning should I give to my life?", or more simply, "What should I do with my life?" Having said that, I do not agree with the maxim in the above poster. The ancient sages say: "Know Thyself".
Many of us take for granted the kind of life that society has structured for us: going to school at the age of 6 or 7, trying to get that degree and then finding a job, getting married, settling down, having children, and then ending our working life at retirement age. But life wasn't always like this, as the above discussion clearly shows.
While our way of life has changed drastically since primitive times, the fact remains that we still need to earn a living, if only to be able to see food on the table. Undoubtedly, career plays a major role in our life. To many people, their career not only gives them a meaning to their life and a sense of self-esteem, it also decides who their friends and social circles are. Embarking on a wrong career choice can be disastrous, as we find ourselves unwilling to wake up each morning to go to work. Confucius is said to have said: "If you enjoy what you do, you will never work another day in your life".
And how do you enjoy your work, if you are not passionate about it? When work becomes something we have to do to earn a living, it becomes a burden. And can a life that is filled with burden be a meaningful life?
To me, in order to lead a meaningful life, know what your true passion is (or are), first. Only when you know where your true passion really lies, can you really start living. Everyone is unique. Many people, however, lead a life of despair and frustration, simply because they follow the crowd... a case of the blind following the blind.