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My Search for the Meaning of Life

Updated on July 24, 2013

"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)

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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.

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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.

Reincarnation in Hindu art
Reincarnation in Hindu art | Source

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.

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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.

Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life Episode 1 Richard Dawkins

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    • jericho911 profile image

      Mark 4 years ago from Ohio

      Very interesting !

    • Jen888 profile image

      Jen888 4 years ago

      Make REINCARNATION as the sequel to 'My search for the meaning of life'.

    • WalterPoon profile image
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      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      The gist of what I know about reincarnation is already mentioned. As we go into the details, there will be more controversies and contradictions, e.g. some people believe that we choose whether to reincarnate or not, while others say we have no choice.

      But I guess it should be good enough to know why you married your husband: either you owe him a karmic debt, or else he owed you. Same also with your children.

      As for the 2 of us, ya... the very fact that we 'meet' must mean that we also have a karmic debt, albeit very small... maybe just a few karmic coins... so insignificant that don't settle also never mind, LOL.

    • Jen888 profile image

      Jen888 4 years ago

      this is getting interesting......

    • profile image

      EmilyZ 4 years ago

      I totally agree with the last paragraph of your article. But sometimes we are caught up with other things in life that we forget about that.

      In terms of karmic debt, what about little babies that die at birth or very young, does that mean that he owes very little karmic debt to his parents? And because he has not lived long, would not gather anymore debt, what will his next path be?

    • WalterPoon profile image
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      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      EmilyZ, that's a very interesting question you raised. Means I don't have the answer and must do further research, LOL. But one thing to note... a very loving married couple, as if their marriage were made in heaven and then, alas, one spouse died all of a sudden. A parent and a favorite child... if any should die so early, it shouldn't have been the favorite child. Death seems to come very quickly and unexpectedly... a fatal car accident, a deadly cancer, etc. Cases like this, the Chinese believe that the karmic debt has been settled.

      If I find the answer to your question, maybe I should pick up Jen888's suggestion, focusing only on the Chinese idea of reincarnation, rather than getting into the contradictions among different beliefs of what reincarnation is all about.

    • WalterPoon profile image
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      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      9-year old discusses the meaning of life and the universe... did you all watch the 4-min video? That boy is amazing. He talks so matter-of-factly, whatever that means, LOL.

    • profile image

      EmilyZ 4 years ago

      I watched almost near the end. He is amazing to be thinking and talking so fluently about this topic. And he is so humble.

    • WalterPoon profile image
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      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      He really puts me to shame! When I was 9 years old, I was still sucking lollipop. When I was 19, I still couldn't answer the way he did.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I like your conclusion my friend. Passion has been the cornerstone of my pursuits for as long as I can remember. If I do not feel passion I move on to the next challenge....and so it goes, and I am now sixty-four and there are not enough hours in the day for me to write all that I need to write...not want to write...need to write. :)

      Enjoyed this trip through your mind my friend. Have a wonderful weekend.

      bill

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Billybuc, when you've traded in your old wrinkles for laughing lines, I would be surprised if you have enough hours in a day! Have a wonderful weekend? I thought everyday is weekend! Oh dear! I didn't even realize it's Saturday!

    • profile image

      Deb Welch 4 years ago

      I believe in Reincarnation. Karmic Debt was something new to me. We all have debts to pay in everyway, shape or form to God Above. The kid is truly smart - awesome. Useful and Interesting Hub - good thoughts here.

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Deb Welch, I was initially skeptical of reincarnation until after I attended a number of seance to contact my deceased relatives, a normal practice among the Chinese. In Buddhism, reincarnation is instantaneous, but what I gather from the seance is that it is not, and is consistent with Chinese folklore belief, i.e. that one goes to Hades first.

      What is Hades? Hades is sometimes translated as Hell, but in Chinese belief, Hell is the prison of Hades. Hades is definitely not Heaven, but neither is it Hell. It is somewhat similar to this world that we know of. In Chinese folklore religion, it is almost impossible to go to Heaven, which is meant for the gods.

      I did spent quite a lot of time studying religion and wonder why there are so many religions in this world that conflicts with one another in their beliefs. My conclusion, as of today, is encapsulated in my hub entitled "The Soul World as I Understand It".

    • KenWu profile image

      KenWu 3 years ago from Malaysia

      Great one! Your conclusion made the point!

      On top of that, we should also ponder what's happen next, once our time is up in this world.

      About your comment up there, I heard a different story, reincarnation is instantaneous in Buddhism only one has done a great sin or one has accumulated great merits. In both case, the former will go straight into hell and the latter will be reborn in the upper realm (god & demi god). Whichever it is, they are still bound in the six realms of existence and haven't escaping the samsara.

      For normal people with both good and bad karmas, one will be in the form known as bardo for the next 49 days before reporting to the Yama.

      Shared, voted up and everything, well, except funny as it ain't funny at all!

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