Purpose Of Life — Existentialism

What’s the purpose of life and why do we live in an Universe devoid of meaning… THOUGHTS ON EXISTENTIALISM. “If you can hold a flower and see life in its tender petals, vibrant colors and complex design to inevitably give birth in it’s dying, to another sustainable life, then that is Living. But if you can love the flower’s beauty, care for its ‘being’, however temporal and fragile, and ensure that it blooms into thousand flowers within your love, that’s The Purpose of Life. Remember, Love is what transcends death, even after you die. You still flower into thousands of hearts and live forever in their thoughts. So Love.” — V.E.D

At some point of life, most of us, face the inevitable question ‘What’s The purpose of life?’ and then we try to answer either with our own day to day efforts of living or just leave it to be answered by the society / culture / religion to which we belong. Yes, I have faced this question too and slowly I have come to realize that it’s really not a question about Living but about Dying. It’s really hard for consciousness to hold on to the idea that each one of the steps that we take in living, is one more step closer to our dying. But then I think, it’s one thing that we rarely forget…

Living and the Dead | The Existentialist Hemu’s Art Blog

Recently one of my friend, Architect Hemalatha Venkatraman, from Chennai Blogger’s Club (CBC), posted one of her paintings, what she describes as, “… a personal outlet after a person of mine committed suicide after he could take no more of it, simply because he felt it to be pointless, as an existentialist”. This triggered a chain of thoughts on Existentialism, The purpose of life, Who Am I etc. which I am putting across here, in this post.

But before I go further, I deeply share the anguish and pains suffered by Hemalatha and hope these thoughts will some how lessen her pain.

To begin with, let me try to give some back ground on Existentialism.

As the science progresses with more and more theories, scientific proofs on how the Universe, mankind and ‘thinking self’ evolved, each one of us are slowly losing the comforting legacy of faith and hope as the back bone of living one’s life and the inevitable coldness of eventual death of our ‘being’ creeps deeper into the depths of our living. In past, it was religion, culture and society that gave us faith and hope; i.e. there is something beyond our dying, and our Righteous actions, Ethics and Morality, gave us some kind of direction to move forward. But these relics of past are slowly being eroded from the foundations of our thinking, either by science, or by the modern philosophy that says, well there was nothing before and inevitably, there nothing will be in the hereafter. Universe was created with a Big Bang and like wise will die one day. So some of us don’t see the point of living meaninglessly, toiling away either in suffering or bliss, pain or pleasure along with the constant anxiety of being a ‘being’ who are inevitably going to die. All this drama of life just because we were born, which was not even our own doing?

So What’s The Purpose Of Life?

SørenKierkegaard, who is generally considered to be the father of Existential Philosophy, (Though he did not use the word existentialism), said that each one of us is solely responsible for giving a purpose or meaning to his / her life and to live it sincerely and truthfully.

People are so smart that we actually come to realize that we exist.” — Kierkegaard

After the age of four or five we are aware of our existence. Not only we are aware of the fact that we exist, but also we are aware of that fact. We know about our freedom to chose our actions, type of morality that we want to live with as well as whether to jump off a cliff or not. However, as Kierkegaard explains in his book ‘The Concept of Anxiety’, this freedom, far from being a reason for happiness, provokes a feeling of anxiety and dread within us, which in turn increases our self-awareness and a sense of ultimate personal responsibility.

But you see, this is a very disturbing thought. Unlike any other living thing, e.g. animals, we also realize that we are inevitably going to die too. This gives our highly evolved brain an anxiety that, as the brain goes, needs to be removed or minimized. In old times, faced with this kind of existential crisis, we created cultures to belong to; have faith in religion and Gods; in effect erecting scaffoldings for the idea that there is a meaning to one’s life. This kind of culture, society gave us a reason to live and in the case of belief in a particular cult, religion or a personal God, to live beyond dying too. In effect, all these gave us, instead of a cold and empty universe, a ‘meaningful’ universe to live in.

However, as the history progressed to modern times, existentialist like Nietzsche defined all these structures of culture, society and religion as something that inhibits our life from living wholly as one should be living.

As a result, we have come to see the world we live in as a world that we should resent and disdain, a world from which we should turn away, transcend, and certainly not enjoy. But in doing so, we have turned away from life itself in favor of the myth or an inventions, an imagined ‘Real world’ that is situated elsewhere” — Nietzsche

While anther existentialist, Sartre says that we are the kinds of beings who are compelled to assign a purpose to our lives. With no divine power to prescribe that purpose, we must define ourselves.

While Existentialism is a philosophy that guides us to look deeper into the reasons of our existence, it definitely does not provide any means to exist. So this is where one should consider the thought from Dr. Earnest Becker, Cultural Anthropologist — Pulitzer Prize Winner for his book ‘Denial of Deathwho says, “In order to stand up in the morning, one needs to believe that life has a meaning. We, in addition, also need to believe that each of us as individuals, that we’re valuable contributors to the culturally constructed drama to which we subscribe.”

Don Justo — Man with a purpose of life, took 60 years to single handedly build his 131 ft high Cathedral in Madrid, Spain (here he is with my brother Animesh) Click here to read more

And what Becker asks us to think about is, that culture gives us opportunities to feel like we are valuable people, through social roles with associated standards of conduct, the satisfaction of which gives you the sense that you’re a person of value in a world of meaning. We design goals to achieve, ideas of what we can be, etc.

And there’re a lot of other theorists like AbrahamMaslow and Carl Rogers, putting forward the idea of self-actualization — the higher self as they said.

While throughout the history, there have been thinkers who proposed a meaningful way of life…

“In case of humans, a ‘good’ life is therefore one in which we fulfil our purpose, or use all the characteristics that make us human to the full”. — Aristotle c. 384–322 BCE

“(A good life) can be achieved by being content to live a simple life” — Diogenes Of Sinope c.404 -323 BCE

“The universe and everything in it is an endless flow of life, in which God is an eternal presence. Man, as part of the universe is also a part of this continuum” — Rumi c 1207–1273

If you really look closer, these are thoughts that shield us from constantly being aware of death, which will immobilise us in living. We do have proclamations from people like Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” and one that is on the top of my list of Grand Proclamations, from really a true scientific genius, Stephen Hawkins The God Does Not Exist”. Scientists say things one day and when faced with a new evidence, they change, which is alright with me but that also makes me not to take their proclamations as final reality about things they are not equipped to understand as of now, like matter, consciousness, God etc. So till the time we don’t have conclusive proof against our own faith in the goodness of “just being”, I find these props a great and meaningful way to continue to live.

And the most important of these are self esteem (Be good at something, Help other people, Find a problem and solve it), loving deeply — a close personal relationship with family, friends and people, a certain intuitive belief in the existence of our own sub-consciousness, inter connected with the supreme consciousness. These altogether make, however un-quantified, our life purposeful in this cold expanse of empty space.

For me the way of living has always been the way of Karma Yogi, which comes from Krishna in Bhagwat Gita

“Performing action (Karma) is our only duty (about things that comes our way, with 100% dedication, sincerity and focus), we should not think or worry about the fruits of our actions”. — Bhagwat Gita Chap. 2 verse 47 Here is what a third grader says about “Meaning of life”…

In the end I will again go back to the thought in the beginning, which I truly believe in…

Remember, Love is what transcends death, even after you die. You still flower into thousands of hearts and live forever. So Love.” — V.E.D

__
Shashi
ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya


Originally published at shadowdancingwithmind.blogspot.in on September 16, 2014.

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