What is the meaning of life?
This question has been asked countless times by millions if not billions of souls who have passed through this earthly life. The question encompasses others like –
Who brought all this into existence?
Why is there suffering?
What is the truth behind all things?
How can I find the purpose to my existence?
Where do we go once this life has finished?
All these questions although simple in their asking are some of the most difficult if not impossible questions to answer. Religions have given many people answers to these confounding questions but what can any one religion really tell you about the meaning of life? They may state things as fact and ask that you have faith to believe but have you ever asked the question, what is belief?
something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction
Systems of belief
Beliefs are ideas that an individual molds their identity and world-view upon. Many of these ideas have no basis upon personal experience be it mystical or in the experience of day-to-day living. If you look closer at the expression of beliefs within the world you can see that the vast majority of belief is based not on personal experience but on what a person is taught as well as what is seen as acceptable by the culture an individual grows up within.
Even science which is seen to be the most objective way of viewing phenomena can lead people to become stuck within their own belief systems, which are often based upon what one wants to see as truth and are driven by the desire to be seen as right. Science although capable of explaining the physical nature of phenomenon cannot truly answer the fundamental question of why something happens. For instance, we know through science that microorganisms can cause disease within our bodies. We know this we know through scientific investigation and experimentation. If we ask what the purpose of this disease is, we may answer from a scientific point of view by suggesting that the purpose is the survival of the microorganism which can then be connected to scientific understanding such as the theory of natural selection. These theories don’t answer the fundamental overarching question of why something exists, but rather answers questions of how things work in their present state of existence in the physical world. Even when trying to answer questions about life with the theory of evolution we hit stumbling blocks in answering the major question of “Why”- why evolution? why existence? We can theorize and discuss endlessly but none of the ideas or conclusions we may come up with can be said to be 100% truth rather they are theories of the truth or possibilities of what may be true.
a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained. ORIGIN – late 16th cent : via late Latin from Greek theōria ‘contemplation, speculation,’ – from theōros ‘spectator.’
A truly objective view of phenomena can only be brought about by experiencing that phenomena. Therefor beliefs in the modern era tend to act as obstacles to true knowledge because they close one off to the possibilities that exist outside of ones personal views and they therefore stop people from investigating those possibilities for themselves.
So many atrocities have been committed in the name of belief. Take the Nazi movement for example. One man convinced millions to believe the same thing he did without any real evidence that what he was proposing to be absolute truth was actually true. People may have followed him because the ideals he put forth made them feel valued or a part of something meaningful and for many they may have fitted in with their own personal belief systems which had been handed down to them. In this way we can see how belief can be used to play upon people’s desires and in doing this they are led astray into belief systems which are potentially harmful and do not truly answer deeper questions or give them any real experience of the truth. But what is truth?
What is Truth?
The definition of truth has been described as that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality. So then what can be said to be fact? What can be said to be reality?
If traditionally a Buddhist believes the truth about life after death is that we are reincarnated, a Christian believes the truth about life after death is that we are judged and either sent to heaven or to hell and an atheist says there is no existence after death, then how can you judge who is right? Who is telling “the truth”? How do they know their truth is the one overarching truth? How can they verify that what they believe is in fact truth? Do these beliefs have any basis in reality?
a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true
Experience of Reality
Reality has been defined as –
1. the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them
2. a thing that is actually experienced or seen
3. a thing that exists in fact, having previously only existed in one’s mind
Philosophically it has been described as existence that is absolute, self-sufficient, or objective, and not subject to human decisions or conventions. We can see then that the concept of what reality is, is what one can experience for oneself, void of ideas, beliefs and dogmas. Many people hold firmly to their beliefs and when these beliefs are questioned they often respond with the attitude of “I just know it’s true” or “I’ve been taught/told it is the truth by someone who knows it’s true”. Many people mix up the concept of ‘belief in something as truth’ and ‘knowledge of the truth’, yet there is a clear difference between the two of them. Reality is the experience of truth which is then transformed into knowledge of truth. So then how do we separate belief from true knowledge?
What is knowledge?
Philosophically knowledge is described as something that is a true justified belief or certain understanding, as opposed to an opinion. Although from an educational view-point knowledge is often seen as the accumulation of information and intellectual facts regarding a subject, we can see that with many of these subjects the mere accumulation of information does not necessarily equate to any true knowledge of the subject.
For instance a student may learn the theoretical side of chemistry through the study of books and by learning chemical equations but if they don’t take this theoretical knowledge and apply it to experimentation their knowledge of the subject is incomplete or can even be seen as invalid, since they have no practical experience regarding the subject and observing what they have learned to be true. This may seem like an extreme example but it is simply to illustrate the difference between understanding theory and observing actual phenomena. Without the practical application of the theoretical information, the student has no direct personal experience that what they have learned is true and has basis in reality.
If reality is the experience of something as fact where it had previously only existed as an idea of the mind, we can then say true knowledge can only come from ones experiences. What then can we experience to answer the fundamental questions about life?
Spirituality and the New Age
Spirituality in todays modern world is a term that covers a broad array of different ideas, beliefs, topics and systems of living. There are countless book, courses and Internet sites discussing the nature of reality, covering topics like multidimensional existence, mystical experiences, the nature of the human soul, other worldly sentient beings, spiritual masters, alternative forms of healing, metaphysical thought, methods of personal transformation and many other components of this general world view which come under the banner of new age spirituality.
Unfortunately much of this information has been used for the purpose of profit by playing on the interests of individuals seeking knowledge of the truth or a method of improving their lives through spirituality. Just as with religions, new age spirituality has the tendency to become another system of beliefs for an individual or something added upon them to their sense of identity and in this way it can also keep people from investigating the information they’ve gained by attempting to have direct experience. Much of this new age information has been sourced from ancient esoteric teachings practiced by mystics throughout the ages. Unfortunately much of it has become distorted and is used for personal gain whether that be material or for the sake of individual achievement. There are many spiritual modalities which have been taught throughout the history of the world but true esoteric teachings all contain the same essential thread of wisdom that is the knowledge of the path to enlightenment.
What is Esotericism?
Esotericism put simply, is the teaching of the path that has always been given according to the time, place and people it has been presented to. Hence it has continually changed over time as it has been passed on from teacher to student. It has therefore been shrouded in mystery and obscurity, which is partly due to the secret nature of the teachings, since in ancient times only those specifically selected were given the techniques to awaken into full consciousness.
All of what is explained here is simply information regarding life and the path to enlightenment, so the only way to consolidate this information into knowledge is by gaining experience and moving towards walking the path for yourself. In doing so, mystical experiences are gained which can slowly lead to a deeper understanding of the meaning of life.
Ultimately, no one can know anything for certain just by reading or wondering about the nature of reality, but by trying out techniques used by those who have walked this ancient path we are endeavoring to uncover the truth of life and of ourselves. In this way we are able to shed light onto some of those difficult questions which are asking how, who, why, what and where.