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What is the meaning of life?
We all know the meanings of the expressions
´life´ and ‘human life´ because we are good examples of both. We may not know
how it originated and how it works, but we do know that human life is the
biological wonder we go through: you feel yours, I feel mine. As different as
our experiences certainly are, you and I have the same idea of the 'meaning' of
However, if we take the word to a more
abstract level – what is the meaning of my life - the matter becomes
complicated, and by a lot. Every human – our remote ancestors, you and I – has
always been wondering about ever since when we acquired consciousness and decided to
sit down to mull over the much more difficult question: Why are we here?
In the search for answers, thinkers have
proposed many conjectures arising from the stubborn logic that we often apply.
In contrast, animals and plants, which do not reason, just live their life.
Whether they are enjoying or suffering the experience, we have not heard their
comments as yet.
Biologist Richard Dawkins argues that there is
no difference: The purpose of life of any alive being – plant, insect, vertebrate
or person – is to empower the body as a survival machine of the DNA molecular
chains in their never-ending multiplication process. Expressed with less
erudition, we are here to ensure the permanence of species. There is no
difference between the objective of our life and that of monarch butterflies,
blue whales or the palms of Cartago (Colombia); crudely spoken, human life has
no particular purpose or meaning.
Are there other less frustrating
interpretations? Leaving aside the religious approaches, the meaning of 'my'
existence cannot arise from rational analysis or the known laws of the
universe. If there was any theory that was different from the skeptical
interpretation of the English biologist, philosophers would have postulated it
by now or, alternatively, scientists would have already discovered it.
The direction of 'my' life is not revealed
with EEG or scanners, nor comes from assessments of 'out there' opportunities
versus my 'in here' skills. Nor do personality tests help and there are no
predefined destinations in astral charts or karmas to check with spiritual
teachers. For my earthly journey there are no instructions pointing the route
to follow. “There is no road, lonely wanderer, the road is made as you march”,
beautifully said Spanish poet Antonio Machado.
The map of our route comes about
spontaneously, from moment to moment, in the silence of the mind, while we
remain aware of life as it unfolds. When it is not so, among our conjectures
and our mental noises, we are invaded by all the conditionings (the mental
formations that the Buddha defines) – cravings and addictions, aversions and
phobias, uncompromising affiliations and discriminations – which have been planted
in our head by our culture and, worse still, that have been hard coded in us by
media and advertising. The 'meaning of life' resulting from such flaming
cocktail revolves around permanently hunting things (wealth, power, heavens,
knowledge, accomplishments...) or endlessly evading their opposites (poverty,
powerlessness, hells, ignorance, failures...)
How do we stop mental formations? How do we
silence our mind? Observing its motions... Earnestly, attentively, impartially,
as the Buddha teaches. When we ask a restless mind about its noises, it becomes
silent. (What are you thinking? Nothing…) Then we may become aware of the
breath, body, sensations... This, so easy and so cumbersome, is mindfulness,
which, with the continued practice of meditation, we can make it become a
habit, a way of living.The creativity of great novelists seems to
allow them to jump over ordinary logic because, when they get into the ‘head’
of their imaginary characters, perhaps they silence their own mental
formations, thus being able to recognize truths that our conditioned minds
commonly overlook. Defines American novelist Henry Miller: " The aim of
life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely,
When this crude lustful writer typed such a
mystic sentence (Tropic of Capricorn - 1939), mindfulness meditation, the wonderful tool
to strengthen our faculty of awareness that is so popular now, was unknown in the
West. Then concludes this columnist: If in a statement about the most complex
subject of our existence, the masterful Buddha and the controversial Henry
Miller, two figures that could not be more diverging, suggest a similar
approach, well… Around that common ground must walk the meaning of life.
Atlanta, April 2, 2015