You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.
The essential meaning of every religion is to answer the question “Why do I live, and what is my attitude to the limitless world that surrounds me?” There is not a single religion, from the most sophisticated to the most primitive, which does not have as its basis the definition of this attitude of a person to the world.
At the heart of all religions lies a single unifying truth. Let Persians bear their taovids, Jews wear their caps, Christians bear their cross, Muslims bear their sickle moon, but we have to remember these are all only outer signs. The general essence of all religions is love to your neighbor, and that this is requested by Manuf, Zoroaster, Buddha, Moses, Socrates, Jesus, Saint Paul, and Muhammad alike.
Ewald Flugel (1863-1914), a German pioneer of study of Old and Middle English Literature and Language
Dear all religious extremists, please reconsider this quote.
The human species has inhabited this planet for only 250,000 years or so-roughly.0015 percent of the history of life, the last inch of the cosmic mile. The world fared perfectly well without us for all but the last moment of earthly time–and this fact makes our appearance look more like an accidental afterthought than the culmination of a prefigured plan.
Moreover, the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable. Human evolution is not random; it makes sense and can be explained after the fact. But wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again–and you will never get humans a second time.
We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way. – Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), an American evolutionary scientist
Browse more for what cultural icons define about the meaning of life in Brain Pickings.
A letter Albert Einstein wrote in response to an existentialist question posed by one of his admirers. This also could be the reason why too much knowledge, in the long run, may end up becoming our own deadly Faustian pacts.
Source: Brain Pickings
Christmas, in an essay by Christopher Hitchens, despite his flaming atheism, is not ‘as simple, and dead-boring, as writing compulsory confessional drools to families and friends and listening to the same songs and music elsewhere’. The real meaning, he asserts, is much deeper than what people always perceive.
Warning: this might not be a suitable article for everyone.
Read the full article on Wall Street Journal.
In their already discrepant accounts of the miraculous birth, the four gospels give us no clue as to what time of year—or even what year—it is supposed to have taken place. And thus the iconography of Christmas is ridiculously mixed in with reindeer, holly, snow scenes and other phenomena peculiar to northern European myth. (Three words for those who want to put the Christ back in Christmas: Jingle Bell Rock.) There used to be an urban legend about a Japanese department store that tried too hard to symbolize the Christmas spirit, and to show itself accessible to Western visitors, by mounting a display of a Santa Claus figure nailed to a cross. Unfounded as it turned out, this wouldn’t have been off by much.
You would have to be religiously observant and austere yourself, then, to really seek a ban on Christmas. But it can be almost as objectionable to be made to take part in something as to be forbidden to do so. The reason for the success of the Lehrer song is that it so perfectly captures the sense of irritated, bored resignation that descends on so many of us at this time of year. By “this time of year,” I mean something that starts no later than Thanksgiving (and often sooner) and pervades the entire atmosphere until Dec. 25.
Collect the clothes, collect the shirts, collect the underpants, get them to the washing machine, dry them, iron them neatly, and fold them in your wardrobes, and this is what most of us (but quite a few bizarre exceptions may apply in this world) will end up doing for the rest of our lifetime.
Or take it to a broader scope. Imagine a scenario like these. Wake up, take a bath, grab a breakfast, chase a bus, get to work, 9 to 5, go back home, take another bath, have a dinner, complete your assignments, and go to sleep, or what have you, probably on weekends you are either going to focus solely on your family or on your own solitude, and again, this is also what most of us (unless you are going to be artists) will end up doing for the rest of our lifetime. Until we age, or perhaps until we get our coffins done.
Stop! One moment, probably driven by your existentialist mind-questioning riddles, you start, at one point, to feel a complete irrelevance, a striking absence of meaning manifested in life itself: what sounds utterly absurd, either that I continue with such mundane, inside-my-box, well-arranged pre-programmed life, or that I commence abruptly ending my daily life rituals, and adopt something most will never do?
Maybe at one point you start envisioning that you should get someone else to complete all your tasks, or to imagine that a scientist somewhere create a robot (say, a real-life Doraemon) that grants all your wishes and does all your jobs while you go on and enjoy your day, or even that you wish something else – whoever that being is – to finish what you have yet completed. But, as time goes by, you recognize the absurdity in your thoughts yourself, and as it goes deeper, deeper than Freudian icebergs, you also start to feel, again, the tastelessness of life, this time on a more abyssal level. You find yourself barely reconciled to the fact that all of us, no more than mundane creatures struggling to survive in such cold and indifferent universe, willingly or not, have been entitled to all these ‘obligations’: we can’t always get it completely done. That you once believe you could really solve all the world’s problems, but you won’t. That you think the world, one day, will end up in a happily-ever-after, merry-going state, but that is only what your mind wishes for. That you believe universe itself has been fine-tuned for life, but that is only what we personally conjure. Slowly, you are reconciled to the fact, that you can’t find the peace outside; it all must be sought inside.
Heather Havrilevsky wants to explain, beyond the mundane task of dirty laundry, literally and figuratively, the philosophy of life itself. Read the full article on Aeon Magazine.
Of course, back when you were single and untroubled by laundry, were you actually progressing steadily toward greatness? No. You were trying to decide whether to order the pastrami or the roast beef for lunch, or you were getting your hair highlighted while flipping impatiently through a heavy fashion magazine, or you were neurotically reviewing your drunken conversation with a guy you met the night before for clues as to whether or not he was interested.
But this is the strange gift that laundry brings to our lives. Its sheer mass, its magnitude, its ceaselessness make us aspire to greatness, even as such aspirations become less and less possible. When faced with such awesome power, we want to rise up, to harness the best within ourselves, to create something inspiring and wise! Why, then, must we spray stain remover on this little white smock instead? Why must our brilliant thoughts lie fallow, as we gather armfuls of laundry from hampers? One thing stands between you and the enviable career, the lasting legacy that you so richly deserve: dirty laundry.
Dirty laundry also prevents you from communing intimately with your spouse. Surely you’d be uncorking a nice bottle of red, pouring it into glasses, and having a gentle and rambling talk about your day, if not for the numbing, impenetrable nothingness of piles of clean laundry, those folded stacks crowding you on your own bed, rendering impulsive affectionate gestures or intimate touches an impossibility.
BONUS: Carl Sagan wants us to truly make the best of our lives after you read this excerpt here.
Death remains one of the universe’s most enigmatic mysteries ever happening to us. Death itself can penetrate an individual in a sluggish pattern, either from a disease or a debilitating physical and/or psychological abnormality, but at times it can also inconspicuously take place in an abrupt, either in an accident or a murder coming out of the blue.
Is death itself a disease? The most sophisticated medical advances today can barely answer that question. Is death absolutely inevitable? There have been numberless attempts to leapfrog the fate, and the solution itself is seemingly buried in mare’s nest. Is immortality the key to avert death? Thinking at it on a deeper level, we can infer that instead immortality brings us more liabilities than rewards.
Whether death itself should be explained or not is, in ethical context, out of the question; we ascertain the fact that only through the manifestation of death, we become aware of how we should accomplish our lives in proper manners. We fathom the intended purpose the death is presented to us: we should, despite all the hindrances and adversities, struggle for what life is meant for. We do not even know whether the life we are living is a mere stupefaction, until death wakes us up. We do not even know if there is going to be afterlife. We are only ‘reminded’ to live to our fullest extents.
In brief, the definition of death itself lies beyond our own Plato’s Caves.
A philosopher writes about how he struggled to come to terms to his father’s death, and how the death taught him about living a meaningful life. Read it on Aeon Magazine.
I have seen the full stop of death, closing the final chapter of a life, making it possible to stand back, look at the whole, and say that it was good. Of course, any life story is littered with mistakes, bad times and failures, as well as successes. But in the case of my father, and of some others I have known who have died in recent years, there has been some comfort in the knowledge that the overall story was a good one. Maybe there were some decent chapters that still might have been written, but there could equally have been a cruel twist or two in the tale that would have led to a less happy ending. For the protagonist, better a good short novel than a tragic epic.
There is nothing automatically soothing about this, of course. The reaper can, and often does, choose to type ‘The End’ after pages of misery, without bothering to bring any resolution. The last full stop that allows the ‘life well lived’ to be appreciated can also expose the life gone badly for all the horror that it was. That is just one reason why secular humanists should not overstate the extent to which a good, happy, moral life is possible without God. Of course it is. But bad and unhappy lives are also possible, and all too common. Philosophy provides little consolation for these, other than the knowledge that the pain is over.
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