Except from Twelve Resolutions for a Happy Life: A Manual of Happiness
”The snow falls, each flake in its appropriate place.”
– Zen saying
Why is it important to have faith in life, faith in the meaning and purpose of life, and most importantly, faith in oneself? If we are to trust life, it must have a meaning and hence we must have a purpose to fulfil in the grand scheme of the universe, each of us his or her own way and according to his or her own nature, abilities and aspirations. Otherwise, without meaning, all would be vain and nothing would have any value, not even life itself; and the world would become a huge graveyard of souls and an endless sea of heartache and despair.
From time immemorial, man has asked himself this ultimate existential question: ”does life have a meaning?” And, if so, what is it? If not, why do we bother to exist at all, given that everything is doomed to death and oblivion? Throughout the ages, man has sought to find a meaning in life – or, when he failed to do so, to give life a meaning – and he has striven to achieve the meaning which he has assigned to life. For life is only worth living when we bestow a meaning upon it, our own meaning, according to our own path, the deepest law of our nature, our life purpose and vocation, or what Hindus call Dharma.
Man is the evaluator: he creates symbols and gods, bestows value and meaning upon things and people, as well as upon life itself. Everything that man sees, hears, feels, becomes imbued with meaning. For man cannot live without a purpose; and where he does not find it, he invents it. His Horror Vacui (”fear of the void”) forbids him from living a meaningless life. Atheist philosophers even claim that this fear of the void is the very reason why man invented ”God,” not the other way around. The world should make sense for us to bear to live in it. Hence each one of us has a dream that keeps him alive and makes him get up every morning full of hope and aspiration, despite life’s many trials and tribulations.
However, when tragedy occurs, when there is death, loss, illness, war, violence, injustice, etc… life seems unfair, absurd and meaningless. More often than not, life seems to be a haphazard sequence of random events, blind matter in motion. Life’s absurdity – or rather, what we perceive as life’s absurdity (since we do not behold the bigger picture, being ourselves part of the picture) – leads us to question why bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. In these dark moments, when nothing seems to make sense, we doubt the existence of God and doubt that life has any meaning.
Despite that, most of us still act according to our conscience, guided by that inner voice which tells the good from the bad and the right from the wrong. And yet life does not seem to make sense anymore, in this world of greed, selfishness, and deceit. Thus we fall into disillusionment; we become nihilists and surrender to despair, cursing our dark fate, and even God himself. We lose faith in God and in life, and, most importantly, we lose faith in ourselves.
Is there a God? Is there a higher intelligence that governs our universe? Does life have a meaning and a purpose? And, if so, why does evil exist? Those who firmly affirm that life has a meaning, the religious types, tend to assign an outside meaning to life and hence they believe in an ”afterlife” which is nothing other than an escape from the suffering, woes and ills of the real world. These religious people fall into fatalism: they accept everything that happens to them in this life with resignation, without any resistance, waiting for a better life in the beyond, after the ”liberation” of death. Theirs is not a will to live but a will to die, as death is viewed as the ultimate liberation from an unworthy life of suffering. ”We will get salvation in the other life, the next life,” the religious people thus console themselves, ”now we should endure this life, for all is written.”
The other type, the other extreme, the sceptic atheists, the materialists, affirm on their part that life has no meaning and that the universe is just ”blind matter in motion.” Thus, when bad things happen, they tend to fall into nihilism, which preaches that ”all is vain,” that life is absurd, and that we are doomed to oblivion: ”from dust we are made and to dust we return,” these nihilists affirm. Consequently, they either become nihilistic, even suicidal, or indulge in hedonism, living life ”abundantly.” Life to them becomes a mere pursuit of pleasure and comfort devoid of any higher meaning. However, despite ”living life abundantly” (as they see it), these atheists remain empty inside, hollow shells with souls thirsting for a meaning, for a higher consciousness and self-realisation.
Both the religious and the atheists end up denying life, the former by inventing a ”beyond” as an escape from this life and a ”God” that is above life, forever unreachable and unknown, the latter by denying the higher meaning and dimension of life, and refusing to believe in the spiritual dimension of the material world or the ”God within.” The rest of us – whether realists or idealists – are caught and lost between these two extreme visions of life and, unwilling to kneel or to deny, we struggle through life trying to extract a meaning from its many riddles.
When tragic events occur and we are faced with what we perceive as life’s absurdity and meaninglessness (due to the flawed interpretations and erratic attitudes of both the religious and atheist types), we again ask ourselves the inevitable questions: ”does life have a meaning? Is there a God?” Yet even in the darkest moments, our will to live pushes us to refuse to give up on our built-in faith; we feel that beneath and behind all the suffering and injustice that characterise our world, still there is a reason why these things happen. We console ourselves by repeating the mantra that God’s will ”acts in mysterious ways,” although we honestly cannot understand why a ”God” would allow so much evil and suffering in this world.
Tragedy causes us to lose faith in life, and yet something, some hidden hope and longing, remains deep within our souls. Our faith is shaken but never totally stifled. That is because the religious feeling is inborn in man. Man has an intuitive affinity with the Divine, a natural propensity to trust and revere life. Even the atheist is merely in a state of denial, denial of his spiritual essence. The truth is that our souls all have a longing for unity with the Source, the Soul of the World, and our lives are a search for wholeness through self-realisation.
By intuition, against all odds and despite the many woes that we endure throughout our life, we feel the presence of a higher Force governing this universe of great beauty, order and harmony. Whether we call this force ”God” or Life or whatever name we choose, this force is also present in us. We are the meaning of life. We are God. We are agents of this superhuman force, co-creators, sons and daughters of Nature.
Thus the meaning of Life becomes intertwined with the meaning of our life. Those of us who adopt this attitude start believing that everything happens for a reason, that we are alive for a purpose and that life is just providing us – whether through challenges, disappointments, or even tragedies – with opportunities for spiritual growth and creative evolution. Indeed, the aim of life is not ”happiness” but endless creation and elevation which take place beyond good and evil, beyond joy and sorrow, even beyond life and death.
In contrast to the fatalists who believe that ”all is written” as well as the nihilists who affirm that ”all is vain,” the ”magical realists” – a new breed of idealists who believe in perfection in the here and now – believe that we are alive for a reason, that life has a meaning, but that this meaning is not to be sought outside but rather inside our very souls. We are here for a reason, and life is nothing but a series of opportunities – and tragedies are also opportunities for spiritual growth – which we either seize or ignore.
Therefore, when we realise that we alone are accountable for our own acts, we stop playing the victims of ”fate” and start taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions. No one else and nothing else is held accountable for our successes or failures, neither ”God” nor any other force but us. That heroic, Stoic attitude towards life is what Nietzsche called the ”great liberation.”
The Good, the True, the Beautiful, Love, Virtue, Justice… these are all manifestations of the divine Light, what Plato called ”Universals,” objective absolute values. But Light cannot exist without darkness; the Light needs darkness to be. Indeed, we live in a world of opposites, of duality; there are various facets to Being. There is diversity in unity, and unity in diversity. Therefore, God is both light and darkness, life and death, spirit taking form in matter, beyond good and evil. This duality, these dialectics which characterise the human world enable us to become conscious and complete human beings. Through the world of matter, the world of forms, our souls become self-conscious and self-fulfilled. Creation only takes place through dialectics, when Being and Becoming mix and merge.
Life does have a meaning, but that meaning is not outside life and outside man; that meaning is life itself in its totality, in its higher forms and manifestations. The meaning of life is creative evolution and eternal self-overcoming. This higher meaning is not to be sought outside life and outside ourselves, but here on earth and within the depths of our souls. Our life bears the meaning we give it. Each one of us has his own meaning and his own purpose, his own path and his own destiny, according to his own potential and abilities. And yet like the notes of a symphony, we all participate in that cosmic orchestra that is eternal creation.
Life is God, God is Life: this is my pantheistic vision of the universe which, unlike the religious vision, does not separate God from his own creation. There is a ”God,” but God is not outside or above Life. The creator and the creation are one. God is the conscious universe, a living organism; God lives in us and through us, He breathes and thinks through us. Therefore, we must live life in its totality, we must live all the seasons and cycles of existence. Thus we participate in the dance of the universe and sing its celestial melody as sons and daughters of Life.
We should think of ourselves as co-creators connected to the higher Force that moves the worlds. Only thus do we participate in and contribute to life’s evolution. We are agents of change and of evolution, but we can also be agents of destruction and decay if we do not serve life and ennoble and elevate it. The power is within us; how we use it depends on the path that we have chosen for ourselves.
The law of life is evolution; its aim is elevation; its end is eternal creation. Evolution happens in cycles and spirals of birth and rebirth; death is but a prelude for rebirth. We are agents of the divine creative force which pervades and moves the universe. Our purpose on this earth is to fully live our individuality and to awaken to our higher self and fulfil our divine destiny, which is none other than becoming gods ourselves, ”perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.” Our purpose is to fully live our freedom as independent entities whilst being conscious parts of the Whole, microcosms that reflect the timeless, infinite Macrocosm.
In fact, it is the Spirit of the Earth – Gaïa – which is becoming self-conscious and self-fulfilled through us, its parts. Therefore, we should live life in its totality, for ”all is for the best in the best of possible worlds,” as Leibniz wrote. The world makes perfect sense, and we only realise that when we tune into its universal frequency and forget our individual worries and concerns. We achieve that ”transcendence in immanence” by becoming the higher, better version of ourselves, by developing all the human virtues which are also divine virtues.
”How wonderful! How wonderful! All things are perfect, exactly as they are,” said the divine Buddha: The world makes perfect sense, for there is order, purpose and harmony in life. Therefore, despite evil, chaos, violence, injustice, illness, sorrow, loss, and all the woes that plague existence down under, still, we should maintain our faith in life, because everything happens for a reason in the grand scheme of the universe and serves to awaken and elevate us. Indeed, our purpose in life is to become conscious of our inherent divinity and to evolve into gods. Therefore, we should relish the blessings of life and endure its tragedies, for creation and elevation take place beyond good and evil.
”God gave me nothing I wanted, He gave me everything I needed” said the great Hindu master Swami Vivekananda, who introduced Hinduism to the West. Whatever happens, we should have faith in Life, for Life gives us what we need, not what we want; for what is best for us, for our spiritual evolution, is not necessarily what we desire for ourselves but what life’s higher destiny has in store for us.
We should therefore strive to give meaning to our life, for our life is a blank page upon which we write our own destiny. What we reap is what we’ve sown throughout our life. We write our own story on the pages of history, on the Book of Life, and that story itself determines our fate and our future, whether in this life or – for those of us who believe in reincarnation – in the next. The past determines the present, the present determines the future. Thus evolution is endless creation.
Nature revolves in endless cycles of birth and rebirth; and, as we are the sons of nature, our eternal souls, which are the life force that moves us, take on different forms throughout their incarnations. This is what the Hindus and Buddhists call the Law of Karma. We are ruled by this law, as karma is the fruit of our own free will, thoughts and actions; we determine our own karma throughout the ages.
Therefore, there is no accountability; no one but us is responsible for our present situation. There is a higher wisdom behind events which we ourselves have created; these events are symbols of our inner life. The significant people whom we meet and the meaningful events that we live are all reflections and symbols of our inner evolution, our soul’s evolution across the ages.
And so we create our own destiny through our free will and through what C.G. Jung called our ”personal myth.” Our present life is the consequence of our karma, our deeds in a past life and in this life. We created our own circumstances throughout the incarnations and we continue to create our present and our future. We keep recreating ourselves forever anew.
That is why we should trust life, for we have made events happen, we create the future every minute of every day, through our thoughts and our deeds. It is all a question of will. Karma is ”divine” justice that we ourselves create: we have the free will to decide whether we evolve or go backwards, whether we do good deeds or evil ones, whether we elevate life or degrade it. We have a divine gift: the blessing of free will. No one and nothing else is accountable for what befalls us. It is neither ”God’s will” nor random and arbitrary chance. Our will creates our destiny.
Life is but a mirror of our souls; it reflects what it sees. The seeds we sow are the fruits we reap. Life will give us back what we give it. By serving and elevating life, it serves and elevates us; by denying it, it denies us. Therefore, we should have faith in ourselves before we can have faith in life. ”You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself,” said Swami Vivekananda. We have created our own circumstances, our own life, its sorrows and joys, its successes and failures. It is up to us to change it for the better or for the worse.
‘The Lord acts in mysterious ways,” the saying goes (yet the ”Lord” is none other than Karma. We are God). Only by looking at the bigger picture can we understand the wisdom behind every event – good or bad – that befalls us. There are lessons to be learned in everything that happens to us. In fact, something that may seem bad has meaning, serves to turn us into better persons, serves to awaken us. In the world of opposites, the light needs its shadow to be. ”Every cloud has a silver lining”; It is all a question of perspective and attitude: whether we look at the cloud or at the silver lining, whether we act or submit.
My formula for finding inner peace and happiness:
”TO MAN BELONGS THE WILL, AND TO GOD BELONGS THE WAY.”