The world is full of diversity, with different economies, cultures, races, familial obligations, but the one thing that makes us all humans is our constant need to make sense of the meaning of life. There are many ways in which people suffer around the world, but we all yearn for that moment of celebration, and ambition that will make the suffering worth it. For this, we look around us for the perfect way of living, and now with access to the world around us, we look to other cultures for ideas about living well.
To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.Robert Louis Stevenson, Familiar Studies of Men and Books
Each culture talks about life and the various ways in which we can make it worth it. Reading these texts can be of great help to us in understanding the ancient beliefs and applying them to our present modern lives. However, the problem comes when we take the cultural idea, pluck it from its original text and apply it carelessly without considering its meaning. It is important to take time to understand the ideas and inspiration from other cultures and interpret them in the context of our own lives to ensure that we excavate the wisdom we most need.
Meaning of Life
Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.
How often do you sit in solitude and ask yourself:
What is the meaning of life?
Why are we here?
What is life all about?
Well, these questions are not new, it has been haunting humans for ages and there have been various proposed answers from different cultural and ideological backgrounds.
Ancient Greek philosophy
The ancient Greek Philosophy had individual philosophers with different aspects to life:
Platonism: He said that the meaning of life is in attaining the highest form of knowledge, which is the Idea (Form) of the Good, from which all good and just things derive utility and value.
Stoicism: The meaning of life is “freedom from suffering” through apatheia (Gr: απαθεια), that is, being objective and having “clear judgment”, not indifference.
In Enlightenment philosophy, the meaning of life changed as well. It was focused less on humankind’s relationship to God and more on the relationship between individuals and their society.
Kantianism: This philosophy believes that all actions are performed in accordance with some underlying maxim or principle, and for actions to be ethical, they must adhere to the categorical imperative
Utilitarianism: The meaning of life as the “greatest happiness principle“.
Nihilism: It suggests that life is without objective meaning.
This era saw a lot of changes as modern science changed the relationship between human beings and the natural world.
Pragmatism: The practical, useful understanding of life is more important than searching for an impractical abstract truth about life
Theism: Humans find their meaning and purpose for life in God’s purpose in creating.
Existentialism: Each person creates the essence (meaning) of their life; life is not determined by a supernatural god or an earthly authority, one is free.
Hindu Philosophy: In Hinduism, the meaning or purpose of life is fourfold. Which is to achieve:
Dharma: To act virtuously and righteously
Artha: The pursuit of wealth and prosperity
Kama: Obtaining enjoyment from life
Islam: Humanity’s ultimate purpose is to worship their creator, Allah (English: The God), through his signs, and be grateful to him through sincere love and devotion.
Christianity: Life’s purpose in Christianity is to seek divine salvation through the grace of God and intercession of Christ
Buddhism: The Buddhist sūtras and tantras do not speak about “the meaning of life” or “the purpose of life”, but about the potential of human life to end suffering, for example through embracing (not suppressing or denying) cravings and conceptual attachments.
Aztec Philosophy: The ultimate meaning of life was to live in balance with nature and allow the continuation of the energy that gives rise to each generation.
Albert Einstein: Einstein replied to a letter from a woman about the meaning of life as ‘To create satisfaction for ourselves and for other people,” he also tells his son he believed in the “highest stage of consciousness as the highest ideal” and that mankind’s ability to think and create something from nothing is the greatest thing that we can do. He suggests that it’s this creation that will allow us to experience true happiness. He also stresses that it’s necessary to create not out of a desire to be remembered but for the love of the thing you are bringing into the world.
As is evident from the above description, with change in society, timings and the development of science life also saw a significant change in its meaning.
Meaning of Life today
Today too humans are busy looking for the meaning of life and various books have been written explaining wellness ideas and cultural concepts.
Wabi-Sabi: Japenese Wisdom For a Perfectly Imperfect Life
Wabi-sabi is an intuitive response to beauty that reflects the true nature of life – which is that everything is changing
Taken from the Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-sabi has its roots in zen. In modern times where we are looking for new ways to approach life’s challenges and seek the meaning of life beyond materialism, the timeless wisdom of wabi-sabi helps us see beauty in imperfection, and accept simplicity and the transient nature of all things.
My creative muse is wabi-sabi, a practice where inessentials are trimmed away or eliminated. The intersection where Wabi (minimal) and Sabi (functional) meet is the platform for my creativity: space and quiet solitude, simplicity
It is a refreshing take on the fast-paced world, which encourages you to be gentle with yourself and slow down and connect with nature. It focuses on simplifying life by honoring the rhythm of changing seasons and concentrating on what actually matters.
Wabi-Sabi encourages people to find more joy and inspiration by accepting and appreciating the little things in life that make this imperfect life perfect.
The book by Beth Kempton is a guide to applying these principles of wabi-sabi to find happiness by transforming every aspect of your life.
The book reads like a scroll, from top to bottom, and features a haiku and a Japanese verse on each spread, adorned with Young’s beautifully textured artwork.
Ikigai: The Japenese Secrets to a Long and Happy Life
While the world is figuring the meaning of life, the Japanese have practiced Ikigai, their “reason to live,” for centuries. We are all trapped in the never-ending need to do everything faster, better and harder, what we forget is that in our lifetime it is important to find your life’s purpose or Ikigai that helps you slow down and enjoy life more.
This is a practice that makes Japan part of the Blue Zones of the world where people live the longest.
Life is pure imperfection, as the philosophy of wabi-sabi teaches us, and the passage of time shows us that everything is fleeting, but if you have a clear sense of your Ikigai, each moment will hold so many possibilities that it will seem almost like an eternity.
The book talks about the 5 Blue Zones in the world where residents of these places live longer than average and the secrets of their long life.
By taking examples from these blue zones the book discusses the meaning of life. Some points that you can find in the book are finding flow in everything that you do and practicing the techniques like meditation, yoga, Surya Namaskara, Radio Taiso, Tai Chi etc.
The 10 rules of Ikigai
- Stay active; don’t retire.
- Take it slow.
- Don’t fill your stomach.
- Surround yourself with good friends.
- Get in shape for your next birthday.
- Reconnect with nature.
- Give thanks.
- Live in the moment.
- Follow your ikigai.
My secret to a long life is always saying to myself, ‘Slow down,’ and ‘Relax.’ You live much longer if you’re not in a hurry.
It is important to know that Life itself has no meaning, we, however, have the power to give meaning to our lives through our actions and words. Follow your dreams, stay kind to each other and live each moment of your lives, to know the true meaning of life.
Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.