Search For Meaning Of Existence


One of the basic questions which arises in, and perhaps bothers, the mind of every individual in some measure, is whether there is a meaning and purpose to life. Philosophers and seers since long have mulled over fundamental questions regarding our existence. Is our existence a random event in evolution or is there a greater principle in life with meaning and purpose? This inquiry has served as catalyst for evolution of ideas, philosophical and scientific quests, and a trigger for some of the greatest spiritual odysseys. “Is he less a hero who goes into the abyss of himself”, as Yeats put it poetically, referring to the path of introspection and Self-enquiry many embark on, a journey that is often long and lonely as it goes deep into the mind-emotion vortex. 

Is there an all-encompassing Over-mind or Absolute Spirit, wherein all concepts are unified? Is reality a complex matrix of rational concepts? Hegel’s dialectical method of reasoning allowed him to view the world from a teleological, purpose-driven perspective, in which the meaning of life is comprehended by looking at the larger picture. On the other hand, is an understanding of the structure of ‘consciousness’, as Husserl and phenomenology would have it, be the right key to gain insights into the mystery of the mind? Or is there no meaning at all, as Sartre and the existentialists were wont to point out, and are we “condemned” to be free to live out our lives? The Upanishads say, “neti, neti” — not this, not this — that the true meaning of life is that something which is beyond our intellectual grasp, as it perhaps lies in the stillness beyond the workings of the mind. Maybe one needs to go deep into oneself to experience the sat-chit-ananda or existence-consciousness-bliss of Self.

Is existence maya or illusion, as Shankara’s Advaita and Nagarjuna’s Shunyavada would have us believe; a vivarta, an unreal appearance only or, could there be a meaning to this phenomenal world? Suffering, whether personal or otherwise, is at times a catalyst to go beyond surface realities and attempt to understand the purpose of life. Viktor Frankl, out of his personal experiences as a Holocaust survivor, wrote that “ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather, recognise that it is he who is asked… each man is questioned by life; to life he can only respond by being responsible”. He goes on to say that one can try and discover a meaning in life by doing a deed, experiencing a value or by suffering.

It is often said that the road less traveled is the spiritual path, right next to the regular highway of life. By the very nature of its questioning and search, doubtless, the path of reflection is a difficult and arduous one. Prince Siddhartha took this path to search for meaning and purpose, which he found in the Buddha state of mind. There are no universal answers, but each time the question is raised, it throws up a different answer, unique to each individual. It is this enquiry, ‘Athato Brahmn Jignasa’ — now, therefore, the inquiry into Brahmn — from the first sutra of the Brahmn sutras, which is essential to be asked, for the search to begin, for a deeper and more enduring value. The philosophic quest is a call to that enquiry, and the answers may be as varied as nature itself.

~By Pranav Khullar

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  • Nice article; raises the spirit of inquiry. However, there are well established answers to these questions based on sound reasoning, and very modern works are available. Suggested reading: Six Causes and other books by Ashish Dalela. Regards