Have we, as Westerners, placed too much emphasis on the idea of meaning? We’re always asking, What is the meaning of life? Perhaps this is not really the correct question to be asking. Inquiring into the meaning of life seems, in this day and time, to be an exercise in futility. I question whether this practice was ever a fruitful endeavor.
Meaning in life infers that there is a goal to be attained. You start out your life here, and, if you do the “correct” things, such as go to school, go to church, marry someone you supposedly love, get a great career going, have a few kids, and then end up with a boat-load of money when you’re sixty-five. And then you float up to heaven when you die (What do you do for eternity when you get there?). Is that it? These things sound great, but aren’t these really what the ego desires? I contend that it is the ego that requires a meaning, a signification in life. If we were not living in the clutches of egocentricity, we would not even think to bother with such trivial questions.
We have adopted the way of the god, Hercules, at the expense of all others. He is the archetypal hero. In his twelth labor, Hercules did not journey to Hades to learn from death and the underworld, as he should have, but with intense aggression, he drew his sword, wounded Hades, slaughtered cattle, wrestled herdsmen, and choked and chained Cerberus. We view our so-called heroes in the light of Hercules’ victories. Hercules is the heroic ego of Western culture. The hero of today is consumed with ego, as in those who think of nothing but money, power, and success. Most of all, they desire to conquer death, as in Christianity.
One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha’s gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower. . . . To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled. That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.
–Thich Nhat Hanh
The quest for meaning is an ego-trip, nothing more. The ego cannot accept that life simply is. We should simply live, for life is poetic, musical, colorful. Life is it’s own meaning. So, stop searching and just live it! Stop climbing the ladder, stop running the race! Live! Smile!
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