The Meaning of Life

Last night the meditation group we had our last session with our visiting monk, Venerable Sangpo, before we go up to Nottingham and he opened up by asking us what the meaning of life was. ‘So you are starting with the easy questions’ chuckled a visitor to the group.

I remember reading Thomas Nagle’s The View from Nowhere with astonishment as he demonstrated that life is meaningless. I listened equally atonished last night as Sangpo showed how to make it meaningful.

He talked about how motivation is essential to living a meaningful life—by investing each of you actions with meaning your life become meaningful. Now it is not a case of just imposing whatever meaning takes your fancy, reality has to come into it. As we are trying to establish meaning, a subjective quality, we are looking for a subjective reality, and that is our desire for happiness. Of course all our happiness is interdependent according to Buddhism so we may as well say that the key is to establish happiness, and this is the motivation we should bring to all of our actions.

The bigger and the more universal the better–we want to establish perfect universal happiness, the Bodhisattva motivation. If we can find a way of perfecting this motivation in all we do then life will become perfectly meaningful.

(Warning I have mangled venerable Sangpo’s presentation for this posting. I take full responsibility for all the incoherence.)

If you start with a ‘view from nowhere’ where the mind has no reality then it ought not to be surprising that life should end up meaningless.

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2 responses to “The Meaning of Life

  1. There are two separate questions: what is the meaning of life, and what meaning do I give to life. The first is the province of religion and philosophy, and the best answer is “I don’t know”. The second is the province of the individual, and must be answered. Luckily the answer to the second does not depend on an answer to the first.

    My Master Sangpo on the question of meaning is Victor Frankl.

  2. i certainly agree that the answer to the second doesn’t depend upon the first–that you you need to answer the philosophical question of what is the meaning of life in order to live life meaningfully.

    I was struck by the force of Nagle’s arguments, and that force remains with me. That by running with essentially materialistic you can demonstrate that life is meaningless. In a sense this makes complete sense because meaning is essentially non-material, is ideal. Scrub out the mind–as modern science does to get at physical causation, and then adopt that as a philosophy, and the world becomes a meaningless place. Indeed this is the the thing that gets so trumpeted by those that think of the world in almost exclusively scientific terms–that the great discovery by Kepler and Galileo was that the wold is essentially meaningless. I think seeing the force of Nagle’s arguments helps alot here.

    Now I have to say that for the most part Ven Sangpo’s talk was a very standard Buddhsist discourse (which is actually a complementary thing to say). The part that struck me was the way he started it, by asking what is the meaning of life, and then went on to explain the importance of bringing a positive motivation to everything you do, based on expanding the happiness of the world, as that is what we all wish–we need to be realistic.

    So, the point he was making is that the meaning of life is something that you can realise in the way you approach everything. If you btake yourself out of it, and then look at the world–the view from nowhere–and try and find the meaning of life you can’t find it. It is only by making life meaningful that you can realise the meaning of life. Its a little like the difference between classical physics and quantum physics. You can’t meaningfully eliminate the observer/agent from the system.

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