by Ashay Gupta
I have always had a liking for asking big questions to myself and wonder what the answers could be. When I was a kid, I often asked myself what could be beyond the universe and laughed at the irony of the question. In my 30’s, I am facing a big question again, something which seems to be more important than the entire universe – what to make of my life?
So far, I lived my life learning, thinking, making money and having fun at times. I have been driven to gather enough comfort around my life to avoid sufferings of economic hardship or loneliness and live happily ever after. However, the more I have become materially richer, the more I am realizing that money can make life more comfortable, but not necessarily happier.
So, what does make one happy? Some say it’s a life of meaning. Some say it’s meaningful relationships. It is also said by some that life has no meaning, other than what we give to it. However, nobody can say with certainty what is the truth. Could there be an absolute meaning to life? What about afterlife? Is there even such a thing called afterlife? Who knows? What to do in such a case of utter confusion?
Many more centuries will probably pass before answers to these questions may be answered with certainty and proof. It’s also possible that these questions may never be answered with certainty. After all, we are limited by what our human mind and body are capable of perceiving. Could you explain what red looks like to a blind man? How about explaining the smell of roses to a person who cannot smell?
It’s when I realized that these questions cannot be answered only with logic and thinking, that I turned towards spirituality for answers. Being a non-believer at the core, I was skeptical since there are no proofs for answers in spirituality and I have to just believe it. Still, I decided to give it a go. It’s probable that my perception enhances as time passes by and I can see some of those answers clearly. But till then, belief is all I will get to hold on to.
Like any other religion, Buddhism has answers to some of these questions. In the Hindu tradition, there is “Aatma”, a self which is immortal and it changes bodies like clothes. However, Buddhism talks about “Anatma” or a non-self. It says there is no self, it is just an illusion.
Whoa, that’s an interesting way to explain myself! ‘I am a nobody’. It sounded counter-intuitive to me, as I know everything as either me or not me. If I am nobody, then what am I? Is “me” just a biological construct for the heap of cells called body to function in a manner so that it can sustain and protect itself? But, even that heap of cells is not static, rather the cells keep dying and are replaced by new cells continuously. If so, am “I” created by the collection of all the cells that ever existed in my body and ever will? If so, I should go back to nothingness, as soon as body cells are dead, i.e. one dies.
But Buddhism says, it is not so. There is rebirth. However, the rebirth is not the rebirth of the same “Aatma” or soul, as there is no soul! Then, what is re-birth? Re-birth is initiation of another life from the essence of “this” life. It’s more like one flame lighting another flame. The other flame is not the same as the previous one, but it has certain characteristics which comes from the flame it was lit up with.
So, as long as “I” desire to survive, another “illusion” of self will be created after I die. But how? I have not yet found answers to that.
So, what’s the way out? To want not to survive? Well, that doesn’t help either, because if I do that, I still have that attachment to being or not being. It’s only when one realizes that one is not, that one can truly be alive.
So, how did “not being” materialize in the world? Well, if I am not, will I be angry? Anger arises, when I, my feelings or my ego, however you want to call it, is hurt. If there is none of those, there is no anger. What about hatred? Again, I am not there to hate. If I am not there, I cannot be sad as well, as whatever bad could’ve happened to me, didn’t happen, as I wasn’t there!
So, what about being happy? How will I be happy, if I am not there? It seems, I could experience bliss or joy even then. How? If one’s mind is clear of uncontrolled thoughts and emotions, one will remain blissful, regardless of external situations. Having loving kindness and compassion towards other sentient beings would help a lot, since if these characteristics are developed, most of the unpleasant thoughts will go away. By compassion, I mean an understanding that they are also trapped in the same “I” illusion, that all that they did to hurt somebody was due to this illusion. That if they all truly realize this fact, they wouldn’t hurt anybody. What about loving kindness? A feeling of love and pleasantness towards everybody, including ‘enemies’. If “I” have no-ill feeling towards anybody, it’ll further help “me” to get rid of the boosted sense of “I”, as the more the ego feels attacked from outside, the more it re-enforces itself.
Negative emotions such as fear, hate, anger etc. and the sense of self, re-inforce each other. The bigger ego I have, the more “I” may get hurt by a caustic remark from somebody. And the more I am angry, the more “I” want to do something to teach the “other person” a lesson.
Could this philosophy of Buddhism be another psychological construct, or rather de-construct, to make you believe certain doctrines? Logically, it’s probable. Then how do I go further than understanding and make myself believe in it? That’s where meditation comes in. Meditation’s role is to create calm inside our mind, so that we can reflect on such matters, experiment and seek answers within. It seems the answers to these questions could never be found looking into the universe, but rather inward, inside the micro-universe called the human body.
Happy looking everyone!
Read next: Meditation 101
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