Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Human Condition

To be more or less happy with one's self; to be in a contented state with with one's appearance; line of work; interpersonal relationships; personal integrity and character, is to, I think, achieve life's maxim. The age old philosophical question, "What is the meaning of life?" I think can best be answered by the achievement of such a state.

Biologically, we are machines for propagating our DNA, as Dr. Richard Dawkins so gloomily puts it. But this doesn't represent the human condition accurately. We are certainly more than just baby making machines. I for one, do not wish to propagate my DNA at all. So where does that leave me when looking at life's ultimate meaning?

There is I believe a strong subjective element when searching for life's meaning. One must find his or her own way towards purpose. I found mine a few years ago when I realized that my life long atheism was calling me into a life that advocates it, and its associated humanist causes beyond my immediate relationships. For others it might by the pursuit of athletic goals, or financial status. I think one's perceived purpose in life tells quite a lot about their inner character.

Now religions all have their say when it comes to life's meanings. Worshiping god and adjusting one's life according to certain doctrinal rules is how many religions view life's ultimate meaning and purpose. But I've never seen this as something personally appealing. I can fully understand how some people feel compelled to throw their lives into a particular religion, and how it gives them a sense of purpose and meaning. To me, my feelings of purpose in being an advocate for atheism is not something I was pressured or commanded to do. There is no central doctrine of non-believers to go preach atheism to the masses.

But what about the transcendent? It is that elusive state of consciousness that some claim the human experience is fulfilled through. Religions have tried to claim the copyrights to the transcendent experience, but the fact of the matter is that it can happen to anyone in sometimes the most secular of states. The fact that Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists and naturists alike, have all reported these experiences shows that it is a natural phenomenon that is perhaps a by product of a being that has achieved a certain cognitive capacity. Religions simply just tap into this existing human condition.

I must admit I am deeply intrigued by the transcendent. I have never had such an experience in my life to my knowledge. Although, not having had one, I might not know what it is that I haven't had. It has been described as the sensation of being at one with the universe, and transcending one's own physical body, and even one's mental limitations; to be free of ill will and pain, greed and desire. Such states by the Eastern religions have been called nirvana.

Being the atheist that I am, I am not particularly sympathetic to religions, whether Eastern or Middle Eastern in origin. But I will admit, that all religions have some good aspects in them. The Eastern faiths approach the transcendent through deep meditation and spiritual exercise. I don't agree with all of their stoic teachings, but their recognition of, and approach to, the transcendent, particularly the Buddhists, is I think a fabulous achievement for the human condition. The Buddha, or enlightened one, is worthy of respect in my book.

Buddhism answers the question on life's meaning as achieving happiness. It is more or less the same conditional state that I described above. But is happiness the purpose of life? Achieving happiness is a universal human desire. What that happiness is, is purely subjective to the individual. I cannot say for sure that I know it is so, but it seems that Buddhism is on to something here, if only on this one point. Such a universal desire, with no exceptions, must mean something. We all desire to be in pleasurable conditions. Even the masochist, who desires pain and discomfort, simply just has a different conception of happiness.

If happiness can be achieved through nirvana, and if the transcendent can uplift the conscious realm, and if these are all products unique among the human condition, then is the transcendent tantamount to the human condition? I am not prepared to say that the Buddhist idea of achieving enlightenment is the only path towards the transcendent or a deeper purpose; surely there must exist many ways. What I think I am trying to say, is that achieving the transcendent, or nirvana, however it may be done, could be the ultimate subjective meaning of life.

To be human is to be conscious; it is to reflect on one's self, and one's condition, and to reflect on the lives of other sentient beings. It is to bathe in awe at the mysterious; it is to laugh at irony, and cry at misery. It is to appreciate beauty, and cherish wisdom. The human condition is utimately achieved through experience.

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