05 January 2007

Spirituality

Recently I had an email discussion with a friend on spirituality. Today's post is a mail I sent to him.

The search for Truth is highly personal and subjective. Every man must follow his own path. For whatever it is worth, I'll put down my own beliefs/opinions here. So that you know where I stand.

First and foremost, I am not a spiritual person. What is spirituality? Indian philosophy teaches us that only the body dies at death. The soul does not die; it takes up another body. Thus we take birth and die repeatedly. Do I agree with this? I don't know. We cannot prove it, and we cannot disprove it either. But I am willing to grant this theory the benefit of doubt. Science has not yet been able to crack the mystery of consciousness.

Indian philosophy further says that this phenomenon of being born and dying repeatedly is a bad thing, because life is full of suffering and/or the world is unreal (maya). Hence the goal of life is to attain freedom (mukti/moksha) from the cycle of births and deaths (samsara). This is the cornerstone of Indian spirituality. (Even the so-called heterodox schools like Buddhism and Jainism hold this belief. The only exception was the Charvaka, which took an extremely materialist view - perhaps to compensate for the extreme spirituality of mainstream Indian philosophy) Anyway, this is where I disagree.

I don't agree that life is full of suffering. Suffering is a part of life, but that should not make us run away from it. Especially when we cannot be certain of a better alternative (more on this later). And I don't believe that the world is unreal. Here I have to state my assumptions, so that you know where I'm coming from.

I have decided to believe only what I can see with my two eyes, what agrees with my reasoning, and (this is most important) what makes sense in the light of my experience. I have decided to limit myself to what I can know for certain, instead of making theories about things I cannot know for sure. This kind of attitude means you'll have a very small set of beliefs, but so be it. Better a hut built on rock, than a palace built on sand.

So what are the consequences of having such an attitude? Let us consider some common questions.
1) Is there a God? I don't know. The existence of God cannot be proved; it cannot be disproved either. I choose to believe in God. Why? Because it makes life easier.
2) Is there a soul? As I said earlier, I am neutral on this.

Back to our discussion. Is this world real? I don't know, but I will live my life assuming it is, unless something happens that convinces me otherwise. Here is what I DO know for sure: we are born, we die, and in between, we are alive for some time. So the question before us is not 'What is the Ultimate Truth?' (which is irrelevant for our everyday life), but 'How should we live?'.

So I don't agree that the goal of life is to attain freedom from the cycle of births and deaths. At least, I am not going to live my life trying to ensure that I am not born again. Even if we are born again and again, what does it matter? For all practical purposes every life is our first life, since we have no memory of our previous lives.

Then what do I think is the purpose of life? Simple: the purpose of life is to live. Life consists of both good and bad, happiness and sorrow, victories and defeats. One should experience life in all its fullness, in all its variety. One should know what it means to be born as a human being and what it means to live as one, before he dies.

Am I losing anything by having such a worldly view of life? Maybe. But I choose to put my eggs in a basket I can see (however imperfect it is), instead of in a basket that I am not sure exists (however perfect it is). Once upon a time I was also spiritual and other-worldly. But when real life hit me, philosophy went out of the window.

8 comments:

kiran said...

Nice to see your thoughts...

...."I don't agree that life is full of suffering"
Do you consider participating (to whatever extent) in another's suffering as suffering?

Psomax said...

Yes, I do. If you participate in another's suffering, then that suffering becomes your own.

Anonymous said...

Rocks man.. Thought I would add a couple of ideas IMHO..

The purpose of life? I doubt if there any real overarching purpose.. one could say procreation might be the closest purpose if there ever was one..

What is spirituality? it is a crutch in the form of a systematic set of thoughts that helps us put our own minds at ease when things disturb us.. Spirituality is all about making peace with oneself, without changing any circumstance outside of us..

Anonymous said...

That was me, Kaddi

Psomax said...

"procreation might be the closest purpose"

An evolutionary biologist would certainly agree :-)

Psomax said...

"put our own minds at ease... all about making peace with oneself..."

Eh? Whatever happened to finding the Truth? ;-)

Anonymous said...

When one realizes there is no truth to be found, spirituality helps us reconstruct the truth and the life.. ;)

Kaddi

Psomax said...

"there is no truth to be found"

Oops! Most people who call themselves 'spiritual' would not agree with this :-)