What Is the Point of Life? — Yeah, YOU!
Did you ever wonder about this question? Is it life’s MOST important question?
IS there a point to life? If “yes,” what could it possibly be?
Is life a good thing to experience, or a horrible thing to endure?
Over the last five to six weeks I’ve been meditating again. Just sitting and focusing on the breath. You know, that thing that keeps us alive with an inhalation every six-seconds over the course of a lifetime?
In the past I thought I had the answer to the question — what is the point of life? Then, in 1997, I decided that there really was no good point to life and that the best way to go through life is to cheat God and go through it a different way than how everyone else was wired to go through it. After all — God, or something smarter than us — whether it’s the natural order of the cosmos, God, or aliens, something either started this, or is the reason for this… this thing we call human life.
Must have been 1998 when I began reading a bit about about Buddhism and the “goal” of Buddhism. I decided that I was going to reach what the Theravada Buddhists call, “Nibbana” or “Nirvana”.
Essentially “Nibbana” means, the end of suffering. Buddhists believe that our lives are filled with suffering because our minds are wired to attach to things that we like, and attach to the idea of getting things — whether they are positive or negative things. When we’ve attached with our minds to something that doesn’t happen or that we don’t get — we suffer.
I identified strongly with the Buddhist goal to end this life of suffering. I agree, this life appears to be full of suffering and it does appear that we create our own suffering through attachment to doing, being, experiencing positives and avoiding negative things in life.
I can see plainly that life generally sucks. I’m not saying that I don’t have great experiences. I may have had more great experiences than anyone reading this blog post, and yet, overall — life is full of sucky experiences we all have to push through. Sometimes people can push through and remain optimistic. Sometimes the bad experiences crush their hope of a better future.
We have so many instances of attachment to the way that we want events to go throughout the day, throughout our lives, that we are disappointed much more often than we are satisfied. That is the natural state of human beings. Maybe more so for Americans. We’re constantly trying to control all the variables in our lives and control more and more of what is going on. We are always trying to get more, do more, be more, see more, experience more, and control more.
It’s a lost battle more times than not.
How can we possibly get everything to go our way? How can we possibly even get a majority of events to go our way? Impossible — right?
So, we’re fighting a losing battle… all of us. That’s a fact if looked at through this perspective.
In 1998–1999 I meditated for about a year. I had the experiences I had read about in meditation books. My mind stopped and there was no thought. There was no “me”.
I experienced the levels of Jhana. I had incredible, fantastic, bizarre and surreal experiences that blew me away. I had hours in which my mind was stopped and where I did not react to things with emotion or with the ego.
I was still able to function, and yet the ego was gone. I was told by monks here in Thailand that I was well on the way to the ultimate goal of the end of suffering.
Today, as I sat on the top of a mountain here in Southern Thailand for a couple hours, I questioned again like I often do, whether there is really any point in reaching nirvana.
What is the POINT of that? I asked myself over and over.
It’s cheating God or whatever set up mankind here like it is, because nirvana frees us of all of our conditioning. It’s like a fresh slate. It eliminates the ego — that thing which all of mankind has to some degree… and the thing that is admittedly the cause of so much pain and suffering due to it’s affinity to attaching to outcomes of events.
What’s the point of something like that?
I’ve not met anyone who was enlightened. I’ve asked monks and abbots of Buddhist temples here in Thailand. I’ve asked on major internet forums if anyone knews someone they believed to be enlightened. I’ve found nobody.
I do think the state exists, and I think I’ve tasted the flavor of it. I may have experienced exactly what enlightenment is all about for short periods… and you know what?
What is the point of being enlightened and without pain? Along with losing the pain, you lose the positives too. With nirvana you are also deprived of the exhilaration which comes when you are fully attached to the outcome of something — and you get it.
Buddhism discounts these moments of joy as unimportant because they are not everlasting and the source of perpetual joy. I can’t seem to discount them. I feel like those moments are the moments that I want to experience. I’ve felt the equanimity — the balance that exists when a problem confronts “me” when there is no ego, and it’s nice to not react. It’s nice to watch the mind stay calm and be completely unaffected by that which would have been perceived as very negative when the ego was ripe with itself and fully present.
But, am I to live my entire life that way — balanced, non-reactive to negatives and positives, but existing in a state of peace and bliss where there are not only no lows, but, no highs either?
Don’t get me wrong… the experience of losing the ego is a phenomenal state of mind. I’ve experienced nothing like it ever. Jhana and experiencing a stopping of thought and a loss of the ego was the most unique experience that I’ve ever had. I could have never imagined it was possible.
It was bizarre, incredible, fantastic, and during it there was no feeling of any of that — things just were. Buddhadasa Bhikku, a forest monk from Chiaya province in Thailand, had a saying, “it is as it is” or, “just as it is” to describe the state of reality once you lose the ego. It’s a state where there can be no disappointment, because there is no attachment to anything.
It’s a wonderful state. It’s a painless state. It’s nice to have.
Is it worth it to keep meditating and have that state be with you permanently?
I don’t know. Today as I thought about it… no, it’s not worth it. The ‘masters’ say that once you reach nirvana, it’s a permanent change. It doesn’t revert and you suddenly have ego again one day. That’s it, ego is toast and you’re not going back.
Is it worth it to enter that state of nirvana just so you can help others enter it too? Is that the point of life — to reach nibbana and transcend life as we know it now — a life full of attachment, exhilaration and disappointments?
Do enlightened people surf? I don’t think so.
Who would know?
I know that when I was going through the process and experiencing the different levels of Jhana, and there was such a lovely peace of mind and balance, I had no desire to DO things. Nothing really. All desire was gone… No desire to play at the beach, explore a hiking trail, surf, snorkel, nothing. I didn’t “miss” those things while in the state, but still — is that how one’s whole LIFE should be?
It’s like cheating God by skipping the bad experiences here on earth.
I don’t know why humans are here. I don’t know if I’m here for any particular reason that is different from what every other human is here for. Is there a reason at all for why we are here — as a group or as individuals?
I’m not sure there is or isn’t. I’m not sure that something made us on purpose to exist and go through this silly life as we are. I don’t see a good point to it. I’ve tried. I can’t see it.
I’ve tried over and over and over to understand what possible good could be coming out of babies born without limbs, with life-threatening diseases, with AIDS, with any of myriad disabilities, diseases, deformities, and worse.
And those are just babies. What of people who are raped, or tortured and killed?
What of those who see loved ones die in war, or due to other horrible circumstances?
What of lost love? Lost hope? Lost friends? Failed marriages? Things that rip our hearts out?
What could be the point of all of these?
To me there is really no point, and if there is a point, it’s beyond human understanding and I don’t see any good reason to think about it much these days.
As far as I can see, the point of life for me is that:
1. It’s temporary.
It’s a temporary state of existence that is not to be taken all that seriously because it:
A.) Isn’t fair to all of us, some have a much better life than others — based on nothing more than luck of the draw as far as we can see.
B.) There is no guidance for the world’s inhabitants as to what the point of life really is… so, it’s up to your own intellect. You know, assuming you have much of an intellect. You probably take it for granted. If you were unlucky enough to be born with a 70 IQ, then you probably wouldn’t have any ideas at all about what the point of life is.
How serious could this life be if some of us — millions of people with mental disabilities — cannot think with a clear enough mind to come up with their own meaning to this life, or even care about a meaning of life?
2. It’s OK to attach to some things.
There are some outcomes that we attach to with our minds, which we are able to get with some frequency, some consistency. These are things that we should enjoy. They are to be enjoyed so they can help counteract some of the suck of life!
For instance, I can really attach to the idea of eating really good food. I enjoy immensely eating many different types of food as I’m “in the moment” and right there tasting every bit of the food, smelling it, sensing the heat in the steam of it. Tasting the many flavors all blending together — in pizza, for instance.
Food is so enjoyable in the present moment, that few things can compare. Well, maybe nothing can compare in my mind. Eating food might be the most enjoyable experience I can ever have consistently and almost as frequently as I choose.
Sex with another person can be incredibly satisfying, but one alternative, masturbation, is sometimes even better. Hard to beat the novelty of fantasies in your mind, or the spontaneity of it.
Simple things can be incredibly enjoyable. A walk after work. Playing a musical instrument. Listening to your favorite CD. Laying down for a short nap after work to help you wind-down.
These things don’t depend on external circumstances, you can make them happen as you wish. These are just a small sample of things which are simple to set up, and that bring consistent pleasure… without leading to much disappointment because little can go wrong.
3. Everyone else’s life is sucking also.
If I help lessen other people’s negative experience of life in some way, then I feel good about it. It’s a lasting feeling of good. I tend to think of it in a karma-ish way and I keep a running balance in my mind for the day of things I’m doing good for people or ways in which I’m hurting people or giving them a negative experience.
Even simple things like smiling at someone or giving a compliment, is giving someone a more positive experience of life than if you hadn’t. It feels good to me to make others happy and reduce the sucky experience inherent in day-to-day life.
4. Make yourself happy when you can.
Do something that makes you feel good. For me, this means something like running or surfing or bodyboarding. I love to bodyboard in the waves of Hawaii more than I like to breathe. I have so much intense fun on so many levels with this activity, that, for me it’s like a religious experience. The ultimate high! I also like mountain biking, hiking, some easy climbing, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and finding venomous snakes in Thailand’s rainforest.
I attach with my mind to the fun I have doing these things and it’s not hard to have fun doing them. It’s not that hard to line them up and do them. To me, that is attachment that works. If someday I can no longer kayak, climb, or snorkel in Hawaii because of medical problems or lack of money — no worries, I’ll just stop attaching to them with my mind and find something else that I enjoy and that I can do consistently that enables me to feel happier than I would experiencing life’s general suck.
5. Reduce attachment to things that are likely to give you dissatisfaction, or change something so they become more likely to happen.
A.) Competition: For me reducing competition was one thing that has had a very positive result in my life. In the past I have been ultra-competitive.
I ran, played soccer, played beach volleyball, competed in triathlons, played competitive racquetball, tennis, and so many more activities. Sometimes I had bad experiences about having competed in the sport at all.
Even if I won, I might feel like I didn’t play as well as I could have. I might feel like I didn’t try for certain points. I might think the other guy let me win. I might think that I was lucky to win and didn’t win based on my skills and strategy, thereby reducing the exhilaration of the win. I noticed that even though I won I never felt that good. What a horrible situation! I compete very little now and I’m much happier inside.
B.) Goals: If your goal for the past 10 years has been to make $100,000, and you’re not there yet… moderate your goal. If you want to go to Cancun Mexico for your vacation and that’s all you dream about, and you’re making $15,000 per year, either change your goal or change your lifestyle so you’ll LIKELY be able to meet your goal. Set yourself up for success.
C.) Love: If there’s one area of my own life that had to change it was this. Love. Love relationships are what cause me the most pain by far… more than everything else added together, easily. I attach to the outcome of so many little events in a relationship and if things don’t go the way I want them to, then I’m disappointed. I’m sad. If we break up, I’m devastated.
Up until I was 38 years old, I had yet to make a relationship “work” for a long, long time. The good news is that I recently passed twelve years with the most wonderful girl on the planet. So, you never know when it will happen. If I’d have quit trying to find “THE ONE” I would have missed this beautiful, awesome opportunity for the relationship I’m in now.
What other things are not worth attaching to because they frequently lead to disappointment?
6. Be happy with very little.
Living in Hawaii, and then Thailand for the past twelve years on very little money has shown me something that I couldn’t have learned if I had read it or even experienced the same thing in the USA.
I need very, very little as far as the comforts that I thought I needed before coming to Thailand.
As I write this I’m sitting on a fold-up cushion that serves as my bed, chair, theater seats (when we watch DVD movies on the notebook computer) and dinner table. I have no table. No chairs. No kitchen sink. No flush toilet. No air conditioning. No fan. I have no car. I have no bicycle. I have no refrigerator. I have no hot water. I have no TV. The most expensive asset I own is my notebook computer that is worth about $400 USD. The next most expensive thing I have is a mobile phone that was $45 USD. The next most expensive thing I have is a portable hard drive that stores my photos and videos that was also almost $45 USD. My girlfriend has a motorbike that cost $1500 USD almost 5 years ago. These are the major things we have. They are things that we’d rather not live without, but if we had to — we could live without any of them! We’ve slept on the hard tile floor for weeks at times. We’ve walked or taken buses instead of use the motorbike.
I think, if I were to return to Hawaii now after finding out how little I really need, I could live in a shared apartment with very little furniture or none — no TV, and have a bicycle to get to work and I’d be fine. Maybe I’d need to make about $20,000 USD salary. That’s a FAR cry from what I thought I needed before I left ($60K).
It takes the stress out of life to reduce what you think you “need.” Move to another country for a couple months if you can to experience how people there live. It might shock you at first, until you realize, wow, that’s all I need to survive too!
7. Enjoy being in the present moment.
When we play sports or when we’re doing just about anything physically we are “in the present moment.” We are just doing. We are experiencing without using the ego. We are not using the mind’s ideas of the future or the past. We’re not using thought. We’re using memory and physical reaction.
It’s as if we’re enjoying pure experience. That is a good thing. As I told you, bodyboarding in Hawaii (or anywhere) is my favorite activity that I can possibly do. I am not thinking much during it, I’m just DOING. In DOING there can be a lot of pleasure in the present moment. I mean a lot!
Extend this to things like driving, walking, and going about your day doing anything and you’ll notice that you have a much more enjoyable time. Washing dishes for instance… it’s something that most of us need to do everyday and most of us look at it as a chore, something we don’t WANT to do. We’re attached to the idea of not having to do them — but, realistically — there they are after every meal. If we do the dishes in the present moment and aren’t caught up in our egoistic thoughts of the future and what we are going to do after the dishes or what we think we could be doing instead of the dishes — we’re happier. If you’re happier you can give happiness to others more often. You can react to life’s challenges from a more balanced or centered point.
8. When life is over, it’s over.
No need to prolong this life any longer than we have here. Why prolong the misery? Why make the body live longer than it has a right to? Why force the mind to face death not once, but twice or more times? Why? The fear of death is such a horrible thing that most of us have. I believe that when death comes, it’s a release. And a relief.
Could the next level be worse than this one?
We haven’t the slightest idea if there is more, or this next death is the last such experience.
Do you fear deep sleep? It’s a state that you can’t remember what is going on consciously.
Do you fear not waking up as you sleep?
Of course not, there’s no awareness of that as a possibility. We know nothing of death and yet billions before us have experienced it. Are you afraid to know what billions of others, the old, the Christians, the Muslims, the Native Indians, the babies, the birds, the dogs and cats already know after death?
Why be afraid?
I like to look at it as a relief… as a goal. This level is over and the next level is up. What will it bring? It’s exciting to consider — isn’t it?
It could be anything. That is exciting to me… and not to be feared. I’ve had both great and horrible times here on earth… if there are more horrible times, so be it… if there are only good times, so be it… who can argue what happens after death? No point fearing… no point prolonging this silly life either.
The point of life for me are those things mentioned above.
What is the point of your life? Living “for God”? Living to make the best of it? Living to help others? He who dies with the most toys wins?