Meaning of Life

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Perhaps life has no meaning. This isn't as bleak as it sounds. As I understand it, if something has “meaning” it refers or points to something else other than itself. In other words, it is a symbol or a map but not the territory. The finger that points at the moon is not the moon. To follow my reasoning, the word “table” has meaning because it refers to a piece of furniture that is used for many purposes such as eating, writing, etc. But what does the table itself mean? It is what it is. The word “table” points to a piece of furniture, but the piece of furniture that is pointed to does not point to anything else. So the word “table” has meaning, but the table itself doesn't.

Sometimes I wonder if the existence of a table does point to something else. This is a common argument of some people who insist that the universe can't have just arisen by itself from nothing. So their argument goes that the existence of things created implies a Creator, and then they jump to the conclusion that the Creator is the God of the Christian Bible. In the real universe, there are no “things” at all. This is contrary to what many people may think if they suppose the universe is the sum total of all things. “Things” are categories of thought that arbitrarily describe bits of the universe, similar to the way that calculus measures a curve by treating it as a set of points. The universe is one great big happening, and any event implies all events.

What if the Hindu idea of the universe is the way it is? Every animal, plant, human, rock, or dust mote is the Self acting that part, playing hide and seek with itself for all eternity. In that case the “things” that exist are not necessarily “created” in the sense of being SEPARATE from the Creator, but instead ARE the Creator manifesting itself in all these various incarnations. So there may not be “things” in reality, and even if there are, that doesn't necessarily mean they were “created” in the sense that is normally understood, and even if they were, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Creator is the God of the Christian Bible.

Alan Watts described the Jewish and Christian mythology as the “ceramic model” of the universe because it uses the metaphor of a potter making pots out of clay. There is also the “dramatic model” of the Hindus where the universe is acted by the Self, and the “organic model” of the Chinese where the universe isn't seen as something that is made but as something that is alive. As I see it, each of these belief systems reflects the culture in which they were created, and they do not necessarily conflict with each other. The Blind Men and the Elephant is a famous nineteenth-century poem by John Godfrey Saxe that proposes an explanation for differing religious viewpoints.