Meaning : Of Life

In the book ‘The Meaning of Life’ by Terry Eagleton is this passage – “… we are in something like the situation of the narrator of Henry James’ story ‘The Figure in the Carpet’, who is told by a celebrated author he admires that there is a concealed design in his work, one implicit in every image and turn of phrase. But the author dies before the baffled, frantically curious narrator can discover what it is. Perhaps the author was having him on. Or maybe he thought there was such a design in his work, but there wasn’t. Or perhaps the narrator is somehow seeing the design all along without grasping the fact that he has grasped it. Or maybe any design he himself manages to construct will do.”

Often, we intentionally, or even accidentally see patterns in things that were unintended (as in something undesigned specifically) in the first place. Such as how clouds seem to resemble something on the mind – while they will never resemble anything we have not seen before! The clouds themselves intended no meaning, but the mind that sees them concieves meaning. The ‘design’ is self-chosen. This itself is the recurring pattern of seeing patterns… which are only as ‘meaningful’ as we make them out to be… even if in a somewhat deluded way – which might not be genuinely helpful at all in helping us advance towards wisdom that leads to True Happiness. The meaningfulness of something, including life (and death) is self-created and self-contained, and that’s all there is to it practically. As we see so, it affects us so – for better or worse. Life and the universe is open-ended in the infinite forms of meaning you wish to see and focus upon.

The Buddhadharma guides us to see the greatest depths of meaningfulness into the nature of life and death as possible – based on the Bodhicitta aspiration, which is spiritual altruism that leads one and all towards the True Happiness that is supreme enlightenment – Buddhahood. As Sartre would sum up the case of ‘The Figure in the Carpet’ in terms of existentialism, ‘Existence [of things] precedes essence [of meaning in these things]’. But in the Buddhist perspective, the duo can be cyclic too, such that the conceived and clung essence spurs existence to further evolve in certain (karmically-related) ways. When we are stuck with unskilful ‘essences’ of meaning, we are reborn cyclically into suffering. Giving rise to Bodhicitta is the ultimate and thus most skilful way to break free of this samsaric cycle.

(By the way, I’m not sure if I want to finish reading the library book above – because its index does not list ‘Buddha’ or ‘Buddhism’ at all. In that sense, how comprehensive can the book be on introducing various religious and philosophical outlooks on ‘the meaning of life’ when it misses out on such an influential teaching by such an influential teacher? In the mean time, I have so many more interesting Buddhist books to read! It’s good to open my mind to learn more about other perspectives though, but life is also short… Hmmm…)

4 thoughts on “Meaning : Of Life

  1. I have been looking for the answer of something, I tried few Buddhist Books, and it didn’t answer or solve my queries for many years. It was only later that I read a “psychology” book that explain and answer most of my doubts. Now with the understanding, it is much easier …

    Buddha is a great Teacher and has many great teachings which are very practical too. That’s why we are looking into it for answers. I don’t think it can answer all problems but it acts as a good guide.

    Sometime, it is just too high level, it is easy to say but how …? For people like me, I need things to be simple to understand and straight forward direction. Asking me to do something where I can’t even see the light, how am I going to do it and what am I doing?

  2. Hi Crystal,
    Maybe you could share in more details what is that something/direction/experience/queries you are looking for answers to. Maybe what you have pondered are what some readers had gone thru or are going thru and we can all discuss and help each other grow together? Sometimes, by sharing exeprience/sentiments, we all learn together.
    (当局者迷, 旁观者清?) 🙂

  3. Because some of the traditional teachings seem too ‘high level’, we need contemporary teachers to explain them in simplified and modern contexts. Some practices require some faith in the Dharma, while some practices themselves help to nurture faith.

    So far, Buddhism answered all my important existential questions, which is why I’m so eager to share its teachings. (And er… I ask MANY questions – more than most fellow Buddhists I know – some of whom even say I think too much, which I disagree!) Recently, I hosted a 2-hour session at Awareness Place where I did nothing other than answer any questions from the audience. It was a fun interactive session.

    Please feel free to email me any queries on Buddhism at moonpointer[at] I might not be able to answer all questions, but I can try to find someone who can. Or as Faith suggested, you can ask here too. Feel free to use another name for privacy if preferred! 😉

  4. Thank you, noted 🙂

    I notice something, not sure whether others have the same encounters, if you really sincerely seek Buddha or Bodhisattva’s help on the right thing, and they will guide you indirectly and you will be able to find answers in things around you … sometime quite fast, sometime not so soon (maybe there is a reason behind and then you get to understand deeper and more … ) …

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