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Meaning Of LIfe

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In December, the Pure Land Buddhist Centre in Toowoomba (Queensland Australia) hosted a major conference seeking friendship amongst religions. Here are the slides from a talk that I delivered. I hope you like them. The text of the talk follows the slides.




On Seeking The Meaning of Life - Part 6 – Meaning Comes from Within

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Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” ― Joseph Campbell

The Meaning of Life comes from within oneself in what you do and what you try to achieve. Take stock of what harm you might inadvertently be doing and what good you are seeking to serve and how you hope to accomplish it. Believing is the necessary first step, but it is the doing that sets us apart.

Some people want to know the meaning first before they feel they can rise to act. But meaning is something we give to our actions. Meaning comes from doing. Regardless of whether we believe there is a higher power, or whether that power has a purpose for us in this life, no matter how weary one's soul feels, no matter how purposeless one may think one is, no one is too small or too insignificant to make a difference. The quality of the world is affected by all its peoples no matter where they live. Just the way even the tiniest flicker of a small flame throws light in a dark room, the simplest of acts add light to someone stuck in a dark corner. Whenever any one strives to make even the smallest effort to help someone be it a person or creature, or to make something better, they add value to the world.    

On Seeking The Meaning of Life - Part 5: What Meaning Do You Want To Give Your Life?

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Life is multi-dimensional and multi-layered – even as you discover meaning in one aspect; you are entering new territory and forging new paths in another and so you’re still at the surface. Life’s journey continues along this spiral path polishing the soul with each round of the merry-go-round.  

Ultimately, life’s meaning is what you choose to give it, wherever and whatever your background.
We begin life with a set of paradigms some inherited and implicit in our genes, others taught, learned, gathered, realised, unrealised, conscious and sub-conscious from our families, friends, neighbours, enemies and our environment. Our beliefs about ourselves, how we want to be, how we want our families and loved ones to see us, all play a role in how we develop and define the things we accept, reject, amend, adopt and choose.
We choose the things we believe we can never be as well as the things we don't want to be, even the things we sometimes succeed in avoiding or honestly accept as our own weaknesses. In this life we choose the things we want to uphold, our response to the roles we are called on to play and we choose which moulds to break. In our journey for the meaning of life – all of this will be challenged.
What meaning will you give your life as you meet these challenges?    

On Seeking The Meaning of Life – Part 4: From A Sufi Classic


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Sufi literature has many beautiful mystical works dedicated to describing the types of seekers, the different types of journeys and the quest for oneness with God and the meaning of life.

The Conference of the Bird by Farid Ud-Din Attar is one such classic which has attracted many commentators and derivative works over the years.

There are many insights to be gleaned from this wonderful poetic masterpiece.

b) The ‘Conference Of The Birds’ by Farid ud-din Attar

The book is an epic allegory of a seeker’s journey to God. Birds from many species gather to go in search of their ultimate great and mighty King – the Simurgh. The legendary Hoopoe acts as their leader advising them through the long and arduous journey through the seven valleys of search, love, understanding (mystic apprehension), independence (detachment), unity, bewilderment (astonishment), fulfilment in annihilation (total poverty and nothingness).

On Seeking the Meaning of Life – Part 3: The Nature of the Answer

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What kind of answer can you expect?

There are two great examples that best illustrate this point. The first is from the Upanishads which is one of the earliest Hindu philosophical texts. The second is from the twelfth century Sufi classic “The Conference of the Birds” by Farid ud-din Attar.  

a) Indra’s Experience - Learning About the Self – Chandogya Upanishad

The Upanishads are part of sacred Hindu texts. Historians have differing opinions about its age. Most agree that it predates Buddhism and parts of it are believed to be as old as the Vedas.
"The Self which is free from sin, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger, free from thirst, whose desires come true and whose thoughts come true—That it is which should be searched out, That it is which one should desire to understand. He who has known this Self from the scriptures and a teacher and understood It obtains all the worlds and all desires.” - Prajapati, Chandogya Upanishad
The Upanishads tells the tale of Indra (on behalf of the gods ) and Virochana (among the demons) who on hearing the above go to Prajapati himself to learn about the Self. (Pic left: Indra, the Hindu God of Rain with his consort.)
After performing the practice of brahmacharya for thirty two years, they ask Prajapati the meaning of his words.
Prajapati tell them that "The person that is seen in the eye—that is the Self." He further said: "This is immortal, fearless. This is Brahman." They asked:"Venerable Sir, he who is perceived in the water and he who is perceived in a mirror—which of these is he?" Prajapati replied: "The same one, indeed, is perceived in all these."
He asks them to look at themselves in the water and ask him further if there’s anything they don’t understand. They look in the water and see full clear reflections of themselves including their hair and nails. Prajapati further asks them to adorn themselves in their best and look at their reflections again. Prajapati said,

On Seeking The Meaning of Life – Part 2: Qualities To Develop

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Below is a well known verse from the Bible which is a source of encouragement for those still on the quest:     

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” 

Matthew 7: 7-8    

The gift of asking the universe and receiving an answer has been with us since ancient times. In the Upanishads and the Vedas from the Hindu traditions there are many verses on searching for the meaning of life. There are many clues about the qualities of what is being sought as well as the attributes that the traveller needs to develop. We look at some of these below:   

Comprehending the Incomprehensible:   

Firstly, in seeking to understand something bigger than oneself – we will only see parts of it and will never be able to understand the whole. The spiritual universe has many more dimensions than any one can ever properly imagine or perceive. The reality is that our senses are tuned to the three dimensional world in which we live.

On Seeking The Meaning of Life -Part 1: Why Bother?

A magpie ponders

I’m on a search for the meaning of life. What can you tell me about it?” my friend I’ve known since childhood asked me in her email.

The question got me really excited.

This is a big topic on which much has been written and much more will be written.

I sent her some rough notes mostly in bullet points to share my thoughts and we’ve continued our exploration via emails.

In recent weeks I’ve been asked this question again by a few people prompting me to write a more explanatory article.

For readability I’ve spread it over a number of posts:  

Part 1 – Why Bother?
Part 2 – Qualities to Develop
Part 3 – Nature of the Answer
Part 4 – From A Sufi Classic
Part 5 What Meaning Do You Want To Give Your Life ?
Part 6 – The Meaning Comes from Within     

 On Seeking The Meaning of Life - Part 1: Why Bother?

Each person is a unique consciousness. Life is a journey and the meaning of life comes from how each person chooses to traverse the contours of this journey. The answer is not linear and has many dimensions. One can look at it from many angles and arrange the pieces in many ways, discovering new facets each time.   

To begin with there's more than one aspect to the very phrase 'seeking the meaning of life'.
What is one really trying to understand more about?
One person could be looking for the reason for the existence of the universe with its various life forms, in particular the human life form. Another wants to learn about the relationship between one's own conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious self and how these relate to other consciousness in the universe. Still others want to know the reason for their trials and tribulations, their learnings, their unfulfilled desires compared with those of the seemingly successful and prosperous.
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