I have often thought about life: what it is, what its basic features are like, what governs its incessant movement and where it may be heading to and where I am in relation of all such elements and in particular whether I can detect any rules, any regularities in what I am thinking and what I am doing and in the process how I may discover the meaning of my life.
The Christians have found one model, which they claim has been revealed by God to his prophets. To them, everything is created by God: the sun, the moon, the stars, the night, the day, the earth, the ocean, all the trees and the plants, the birds in the air, the fishes in the water and the animals on land and finally human beings themselves. God has endowed us with a body and a soul and the purpose why he created all these is that he wishes to share with us his perfection. He is the embodiment of creativity acting through the internal dynamic of the inherent laws of motion of this everlastingly self-creative Godead. Our purpose in life is to co-operate with him and to join that feast of life that he has prepared for us because in thus displaying his own creativity, we are given a chance to participate in that creativity. God wants us as an exteral manfiestation of his own creativity. God wants to look at himself through his creatures. His creation is the self-manifestation of his absolute freedom as God. Therefore the acknowledgement of this eternally self-creating God and our freely given consent to participate in this great enterprise is in our highest interest. Our virtue thus consists in assisting God to accomplish and to realize this grand project of creation. God loves himself. It is part of his self-love that he creates something other than himself. He wishes to look at himself, through his own creation. The force which propels God to create is love. As his creature, we will thrive only if we too, follow the principle of God. That God-principle is the principle of love itself. Our virtue consist in living out that God-principle and our sin consists in departing from that principle. If we live according to the way God has taught us to live, we shall enter heaven. If we depart from that principle, we shall be cast into hell. Our life is therefore a journey from birth to earthly life, to earthy death and then resurrection or birth into another eternal life, in God. It is a linear model.
The Buddhists have a different world view. They think of the world and everything in it as the provisional result of the operation of certain causes and effect. How they came into being, no one knows. But we do know how the laws of cause and effect operate: they operate relentlessly and nobody and nothing is exempt from its operation. But ultimately everything is based on Emptiness: the stars, the sun, the moon, the plants and animals, human being. Everything that we see, hear, feel, touch, taste, smell and feel are transient and have no permanence. They will all pass away, sooner or later. They will never last for any substantial period of time and in that sense unreal. The Buddhists are concerned with understanding the causes of human suffering and of finding ways to live in such a way as to be above such sufferings, a state which they call nirvana. They can do so through different ways each according to the inherent tendencies of their own personality which themselves are the result or effect of the operation of prior causes. To them there are two basic methods, those of Theravada or the small vehicle and the Mahayana or the big vehicle the only difference between which is to that the latter will aim more at the salvation of other suffering souls and not just one's own suffering soul which they think are somehow constantly being re-cyled until those souls have attained nirvana when the cycle will grind to a halt for such souls. Our life is therefore a journey from one cycle of our spirit as embodied in another life as a human being or animal or plant etc to more of the same until we rise above it or escape from this cycle of endless suffering in greater or lesser degree. It is a spiral model.
Last night, I read another chapter of Moore's book Original Self in which he proposes a view very much like the one that I have discovered long ago in my own reflections: the Circle of Life. He says that life is a circle, a cycle and constantly turns around. This view is very different from that held by most people, who tend to think of life as constantly moving forward in a more or less straight line. They like going forward but don't feel good about going backwards. Moore's view is in fact also very much like the view of the alchemists, to whom life is a process of constant refinement of the same material, from one of lower purity to one of higher and higher purity. Even the shape of the beaker is a symbol of what they are doing: it is shaped like a patridge with its beak turned towards itself as if it were grooming its own feathers. This particular form of the beaker enables the materials to be constantly recycled. Moore's view is more akin to the view of the Chinese Taoists, who merely assume the existence of the Tao and its operation through the laws of Nature and does not purport to explain how that eternal Tao first came into existence. The Tao simply is. It is its own explanation: it is self-caused. Our task in life is therefore to recognize this eternally self-repeating cycle and to act in accordance with it, if we wish to have a "good" life. This is a circular model.
Moore sees manifested in himself all the peculiar fetishes, the strengths and weaknesses of the other members of his own family. His hands look like the hands of his father. His tendency towards introversion and his sensitivity resmble those of his mother. He also finds in himself the sense of humor of his grandfather and that patience and endless toleration of his uncle and his shyness about matters of sex are like the attitudes of his parents. And in his practice as a pyscho-therapist, he has encountered numerous men and women whose emotional life show a constant repetition of the same pattern of attraction, passionate love and then quarrels and break-ups with more or less the same type of people who cause them pain in the past. He feels that such people would do better to understand that such desires and conduct originate from their own basic nature rather than to try escaping from their own nature. Some people think that we do progress, not linearly but in spirals. Moore does not think so. He thinks that things constantly repeat themselves in circles and cycles rather like the seasons of the year: spring, summer, autumn, winter. He shares the German romantic poet Rainer Maria Rilke's view that life is a constantly expanding circle. To Moore, we ought to realize that certain things in our lives will constantly repeat themselves and that we may do better to accept them instead of trying to eliminate them. Our tasks is rather to learn about them and to turn them into sources of our own triumphs, celebration and glory. That way, we will know who we are, what our true nature may be. We do not "develop". We merely exist. The changes we experience are merely different phases of the operation of our own basic nature, our true "self". We must abandon the curse of our belief in radical transformation and development.
I share Moore's view. I find many people around me: my family, my friends, a few relatives, colleagues and acquaintances, coming to me with their problems, their complaints, their sighs, their cries of anger and pain. All of them seem to share one thing in common. They do not understand themselves. Hence their constant mistakes, their frustrations, their sufferings and their pains. They seldom sit down to reflect upon who they are and what they are and what is good for themselves and what is not. They merely live like sleepwalkers, buffeted by their desires, their needs, their fortunes without really knowing why they are the way they are and why they constantly repeat the same mistakes over and over again. They have disobeyed that ancient admonition over the portal of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the site for his oracles : Know thyself.