Did you ever wonder about this question? Is it life’s MOST important question, do you think?
What is the Point of Life?
IS there a point to life at all?
If “yes,” what could possibly be the point of all this?
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 about every six-seconds over the course of our entire lifetime?
In the past, I thought I had the answer to the question – what is the point of life?
I decided in 1997 that there really was no good point to life and that the best way to go through life was 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 started this, or is the reason for this… this thing we call human life.
So, after reading a bit 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 enjoy, that bring us pleasure. Our minds attach to the idea of getting things – whether they be 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 so full of suffering and it does appear that we create most our own suffering through attachment to doing, being, and experiencing the positive and avoiding the negative things in life.
I can see plainly that life in general sucks. I’m not saying that I haven’t had in the past and don’t have regularly now some great experiences. I may have had more great experiences than anyone reading this article, and yet, overall – life is full of sucky experiences too.
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, 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. But we still try to make it happen.
So, we’re fighting a losing battle… all of us. That brings pain. That’s a fact, when looked at through this perspective.
I meditated for a year. I had the experiences that I read about. 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… and yet I was still able to function. The ego was gone for these periods. I was told by monks at forest wats (temples) here in Thailand that I was well on the way to the ultimate goal of the end of suffering.
But, as I sat today 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?
It’s cheating God or whatever set up mankind here like it is… It’s eliminating 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 – but still.
What’s the point of something like that state of mind?
I’ve not met anyone that was enlightened. I’ve asked monks and abbots of Buddhist temples here in Thailand. I’ve asked on major, worldwide internet forums if anyone knows someone they believe is enlightened. I found nobody.
I think the state exists and I think that I’ve tasted the flavor of it. I may have experienced exactly what enlightenment is all about for short periods… and you know what? So what.
What is the point of being enlightened and without pain? Because in that state, you are also without the exhilaration that comes when you are fully attached to the outcome of something – and you get it.
That feels great right? That’s living. Isn’t 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 these 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 to it in a negative way. 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 and 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 phenomenal. 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 and that I could have never dreamed was possible. It was bizarre, incredible, fantastic, and during it, there was no feeling of any of that – things just were as they were. Buddhadasa Bhikku, a highly respected forest monk 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 and you are experiencing the state in which 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… sure.
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 ‘Buddhist masters’ say that once you reach nibbana 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 nibbana 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 – full of attachment, exhilaration and disappointments, and then help others do the same?
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 I had such peace of mind and balance… equanimity the Buddhists call it… 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, bodyboard, snorkel, or anything. I didn’t “miss” those things while in the state, but still – is that how one’s whole LIFE should be?
The normal state of things here is that we do all those things that bring us at least temporary joy. We live for those things. We live for vacations. We live for our child’s first scream at birth or her graduation from school. We live for serene sunsets on a Hawaiian beach drinking mai tais.
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 the like.
And, those are just babies… what of those pre-teens, teens, and adults that are raped or tortured and killed? What of those who see loved ones die in the war or of other horrible circumstances? What of lost love? Lost hope? Lost friends? Failed marriages? Things that rip our hearts out… what is the point of these?
To me, there is really no one ultimate point of life. If there is a point, it must be beyond human understanding and hence, no point thinking about it.
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. And,
B.) There is no guidance for the world’s inhabitants as to what the point of life really is. So, ridiculously, it’s up to your own intellect… assuming you have an intellect. If you were unlucky enough to be born with a 60 IQ, then you probably wouldn’t have any ideas at all about what the point of life is – and so again, how serious could this life be if some of us – millions of us 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?
2. It’s OK to attach to some things.
There are some things that we attach to with our minds, and that we are actually able to get somewhat consistently. These are things that we should enjoy. They are to be enjoyed to counteract some of the suck!
For instance, I can really attach to food! I really can enjoy many different types of food when I’m “in the moment” and really tasting the food. It gives such an enjoyment 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 can be incredibly pleasing, but masturbation is sometimes even better because it’s there any time you want it, and you’re not likely to have a bad experience.
It’s OK to attach to simple things: a walk after work; playing a musical instrument; listening to your favorite CD; laying down for a nap after work… things that depend entirely on you that you can make happen frequently. Things that are simple to set up and that bring consistent pleasure… without leading to disappointment much are great to attach to and enjoy.
3. Everyone else’s life is sucking also.
In varying degrees, everyone you know has experiences that suck.
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 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 living.
4. Make yourself happy when you can.
Do something that you feel good doing. For me, this means something active usually. 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 doing it, that for me it’s like a religious experience. It’s like the best high that I can feel. But there are other things as well. I also like mountain biking, hiking, some easy climbing, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and running.
Is it wrong to enjoy these things? How can it be? If you’re a monk, are you enjoying these things? You’re not.
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 plan and do them. To me, that is attachment that works. If someday I can no longer kayak or climb or snorkel in Hawaii because of medical problems or lack of money – no worries, I’ll not attach to them anymore… I’ll find something else that I enjoy and that I can do consistently that enables me to feel happier than I would be 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. I have been so competitive throughout life. I ran, played soccer, played beach volleyball, competed in triathlons, played competitive racquetball, tennis, and so many more things that often
gave me a bad feeling about having competed in them 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 all 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 a $100,000 salary and you’re not there yet… modify 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 more likely be able to meet your goal.
C.) Love: If there’s one area of my own life that had to change it was here. 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 really sad!
I have yet to make a relationship “work” for a long, long time… but recently I’ve passed fourteen years with the most wonderful girl on the planet. So, who knows 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 ten 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 about $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 on end. We’ve walked or taken buses instead of using 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. 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, experience what they are experiencing… it might shock you at first until you realize you may need far less than you think you do.
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 mind’s 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 a pure experience. That’s a good thing. As I told you, bodyboarding in Hawaii (or anywhere) is my favorite activity ever. I am not thinking much as I ride the waves, I’m just DOING. In doing there can be a lot of pleasure in the present moment. So much!
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 every day and yet 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 dishes – 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.
I don’t think there is any need to prolong this life any longer than whatever we get.
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 as we agonize over the question – is THIS IT?
The fear of death is such a horrible idea 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 to it, or if this next death is the final one.
Do you fear deep sleep states where you cannot remember anything? Do you fear not waking up as you sleep? Of course not, there’s no awareness. We know nothing of death and yet billions before you 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 are you afraid of this universal state?
I like to look at it as a relief… as a goal even. This level ends and the next level is approaching.
What will it bring? It’s exciting to know. 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 in store for me in the future after death, so be it.
If there are only good times, so be it.
Who can argue with what happens after death?
There’s no point fearing it and yet after a certain point, there’s no reason to keep prolonging this silly life either.
The point of life for me is contained in the ideas mentioned above.
What you make out of your life, how you look at your life, what you think the POINT OF LIFE IS – are all up to you. Nobody can live your life as you will.
How will you live it then?
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?
What is the POINT of YOUR life? I even got so into the question that I wrote a short book about it. You can find it here at Amazon.
Best of luck and life to you as you travel through this bizarre state of existence we call ‘life’!
Originally published at my AimforAwesome.com website in 2007. I’ve since sold that website and edited this article considerably. ©2007 Vern Lovic.