Buddhism and meaning of life
What it means to be a human is a tricky question to answer for an individual. It is tricky because if you go to search an answer in the available literature e.g. our course content, there are diverse meanings to the question. On the other hand if one tries to answer the question for one’s self, the universality is lost in the arguments because each person might have a unique answer to the question. For this assignment I have chosen to follow the teachings of Buddha to try and argue the fundamental question of what it means to be a human and what is our purpose in this world? As I studied through the teachings of Buddhism, I focused to get a grasp on the answer to the question in discussion. In my opinion, Buddhism focuses on achieving enlightenment for individuals is a society which could result in a harmonious social setup. Buddhism is viewed by some as a rejection of the “self” as an individual entity. In my opinion according to Buddhism, “Being a human means to be able to understand that life is suffering and the cause of suffering is the attachment to other worldly things. As humans, we should strive to overcome these attachments.”
The central idea behind the idea of life being suffering is not that there is no joy in the life, but to understand that when one moves up a spiritual path, the attachment to the outer world is weakened and an inward attachment is built. This inward attachment would meant that the humans are more interested in attaining a “power of being in ourselves”. It is impossible to be able to develop a self where there is a full command on the “power of being in itself” but we can go on this journey. This journey would mean that we are chasing an impossible dream and the interest in the other joys of the world would seem very little to us. This phenomenon could well result in a feeling of suffering and being empty from inside. But as a person develops spiritually, some of the answers to the ultimate questions of being a human are found and it brings a meaning to one’s life. So the reality of what it means to be a human is slowly and gradually exposed.
I would like to answer the question of why do we need to be good in the light of the Buddhist Doctrine of Anatman and Pattica Samupada. This doctrine suggests that to understand the reality of life, it is necessary to understand that there is no self. In my opinion this argument does not reject the existence of self totally, it means that a self is defined not by the strict rules of individuality but it can be defined in the larger context of its relation to everything else. So for me, if I consider to be a part of a universal entity, the realization of doing a larger good is natural. This is a realization on a psychological level where I understand that hurting others is just like hurting myself. Thus protecting others is just like protecting myself.
The ethical and moral basis in Buddhism is Compassion. It is the basis of a moral decision for human beings when they see someone in pain and suffering. They provide immediate help that is in their power. This, for me is a universal ethic that can be found in almost all religious and non-religious philosophies. If we look at the modern world, we have the United Nations who strive to help the needy in disastrous and unforeseen circumstances. Though it is highly debatable to asses of the functioning of the United Nations based is in accordance with the teachings of Buddhism or not because the decisions made by the UN and other countries might have a basis in the hidden political agendas. The teachings of Buddhism forbids to have hidden agendas. It stresses on being true to yourself and others. The principle of being compassionate is not limited to humans only. It encompasses to all beings who are capable to suffering like animals and insects.
The property of a human being to provide immediate help to other beings(human and non-human) help in the creation of a just society. Or we can argue that it is a way forward to a just society. A just society is where there is less suffering and the human beings can search for enlightenment or finding one’s self easily. This is what the great King Asoka did. He carried out the land reforms by distributing the land among the poor who could then earn some livings. The basis of a just society is the fulfillment of the basic needs like food, health and housing. When these needs are met, the human suffering is decreased and humans start to live in peace with each other. A human has the basic necessities of life and would not engage in fights and thefts to snatch the belongings of others.
Teaching Dharma or the teachings of Buddha is also, in Buddhist ideology, a move towards a just society. As I have earlier discussed that the main focus of Buddhism is the achievement of enlightenment, teaching Dharma could help others learn to identify the actual realities they are looking for. This is the first milestone that is achieved towards the road of enlightenment.
I would like to conclude that Buddhist philosophy is very humanistic. Those who want to find the meaning of the worldly life and what it means to be a human can consult these teachings to be able to choose a direction that could lead them to search for enlightenment and self-identification. Irrespective of the teachings of Buddha, I believe that it is of utmost importance to know one’s self. There may or may not be a larger purpose to life but there is definitely a purpose for everyone to find for himself to be enlightened and give a meaning to his/her life.