* Maybe you kiss your beautiful wife good-bye and accompany your four-year-old daughter to her first day of school, before you leave for work and stroll down the waking morning streets, where you get blown up. Or you cross the street thinking about the beautiful sunrise, before one of the Blueline buses kills you like so many other people.
Life can sometimes be as absurd as it is short. The French philosopher Albert Camus wrote: “At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.” But if we have the feeling that our life is so absurd, is the logical consequence that we have to commit suicide?
The question of the meaning of life has been prevailing in every society and culture ever since the neocortex of the Homo sapiens grew to an extent, where he started to form an identity and formulate questions beyond his mere being.
This question of a “sense” could almost be described as an estrangement from nature, existing because the human being experiences himself often as an individual independent from his surrounding nature. This question is a biological superfluity, which biologist might describe as a spandrel, an idiosyncrasy, most likely solely shared among men.
During this search for meaning, men found the sense of life in things, such as God, other people, work, philosophy, and some even in money – a lot of money. But this causes two problems. Firstly, objects, like an external God, may be a matter of belief, but can never be known, and what I am not certain of can give me merely a feeling for something and not the logical necessity. (This article is not questioning believe. It is a philosophical attempt to justify life in an absurd world – à la Camus.) And if there is nothing outside of me that I can ascribe a “sense” to, then the world appears on the first glance as senseless or absurd.
Secondly, as soon as men look for meaning outside of himself, he might be disappointed: My God could cause me calamities that I do not comprehend, or my children could turn against me for no reason. Most certain is only the own existence, the cogito, which is questioning itself.
Even if nothing really exists, as the Yogācāra philosophy argues, there must be consciousness or vijñāna that has at least a certain reality, when it says to itself that nothing else is real. Whatever this (non-) reality may be, the self, which defines itself through thinking (or being), as the philosopher René Descartes wrote (“I think, therefore I am”), is always the most real to us and the beginning of our universe.
But if we cannot find sense in the surrounding world, why should we live? Albert Camus gives the answer: “To live means to let the absurd live. To let it live means most notably to face it.” According to him, life gets its meaning through absurdity, which makes life an insurgency against the “bone-crushing destiny.” Absurdity is thus the opposite that defines life in a dualistic world and makes life an eternal Sisyphus struggle against the all-encompassing senselessness.
This means the sense of life can only be found in the antagonist of the absurdity: our own existence. Consequently, our very own existence becomes the “sense” for our being on earth. Life qua life. The self is thus the only place to look for meaning, and if we truly listen to this self, it will never disappoint us.
This leads us to Sartre’s philosophy of existentialism: “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” If my existence is the sense of life, I have no choice but to be responsible for my actions. Or in Sartre’s words: “But if existence really does precede essence, man is responsible for what he is.” Therefore, I will not be able to unburden my responsibility to someone else’s hands, such as a God, and blow people up in his name. If my life is the soul of my existence, then my actions become the vessel carrying this soul.
To look for the sense of life in our own existence has another benefit: I have to focus on here and now. Since existence can never be sure of the future or past, but is always characterized by that very moment and place where it manifests itself, I have to live every moment as if it was the last. Neither does it allow me to procrastinate my responsibility, so that I say to myself: “The next generation will take care of the environmental damage I am causing.”
Last but not least, our own existence does not deny God, as long as I try to find God in my own existence and not in a dogma some preacher indoctrinated me. Every journey for God begins necessarily within the self, but becomes a labyrinth as soon as we leave the self or do not recognize the self in others and therefore the meaning of their existence.
* picture by Antonio Marín Segovia