Buddha and the Universe

My article, “The Ascent of Meaning” now appears in The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature, just published by Oxford University Press. But, as I’ll explain below, “I” didn’t write the paper.

First, here I am in Chapter 9 with Camus and Frankl, and Russell.

9. Does Life Have Meaning?
Voltaire, The Good Brahmin
Epicurus, Hedonism
Albert Camus, Life Is Absurd
Viktor Frankl, The Human Search for Meaning: Reflections on Auschwitz
* John Messerly, The Ascent of Meaning
Bertrand Russell, Reflections on Suffering
Richard Taylor, The Meaning of Life

(The * refers to commissioned for this volume.) And guess what? I replaced the Buddha in this edition! How many philosophers can say that? Move over Siddhartha. LOL!

But seriously seeing my name with people I’ve read and admired for a long time is probably the highlight of my academic career. Yes, from the point of view of the universe one little essay may be meaningless, but it is meaningful to me now. And maybe that’s enough.

What’s interesting to me is how, at first glance, your ego kicks in and you’re proud of yourself. But then you think, didn’t the Buddha warn that ego desires cause suffering? Didn’t he tell us that the self is basically an illusion?

Maybe such questions lead to a bit of Enlightenment. After all, “I” didn’t write the essay. It was written jointly by my readers and my teachers and my teachers teachers and their teachers going back through eons of time. It was written by a universe becoming conscious for a brief moment from one portal, window, or aperture of consciousness. It came to be, not from me, but from some point of universal consciousness.

It tried to communicate all the good things about what is and what could be: truth, beauty, goodness, liberty, equality, justice, joy, love, peace, and meaning. 

So even if our work, our loves, and our lives contribute only a microscopic thread to an infinitely vast universe … who knows what effect they might have? After all, our world and the universe are but manifestations of all that happened in the past. And if even a few people find value in this small expression of the universe … then the universe did well.

My most fervent hope is that someday, somewhere, the universe will actualize its potential and all good things, both known and unknown, will come to pass. This hope keeps me going.

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9 thoughts on “Buddha and the Universe

  1. This is certainly a life highlight, and a well deserved one. Personally I am a “pride” believer. I believe there’s absolutely nothing wrong about being proud of real and factual achievements (therefore I am dismissive of fool’s pride. I am also derisive of people who are proud about stupid things, such as nationality, etc. As if whether I was born on this piece of dirt instead of that one, makes a great difference.).

    As for the ego, on one hand certainly I agree with you: we learn from others, our environment. Only the fool has exclusively himself as teacher, although by no means one should dismiss their own experiences/story/individuality as trivial. I don’t believe this triviality exists….I believe every life is unique, and will never be repeated.

    On the other hand, I think it is the “ego” that makes a life unique. Without it we would just be “blanks”.

    Why can an F1 racer be happy and festive after winning a car race, but a philosopher be dismissive of any achievements, after a lifetime of work and so many worthy attempts to understand the very things that only philosophers can try to understand?

    Well done, I say!

    “The only people who will tell you that you should not be proud about an achievement, are generally people who have nothing to be proud of.”. -Schopenhauer

    PS. personally I am NOT surprised to know that your article is now featured in this interesting book by Oxford University Press 🙂

  2. “But seriously seeing my name with people I’ve read and admired for a long time is probably the highlight of my academic career. Yes, from the point of view of the universe one little essay may be meaningless, but it is meaningful to me now. Maybe that’s enough.”
    It should be enough, but, if it isn’t, what would be?

    Our live are created from the material we have access to, that is all we have to work with, how skillful and creative we are in assembling our triumphs and enduring our disappointments determines whether we are happy or not.

    Having access to your site, reading stimulating posts and excerpts from the thoughts of peer recognized giants you have selected, communicating with you and the other readers and posters has been very satisfying for me!

  3. “Truth, beauty, goodness, liberty, equality…”

    Equality? People are thoroughly double-minded when it comes to equality: they believe that everyone is equal—yet some are more equal than others.

  4. And truth & goodness?
    We’ll have to think about it for a very long time; our entire lives. We discovered that the truth + goodness offered to us by religions—for 3,000 years—was no longer enough.

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