THOUGHTS ON LIFE AND HUMAN EXISTENCE
To Western philosophy the dignity of our existence and life is in our thought. But this isn't the position of Buddhism and Oriental philosophy.
And modern thinking also equates the question of our existence and life in a rather different way, stressing the contradictions present in our lives.
The wise man, to most oriental philosophy, is the one who is able to pull the feelings out of himself. He is the one who deserts society, who locks himself in his own I - living a life which in western culture might be classified as vegetative.
Greek and Roman
In the Roman empire the stoic philosophers (Seneca, Cicero...) also defended the mastery of our negative passions, feelings and thoughts, and the surpassing of the I as a pathway to overcome and to avoid unhappiness. But they never proposed – as in the Orient - the vacuum of ideas and feelings.
There is, in the west, a powerful tradition of questioning thought, which superimposes itself in the idea that interrogating the future and life can be a source of unhappiness. Socrates proclaimed it emphatically: “An unexamined life is not worth living“.
The dignity of our life and existence is in our thought and questioning
Our dignity, to western philosophy, is in our thought. «Even if the mind is a disease, even if humanity is a misfortune, this illness and this misfortune are ours – for they are us, and we exist only through them» (Andre Comte-Sponville).
And exactly because western thought opted on questioning, the views and reflexions about our existence and the meaning of life are much more varied and rich than those produced in the Orient.
After the long mediaeval interregnum, after the Renaissance, when western thinking began to loose its religious accent, existential thinking experienced a renewal of strength, all the more since modern science was introducing new elements about our position in the Cosmos.
Thoughts such as those of Pascal in the eighteenth century about the nature of our lives, and our position in the Universe, are particularly contemporary, and undoubtedly influenced by scientific revelations. «There is no reason why I am here rather than there, or why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me?»
Pessimistic thoughts on human life and existence
Though the Renaissance produced optimistic views about life, certain existential pessimism, familiar to ancient thought, persists. And we can easily understand why. The vision of life that science gives is far from reassuring. The Cosmos revealed by science is too big, and man just an insignificant thing in it.
This disenchanted and pessimistic vision grew with Charles Darwin’s conceptions, revealing that after all man hasn’t a special place in the net of living beings; that we are not the exceptional, supernatural, or rational beings, in the shade of God, we thought we were.
Hence, the proliferation of negative thoughts about our insignificance and the nothingness of our existence, retaking new foundations and thoughts already expressed in ancient literature, philosophy, the Bible and other religious texts.
Contemporary thoughts on human existence: humour concerning our contradictory lives
Where contemporary thought is rather different from the ancient, is in a certain mordance and humour concerning our lives and the contradictions we introduce in them. Contemporary thought points out a theatrical element, associated with the way we live. Writers such as Shakespeare had already introduced these elements… but they are now carried out to new extremes, reflecting present features…
«Life is a cabaret, old chum… Welcome to the cabaret». «Life is just one damn thing after another». «There are two tragedies in life: one is not to get your heart's desire, the other is to get it».
These are typical contemporary existential thoughts, connected to the awareness of the contradictions present in our souls, to the contradictions that exist between our immortal dreams and our mortal condition; to the dichotomy detectable between real life and the dreamed one – realities already sensed in the past but only expressed in a radical way and without auto-censorship in the present.
See also: Thoughts and Quotes on Human Condition