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Existential Crisis and Buddhism

  1. Nov 24, 2008 #1
    I was reading the wiki page on the existential crisis.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existential_crisis

    My question comes from a statement made in the "Handling existential crises" section and what the Buddhist reaction to it would be. Interested because I find a lot of truth in both philosophies.

    In my small knowledge of Buddhism it is my perception that ultimate happiness must come from within. I would also then extrapolate that to the meaning of life must come from within. That everything you need to know is already contained inside you and can be discovered via thought and meditation. Is that right? On the wiki page it says:

    What I take from that is giving a meaning to life requires action, an act of will. No amount of introspection or personal reflection will result in giving a meaning to ones life. Is that compatible with the Buddhist view?
     
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  3. Nov 24, 2008 #2
    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    My understanding of Buddhism is mostly from book learning rather than talking to Buddhists but my impression is that the gospel of Buddha is essentially that life does not have what we would call meaning at all. Everything we experience and every attachment or care we have for anything in the world is a sort of trap (though not one set by a divine being like the demiurge of Gnosticism), an illusion that is like a veil over our eyes that fixates our attention and becomes the source of all our misery. (Or at least if not technically an illusion it's less real in some way than the underlying reality.) In Buddhism the mukti (the way to be released from misery and the cycle of reincarnation, an objective that has different solutions in different Indian religions) is the realization and internalization of the reality that underlies the illusion as well as achieving the removal of all the attachments to it. Nirvana is a transcendental peace and happiness that comes from achieving the mukti in the Buddhist way.

    Some of them get downright materialistic about it. Like, Pure Land Buddhism seems to say, "Bah, don't bother with that meditation and contemplation stuff, just worship the right god and he'll guarantee that you're reborn into a next life in a special place where enlightenment will be guaranteed."

    So my personal interpretation would be that it doesn't fit with what you're saying there. It seems to me that Buddhism is somewhat dependent upon the nature of the reality that underlies the illusion rather than deriving anything from one's own personal nature. And reliant on the concept that everything we see is actually illusory in the first place, of course.
     
  4. Nov 24, 2008 #3
    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    So Buddhism is closer to Nihilism?

    I guess I am interested in this simple question. Is life's meaning applied through an act of will and conscious action or found through introspective reflective thought and meditation? Or to put it a different way, is the meaning of life a decision or discovery.
     
  5. Nov 24, 2008 #4
    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    I think that there's enough emphasis on a sort of secret underlying reality to put Buddhism in general pretty far from Nihilism. But there seem to be lots of different kinds of Buddhism.

    One of my philosophy professors in college always likened existentialism to the question of why Sisyphus doesn't give up even though he has been cursed with his task for eternity: there is some sort of meaning that can be derived from the struggle itself, even a neverending struggle, meaning that is not even simply through an act of will. Although it always seemed a bit odd to me that there were Christian existentialists, that seems somewhat contradictory to me... I ought to read some of that sometime...
     
  6. Nov 24, 2008 #5

    Pythagorean

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    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    I don't think this is the fundamental concept of Buddhism. This sounds like an important concept in Hinduism, Buddhism, and maybe even Taoism to a lesser extent.

    It actually sounds more fundamental to Hinduism than Buddhism, since a common practice in most schools of Hindu is to refrain form desire... and that god is within you and me, that we can tap into our godlike selves and be completely free of the constraints of physical reality (such desires as hunger, thirst, and sex). I've also read stanzas that imply that we are each our own universe and this would be an explicit paraphrasing of your 'thesis' (which I bolded above).

    Eastern philosophy has a different idea of dualism than the US. In the US, we tend to take one side and consider the opposite side wrong. In Eastern philosophy (especially outlined in Taoism) there is a balance between soft and hard... and it requires insight and/or training to know when ot use which.

    To me:
    This may be more on the Hindu side, but I actually interpret that as saying that suffering is a result of how the sufferer feels about purpose: that "conscious thought is pointless in achieving existential truth and psychologic security; that it is unimportant to be aware of the world about one-self and how life works."

    If the individual did not have any expectations about life then they would be content; they would be able to sit an absorb the collective meaning of the universe.
     
  7. Nov 24, 2008 #6
    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism


    What would that be in Buddhism?
     
  8. Nov 24, 2008 #7

    baywax

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    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    Buddhists seek nirvana (not the band) and nirvana is a state of nothingness or "not knowing".

    From Wiki...

    This would exclude any introspection, interpretations etc.. etc... as far as I can see.
     
  9. Nov 25, 2008 #8
    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    Does anyone have insight on this question?

     
  10. Nov 25, 2008 #9

    Ivan Seeking

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    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    Why must it be one or the other?
     
  11. Nov 25, 2008 #10

    Integral

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    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    Greg, it sounds like you need to read Siddharatha by Hermann Hesse.

    To find enlightenment you need both, introspection and action.
     
  12. Nov 25, 2008 #11
    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    It's not my own belief but it seems like you're leaving out a major alternative option: that the meaning of life is a matter of revelation. It seems to me that received truth is going to be waaay easier, and in many ways more practical than, self-generated meaning or meaning achieved through contemplative discovery. Even the existence of Buddha's path is actually a matter of revealed truth for the most part.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2008
  13. Nov 25, 2008 #12

    baywax

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    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    Introspection is more muddling of the mind. Meditation is a clearing of all thoughts. When you're able to clear every thought of the mind then you are able to experience the world and life as it is, not as you interpret it.

    So when you attain this emptiness you become a vessel for life to fill and, without actually "observing" the results, you "experience" them as though drinking some water or hearing a sound for the first time.

    In this state (meditation, concentrating on breathing and nothing else) the "meaning" of life or anything becomes the "experience" of life. Not reacting to it, not inquiring about it, just living it... or "being" it.

    Getting into a meditative state is difficult for many people because they're so used to thinking. If you've ever heard of Transcendental Meditation (nothing to do with a dentist) then you've understood that with each breath you blow away a thought and any words in your mind. An easy way to achieve this is to create an image of a vortex in your mind while you relax and whenever a thought or word or sentence enters your mind you dump it down the vortex or "whirlpool". Every time. Pretty soon the thoughts become images and that's ok. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. gave a great description of this technique in one of his many books. Then he wrote "Cat's Cradle" which involved the "Bookononists" and "Ice Nine".

    Edit: Integral is right to point to Siddharatha by Hesse as a reference... as much of a Germanic interpretation of Buddha's life as it might be. You can see how Buddha strips off his professions and his Royalty in a quest for truth and reality. The extremes he goes to almost kill him, then he finds the "middle way".
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2008
  14. Nov 25, 2008 #13
    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    Thanks for all the replies!

    I went to my first meditation lesson tonight at a local Shambhala center and I thought it was great. Something I could really get into, great crowd.
     
  15. Nov 25, 2008 #14

    Pythagorean

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    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    I've never really studied Buddhism; I studied the life of Buddha and I always got the impression that he didn't want to be idolized so closely because he was still figuring things out for himself; I approach his insight in a different way than the religion of Buddhism does.

    From what I remember, very loosely, Buddhism has reincarnation, and rungs on a ladder towards some sort of heaven and when you die, based on your decisions in life, you either go higher or lower on that ladder in your next life. The meaning of the universe seems somewhat anthrocentric in this light though.
     
  16. Nov 25, 2008 #15

    baywax

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    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    Just on a cautionary note... you don't need to meditate with a crowd. In fact, like yoga, meditation opens you up to states and em waves you wouldn't normally let into your sphere of consciousness or when you're alert. So, if your meditating next to some whacko chick or some obsessive dude with baggage and issues that would fill a Greyhound bus, you're open to those states as well. And that could be harmful.

    Besides, meditation is all about being one or all-one or "alone". Very interesting to see physics enthusiasts studying meditation.:surprised
     
  17. Nov 26, 2008 #16
    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    Yeah, many sorts of Buddhism have a whole array of gods as well as semi-divine cult-of-the-saints-like bodhisattvas who in some traditions play an integral role in meditation or in the different steps of enlightenment. Most of them behave towards Gautama Buddha as though he himself is divine. Bodhisattvas sometimes become directly deified as in the case of Avalokiteśvara / Lokanat / Kwan Yin. (Who also appears to have been the guy who originated the Tibetan mantra om mani padmi hum.)

    If one is approaching Buddhism as I did initially believing that it's a more philosophically-natured religion than others it can be disheartening. But the philosophical or non-supernatural core is there down underneath the other stuff, just like in Christianity.
     
  18. Nov 26, 2008 #17

    Pythagorean

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    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    yeah, I found Taoism to be the most philosophical and adaptable to modern times when I was in my pluralist stage.
     
  19. Nov 26, 2008 #18

    Astronuc

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    Re: Existential Crises and Buddhism

    Yes and no.

    One might 'discover' a/the meaning, if one is looking for a/the meaning, but it's a bit like the wind.

    If one rides a bicycle (makes effort), one experiences (feels) the oncoming wind (really air). One is moving with effort to the wind (air). With effort on might find/discover a/the meaning.

    On the other hand, if one simply stands in place and and the air moves, then one experiences the wind without effort, i.e. the wind is just there or it comes to one, as opposed to one going into it.

    So with effort one might find a/the meaning, or the meaning might come to one.

    Ultimately one must decide for oneself a/the meaning, since no other can get inside one's mind.
     
  20. Dec 1, 2008 #19
    The Great Messiah said that the Kingdom of Heaven is WITHIN YOU. The power to achieve liberation from life and its illusions lies in the consciousness within. All that we see around us is simply an arrangement of atoms. Indeed in the near future mankind will possess the knowledge to change the atomic structure of any substance and in effect change its status - just by manipulating electrons, neutons and protons. So material wealth is an illusion that we crave for out of ignorance. The universe is a game in which the players are the conscious units which advance through its dimensions. Once we grasp the truth that all is mind and energy and that we can create what we want, then we begin to win the game of life. SEEK YE THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE. Free from the pressures and stress of this earthly existence. Free with the knowledge that he universe is but a creative dream in the mind of the Creator and His creations.
     
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