In this commentary, Amir Mourad explores into the challenge of creating meaning in a meaningless universe, and speaks of the concept of lila, the divine play.
Sometimes, one may be faced with certain situations which may need unpleasant solutions. In some cases, the solution may seem barbaric, even inhuman. There are times where suffering and violence simply cannot be avoided – so it is now a question of trying to find a solution which creates the least amount of suffering, even if it be one which works against your beliefs of what is “right” or “wrong”. When wisdom is at work, it always functions like medicine. And like medicine, the remedy is never fixed – but relative from one situation to the next.
– Amir Mourad
Life has a meaning – the one that you have invented for it. It is meaning in the same way an artist or a sculptor moulds and shapes something into a piece of work. But it is your own hallucinated dream; that is fine as long as you are aware of the fact that, when it comes to the nature of creation, life is certainly well beyond all meaning. Once you are awakened and no longer enslaved to so many compulsive forces within you – then you can play with the creation through a light-hearted spirit. You manufacture and destroy meaning as to your liking. To be able to play with meaning and yet exist in a meaningless universe – this is the nature of lila, the divine play of that mind which is merged in its own inner nature. A way of balance, non-attachment, grounded wisdom, equanimity of mind, a moment to moment inner flexibility, all of this is included in that one single word – lila. The very idea that it is a play, not just an ordinary play, but a play of cosmic proportions, is that there cannot be a feeling of exaggerated self-importance in it. And because of such emptiness of self, the mind becomes open to a world of grace and truthfulness. After all, what is grace ? It is simply that kind of force which happens, and yet it is not performed by you – it is an eruption from the depth of the universe itself. To open the mind to the perception of a far greater reality beyond one’s egotism – this is the essence of all spiritual processes. If such a way of being comes to be, then it would bring a swift death to all of the great importance we have attached to human inventions about the meaning of life.
That life has meaning is from the subjective perspective, but taken on the scale of the absolute, the realization of the ultimate meaninglessness of life will either bring misery or great joy to you, it all depends on whether one’s own mind has uprooted the true cause of human suffering. In the East it is said that life is suffering, and today suffering has become so commonplace in the world that it simply goes without saying that life is equated with an experience of suffering. It is interesting that when one says one has had a “bad day” to another, it usually does not spark the same moment of surprise as it would if one said the opposite. On the contrary, to say that one has had a “good” day seems to be a cause of far greater surprise for others. That is how deeply rooted the common human experience has become in most of the cultures of the world. This realization of the East that life is suffering needs to be understood in its proper perspective. Life in itself is not suffering and there is no cosmic law that dictates that life must be a process of suffering. For the majority of human beings life is suffering only because one has continued living in perpetual ignorance of oneself. But if one rises to the necessary level of consciousness and insight, then there is certainly another way of being, where one’s very rhythm of life becomes an expression of a mind liberated from it’s own self-created hell. That self-created hell is the only true hell – and thankfully it is something that is your own making. Because it is entirely your own making, you can also unmake it. Realize this and accept the total responsibility that your misery, freedom, and everything else in between is work from the hands of the same artist – it is entirely your own doing. If it were determined by some Supreme Being, an Omnipresent God that is watching over the well-being of humanity, then there is really nothing that can be done about it, nothing is supposed to transcend the will of God. But if it has origins within you, and the whole game is sustained by you alone, then that fact alone opens the possibility of your bringing an end to your own creation. Once one accepts total responsibility for one’s own being without conditions, only then can the spiritual process truly take flight into other possibilities of being.
And this opens doors to the question of freedom, or perhaps the illusion of freedom. This illusion of freedom is only possible if the universe is ultimately not chained down to any purpose or meaning – and it has taken humanity a long time to realize this, that existence is not human-centric. It is not the ocean which needs to bend its ways to the demands and expectations of man, but it is man who must come to terms with the ocean. Life is only an expression of existence, and the process of deepening one’s involvement in life is itself like an umbilical cord connecting man to the whole cosmos. Even to say that there is an umbilical cord connecting the two suggests a sort of separation – life is itself inseparable from the same rhythm of the cosmos. This is why to insist that life must have meaning beyond that which is invented by the human mind is to suggest the universe itself were machine-like, designed to fulfill a specific purpose, and once it has completed it’s purpose – the machine becomes useless.
How can life be a means to an end ? Try to find a true end to anything at all in the universe, you will not be able to find it. You will find no beginning anywhere either. Everything is an ongoing continuity – without beginning and without end, boundless and without any destination in sight. This calls to mind what happened in the life of an Italian Christian mystic named Giordano Bruno. Giordano Bruna was burned alive at the stake for expressing certain ideas which were considered very much against the spirit of the Catholic church – that the whole universe does not revolve around the Earth, that there are perhaps worlds upon worlds in a universe of unimaginable vastness. His ideas were inspired by a Roman philosopher who gives an anology for the situation. Imagine you were standing with a bow and arrow on top of a large wall, aimed your bow, and set the arrow in motion through space. If there is an edge to the universe, the arrow would eventually hit a wall. But, the very suggestion that there is a wall implies that something else beyond this wall must exist. Therefore, you would simply stand on top of the next wall, aim your bow and arrow, and once again set the arrow in motion. If once again, your arrow encounters another wall, then one would simply repeat the process ad infinitum. The logical conclusion would then be that man lives in a universe which is boundless, without beginning or end. Seeing this, how can there be an ultimate destination or meaning ?What is the suggestion of an ultimate meaning ? It suggests that there is a destination, and every destination must have a destiny, an aim. The problem with this way of thinking is that it simply goes against the very nature of the universe itself.
In deepening one’s attention and opening the mind to a universe of sensitivity – there comes a phenomena which is far more profound than the belief in a meaning, there comes a communion. Communion is a wholesome phenomena, complete, self-sufficient on its own. Here, everything shines forth with truthfulness. Here, there is one and only one ocean of the same cosmic music. If this were truly realized, it would allow everything within you to unfold in a way which brings complete fulfillment, balance, and enduring happiness to human life. These are not life-denying qualities, but can only be life-enhancing – but in a way which transcends the need for meaning. It is a fulfillment which is non-dependent – like the light of the sun which transfers it’s energy in all directions yet without any destination in mind. Such a light which nourishes, yet does not want to possess – only such a light is true authority. It is this inner light which is at work through that consciousness which has merged into it’s own inner reality.
Coming to the process of the evolution of life, it is not only life which has evolved, but the cosmos itself is a result of evolution, and is still in a process of evolution. The universe is not only expanding and evolving, but it is accelerating in its expansion. But the greatest mystery is why things should evolve. This is a mystery which simply cannot be understood. You can say that it is because of the creative energy of nature, or “quantum fluctuations” at the early time of the big bang which gave birth to the universe, but that is not much of an answer. Why must nature be creative at all ? You can give all sorts of logical explanations and perhaps look into the science behind entropy – how things move from a state of order to increasing disorder, even then with a limited understanding. Or in yogic sciences one can speak about how in the beginning of the universe there was an equilibrium between the three gunas (basic qualities of nature), sattva (refined purity), tamas (inertia(, and rajas (activity), and an imbalance had happened between these three gunas which created intense heat that lead to the expansion of the universe.
Still, all of this only gives you the “how” behind certain mechanisms, it does not answer the question of why. Ultimately – the question of why is unanswerable. Things are simply the way that they are, and their reasons are unknowable. This is one part of the task of the development of wisdom – to be able to discriminate between what can be known, the unknown, and that which is unknowable. And in confronting the unknowable, there is no other option except to surrender to the boundaries of the known. If one is to reach a point in one’s inner evolution where one has abandoned the shores of the known and becomes anchored in the knowledge of the unknowable, which is itself a kind of knowledge, but of a totally different kind, then one makes a movement into the life of grace. Allowing one’s mind to be flooded by the grace of the whole creation, and yet without a trace of any desire to possess, light-hearted, receptive yet firm in one’s union with the creation – this is also part of the way of lila – the divine play.