For the love of wisdom

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

(Incoherent ramblings on philosophy. This is amongst my most badly received posts. Read at your own risk.)

There is only one serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.

Whether or not one's life, or for that matter any life, is worth living is the fundamental question in philosophy.

I hope reading this question unnerves you (rightly so) and makes you question my sanity.

When most people read the word philosophy (if they haven't confused it with psychology yet), they let out a groan. Inscrutable latin phrases and marble busts of bearded men is what comes to their minds. At least that is what used to come to my mind, before I dabbled in it.

Philosophy is the mother of all subjects. If you recursively follow the first link of any Wikipedia article, be it 'proton' or 'pav bhaji', you will be eventually led to the article on 'Philosophy'.

Philosophy boils down to two essential questions -

1. Why live?

2. How to live?

In order to answer the former, we need to comprehend what the meaning of life, universe and everything is. (No, it is not 42.) The first question comes under the realm of science while the other question is something that religion is concerned with.

Boredom and suffering are perhaps the two biggest obstacles in a human life.

Profound boredom is the feeling that life has no purpose or meaning and nothing really matters. Nihilism, Existentialism and Absurdism are the schools of philosophy that believe so.

A nihilist is the most likely contender for suicide as he believes that not only is there no point to life, there is no point in living either. The German philosopher Nietzsche (pronounced nee-cha) is synonymous with Nihilism, which actually is a misattribution. He is more correctly remembered for his legendary moustache à la Nathu Lal.

There may be no inherent meaning or purpose to life as science suggests, but we humans have cleverly filled up that void with lies that we tell each other - the idea of God, Money and Nations. 'Lie' is too harsh a word. A better phrase would be 'collective imagination' or as Yuval Harari calls it, 'imagined realties'. We have thus created our own meaning of life. This is exactly what an existentialist would do.

An absurdist would take a slightly different approach. Neither would he despair the meaninglessness nor would he give in to illusions. He would instead embrace this absurdity called life!

Albert Camus, the famous proponent of Absurdism (and a total chick magnet), cites the myth of Sisyphus to explain his stance.

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a King who was condemned for all of eternity to push a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll to the bottom, again and again.

Sisyphus is expected to bravely confront and accept his pointless fate in order to actually enjoy it.

If you have made it this far, congratulations on choosing to be a part of team pro-life. We have covered the grim parts of philosophy and it is only fun hereafter (kind of).

So, what is the driving force in a man's life?

Three very different gentlemen came up with three very different answers to this.

Nietzsche says that the answer to this question is the 'will to power'. Man's goal in life is to be in a powerful, dominant position. This is what fuels his job, achievements and ambitions.

Sigmund Freud, the renowned psychologist, says the 'will to pleasure' drives a human. All a human seeks is pleasure (physical, emotional or otherwise) and the avoidance of pain.

Holocaust survivor and creator of Logotherapy, Viktor Frankl believes the 'will to meaning' is the ultimate motivation. A person can tolerate subjugation and suffering (i.e. decimation of his will to power and pleasure), as long as he driven by a purpose in life.

Suffering is an innate and inseparable part of human life. Most of philosophical 'how to live?' is really about the remedy, avoidance or the acceptance of suffering.

Although the terms Epicurean and Hedonist are mostly used as slurs today to berate someone who pursues sensuality and materialism relentlessly in order to escape suffering, these schools of thought have, mindfully or otherwise, gained a lot of traction world over. #YOLO

It took Siddhartha Gautam years of penance to come to the profound realisation that the root cause of all suffering is attachment. Modern humans come to this realisation more swiftly when they watch their most loved characters killed off in Game of Thrones.

I would like to tweak Buddha's revelation to - 'The root cause of all suffering is expectation'.

If you think of it, all sadness, anger, jealousy or fear arises because we have a certain notion of how things ought to be - nice and fair and 'our way'. And when reality does not match expectation, we suffer.

The very essence of Bhagavad Gita is the teaching that you should not feel entitled to the fruits of your actions and thus, cut off expectations at the root.

Interestingly, the Greeks came up with a similar philosophy to deal with hardships of life called Stoicism. A stoic does not fear pain, adversity or any other misfortunes of the human condition. The only thing he fears is letting himself down. He understands that external factors are not under his control. But, what he does have under his control is how he reacts to a given situation. Virtue is the greatest good, perhaps the only good. Testimony to Stoicism's utility is the fact that of its many champions, one was a slave (Epictetus) and the other was an emperor (Marcus Aurelius).

Philosophy, with all of its needlessly twisted abstract ideas, has long been considered to be the stronghold of the intelligentsia and academicians - the Socrates, Platos and Aristotles of the world (it is fine if you can't tell one from the other).

In all of his infinite wisdom, Plato is said to have smugly laid to rest the burning question of what compromises a human life. With sagacious brevity, the philosopher defined Man as simply an animal who is bipedal and featherless.

Diogenes, a derelict cynic, then supposedly plucked a chicken naked in front of him and declared, "Here is Plato's man."

Philosophy is for everyone. Including, and more so, for the Kardashians and the auto-wallahs of the world.

So, if you will now excuse me, I have a question to ponder over.

"Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?"

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