Life Just Does Not Have Any Meaning

April 20th, 2011

When I write articles for Elephant Journal I am often humbled by the agreeable comments from readers who are able to phrase things far more precisely and eloquently than I managed to. (I am also often appalled by the confrontational nature of anonymous commenting, but that’s a different story.)

This week, I posted an article called “Mercury in Retrograde is not a good excuse for you to be an asshole to me.” It’s about theism, kind of.

I quoted the marvelous Pema Chodron, and in return, my Elephant colleague Scott Robinson (who goes by the “nom-de-blog” Yesu Das — and yes, I wish I came up with that cheeky play on words) posted two oldie but goodie quotes that I have to share.

The first is from a Somerset Maugham book that rocked my adolescence: Of Human Bondage (yup, I was a book nerd with a flair for dramatic titles, even then):

Yesu Das’s setup:…in which Phillip, the semi-autobiographical protagonist, met a dissipated and largely unpublished poet in Paris named Cronshaw, who gave Phillip a remnant of a Persian carpet. The carpet, Cronshaw told him, held in it the answer to the meaning of life. Phillip kept the remnant for many years, through repeated failures and almost relentless suffering, as he tried to find what the world called “success” in life. One day, long after the carpet fragment had been lost, Phillip realized, with the abruptness of revelation, the truth that had eluded him for so many years: life does not have any meaning.”

“His insignificance was turned to power, and he felt himself suddenly equal with the cruel fate which had seemed to persecute him; for, if life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty. What he did or left undone did not matter. Failure was unimportant and success amounted to nothing…(T)hat was why Cronshaw, he imagined, had given him the Persian rug. As the weaver elaborated his pattern for no end but the pleasure of his aesthetic sense, so might a man live his life… Out of the manifold events of his life, his deeds, his feelings, his thoughts, he might make a design, regular, elaborate, complicated, or beautiful… In the vast warp of life (a river arising from no spring and flowing endlessly to no sea), with the background to his fancies that there was no meaning and that nothing was important, a man might get a personal satisfaction in selecting the various strands that worked out the pattern. There was one pattern, the most obvious, perfect, and beautiful, in which a man was born, grew to manhood, married, produced children, toiled for his bread, and died; but there were others, intricate and wonderful, in which happiness did not enter and in which success was not attempted; and in them might be discovered a more troubling grace… His life had seemed horrible when it was measured by its happiness, but now he seemed to gather strength as he realized that it might be measured by something else. Happiness mattered as little as pain. They came in, both of them, as all the other details of his life came in, to the elaboration of the design.”

And then there’s good ol’ Billy Shakespeare, from King Lear:

“his is the excellent foppery of the world, that,

when we are sick in fortune,—often the surfeit

of our own behavior,—we make guilty of our

disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as

if we were villains by necessity; fools by

heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and

treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,

liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of

planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,

by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion

of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish

disposition to the charge of a star!”

Nice, right? Thanks, Yesu.

The man has taste. You can read a blog he wrote about theism here.


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