What is the Meaning of Life?
A young man in search of enlightenment had traveled to Tibet at great expense and more than a little consternation amongst his family and friends. It was a week before he was allowed to speak with a red-capped administrator of the Dalai Lama's personal staff; in the meantime he enjoyed the wondrous sights of the Himalayas. The people of the countryside had welcomed him and he was learning their language slowly. They had made it clear no one got to talk to the Dalai Lama and ask a personal question unless they had waited a long time and shown proper respect and intent.
His feeling was that a university graduate of philosophy with his Master's and a teaching certificate should be allowed some consideration. As he discussed the matter with the administrator he saw it didn't seem to be a positive factor that he had studied Kant and Nietzsche or the convoluted Hegelian politics of Fukayama. The administrator went on about clarity of purpose and concentration or convergence with the harmonizing forces. It was made abundantly clear that the great man was kind and generous with his love and time; but that he was a man with many people to care for and guide towards their spiritual purpose. He told the red-capped Lama that he would pay any amount of money (within reason) or work for the temple for a year. Nonetheless the conclusion reached was that he would have to contemplate his one question for five years! "I don't know if I can afford to waste that much time!"
"We are our own masters and I hope you appreciate the passing of life; no matter what your choice will be, my son." The administrator spoke softly as he rose from the lotus position and re-arranged his red-orange garments. The young man sensed a real wisdom in the man and his response. He was impressed. Then he recalled a professor who had always seemed wise to him while he had taken his courses at university. He had a similar reaction to this man and knew it was more that he did not wish to argue about the length of time, and that the length of time had little to do with the shortages of the Dalai Lama's time. Maybe he had approached the whole thing too arrogantly and he could take another approach later.
"I feel your warmth and compassion in ways no one else has been able to touch me. I'm not likely to wait that long but I do enjoy the country and will meditate on the matter some before making any decision."
A month went by and he was becoming agitated and frustrated other than his studies at the temple, where they had a lot of books. The local people weren't able to see the logic of his arguments about his long studies in America. Some times he swore he would leave and other times he convinced himself that once he knew how to speak their language better they would agree he shouldn't have to wait that long. After a couple of months he got a letter from his girlfriend making it clear she wasn't coming to join his 'idiotic quest'. His father was equally dubious about the merit of such a simple quest and felt it 'was more of the same old need to be different', and wondered when he might 'grow up'.
During the first year he learned the language well enough to display his eloquent grasp of most things philosophical. The others, who had been waiting to speak with the Dalai Lama when he got there, had all received their audience and none of them were disheartened by the words of insight the renowned man had shared with them. It annoyed him that everyone who was waiting to see the Lama was getting to go ahead of him. He was homesick and enjoyed the words of his mother who always seemed supportive, despite the apparent lack of understanding from his father. Their letters always proved a highlight in whatever month they arrived.
"Am I allowed to go home for a week or two?" He asked the restaurant owner who had become his friend.
"Clearly you have no commitment to your cause and aren't even on the road to knowing what question to ask."
"I have many good questions in mind!"
"That seems to be your problem." The man smiled as he served him a meal of his best vegetarian preparation. His son brought a glass of water and sat at the young man's table, as he often did.
"Chandra, what do you think I should do?" The young man asked the child of six, in a half joking fashion.
"Don't patronize my son. He doesn't need any complex rationalizations to confuse his heart, please." The father spoke with a note of sharpness the young man seldom heard.
"You know I value your son and his precocious nature. I hope it wasn't patronizing in any way!"
On his way to a railroad station while thinking about going home and knowing he would not come back if he left; the young man stopped at his favourite pond with thoughts screaming through his mind. He could imagine what kind of response his father would give and it brought warmth to his cheeks. A hug from his mother would be great, but how could he quit. He knew his family wasn't known to EVER do that. He thought about what his literary guru Jack Kerouac had written about the case of sorrow, and waited until the words of his friend had cleared his mind.
The moment seemed right for a cleansing ritual he had read about in one of the books on Yoga. It was a delicious feeling as the soil and seaweed moved between his toes while the water from the brook that fed the pond brought new energy to the pond past his legs. Logic and all the reason in the world couldn't give him the purpose to continue his stay in this lush, pristine environment but then, a purpose came to mind. He would become an 'expert' on Eastern religion and read all the books in the nearby temples. Surely there was more to it than all this 'busy-mind' or 'sangsara' stuff. He was smiling broadly without intent as he returned with his knapsack to the room above the restaurant.
"You seem a lot more relaxed today, my friend. Did my words have anything to do with it?" His friend asked with a sense of pride.
"Yes, but not in the way you might think. I have determined to learn all there is to know about Lamaism and the other Eastern philosophies."
"That will not be possible unless you find Nirvana, in your soul."
"I am already well on my way, I assure you... You can ask me any question and test me, if you like."
"Let me think about that? I should be able to come up with a good one for you. The mental aspects of knowledge aren't all there is, you know."
The next day while he was having dinner after doing a little tour guide work for an English couple, the restaurant owner listened as his son asked: "Do you believe in destiny?"
"Yes, my friend THAT is my question for you."
"It is an excellent question. The sages of all cultures and times have wrestled with that one and its related issues of 'free will'. My mind tells me that there is limited available force for individuals to be concerned about. My heart tells me that all things are proceeding as they should just like the poem 'Desiderata' says? My soul is growing through meditation to become more trusted and it gives me lots of confusing inputs on what mix of free will versus destiny is at work. It seems to say there are different situations where one is more important than the other." He continued talking about this question for many months and was sending away for books that others had written on it. After a few months had passed he asked his friend what he thought about his awareness of the epistemic bases for and against destiny.
"You've definitely considered most of the logic and even the opposing viewpoints; but I don't think Chandra would feel good about any answer you have, as yet. My own soul does not buzz like the bees or fly on the wings of butterflies when I hear you talk about it. Maybe you have more to learn about it, my friend."
"Have you heard a better description?"
"No. As I said your logic is impeccable. You might even be able to write a book about it. The matter that leaves me uncertain of the beauty and joy your answers apprehend may be a result of my own lack of awareness. I wouldn't concern myself about what a simple fool like me thinks. Your father would probably like to hear your thoughts about it, why don't you dedicate the book to him?"
"I like that idea! You're no simple fool either, my friend."
It was a year before he completed the first draft and that co-incided with half of his allotted time to wait. He gave his friend the manuscript and was anxious about his reaction to it. In a couple of weeks his friend returned the manuscript to him. When he got upstairs with the package he saw his friend had written a beautiful poem that expressed his feelings about the book and his appreciation for the effort the young man had put into it.
"I loved your poem! Could I use it in my book? I think I'm going to send it to my father and a professor I know, with a view to getting it published. I have to do a re-write first, mind you."
"That would be a great honour for me to have my poem in your fine book? I see you are thinking about asking the Dalai Lama the same question though. That tells me you still aren't sure of your answer."
Chandra was listening to them talk and he interjected. "There are no 'black and white' answers, Papa!"
"Yes, Chandra." The young man smiled in appreciation of the support. "The Dalai Lama would agree with you on that. I think!"
"Yes, HE would. But is that not a lot like your Western scientists who theorize so much, with so little faith?" The restaurant owner remarked. At the end of three years his final draft was sent to his father with a note to take it to his professor if he thought it worthy. His friend's question still bothered the young man but he was still sure adding a great wise man's response from the Dalai Lama would be interesting to most readers; but he didn't want to waste his question on something he knew so well.
His father was able to see a lot of growth in the writing of his son, and he said he enjoyed the style and wit. He had taken it to the professor and was awaiting a reply, but he felt sure that it would be good for an academic publisher. His mother felt it was great and she said she was 'so proud' she took a copy for her friends. His father's comments about maturity made the young man smile because he knew there was an element of projection and competition in that kind of thinking. He felt almost vindicated in his commitment and was so happy he hadn't given up that day a couple of years earlier.
When they had arranged a publisher it became clear that the book could use some publicity and he was faced with having to leave. If he didn't return to the U.S. and do the talk show circuit they were going to just make it available through the educational channels. He had no real burning desire to ask any specific question and he almost went home.
"Mister Writer, have you decided whether to stay or go home?" Chandra asked his 'big brother' while he had explained the situation in the restaurant after getting the letter. He was trying to encourage Chandra to follow in his footsteps and become a teacher or writer, but he didn't know what was right to do.
"Life isn't always so simple, Chandra." His mother commented.
"What's that mean?" Chandra retorted.
"Yes! That's it!! I'll ask the Dalai Lama 'What is the meaning of LIFE?!" The young man beamed as if he had found an epiphany of the first order. They all agreed the question was one that would lead anyone to a lot of different places. There was a lot about the destiny matter in it too. When he was finally ushered in to the presence of the greatly revered religious leader he was ready with a speech and his question.
"What is your question, noble sir?" The red-capped lama who had met with him five years earlier asked in a voice that brought the hall into a hush of silent contemplation.
"Most gracious and benevolent Master: I thank you for the time you give me, today. Much to my surprise I have found the time spent here has been very productive. Surely I once thought five years was too long to wait for one answer. There is great clarity of mind on the matter of my question. Should you be able to answer it, I think Peace may be possible for more than just my simple self. MY quest has been rewarded no matter what your response is; because I have written a philosophy book that is being used in U.S. schools. The people gathered here will certainly see the merit of the question and judge your answer, as will I."
The Dalai Lama yawned and smiled before gazing into the heart of the young man about to be young no longer. "Whatever could be more important than knowing what you already know in your own soul, my son?"
Feeling the force of the austere man and his question, the young man lost some of his former bravado and said: "What is the MEANING of life?"
"That is your question I take it... Life is like a beanstalk. ISN'T IT?!"
As the young man was flying home he wondered why the crowded room hadn't broken out in laughter. He felt so foolish for not seeing what Chandra had said as they had walked back for their final dinner together.
"YES! Without growth all things die!"
Author of Diverse Druids
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