WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?

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Q. If God is omniscient and omnipresent, what does he lack?

A. Limitation

Not to blaspheme, but this means that life is quite dull. Without limitations there are no aspirations, no achievements and no surprises. God longs for limitation so that he/she might have something to overcome, to reach for. In a philosophical German film Wings of Desire an angel describes this longing for material limitation:

“It's great to live by the spirit, to testify day by day for eternity, only what's spiritual in people's minds. But sometimes I'm fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above I'd like to feel a weight grow in me to end the infinity and to tie me to earth. I'd like, at each step, each gust of wind, to be able to say "Now." Now and now" and no longer "forever" and "for eternity." To sit at an empty place at a card table and be greeted, even by a nod. Every time we participated, it was a pretence. Wrestling with one, allowing a hip to be put out in pretence, catching a fish in pretence, in pretence sitting at tables, drinking and eating in pretence. Having lambs roasted and wine served in the tents out there in the desert, only in pretence. No, I don't have to beget a child or plant a tree but it would be rather nice coming home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe, to have a fever and blackened fingers from the newspaper, to be excited not only by the mind but, at last, by a meal, by the line of a neck by an ear. To lie! Through one's teeth. As you're walking, to feel your bones moving along. At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say "ah" and "oh" and "hey" instead of "yea" and "amen”.’

In order to satiate this desire to partake of the material life, God decides to incarnate himself/herself into the material world, but in doing so he has to limit himself/herself.

This moment of incarnation is encapsulated by a beautiful old legend from the East which tells how God made a statue of himself in clay:

“When he had finished he stood back to admire his work, and he was pleased.

But then he noticed that something was missing. The statue lacked the one thing that God prized in himself most – his spark and vitality. So he created Spirit.

No sooner had Spirit come into being it began to fly and soar of its own volition, just as God had hoped it would. Spirit was free as a bird. And God was pleased.

Then God bade Spirit to enter the statue and imbue it with life. But Spirit was free and liked to wander whither it willed. Spirit did not want to enter this prison in the least.

And so God asked his angels to play their most heavenly music. And Spirit, who liked nothing more than to play and to dance, was moved to ecstasy.

But Spirit had no physical form; the music passed right through Spirit as if it was not there. Sweet ecstasy became tinged with sadness, and Spirit ached with longing to feel the vibrations of the music more deeply.

And so in order to make the music more clear to itself, Spirit relented, and entered this body.’

It may be interesting to note that this is analogous to what humans do when they play games. One definition of a game is the process of setting oneself unnecessary limitations or hurdles for the fun of overcoming them: it’s not strictly necessary to knock over the pins, keep the ball between the lines or put it through the hoop. Your survival does not depend on it. You set yourself these parameters and targets simply because it’s fun to do so. And that’s what God is doing in this great game of life.

So: to answer the question.

The meaning of life is to transcend those limitations that spirit has set itself and to realise that we are all in the end just one spirit playing a great cosmic game with itself. The game of evolving from simple limited forms back towards spirit’s original unbounded state of freedom.

If you take a step back and look at the little part of the puzzle that we have at our disposal, the history of life on earth, you’ll see that this is exactly what it happening.

Life began as tiny single celled organisms, entirely limited in what it does, its every move determined by its genetic code. But over time it has evolved into forms which are not so limited, which can move left or right, eat this fruit or that, and eventually make tea, write poetry, and read Quora articles. Life has evolved from a state of total limitation back towards freer, less trammelled states. Robert Pirsig explains it like this:

“Mechanisms are the enemy of life. The more static and unyielding the mechanisms are, the more life works to evade them or overcome them.

The law of gravity, for example, is perhaps the most ruthlessly static pattern of order in the universe. So, correspondingly, there is no single living thing that does not thumb its nose at that law day in and day out. One could almost define life as the organized disobedience of the law of gravity. One could show that the degree to which an organism disobeys this law is a measure of its degree of evolution. Thus, while the simple protozoa just barely get around on their cilia, earthworms manage to control their distance and direction, birds fly into the sky, and man goes all the way to the moon.

A similar analysis could be made with other physical laws such as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and it seemed to Phaedrus that if one gathered together enough of these deliberate violations of the laws of the universe and formed a generalization from them, a quite different theory of evolution could be inferred. If life is to be explained on the basis of physical laws, then the overwhelming evidence that life deliberately works around these laws cannot be ignored. The reason atoms become chemistry professors has got to be that something in nature does not like laws of chemical equilibrium or the law of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics or any other law that restricts the molecules' freedom. They only go along with laws of any kind because they have to, preferring an existence that does not follow any laws whatsoever.“

In other words spirit prefers an existence which is free and unlimited. Substitute simple for limited, and complex for free and you have Gregory David Roberts’ summation of this same moral law in Shantaram:

‘The universe began about fifteen billion years ago, in almost absolute simplicity, and it's been getting more and more complex ever since. This movement from the simple to the complex is built into the web and weave of the universe, and it's called the tendency toward complexity. We're the products of this complexification, and so are the birds, and the bees, and the trees, and the stars, and even the galaxies of stars. ...
 Okay, the final or ultimate complexity __ the place where all this complexity is going -- is what, or who, we might call God. And anything that promotes, enhances, or accelerates this movement toward God is good. Anything that inhibits, impedes, or prevents it is evil.’

And you can play a conscious part in that process by deliberately leading your life so as to help life on its way through the evolutionary process back to its original unbounded state of freedom. And that is the meaning of life.

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“Spirit prefers an existence which is free and unlimited”, I wrote. You may have noticed that this contradicts my earlier assertion that unlimited, unbounded existence is boring. So what is it that God wants? To be limited or unlimited? Or is it just the contrast between the two that he/she enjoys? It seems the grass really is greener on the other side, and all the fun is in hopping over the fence. The Sufi saint Hazrat Inayat Khan explains this paradox by interpreting the legend of the spirit and the clay statue thus:

“The interpretation of this legend explains to us two great laws. One is that freedom is the nature of the soul, and for the soul the whole tragedy of life is the absence of that freedom which belongs to its original nature; and the next mystery that this legend reveals to us is that the only reason why the soul has entered the body of clay or matter is to experience the music of life, and to make this music clear to itself. And when we sum up these two great mysteries, the third mystery, which is the mystery of all mysteries, comes to our mind. This is that the unlimited part of ourselves becomes limited and earthbound for the purpose of making this life, which is the outward life, more intelligible.

Therefore there is a loss and a gain.”

And that’s the bittersweet symphony of life.

Robert Cobbold