Lessons from the East and the West on Purpose.
DISCLAIMER: This content comments on the general concept of purpose from eastern and western philosophies but is in no way an endorsement of any side, religion or creed. Most if not all spiritual and practical wisdom are often adulterated by ‘new age spirituality’ movements and often dismissed in public discourse due to ideological presuppositions. I hope this article, along with other content we release, would help restore balance and bring people closer to prudence and wisdom than a blind adherence to empiricism alone. It is also with great restraint and personal effort that I had to write about certain philosophies objectively as a secular person with no religious beliefs nor allegiance.
With Purpose, Comes Morality.
At least among western intellectuals and westernised eastern counterparts, most eastern philosophies get dismissed as mysticism. It does not help when cringeworthy western romanticisation of eastern mysticism paints inaccurate caricatures of eastern philosophy, and neither fanatically idolising it nor vehemently condemning it does any justice to allow one to navigate the complex body of work spread across the eastern diaspora.
Unlike western ideas of personified good and evil, eastern philosophers often look at the emergent harmony from a perspective of balance between perceived ‘good’ and ‘evil’. This idea is not to be mistaken that there is no concept of morality; instead in the east, morals are derived from purposeful undertakings such as duty, knowledge, responsibility, and the importance of humanly pursuits. The East also has a very consequential view on right and wrongdoings as seen in the concept of Karma, while it may seem as an autonomous supernatural force, it is not beyond reason to think that the unintended consequences of our actions do otherwise come back to reward or haunt us, both from the material world and the realm of our own conscience. From an evolutionary hindsight, one could deduce that such ideas on purpose could have been derived from understanding practical nature of our existence and ways to live that fundamentally satisfied an individual to optimally serve his or her biological purpose at the very least.
This is directly contradicted with other later philosophies from the east that focused on the detachment aspect of oneself from all desires with a selective observation that humanly pursuits will inevitably be taken to its extreme. Such ideas go on to take centre stage with its own system of beliefs further east with notable philosophers of their time, with varying levels of popularity and validity, sometimes adding profound value for improving an individual’s life and other times being derivative to meet the recruitment needs of feudalistic societies of the past.
With Morality, Comes Purpose.
The eastern attitudes towards western philosophy is much tougher to get a read on as some cultures embraced western religions effortlessly. While I have seen dismissal of western philosophies as both arrogant and ignorant in the east, much of the condemnation and criticism are from the west itself, a domino that was flicked from the enlightenment era in Europe. Most western values are mistakenly viewed as fundamentally oppressive especially through the lens of recent hyper-politicisation. Western philosophies have also been often intertwined with religious identity that may go on to lay great claims about our universe in ways that are demonstrably false, which directly contradicts western empiricism and in the eyes of many, invalidates the lessons that it could otherwise teach us. Dismissing it on the merits of its ‘claims’ on nature instead of exploring the depth of practical meaning embedded within them seems to be a popular position, especially with the ‘new atheist movement’ from a decade or so ago. From ancient Greece to Modern Rome and the subtle philosophical integration of the two through time are much more than their unscientific claims about nature. Much of western philosophies on the topic of purpose seems to be focused on the transcendence of an idealised version of self as being in direct conflict with the personified evil that we are capable of being. The notion of an ideal self can also be observed in stoicism which in my estimation has some shared traits with eastern practices, namely in restraint and acceptance of natural machinations, but shares a greater resemblance to the earlier mentioned idealised version of self as seen in western religions with the idea of leading a virtuous life.
Dogmatism and literal readings of fantastical stories do exist, but so does the false framing done by empiricists in their uncharitable view of religious scriptures as books of fact rather than books of meaning. I say this tongue-in-cheek; the same rigorous empiricism is almost never applied to comic books with its staunch devotees seen in their yearly pilgrimages to comic book conventions, often in the garb of their favourite ‘deities’. While it is humorous, it would be naïve to argue that these are mere unserious fandoms, if it were so, specific values that influences and reinforces culture would not be passed through them the way they have been. From Captain America as an inspiration with American Values during a tumultuous World War to the parables of racism in the X-men as a direct reflection of its time during publication, highlighting the horrors of oppression and the inevitable rebellion against it. While there are legitimate points from almost every perspective on the support and criticisms of western philosophies and religions, they are also almost always from a moralised position no matter the amount of objectivity employed. In my opinion, the west in general show a general trend for deriving purpose from their moral positions.
Erring on the side of Balance.
In my deep dive towards understanding the various philosophical and religious views on the purpose of life, some form of morality always seems to be employed in trying to justify even the most simplest actions we take in living out our purpose. While I am probably wrong in my conflation of Purpose and Morality, I draw the conclusion that they are inseparable as evidenced by the existence of every religion through time and how they have specific moral frameworks supporting their versions on a purpose for life. In my observation, purpose without a moral framework does not have the impetus needed to survive the test of time, and instead falls into obscurity, nudging individuals toward nihilistic thinking especially when confronted with the sheer scale of the Universe.
As controversial as much of this topic is, I believe the way forward for humanity is if we can extract wisdom from everywhere we can find it and incorporate rationalism with empiricism instead of a blind adherence to empiricism alone to make sense of the world around us. Studies and polls can be skewed but other times provide great insights, arguments can be made from false premises but other times be framed right to challenge our wrongly held beliefs. It may be prudent in towing the lines of a balanced view of everything around us, no matter how affectively exciting it may be as we are bound to be wrong more times than we are right. Before we can understand our own purpose, the door has to be opened to examine everything from our biases to every valid ideas that moves us and I hope this article has helped open that door a little bit more for a whole lot more possibilities.