Living the examined life
By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.
When Voltaire’s father asked him what he wanted to do for a living, he answered that he would like to be a philosopher. His father, a prosperous Parisian lawyer, then said, Oh, son, so you want to die of hunger! Unfortunately, this remark expresses the popular conception of philosophy that it has no relevance, much less practical usefulness. Like its sister disciplines in the humanities such as literature, history, religion and the arts, people often frown upon it as the preoccupation of impractical dreamers or the peddlers of illusion. They invariably contend that philosophy “bakes no bread.”
But what could be more practical and useful than the pursuit of wisdom and truth? As Time essayist holds, without philosophy there could probably be no bread either. For, the very act of baking implies the prior philosophical decision that life is worth living!
It should be borne in mind that life and philosophy are not only related but interlocked. Socrates, the father of philosophy and also its first martyr, put it in words no one with a modicum of intelligence can afford not to know. He said, “For man, the unexamined life is not worth living. ”We are involved, directly or indirectly, in the philosophical enterprise. There is not one of us, observes James L. Christian, who is not trying to make sense of the mystery of existence, and at some level of our being each is seeking fulfillment. In our search for the meaning of life, we are all philosophers by default, though not by choice.
To be sure, many of us must seek broader understanding from those advanced souls who have searched hard and come up with answers that worked best in their own case. Even if in the final analysis no one else but ourselves can give us wisdom, there is this need on our part to sit at the feet of the masters and drink from their cup of wisdom.
Or to use another metaphor, we have got to stand on the shoulders of giants to obtain a wider vista on the nature and purpose of creation. We are of course talking of intellectual giants and the seeing which enlightenment is.
There is a world of difference between knowledge and wisdom. The former can be acquired through any competent instruction; the latter, which is largely unteachable, can only come about as a result of one’s inner orientation and lifelong endeavor to get to the bottom of things. True learning results in the heightening of awareness and self-knowledge, the deepening as well as enlargement of one’s discernment about the truths of the human heart, and the forging of a wholesome attitude to life.
How, if I may ask, do you regard life? What is your basic disposition? There is this story about two cellmates. One day, the jail warden took pity on the two prisoners under his charge. He allowed them, for the first time in years after having been shut off from the outside world, to look out from behind the prison bars.
What caught their attention was this—the first prisoner saw the muck; the second one saw the stars. Whether one sees the mud or the stars depends entirely on one’s kind of temperament and level of being. It is said that one’s stage of development or level of being attracts one’s life, the kind of circumstances or events in which one finds oneself. In the Reluctant Messiah’s Handbook we read: “Every person, all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there.” Like attracts like. This is a cosmic law. So, the truly earnest seeker realizes that a comprehensive learning contributes to the birthing of his real self and the raising of his level of consciousness. He does not just attain a balanced outer personality. Even more, his center of gravity lies in the divine spark within that draws him toward the transcendent, toward the Infinite, toward God, in the same way that the plant, driven by an inner impulsion, leans toward the sunlight.
My fond wish, dear heart, is that you affirm the goodness and sacredness of life no matter how badly it may have treated you sometimes. Believe in the order of the universe; marvel, like Ivan Karamazov, at the sticky little leaves as they greet the early morning sun; slow down a bit your pace so as to admire the beauty of a flower in bloom or a woman in love; or yet enjoy the symphony of a nearby stream or the music of the spheres.
What you and I badly need now, given the storm and stress in our time that so bedevil our lives, is a rapt communion with nature and all creation till they reveal their secrets to us. All the while the moon was there. It was but the clouds that hid it from our view. Despite its marvels, we cannot forever be immersed in the virtual reality that our computers conjure for us. Ultimately, there can be no substitute for the real. Whatever shape our so-called borderless world may take on as it evolves across time, what is important is that we achieve on a personal level our own inward transformation. This is what really matters. This is what philosophy vouchsafes.