Over the months, I have found myself inevitably attracted towards “existentialism”. And I’ve been quite bothered by it until I met a man on the ghats of Varanasi, who came to my rescue!
When you are in an existential crisis, you are basically asking the following questions:
- Why do we exist?
- What’s the meaning of life?
- IS there a god?
- Where does the universe ends?
- Are we real or do we exist as dreams in someone’s mind?
- Can we ever know the universe in its entirety?
- Is time an illusion?
Yes I have known the despair that arises out of an existential awareness. When you question the meaning of everything, your very existence become a big question mark in itself. Existential crisis is tough to live with because life never remains the same. At the same time, acceptance of existential leads to a perpetual sense of bliss and wellbeing, which is what philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism is all about.
For many, the realization of the existential nature of universe is a handicapping situation, because it can lead to depressive states. This is specially true in gifted individuals who, at a very young age, fall into the chasm of absurd realization, from where they see no way out. Every thing from religion to social norms appears irrelevant, and a dangerous sense of freedom grips human mind. This freedom, as the great existential philosopher Sartre called, is “radical”, because it challenges every set norms that makes the human society go around. Things like moral and immoral seems irrelevant as you start to see the universe as amoral. Basically when you are in a existential crisis, you realize that humans are so free that they have a choice to be what they want to be. This is what Sartre meant when he said “Existence” precedes “Essence”. In other words, humans are thrown into existence and then it’s up to them to find their essence, their meaning. There are no Heavens. No Hell. No God. No Devil. Just we and the cosmos. That is all there is.
When you reach to the existential conclusion, life may seem a bit daunting. So, it’s is important to know how to handle it.
A way out !
There’s a positive side to knowing the existential. Many people live their entire lives without reaching to this point of realization, and they die without knowing the existential nature of life. One reason behind this is because to realize the existential, one has to come out of their comfortable world which is governed by an all-loving, all knowing god. That’s the reason why the existential philosophies like yoga and Buddhism are basically atheistic in nature. If you believe God created the world, then you are saved from the bother of existentialism (you can live ignorantly). If you don’t, then there is a problem of existential (you still live ignorantly, but you’re consciously aware of it, and happiness becomes your constant companion). Frederik Nietzsche famously said, “God is dead”, and when he said that what he really meant was that it was the time of humanity (imagine world war 2 and holocaust) when people were asking “If there is an all-loving god who cares for us then why are his ways so cruel”. Existentialism has been the main theme in the works of western philosophers like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre, but what really appeals to me about eastern philosophy is that it is age old and it really gives you a wonderful way to handle this existential realization.
When I was in Varanasi, I met a man from Germany who lives in Varanasi for his research work. “This is what enlightenment is all about.”, he told me. “When you realize the nature of this absurd relation of humans to nature, you are enlightened.”
That night I learnt that when you accept the truth that humans are the children of absurd (as camus said in relation to existentialism) , and everthing that we do doesn’t really matter in this vast cosmos, and that we are just a tiny speck in this vast universe who will be buried under the coffin of time one day and forgotten, you start to experience a state of consciousness which, in spirituality is called ego death. It’s is a stage in your awareness when you realize that the universe was not made for you, rather you are here out of a chance and are no more or less significant that any other creature that walks this earth. This brings out a great sense of respect for the nature and everything that it contains. When you realize this, You start to live blissfully, and happiness becomes a constant companion.
It was in Varanasi that I learnt that if spirituality is all about inner exploration, this is where the search ends—the realization of the existential! This is the true secret to a mindful and happy life.
And now, some beautiful pictures that I captured during my stay in Varanasi!