One of the words I’ve used on my profile is “Philosopher.” I realise that this is often seen as quite an abstraction, so I’ll use this opportunity to talk about philosophy and its relevance to our modern day lives and world.
What is philosophy anyway?
Well, to begin with a very basic definition, philosophy is the study of the deeper aspects and questions of life like reality, existence, knowledge, values, purpose and existence.
While most of these topics can be approached in different ways and from different angles, the philosophical approach is one that is primarily intellectual, using the mind, logic, and rational argument as tools in the discovery of truth and reality.
My journey into philosophy..
I became interested in philosophy even before I knew of the word ‘philosophy’! All I was interested in was the truth about life, and the meaning of it all. I wanted answers and I wanted them badly!
It was in my early twenties when I first remember consciously asking the deeper questions about life: Who am I? Who are we? Why are we here? What is the purpose of life in the universe? What is the true nature of life? And how do we live our lives in a way in which we can achieve peace, success, happiness, fulfilment and enlightenment.
Once I entertained these questions seriously, I found myself on a compelling path of deep discovery. This incessant search consumed my conscious mind for the next twenty years or so. I started to read every book I could find on the subject, joined various groups focused on spirituality, philosophy and mysticism, and always found – or created- any excuse to bring up the subject in conversation! This was in the early nineties, and year after year as I gained some knowledge and clarity about the deeper truth of life, this yearning to know – to truly know – only grew deeper and deeper.
After asking these questions for more than 7 years, I reached a point where I realised this spiritual inquiry was more important to me than anything else in life. Then one fine morning in March 1997, I decided that I wanted to make this my full time enquiry, from morning to evening for as long as it would take. I had been a graphic designer up to then, and I felt I couldn’t even go on creating another design when all these serious question remained unanswered for me.
On that very day I decided to give up my life as I knew it and move to India to learn all that I could about the truth and about life. I was going to do whatever it took to make this happen. Since I had no savings, what it took to make this happen was to sell my possessions – my car, my Apple Mac, and other belongings. It wasn’t even a choice. I did it. I made it happen!
My years of philosophical enquiry up to then had revealed that of all the philosophies in the world, Indian philosophy took into account something that very few other spiritual or philosophical traditions were talking about.
Indian scriptures and thinking included the theory of Maya, the theory of illusions, and this spoke to me at a very deep part of my knowing. I figured that only when a system of thought admitted the possibility of some kind of illusion that was at play in our lives and in our world, only then was it more completely describing reality.
What I discovered
So after travelling around for 6 months, looking for the ideal place at which I could learn these truths. I found a place where the focus was on Advaita Vedanta, a system of thought which was more than 6000 years old, and concerned itself with truth, reality and self-realisation – or moksha.
I ended up staying at the ashram for 3 long years, engaged in deep study, contemplation and the practice of discipline. During these years I not only studied this specific system of philosophy but lent my mind to all the deepest questions, entertaining any question that entered my mind and attempting to find satisfactory answers.
After all these years I still don’t have all the answers. But I am a little more comfortable with this now, because I believe there’s value in the mystery and the unfolding too. But I do have a framework of understanding that allows me to live with a degree of peace and clarity.
Knowledge is power..
Ok let me bring the conversation back to the relevance and benefit of philosophy on our modern day lives and world.
It is plain to see the value of any knowledge pertaining to the physical or practical aspects of life. The more we know about the world around us, from natural resources to materials to machinery to systems, the better we are able work with these aspects in the service of well-being, progress and evolution.
Philosophy, on the other hand, concerns itself with the deeper aspects of life but the same principle applies: the more we know about the mind, about metaphysics, about meaning, purpose, and the deeper reality beyond what is apparent, the more we are able to live happy, fulfilling and enlightened lives and bring about more peace, harmony and grandeur in the world.
Philosophy and wisdom
As I proceeded in my quest for answers about life, over the years I slowly moved into the realisation that it’s not so much about the intellectual knowing, but it is more about the application of this knowledge. It’s not so much about philosophy as it is about wisdom. What starts out in the head should eventually open up the heart.
Philosophy like most things in life can be approached in one of many ways. For some people the attraction to philosophy can be merely intellectual. It can stretch your perceptions like a good game of chess can stretch your mind. Philosophy can even be a great filler subject at college, or a neat way to impress the girls at a party!
The deeper value of philosophy, however, is revealed only when we start to apply it in our lives. This is when it becomes wisdom. And it is wisdom – or wise living – which leads to happy, peaceful, enlightened lives.
Philosophy and Spirituality
To further understand philosophy and appreciate its relevance, it helps to recognise the difference between philosophy and what we call spirituality.
Spirituality can be defined in various ways, but essentially can be described as a progression in the direction of enlightenment or divinity, and away from a fixation or attachment to the material world or the denser aspects of life.
Usually entailing certain practices, a certain focus, a certain way of being, a certain intention, spirituality also has its accompanying philosophical component. Underlying and supporting any particular form of spirituality, there is always a certain philosophy, whether people choose to focus consciously on this or not. The underlying philosophy generally deals with the knowledge behind the practices, the reason and logic behind this direction, and the concepts and underlying principles pertaining to the form of spirituality.
So there’s always a philosophical aspect to spirituality. But there needn’t be the spiritual aspect to philosophy, because one can engage in philosophy merely intellectually, to satisfy one’s curiosity, to make sense of the world or to impress people at a party!
A fundamental question..
One particular focus of philosophical inquiry is on self-realisation. “Who am I?” is one of the most fundamental questions of philosophy. Of all the insights and understandings we can have about our life, none is as important or as far reaching as the understanding of who we truly are. This is so because the answer to this question can change everything.
When we live out the illusion , or a misguided idea of who we are, we experience a sense of incompleteness and of being lost and alienated. For most of us, most of the time, we live with a sense of being alienated from “God”, from life and from each other. This sense of separation and confusion about who we are leads to a sense of fear. It leads further into much of the dysfunction we are experiencing in our individual lives and in our world today. The dysfunction takes the form of confusion, selfishness, greed, inequality, violence, abuse, and depression. On a global level it leads to war amongst nations and destruction of the very planet which gives us life.
This is not the natural order of things. There is a way out of this. With greater insight and awareness into who we truly are, we can live a more meaningful lives, living it with more ease and joy, experience more inspiration, and express more creativity. When we can expand our sense of self and transcend the beliefs that we are a limited beings, we will automatically open ourselves up to more of who we are, and more of what life is will flow though us and become part of our experience. When more of us live our lives out of this enlightened perspective, we can create greater peace and harmony in our world.
A valuable focus
So is there any relevance or value of philosophy in our modern day world and information-overloaded lives? Yes. Definitely. Although it may not always be apparent!
Knowledge is better than ignorance – physical or metaphysical. Philosophy can and should lead to wisdom. And wise living brings us closer to peace, happiness and enlightenment.
So if you havent yet considered it, I will highly recommend an exploration of philosophy and how it can improve your life. I would suggest you start with the questions you probably asked at some time already. Start with “Who am I?” But be warned – This can set into motion a journey which can be compelling, maybe furstrating at times, but ultimately very rewarding.
If you’re interested to dive a little deeper into philosophy I would recommend these sites.. Compacted digests of deep wisdom at Philisopher Notes , The teachings of Eckhart Tolle, The School of Practical Philosophy, or The Wisdom Page.