Three Orientations to Life

Broadly speaking, there are three orientations to life. By far the most common is the first, which is a naive acceptance of reality, or “the unexamined life”. This is tantamount to total immersion in the Wheel of Samsara. You play the part of a muggle, diva, muppet, addict, victim or demon without the slightest flicker of self-awareness.

The second is a naive rejection of life. This is the condition of people who have examined life and found it wanting. They see through the charade and consequently suffer a chronic crisis of meaning. In the modern West we call this an existential crisis or a mid-life crisis, because it usually takes about forty years or so for the sheen of samsara to fade. These second types may become religious ascetics, puritans, or worse. They are the life-deniers.

The third orientation to life depends on the second. It is also built on a vision of emptiness and meaninglessness. However, it moves beyond the mere rejection of the world for the sake of a higher one. Instead, it discovers meaning in a return from the spiritual plane back down to earth. It is the difference between the Bodhisattva and the Arhat. It is “returning to the marketplace with open hands”. It is Jesus Christ as world redeemer.

In the first place, we are lost in samsara. In the second place, we escape from samsara. In the third place, samsara is redeemed. But it should go without saying that this is not a once and for all achievement. We get lost again and again; we have to escape again and again; and we must find redemption again and again. True, it’s a life of constant struggle, but at a certain point it becomes clear that it is in fact the only life worth living.