My entire life, ever since I can remember, the idea of existence has driven me; my mother tells me I am the most intense person she has ever met in regards to experience. Indeed, my exploits into greater realms of existence can find me bedding down with angels and demons, experience hell and heaven in the same moment, and understand the vastness of the incomprehensible. From my study of existentialism I have determined that it, like all of the philosophies I have studied, can be explained through Tao, a focal point of my existence.
When I was young, around seven or eight years old, coming into the “age of reason” our system puts so much stock in, I began to seriously question the Christian concepts I had been brought up to believe. It took little time for me to understand that man was not a concept of God, but God a concept of man. When I asked how a God that is infallible and all-knowing could bestow man with free will, knowing all the while what man will do with it, and then hold man accountable for actions that God himself caused, my questions were brushed aside. My quest for the answers grew more and more intense; I knew there was more to experience than I was limited to by the religion of my ancestors, and I saw that an evolution had to take place. Around my sophomore year of high school, I came to study Deism, the idea that a God exists within existence but no longer participates in it, and dabbled with it until my senior year of high school when I discovered Tao. Tao was the idea that was one idea – that all existence was one existence – all beings were one great being and that everything just existed to exist – that true existence is non-existence. Upon coming to college I discovered existentialism and nihilism, which were well explained by the yin and yang of Tao, the ideas of all existence having purpose and meaning and the idea of existence being meaningless.
Since I discovered Tao, these concepts have been foremost in my mind. Taoists say that “true Tao can never be said,” which is to say that the concept of Tao is so vast and great that it could never be properly described by any sort of physicality, be it a word, number, wavelength, or electrical impulse. I found this concept similar to the idea of God having a will and plan that was too complex to understand; only Tao accepted more and admitted more than Christianity. Tao literally means “The Way,” an idea that all existence flows according to a great oneness, all existences being one great existence of non-existence. Over the last Easter, I discovered that the first church started by St. Peter was called “The Church of The Way,” and was based in the idea that God’s spirit was present everywhere and could be felt by any person in many ways. I found this fascinating because it was so similar to the fundamentals of Tao, and I was not surprised that this idea was taken by men and twisted into what it eventually became: The Roman Catholic Church.
Another concept of Tao was the idea of cyclic existence, of yin and yang, a positive and negative constantly in flux. One of the most fascinating concepts we touched upon this semester was Niesche’s ideas about cyclic existence. From a certain point of view, both Niesche and Tao are right and wrong; existence as experienced by man is indeed cyclic, but true existence is far from. Night and day, black and white, yin and yang, good and evil – these things are experienced by both man and other aspects of existence, such as the rest of this planet if not the universe. While yin yang is black and white, true Tao is best represented by a constantly-changing shade of grey. This is when Niesche’s ideas of nihilism come into play, for the idea of “reason” is also an idea of man and this physical existence, not of the true existence. True existence goes beyond anything we’ve talked about in this class – it isn’t definable – it’s barely able to be discussed seriously. The logic of it, for the most part, is not much sounder than any other philosophy or religion; it is only true and provable by using the same philosophies to back up the argument at hand.
Unfortunately for the individual, one is trapped within a physical mass, regardless of how hard one can try to avoid it. It is impossible to even imagine a truly two-dimensional object – a physical being can never fully understand the greater existence that supersedes the physical. They may come very close, such as figures like Buddha and Christ, but in order to transcend with the greater existence, one must let go of physicality. So, until that time comes, a person is left with one consistent obvious hindrance – themselves. Our minds give us the rationale to realize that we can think, and that we exist; it is this ability to observe our observations that keeps us from understanding true existence. Individual being is a buffer between our truest selves and truest existence. In the end, both are the exact same thing, and all of existence is one existence, but it is impossible for an individual to understand that because he/she is interpreting that existence improperly. Similar to the idea that while we can see light from the sun, we can not see the entire spectrum of the sun’s rays due to our physiology, but this does not mean that the energy is not there and does not effect us; radio is silent though it fills the air with noise.
The truth is we are all quite literally the exact same matter while at the same time becoming new matter every decade or so. Suppose creation of what we call existence happened in the following way:
An underlying energy – true existence, true Tao, the tangibly palpable – that which pervades existence spawns a physicality that slowly expands and contracts; our specific solar system is but a small part of that. Simply put, base elements (most commonly hydrogen as it is the simplest) pockets together, compacts due to gravity, and ignites. This burning ball of gas attracts all kinds of other elements to its region and then those elements do the same thing that the other elements did and based in the same gravity begin to spin around the burning ball of gas. Asteroids and comets and all kinds of things bombard these different hunks of rock and gas. In the case of our planet, a big rock comes along and slams into the side of our rock, knocks it off its normal axis and rotates around this new axis, making that axis consistent. The comets that had hit left ice patches similar to those found on Venus and Mars, but in Earth’s case, the new moon created seasons and weather, causing the ice to melt and life to begin. Each year the moon slowly moves farther out of its orbit and will one day slingshot off the side of the planet and mess up all of that life. Someday the sun will run out of fuel and expand to engulf the entire solar system, eventually collapsing into itself and creating a black hole, a force of pure gravity, possibly a transfer point for the reacquiring of energy in the universe as it continues to expand and contract. What is the point of this theoretical dribble, no better or worse than the idea of a divinity creating the world in seven days? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – we are the same organic matter as the rest of the earth, and all of that was forged in the center of the sun, and all of that was spawned from the center of the physical universe by an energy that both pervades and encompasses all of existence. And just as our planet constantly seeps magma under the ocean to expand the surface of the planet, all the while slowly digesting the layers of rock underneath to supply this cycle, human bodies cycle their matter every seven years or so. Seven years from now, the majority of the cells that make up our bodies will no longer be in our bodies, and we will be an almost entirely different being; at the same time, we are made of those same base elements that have existed forever and were spawned into our existence by the greater existence.
Around the same time as I made the discovery about the original church of St. Peter, I discovered something about knowledge and faith. And idea was proposed to me by a good friend of mine that all knowledge we have, while obviously being self-knowledge, was based in faith. Certainly such things as religion have basis’s in faith, but even such things as the scientific method and the laws of physics require a belief in those laws. To have a functioning government or economy the society must have faith in the system. The reason for faith is ever-present – it is based in something believed that, in every experience in one’s existence, gives a sort of explanation. For each person, the explanation is different, because despite the fact that all these faiths are different they are all the same, and all the different people with all the different beliefs are all made of the same matter but are different beings with different existences that is all just encompassed within a greater existence. The difference between the greater existence and our physical existence is the ideas of reason and purpose, ideas that are as illusionary as the physical existence itself.
This brings the discussion back into eastern faiths such as Buddhism, where the physical is but an illusion and Nirvana, the true existence, is all that really matters. This same argument is made with “existence/existenz,” or the “in-itself/for-itself.” However, I have serious qualms with these arguments. The idea of “authentic existence” is one that I have struggled with greatly with this course. For Satre, authentic being was a being that existed for itself and not for other portions of existence; by not living for others one experiences what one truly wants and is truly free. When an individual chooses to exist for others, it remains a free choice, and that person continues to live according to what they desire. And, in the idea that all of existence is one existence, it doesn’t really matter what choices they make because they will constantly be acting in accordance to the greater existence. This would be the cruti flux between being and nothingness, most likely why he titled his book such, and is essential to the understanding of existence. Unfortunately, nothingness tends to be misinterpreted.
Nothingness is a hard idea to grasp, because like everything else, it means different things to different people. A true nothingness would be a void, a place that has absolutely nothing in it, not even dimension; this does not sound too dissimilar to the idea of an absolute existence that has no physicality or concept of time. People talk about outer space as a void, but even if there is a portion of the great vacuum of the universe that is devoid of any electric impulses or sub-atomic particles, it still takes up space, and therefore is still part of the physical existence within the greater existence and can not therefore be truly nothing. But that’s not always what we mean when we talk about nothing – not just the absence of matter and light and gravity and dimension and all these things – it goes beyond the loss of ego and desire and self – existence is only real based on individual meaning. The perceptions we have of the world around us are far from real. Even if everything I’ve said is wrong, about creation and energy and meaning, there is no way what anyone perceives can be called “real” or “true” in a universal sense because everything looks different from a different point of view. And if one does agree with what I’ve said, it doesn’t matter anyway, because existence knows no real meaning – there is no meaning – that is the other concept of nothingness. Existence as futility, pain, or desire is as valid a concept as existence as beauty, love, or pleasure – in the end all are illusionary. And illusion is nothing, but that nothing isn’t nothing, it’s something, it’s just nothing to us because we ourselves are part of that vast illusion. As much as each individual is infinite, no individual even exists in the true sense of existing, because living “in-itself for-itself,” is impossible. So while each person is doomed to be free and can cultivate one’s garden all day long, in the end, there is no freedom but randomness and there is no garden but the mirage.
So physical existence is limited but it is inevitably infinite because the greater existence is infinite; at the same time, while the physical existence may appear to have meaning there is no meaning because there is nothing in the greater existence, especially not things like meaning. The greater existence doesn’t even know it exists: it just does. It is the friction of this existence, the byproduct, if you will, that becomes our physical existence. A worm eats a carcass, the worm fertilizes a plant, a human eats the plant, the human dies, the worm eats the carcass – this is the same as the earth rotating its layers or the Big Bang theory or how the individual constantly reevaluates themselves and existence – the meaning that is so hunted for by existentialists does not exist. Meaning was created by man, as God was, to give humans hope in an existence that they are not able to deal with based on their rationale. I think, therefore I am, but once I know that I can no longer be an authentic being, because the moment I realize that I rationalize I will know others do, as well, and will fall into the illusion of desire, love, passion, pain, and all the other things that keep the individual from truly understanding the greater existence.
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