November 20, 2007
This is a guest-post from Lama Surya Das.
I have been asking people around the country about what is their big life question. Many say in return, “What do you mean?” I say—“You know, the big questions of life and death, the afterlife, God, suffering, meaning and purpose, truth, happiness, love.” And they inevitably say, “Oh, those big questions.” For everyone is familiar with them. We are all faced with these questions throughout life, as well as with the many little quandaries of daily life. How well and to what degree we attend to them varies from person to person and from decade to decade. I myself feel well endowed with the Why Chromosome.
In my new book The Big Questions: How to Find Your Own Answers to Life’s Essential Mysteries, I address these questions and provide tools and techniques for inquiring and investigating, questioning your own beliefs, and coming up with some genuine personal questions and even conclusions of your own, however tentative they may be. For keeping the questions alive is often better than having some pat answer. “A questioning man is halfway to being wise.” (Irish saying)
The poet Rilke advised us to live into the questions and not to settle for immediate answers. Historian Daniel Boorstin calls man “the questioning animal.” Albert Einstein said: The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Let’s try together to look deep within ourselves and articulate our own deepest question or questions—that which burns us up inside and drives so much of our behavior and questing. Often the question contains within itself the kernel of a significant answer, as every teacher knows.
Buddha said that investigation is one of the seven factors of enlightenment, the seven ingredients in his personal recipe for spiritual awakening. The sacred art of self-inquiry can help us to discover who and what we are and how we fit into this world, and includes our meaning and purpose in life. Asking ‘Who am I?’ can provide an entire spiritual path, if one knows how to actually uncover one’s own true identity or true nature and go beyond the egoic self to realize what is beyond us yet immanent in each of us.
Plato wanted to know, "What is the nature of reality? What is beauty; truth; virtue? What is the best political system? What are the limits of knowledge? What is courage? Justice? Moderation?” Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau asked, “Why is everyone unhappy?” Bill Moyers says: “Every journalist worth his or her salt knows that the towering question of our time is ‘What is the human spirit?’" Kurt Vonnegut thought that the big question is “What’s it all about?”
Zen master Suzuki Roshi said: “The most important thing is to find out what is the most important thing.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?'”
Joseph Campbell said: “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty ‘yes!’ to your adventure.
It is better to know some of the questions than to have all of the answers.
How shall I live my life? What is my true calling? What is happiness? Love? Why am I here? Why are people so rarely satisfied and content, and not for very long? Aren’t these questions for our time?
- Lama Surya Das