Nihilism and Religion Need Not Be Polar Opposites
I am deeply nihilistic. On the other hand, I read religious texts fervently almost every other day and bingewatch Swamis talk about Advaita Vedanta.
Nihilism is true regardless of the pursuit of meaning or of what you hold to have meaning. A particular destination can be found in blood vessels and a purpose in the oxygen being carried to the heart which keeps my body alive. A destination for a person can be found in his societal order and how he fits in it. The society’s purpose can be found ecologically in terms of its impact to everything it encapsulates, embraces, and annihilates. This process can be seen having its fair share of contribution to Mother Nature, something we can say is exclusive to the human race. But what lies beyond the absolute that we face and are condemned to for eternity? Will Mother Nature perish on Earth or see another day or a century on Mars? It certainly might. If its death in this century dictates it to never rise again on Earth, its home perhaps will remain a mystery and its existence something to be hunted and scavenged for among its bitter remnant that’ll flood the Earth.
Within this cosmic deity that is Mother Nature, we are condemned in finding our value in the cosmos. Our venture beyond the planets and into galaxies still means that we carry a piece of Mother Nature, us. At our core, our thought and being, and its sustenance means the sustenance of Mother Nature. This brings us to the larger question. What remains inside Mother Nature, whether at its inception or at its end, that’ll solve the puzzle of the origins of its existence and its continued sustenance? Is it perhaps a soul beneath the feathers of a bird and the rumblings of an old man? Or is its context, the eternal whole within which it resides, that seeks to thrive in providing meaning to its constituents? Either answer or a middle way, our understanding of nihilism pervades into two factions — one of us being on our own to figure out the meaning of our life, and two, that regardless of our pursuit, our meaning won’t be found, whether inside us, inside our whole, or within and beyond the galaxy.
Does this hypothetically sound bleak? Yes. We’ve nevertheless for the last 10,000 years lived as civilizations in various parts of the globe and haven’t perished through the scavenge of a global depression. Our drive for sustenance, of creation, of destruction, and of preservation, has been found through a myriad of our role in the universe and the universe’s role in our existence.
Can we even consider beginning what our role, or place rather, within this boiling pot of heat and of warmth, sometimes of a cool breeze and sometimes of a thunderstorm, is? The desire to find our place or role within the universe emancipates from thought and into the world primarily driven by a lacklustre drive to fixate ourselves on things that are eternally in flux. This emancipation is forever shortlived as our fixations can never find an eternal comfort while we live, for everything beyond us is subject to change, as with our existence.
Through the flux of our surroundings and nature’s wrath, we’ll find ourselves on brink of disaster forever if we choose to never focus ourselves on something steady. Thus began the worship of the Sun and the Moon. Our first deities provided two fiercely contrasting but steady comforts to our pitiful existence. The Sun shined and beaned eternal-ness, a forever-ness, and gave us heat and the drive to become something that produces while its light shines from beyond our reach and into the humble hands of the farmer. The Moon, in stark contrast, provided for a soothing sensation, whether in aesthetics or in the land breeze at night, and it shone through the night to make sure that while the dark inside you doesn’t dissolve but proceeds to become something, either on the wall of a cave or at the stump of a tree, it still shined in the dark night to remind you that as long as the Sun shines in the sky beyond, it’ll reflect its light onto us humans so that your chance to be passive and not active is also but a product of the Sun’s glory.
This became our earliest myths, and these laid the foundation of the duality in our nature. Which brings me back to the other point, of looking inside for a sense of belonging in the world and in the cosmos. When he, the farmer, praised the Sun for its eternal life and shine on his existence, he became a product of his consciousness that praised these values and he sought and carried out an unconscious and conscious emulation of that what he witnessed. When he retired back to his hut and began witnessing a manifold of thoughts that could only be called imagination and fantasy, he sought to emulate the Moon’s calmness and serenity to bring those desires into reality. His worshipping of both the cosmic entities began first with respecting their existence and then in seeking to emulate their existence.
Precisely this is where religion comes into the picture for me. I seek not to yield my time on Earth to pseudo-cosmic beings that’ll rever my prayers and seek to return the favour of my prayers. Perhaps my time could be better spent in the pursuit of a certain nothing that we consider meaning, but I seek satisfaction from my existence. My satisfaction doesn’t come from finding the true nature of atoms or pursuing a war that’ll glorify my fellow countrymen. My satisfaction comes from carrying out myths that I know will engage my soul.
There are modern-day myths too, such as the state, country, money, and feverish entertainment. These satisfy parts of me, but the piece that stitches together the cloth whole, in my experience, has always been the emulation of pseudo-spiritual and religious myths, or universal archetypes, as put by eminent psychoanalyst and religious scholar Carl Jung and further researched upon by a personal favourite on myth teller, Joseph Campbell. I, nevertheless, seek to emulate certain myths in my existence on Earth regardless of their religiously metaphysical veracity. Where does that leave me with drawing a line between modern myths and ancient ones? I don’t need to draw any line. The myths that sell today haven’t changed in structure since the early Vedas and Upanishads, or from the Homeric tales and Arthur’s victories. A clean undercurrent of similarity possesses each of these stories albeit a change in the clothing and nurture provided to each myth.
Does that make my existence or philosophical outlook not nihilistic since I have sought refuge for meaning in myths? It’s simple: I act out these myths knowing they are meaningless. Regardless of how fervently I process a myth and carry it out just as a good actor dons a persona (although my persona runs deep till the soul and sticks after the performance too), I know that I can never begin also to aspire seeking meaning through these choices for life. I might say that there is the temptation to call what I’m doing an existential pursuit of meaning, but I fail to even acknowledge that the world around us can ever pursue a cause of which I will follow suit.
To summarize: Nihilism is a commentary on the metaphysical reality of the cosmos from which one can derive that we can never aspire for meaning in this life, but that is absolutely no reason for me to not pursue completely enthralling myself within the world around me and pick a side to conquer and a side to repress for me, within me, as per convenience, through time-tested fantasies for the self called myths.
All while knowing its meaningless.