11/25/2005

Introduction

The quest to understand the nature of our existence seems all but forgotten in the chaos that is the modern society. It is a lost cause, buried under the scientific marvel and technological advances in an era characterized by information overload and the endless consumption of material goods. We proclaim in arrogance our dominance over nature while in poverty lies the metaphysical understanding of self, emotions, and the invisible truths that govern the way we live our lives.

Perhaps it is not a matter of “how” we should approach these subjects, but rather one concerning “why”. Why should one care? After all, whatever we find are of little use in the context of practical applications. One cannot expect to build a bridge, find the cure for cancer, or solve the hunger crisis of the world simply by questioning the nature of happiness, love, pain, relationships, who we are, why we are here, and what it is that we are supposed to do.

Yet while the cure for cancer and poverty may one day be overcome through awareness and advances in technology, the triumph over these issues alone does not solve the psychological crisis faced by many citizens of so called “developed” nations. This is not in any way an argument against the elimination of poverty or the search for the final cure, but one which states that the absence of poverty and disease does not in itself guarantee positive emotional state of being.

In fact, people diagnosed with depression and anxiety related disorders in the United States have doubled since the 1950s while teenage suicide tripled in number. Suicide now exceeds homicide in volume. How can it be that more people are ending their own lives in the face of rising living standards and personal comfort? Admittedly it may be fashionable and convenient to attribute the cause of depression to chemical imbalances and genetics, yet such theory provides no clue as to why the number continues to soar. Without understanding the internal struggle, one cannot hope to comprehend the root cause, let alone devise a cure.

But how would we conduct this investigation of the inner mind? It is argued that reason as an instrument fails to yield objective insights regarding abstractions such as emotions and the nature of our existence. Instead we find ourselves at a point where claiming further truths entails leap of faith, a leap that science, the brainchild of the modern age, would strongly caution against. In a sense through diminishing ignorance science has taken away what religion has been able to guarantee us – that you and I are special to this world, that our existence has a definite purpose. Yet the concept that we are inherently special seems to be a form of wishful thinking given the indiscriminate nature of disease and accidents and our counterparts in third world countries who were never given a fair chance at life.

The modern man now confronts an inner void resulted from the knowledge of his insignificance and the apparent social breakdown brought by the convenience of technology. The struggle is a psychological one, a struggle that manifests itself in the forms of emotion pain, loneliness, anxiety, hopelessness, and the desperate search for meaning. Those who see only what they want to see find escape in what little material comfort offered by the “brilliance” of modern technology, fueling the consumer culture that defines our era. Ironic it seems, that technology should simultaneously be the cause and the solution to the modern enigma.

The ultimate question now becomes whether it is possible to live a fulfilling life in the pursuit of sustainable happiness given the reality we must come to accept.

It has occurred to me that the ongoing search for self knowledge is not to determine a set of rules used to obtain the objects of our desires, but rather to understand the underlying mechanism at work, to realize intellectually what we already know in our hearts. It is said that the world within is as intriguing and colourful as the world without, that man is a microcosm whose soul reflects the cosmos. The discussion to follow is one that journeys into the darkness of reality and through introspection reveals the human potential for inner freedom.