What is the purpose of life?
What happens after this life?
Who gives me life? Why?
Who do I live for?
Who controls me?
Am I really alive?
The meaning of life is to know the meaning of life.
The meaning of life is to know why we live.
The meaning of life is to rise above life so that I know why I live.
Dr. Michael Laitman
PhD in Philosophy and Kabbalah. MSc in Medical Bio-Cybernetics. Founder and president of Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education & Research Institute
What Is the Meaning of Life? – An Examination
The wisdom of Kabbalah claims to be a method specifically made to answer the question about the meaning of life.
We thus met with today’s foremost Kabbalist Dr. Michael Laitman to examine life’s most fundamental question. Below are the questions we prepared, and following them, the resultant conversation:
– Why do we ask about the meaning of life? Why does this question exist in us?
– Is the meaning of life attainable?
– Why do children ask about the meaning of life?
– Why do more people ask about the meaning of life during times of crisis?
– Do we have free choice with the question about the meaning of life?
– Why do some people question the meaning of life and other people don’t?
– Why do we die?
– Is the meaning of life to always have life goals and dreams?
– Is the meaning of life to survive, evolve and reproduce?
– Is the meaning of life a constant aspiration for wisdom and knowledge?
– Is the meaning of life to be a good person?
– Is the meaning of life to worship God and enter heaven in the afterlife?
– Is the meaning of life to love?
– Is the meaning of life to be happy?
– Is the meaning of life to be powerful?
– Is life meaningless?
– Should the question about the meaning of life be ignored?
– Is life just bad?
Why do we ask about the meaning of life? Why do we have this question to begin with?
We ask about the meaning of life because, in contrast to the still, vegetative and animate levels of nature, the human level is qualitatively higher than the animate. The human stands apart from the animal because he asks about the meaning of life. He wants his existence to be eternal.
If we can’t live eternally, then life has no value, because everything dies and disappears.
Therefore, the most important question that belongs precisely to the human is about the meaning of life.
Is the meaning of life to always have goals and dreams?
Continuation of the question: There is a perception that pursuing goals and dreams is what gives a sense of meaning in life. Thus, some conclude that the meaning of life is to have a goal or some goals that a person works to achieve, because then the person is always filled with a feeling of meaning. Is it enough that each person can picture or create any goals for themselves in life to satisfy that desire for meaning, or is there something missing in this view?
If the meaning of life is in this life, then it’s not the meaning of life, because this life ends. I need something eternal and whole in order to truly have a reason to live. So let’s search for a meaning in life beyond this life.
You immediately connect the meaning of life to eternal life…
Whoever lives his whole life in this corporeal life doesn’t attain the meaning of life, because in his life’s final moment, he sees that everything he did had no lasting benefit; he didn’t find the meaning of life.
Most of the time, we try to fulfill ourselves, to forget about life and the question about its meaning. But the meaning of life can’t be found by erasing the question about it.
Can you expand on how we engage in forgetting about the meaning of life?
Everything we do in our lives beyond our necessities is in order to push aside and forget about the meaning of life question.
It’s clear that I need to work, get married, have children and get involved in science, creativity, read books, listen to music, participate in cultural life and so on.
But what’s all that for?
I need to know, in any case: Is that the meaning of life? Or am I just filling time, forgetting about what’s higher?
I need to know that there is a little devil is inside me. He constantly scratches me, asking “Is that what you live for?” And I need to answer that question.
Is that “little devil” always there?
That little devil gets agitated, then calms down, gets agitated again, then calms down again. It wants to show me just how much I depend on the world, and how much the world manipulates me and gives me a chance to forget about why I live.
If I don’t ask about the meaning of life, then I’m like any animal.
If I wake up with the human’s question—“Why do I live?”—and if in that same moment I don’t have an answer, then in order not to suffer, I forget about it.
Why does this question awaken in some people and not in others?
The question about the meaning of life depends on a person’s development. However, we need to understand that all questions we tried answering throughout history—and our subsequent developments of religion, science, beliefs, culture and education—were in order to provide answers to the question about the meaning of life.
Animals don’t need to answer this question. They just live their lives.
Human development, especially our competitive development, is in a hidden way, in order to show each other that we know what the secret and meaning of life is compared to others. We compete and develop by trying to show each other that we know what the meaning of life is.
Is it like wanting a bigger car because I want to show it off to the other person?
With the car, when I buy a bigger car than my neighbor, I want to show him that I am in a better attainment of the meaning of life than he is.
Children also ask, maybe even more than we do, about the meaning of life.
A child at the ages of six, seven and eight also asks about the meaning of life. I heard from many children, even at the ages of ten, eleven and twelve, that they are ashamed to ask about this question. Sometimes, after I arouse interest in them, they end up asking, “So what do I live for?”
So that question is like a heavy rock that burdens a child, demanding an answer. Afterwards, however, as hormonal and social development emerge, we forget about it and start running after whatever the world presents and confuses us with.
However, the question about the meaning of life—“Why do I live?”—really disturbs anyone who doesn’t “succeed” to forget about it.
Since the question awakens in children, why does it always disappear?
The question disappears over time because we created our whole lives intentionally so that we would not ask that question.
As a parent, if the child asks me, “What is the meaning of life?” How should I answer the child?
If the child asks me about the meaning of life, then I need to think hard about where that question comes from. It could be that the child is seeking something more in relation to a profession, sport or music, i.e. asking “Why do I live?” in order to find his way in this life.
Is his question really about the meaning of life, i.e. above this life? In other words, does he want to know where life comes from, what happens after he dies, and what happens with this whole life? I first need to check the reason why he’s asking.
Let’s say a five year old child asks me, “What is the meaning of life?”
No, this question doesn’t relate to age.
I remember how I used to question life and the meaning of life. I looked at adults, and it was clear to me that they had nothing to live for. “What are they living for?” I used to ask myself. I sincerely thought that they’d be better off dead than alive. Why do they run to-and-from work everyday? Why do they keeping doing the same things day after day after day? Is it just in order to give birth to children, who themselves grow up to run that same rat race?
I thought that if someone had explained to me before I was born that this is what life was, I wouldn’t want to be born.
So as you can see, my question was really about the meaning of life; it was in relation to life’s source: “Where is life from?” “Why is there life?” “What is the need for life?” “Is there a need for life?”
If you would have told me that in a few generations we would reach something great—something beyond our life—then I would understand that it would simply be a matter of time till a certain generation realizes it. But if there’s no such thing, if we’re just living in order to survive and reproduce, then we’re even worse off than animals. This is because animals don’t ask themselves why they live, and since they don’t have questions, they’re more complete.
Isn’t it preferable to be a suffering human than to be a happy animal?
Is it preferable to be a human who suffers from the question about the meaning of life than to be a happy animal? No, because the person gradually develops to a state where he indeed attains the correct answer to “What is the meaning of life?”
When he attains that correct answer, he truly becomes “a human being” in the full sense of the term.
Whoever doesn’t attain that is much worse off.
There is a fear in answering the question about the meaning of life; answering it means eliminating the question.
If I know the meaning of life, precisely then I’m truly alive, because it doesn’t seal my life off to a state where I know what it is and then I have nothing left to do. Instead, it opens a plethora of opportunities for attainment and a whole new world.
Precisely that question—”What is the meaning of life?” “Why do I live?”—is a gateway to the upper world.
With the knowledge that the question has an answer, I enter that gateway and start my research. I understand that there is a colossal mechanism surrounding our life and our world. The question prepares us in great depth, to develop from the animate to the human level, to enter the wide, eternal world and why it exists. We learn where our universe and life on planet Earth come from, where it is developing towards, and what great system operates and guides us. Gradually, through this research, we come to attain the degree of Godliness.
Why do people die?
We die because there is a limit to how much we can exist at the animate level. My body dies—my animate level—not the human being within. If I start entering a higher degree through the question about the meaning of life, then I don’t die. My spirit continues developing.
Can you connect the question about the meaning of life to the fact that we die?
Physical death is given to us consciously, with some fear and calculation included, so that we will reach the question about the meaning of life and ask it to ourselves, at least once during our lifetime.
If I didn’t know that I was going to die, then I wouldn’t ask about the meaning of life?
If we were eternal, then we certainly wouldn’t ask about the meaning of life. We would be always busy, like we are now, with all kinds of things, confusing ourselves more and more. Death is a major correction.
How is a person’s age connected to the question about the meaning of life?
Age indeed plays a role, but it’s not connected to people’s individual development. It depends on how much people are connected to society. There are people who, when asking about the meaning of life, want to attain it during the first part of their lives, others in their middle ages and others when older. It depends not on the person, but on how much the person is connected to the enormous collective system of human connection.
At first glance, it seems like a person asks about the meaning of life to satisfy their curiosity.
The question about the meaning of life doesn’t surface in a clear, direct manner. It sometimes appears philosophically or scientifically. The question about the meaning of my life brought me to a state where I studied a little anthropology and astronomy. Then I went through a lot of different studies, and finally I arrived at the wisdom of Kabbalah.
That is, a person searches for the meaning of life through many avenues. If he endeavors into all kinds of creative, cultural and educational activities, there too he searches for the meaning of life and finds satisfaction in those activities. For example, if he writes a symphony, he feels as if he realized and found himself, that he brought something out of himself. By that, he is similar to the Creator, and feels that his life has meaning.
But in reality, everyone needs to answer the question about life’s meaning.
During our narrow and sorrowful lives, everyone subconsciously knows, even vaguely, that life has meaning.
Is the question about the meaning of life connected to depression?
In today’s generation, the question about the meaning of life surfaces very sharply and widely. This is because our generation’s ego has overblown exponentially. Today, nearly everybody asks about it. Depression emerges when people can’t find an answer to the question about the meaning of life, and a multitude of problems in our society follow: drug abuse, suicide, divorce, terrorism among many others.
Youth don’t see themselves connected to the goals presented to them today, but they don’t really ask about spirituality. Why is that so?
Our generation faces that eternal question, “What is the meaning of life?” and in contrast to past generations, ours needs to answer it clearly and collectively, i.e. society as a whole will need to answer it because the development of the whole human society depends on it.
We have reached a state where we’re living as a small village on this planet. When we all ask about the meaning of life, then we all need to answer it.
In a global world, where people and nations are tightly connected, and where this compact connection is expressed virtually through the Internet, we need to understand that the question about the meaning of life is life’s most important question.
The Internet emerged in order to answer that question. Asking about the meaning of life internally brought people to be connected, where through the correct connection between us, we can rise to the level of the question’s answers.
For the time being, we use the Internet like little children who run around in a messy house from one room to the next, playing around. I very much hope that, after we advance beyond all this confusion, we will seriously engage in what’s most important: How can we—now that the Internet allows us all to be in one place, one state, one internal and virtual field—truly ask: “What is the purpose of our whole civilization?” “What do we get out of it?”
And then we will find the answer.
Can people help each other find the answer to the question about the meaning of life?
In order to find an answer to the question about the meaning of life, people will need to be in connection with each other, because this answer is above life. Only when a person awakens from himself can he find an answer and a person can do that only if he is in connection with other people. In what way? If I am inside my life, inside my ego, inside myself, then I will not know the meaning of life. Precisely if I can exit into you, to connect to you such that I am really inside you, then I can see my life and the meaning of my life, i.e. by being inside you.
Therefore, the connection between people for the attainment of the meaning of life is necessary in order to awaken us above each one of our private lives. Then we can attain the meaning of life through the same direction by which life comes and clothes on us.
If a person doesn’t have the question about the meaning of life, is it worthwhile awakening that question in him?
Yes, because in our generation, we have reached a state where everyone can open for himself the meaning of life and by that, his life will acquire a completely different tone. He won’t “just need to survive.”
Couldn’t it do damage to him?
No. How could it damage him in that he wouldn’t live a life of a beast, but that he would attain eternity and wholeness in this life?
One perception about the meaning of life states that people need to worship God and enter eternal life in the afterlife.
I don’t know what “worshiping God” means, and I don’t know what “the afterlife” is. I know that a person can enter a system that controls our life and the life of the system that operates us.
We can reach a higher level of awareness, and on that level, exist in eternal thought and desire. Call that “the afterlife.” It’s the “mind” of the system.
In many surveys I’ve seen, they ask “What is the meaning of life to you?” and they give a few multiple choice answers, Happiness, Love, Success, Freedom…
No. I disagree that the meaning of life is happiness, love, success etc., because all these things remain in this life and die together with the person. What benefit do these qualities give me if I’m dead and they all disappear? I take nothing with me. On this point, the Kabbalistic texts describe Pharaoh—the egoistic-materialistic control of the person—who wanted to take all the happiness he had during his life to his grave. Nothing remains of that happiness. What remains and is thus most important is the spirit.
If we are concerned about the elevation of our spirit—so that it won’t serve our body, but that it’ll be above our body—we thus reach a state where we attain the meaning of life during our current lifetime. Then, by attaining the perception and sensation of this higher system that controls us, we understand where life comes from, what controls us and why we live this way. That is what the wisdom of Kabbalah gives us.
Does happiness come as a byproduct of engaging in the process of attaining this higher system?
Our discovery of the higher system—”higher” meaning above our corporeal intellect and emotion—completely fulfills us. This is because we can explain everything happening to us from a higher perspective. In other words, we can answer, “Why does anything exist at all?” Even the higher system, why does it exist? We can answer anything not just about our current lives where we live like animals trying to supply our bodies with their needs, but also what’s above and below it. We learn that our life’s purpose is to discover our spirit, and rise to an eternal and complete meaning of life. Also, what is that for? The question about the meaning of life, our corporeal and spiritual life, is really an eternal question, and it takes us to higher and higher degrees.
What knowledge does a person need to learn in order to answer, “What is the meaning of life?”
We need to learn the fundamentals of nature—knowledge about nature, culture, science, everything about life in this world—because we need to know where we get our urges from.
We need to learn how our development guides us towards discovering the meaning of life, and that we reach a crossroads on the way there: Why, after this whole long process that of many thousands of years of our development, do we finally reach a state where, after great despair and major questions surfacing, an opportunity opens up to discover the meaning of life?
We need to know quite a lot, and to be especially intelligent in wisdom, science, culture, education and the history of the universe and humanity. We cannot simply have a very narrow viewpoint, because then life will distract us towards different directions, each time making us think that the meaning of life is “in that new thing over there.” We need to reach a conclusion, in a very personal manner, that there is no meaning of life in this world.
Can a person keep engaging in things that fulfill him for now—drugs, entertainment, technologies and hobbies—and still find a deeper meaning?
The meaning of life doesn’t seal off our existence in this world, because we need to search for meaning from how we live in this world, where life takes us to the solution to that same question. So I am not allowed to relinquish this life. By doing so, I wouldn’t do anything. On the contrary, by living among people—having a profession, children, etc.—together with those things, I need to find the meaning of life.
Beyond the necessities—food, sex, family, shelter, profession—does discovering the meaning of life replace surplus fulfillments—football, beer, drugs, sports, etc.?
No, it doesn’t replace them, but it organizes them properly in their correct proportions. Where then, I can take my whole engagement in this world and give it meaning, adding “dimension, height and volume” to it. I organize my life so that it is truly complete, where I won’t have to abstain from anything. Additionally, I organize myself to attain the meaning of life. Then, I can be a complete person.
In one sentence, what is the answer to the question: “What is the meaning of life?”
The meaning of life is to discover the meaning of life.