In my previous term in De La Salle University – Manila, I took a class called Philosophy of a Person (PHILOPE). It’s the next class you’d take after you’ve passed Introduction to Philosophy (INTFILO). Our professor in PHILOPE told us that “You will have to write a paper on human existence in place of your final exam”.
And so I began.
Unfortunately, I believe I didn’t get the grade that I deserved, but I guess it was kinda my fault as well. To say “All the things I learned in class don’t matter” well, what kind of professor wouldn’t get pissed off LOL.
Philosophy of Human Existence
First and far most, I want to make this as clear as possible that, although I find all these philosophers and their philosophy to be interesting, I can say that I am only interested in them in an academic point-of-view. I am, as many people find hard to believe, a buddhist, a zen buddhist if you want to be more specific. My friends find this hard to believe because of my long-standing battle against religion. I was, what they called then, a pilosopo back in high school.
Back during my grade school days I had more or less, the perfect life. Loving parents, good school and good friends. I was a candidate for honors, so I was pretty smart, I think; I enjoyed life, I enjoyed God. I praised Him for giving me wonderful gifts that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. However, this perfect life ceased to exist when I got into high school.
Problems between my mother and father began escalating, it affected me so much that I began flunking out on my classes. I started developing a thirst for various kinds of vices, most of which are illegal and dangerous. I became the delinquent that I was known for, in fact I don’t remember a single week that I wasn’t sent to the discipline office.
It was then I began to question God’s way, “Why is my life like this? Why can’t my parents get along? Why can’t I just get my normal life back? Why etc. etc.?”. As I questioned more and more, my eyes began to open. I began to realize that the questions were more important than the answers, so I sought to ask more. In a short amount of time, I became the first person in Lourdes School of Mandaluyong to be openly atheist (for you see, LSM is an extremely Catholic school and atheism is something new and taboo).
The first ever questions I asked God about existence was my existence. I asked him “Why am I like this?”. He obviously didn’t answer me, so I pursued the answer myself.
I was an extremely weird and energetic kid back then (and I think I still am, though buddhism kinda mellowed me out). So I wondered, where did I get these traits? I kinda resembled my father and my mother, so did I get it from them? I found this to be true when we were studying about basic genetics. I indeed inherit these genes from my parents. But what about all my other aspects that my mother and father obviously don’t have, like the “courage” to discard faith and find the truth? I found out then that I was influenced by society and my surroundings.
But which is right, nurture or nature? I say that, I couldn’t be who am I today without both. I am, and everyone is, a product of genetics and society and I think that shouldn’t even be a theory.
Another question I asked about was morality. Without God, without religion, what can I base my morality on? I was afraid that my basis for morality would be wrong and that one day, I would then see Hitler as a moral man (that was my worst case scenario; can you blame me for being a 14-year-old boy with a wild imagination?).
My classmates back then and a certain priest then told me “If you have no religion to base your morality on, then you can say that smoking is good?”, “Well it’s bad for your health, but I don’t see anything sinful about it, aside from the fact it helps you deal with stress” I replied. They’d soon say “Well, rape and murder is against God’s will, since you are not a child of God, rape and murder would then be okay for you!”, I replied with “Are you an idiot? What kind of logic is that? And where did you come up with that kind of argument? Did you just say that in order to make me feel guilty?”. Then they’d all just shut up.
Morality can be learned from anywhere and anyone, but then there’s the problem of what one learns is truly moral, so let’s put up a situation as an example.
Let’s say a child was born in the worst part of the city in the worst part of the world. Following the “nature and nurture produces what we are” theory, we would then conclude that the child would grow up to be another ruthless criminal. But we all know that there are two sides of a coin, right? So how can a child grow into a model citizen in the worst part of the world? I think the child would just know, he would have the gut feeling that something is wrong, that the things happening around him are wrong. That is called, intuition.
The last question I asked was, what is my purpose in life? For a 14-year-old boy, this question was too big for me. Even up ’till now I still find it hard to know what my purpose in life is. But I know that I want to do good and I want to help people get a better chance in life. But for now, my purpose in life will have to remain a secret from me until I come across something, somewhere at some-time.
From these three questions, I began to broaden my scope-of-vision, I sought to look for questions about the world. My first realization was, we have a determined faith. But not in a way that God puts it, it’s in a more scientific way. I conjured up this theory when I had to repeat my first year in high school (this was the time I was actively arguing with my fellow Christian schoolmates).
I claimed, everything we will do in the future has already been done, it’s just that our reality has yet to catch up to it, hence we will constantly be living in the past (no pun intended). Quite a bold statement from a 15-year-old. I explained this with another theory that’s been in existence for quite some time, which has been popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Terminator.
The time paradox shown there tells that, no matter how much you try to change the past, it can’t be done. In fact the mere act of you trying to change the past is actually part of the time-line that we try to alter. Basically, what I tried to say was, all the actions and decisions you’ve made and all the ideas you have will ultimately determine your future. My friends would then say “What if I decided to change everything about myself?”, I would say in reply, “That decision that you made is already part of what you’re about to do, it’s just like the time paradox only it’s not and at the same time, it’s a little more than it”.
The only difference with the time paradox and my theory is. In my theory we can eternally have a false sense of freedom. How you ask? Well what’s the one huge difference between my theory and the Terminator? We know the ending in the Terminator. The Terminator showed us the future, giving us the idea that whatever we do to avoid war, we will still end up in a war with Skynet. My theory however, is almost true.
We have a false sense of freedom because we can’t see the future. We can’t say we are destined to be a doctor or a dictator because we can’t see where our actions will ultimately lead us to. I’ll expound it more with another example.
Let’s say that up ahead you see your cross-road in life, path A will lead you to a great job but with no family and path B will lead you to have great family but lands you on a job you’ll hate. You will choose Path A and you will do everything to achieve path A and in the end you do get Path A. In my theory, there is no cross-road, it’s just one road. Our mind creates the illusion of choice. We won’t know until we reach the goal.
This can also go another way. You choose path A, you work hard to achieve path A but in the end you’re on Path B. How can this happen? Well, it’s happened to a lot of Filipinos in Manila. They work more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week but they never get enough money to feed their children. One crucial part of this theory, which is true in any philosophical theory I believe, is that anything and everything can and will affect you, whether directly or indirectly.
So we go back to my claim of freedom that “everything we will do in the future has already been done, it’s just that our reality has yet to catch up to it, hence we will constantly be living in the past”, if we put that into mind, it’s kind of clear that we are already destined to do something or to become something, it’s just that we can’t see the future, and it’s this lack of clairvoyance gives us the false sense of “freedom of choice” for our already destined future.
But in the end, all these talk about freedom and determinism doesn’t matter to me, because I am, as I said earlier, a buddhist. For buddhism, nothing matters, but not in a way that we are apathetic, it’s just that it’s not important to get all fussed up about. So what if I’m free or not? As long as it’s not a hindrance to my enlightenment, then I’m okay with, but if it is, then I must transcend it. Just like the old saying goes “If I see Buddha on my way to enlightenment, I will kill him” because Buddha is a hindrance to my enlightenment.
Buddhism taught me that all these things we argue about is important, but what is important is that we must grow out of it, because there are more important things in life than trying to figure out if we truly exist, like actually living our lives in contentment. Buddhism is all about detaching oneself from everything, even detaching oneself from oneself. I can make up theories on human existence, go into a three-hour argument with the priest or write a long essay about it (just like this one). But human existence is not just about being rational and logical, I think it’s impossible to find the answer to human existence with scientific analysis, because humans aren’t just the mind or soul or essence or body, it is the whole entire entity that resides with others which they reside inside another.
To exist, for me personally, is to be the best that I can be, but not in bad faith and in the expense of others.