Why are we here?
Why are we here? Great question—maybe the great question that forms the foundation for all other essential questions about life as we experience it here on a little blue planet spinning in space. And the word “question” is central to any discussion on the Subject. We here in flesh and bone have only the thinnest shreds of light to turn toward for any possible explanation of why we are here.
I’ve been riding alongside that question almost as long as I can remember. I recall at around the age of 12 sitting on our front porch and trying to wrap my understanding around the impossible fact that there could never be a beginning or end to time or space. That thought sent powerful shivers of near terror coursing through my body. More than half a century later I can still rouse up a facsimile of those shivers if I make an attempt to conceive of the fact that there never was a beginning. Truly mind boggling.
Disclaimer: The following views on the question posed in the title do not necessarily reflect those of the Management. It’s just one way of attempting to throw a fragile lasso around the mystery and haul it in a little closer for examination. But I like this view and it implies endless possibilities for growth and exploration.
The “mystery” appears to be some kind of unfathomable (to us) eternal intelligence (see previous reference to the essential non-existence of time and space.) Names don’t cut it, and as we so often see, can be pitiful and even harmful attempts to squeeze the mystery into comforting but airless little boxes.
Call it God, or Creator(s), or Unified Source Consciousness, or Great Spirit. Or don’t call it anything at all. Based on over a half century of reading, talking to people, and occasional glimpses through the veil under the influence of a strong psychedelic/plant medicine, my best guess as to what “it” is and does goes something like the following.
The first principle that applies directly to human experience requires calling on a much abused and misunderstood four letter word. As the visionary poetic songmaster Leonard Cohen once put it, “Love’s the only engine of survival.” Or as the great Christian mystic Thomas Merton wrote, “God is love.”
For the sake of consistency I’ll stick with the term “Creators” for the moment. I see the Creators as artists in the most exalted possible use of the word. The artist of love loves to create—in this context, eternally. We clever but mostly blinder-than-a-bat monkeys down here have “seriously” underestimated the foundational principle of the joy of creation. A Tibetan Buddhist master of my acquaintance called it “primordial smile.” It’s the universe at play.
I like to think that these great and vast artists are rubbing their hands together gleefully and saying to themselves (and each other?) “Oh boy, what shall we do now?” Then they might envision and kickstart a planetary configuration like the one we so prosaically call “Earth.” I suspect they’re delighted with what their handiwork has wrought on this project. It’s a great blessed miracle far beyond current human comprehension.
That same Buddhist master said that the awakened person has a mind of joy and sadness mixed together—joy of the primordial smile of the universe at play, compassionate sadness for the tragedy that most humans pass through this life without coming close to a full recognition or appreciation of the Creators’ gift to us.
There’s a lovely word I only learned of recently—autopoesis, meaning something like self-creating. I’d like to think, as some origin myths hold, that the original intent, or vision, was to create a stunningly brilliant environment for self-creating/autopoetic individual beings to explore and to play in while keeping open the channel to the divine source.
And that’s my best shot at answering the question of why we’re here. An essential component of the gift is that we humans have been given the capability of creating with love. When I said that this small and brief attempt to shine some light on the mystery implies limitless possibility, that’s essentially what I meant—that we are here to revel and participate in creation.
How often do you stop to observe and contemplate the incredible intelligence at play on this marvelous planet? There are uncounted millions of unique creatures on Earth. Have you ever gotten right up close to a spider and noticed how any one of its eight legs can independently function by turns as either masterful web-building arms or anchoring legs? Or how about the complex wizardry of photosynthesis—and every other version of “breath?” Or slime mold without brains that can find their way through a human-made maze to reach their food source? And how about the fact that bed bugs can live for up to a year without food or water? Or bacteria that can decode the latest antibiotics faster than the scientists can generate new ones? A list of brilliant survival strategies like these would be all but endless.
And such a list wouldn’t even fully address the wonder of what Buddhist scholar David R. Loy called the “interpenetrating interdependence” of everything here—air, earth, water . . . everything. Surely we should at least occasionally feel the urge to fall on our knees weeping in amazement and gratitude.
You might at this point be asking, “Okay then, why is there so much suffering and cruelty on this planet?” That is a huge and thorny question I won’t get into in this short piece, though I’ll quote the 13th century Persian mystic poet Jelaluddin Rumi as a brief response. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
In some ways that quote from Rumi pretty much sums it all up. The clear implication is that no matter how much we might rail against the cruelty and stupidity of human activity and curse our circumstances, we are all ultimately capable of removing the barriers we have built against our potential for reveling in and contributing to creation. Our “task” you might say.
On that note I’ll leave you with this one, attributed to Rabbi Hillel in the 1st century BCE.
If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?