Both eastern mysticism and western existentialism ask what is our authentic identity, how do we find meaning and how do we deal with anxiety. Both east and west ask the fundamental questions; who am I, why do I exist and how do I deal with suffering. Within both inquiries lies the premise that we are aware to the extent that we can reflect upon self and make choices to act.
In simplest terms, the purpose of our life is to know God and offer that love to others. God exists within us as the true Self. That Presence within is the same Presence, the same Consciousness, that is in all beings.
The east and the west have very different understandings of the self.
Western philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte said, “Authenticity consists in experiencing the indeterminate character of existence in anguish. It is also to know how to face it by giving meaning to our actions and by recognizing ourselves as the author of this meaning. On the other hand, an inauthentic way of being consists in running away, in lying to oneself in order to escape this anguish and the responsibility for one’s own existence.”
In the west, knowing the self comes from the starting point of individuality, choice, pain and responsibility. In the west, we create an identity. It is a battle of suffering and happiness, pleasure and pain. In the west, we attach meaning to our life and actions. It is a personal choice and a constant evolution where an authentic self is a progressive creative act of redefining ourselves, of re-forming an image.
In the east, the authentic Self is divine consciousness, presence, awareness. The meaning of life is to know the Self and, in that revelation, happiness is uncovered and experienced because happiness is intrinsic to the Self. Happiness is not assigned, arbitrary, individual or fleeting. Bliss is the essential nature of the true Self. The Self is one with God and one with all that is.
In the west, anxiety and unhappiness are fought against through choice, action and responsibility. We resist unhappiness. We fight to be happy. We search outside for relationships, circumstances and things to make us happy. We create lists of desires that, when fulfilled, will make us fulfilled. Western philosopher Franz Adler said, “Man chooses and makes himself by acting. Any action implies the judgment that he is right under the circumstances…”
In the east, we accept ‘what is’ in this present moment. We allow life to unfold with neither resistance nor attachment to outcomes. Through that outlook we gain peace of mind that allows us to know the Self. Our responsibility lies in knowing the Source of intelligence and power and revealing that true Self, which is Brahman. In this revelation, we acquire wisdom and realize we are the intelligence and power that can progress mankind and end suffering.
Socrates said, “Know thyself.” The east and the west approach this maxim from very different viewpoints. Both east and west require we take responsibility, but the west does it through a competitive battle of attachment and aversion. The east does it through allowing and acceptance.
The west sees the eastern approach as weak and ineffectual. The east sees the progress of the west and is leaning toward the western approach. Yet, the western approach has only increased anxiety and unhappiness while supplying material advancement. The eastern approach, when truly practiced, has provided inner peace and enlightenment but without the material advancement.
The melding of knowing universal consciousness that is our true Self and becoming that fullness of power and intelligence is the start. Offering that to the world to end all forms of suffering and lack is necessary to complete purpose. This world is both absolute and relative; consciousness and its manifestation. One without the other fails purpose. Together they fulfil purpose of knowing the true Self and offering that love to the world.