by Kelvin H. Chin
Life After Life Expert, Overcoming the Fear of Death Foundation
Predestination and Free Will
Don't worry. This is not going to be a traditional philosophy discussion. I fell asleep in my Philosophy 101 class in college, even sitting in the front row trying not to. I hope this essay has the opposite effect – and helps wake us up.
Many spiritual teachers speak about each of us having "a meaning to our lives." They use various terminology and explanations to describe this, words like dharma, duty, finding one's path, etc. But they all distill down to one basic fact – someone else is telling us what to do. Someone bigger than us knows better than we do. This notion that another mind or soul that is smarter or wiser than we are, and therefore knows better than we do what is good for us, and what we should be doing with our lives is a theme that runs throughout spirituality. And I think it is a theme which does more harm than good.
It is the classic parental, paternalistic attitude towards raising children, isn't it? Those of you who are parents know exactly what I'm talking about. We sometimes think as parents that we know better, and sometimes we do, but not always. So, the issue is where do you draw the line if you are the parent?
In spirituality, this issue is no different. I think the parental or paternalistic attitude of many spiritual teachers towards their students over the millennia has given rise to this sort of attitude and also resulted in certain beliefs just like this one – "the meaning of life."
I think somewhere along the way some very well-meaning spiritual teachers sought for their students what they thought would be best for their students and taught them about things like dharma, duty, following one's path, in order to help them along their way. But, in doing that, they may have helped the student in the short-term, but in the long term I think they hurt the student by not allowing the student to 'skin his or her knees', to live life fully and learn from their experiences, fully exercising their free will. "Free will" meaning their ability to exercise all of their choices independently.
Being Comfortable With Uncertainty
I think part of this paternalistic attitude by many spiritual teachers towards their students arises out of their concern for creating some sense of certainty for the student, the proverbial seeker along his or her path, to keep the seeker motivated. The reality of the "uncertainty of life" for many seekers, is often too much to bear. And they quickly stop seeking in the way that the spiritual teacher feels is best for them. So to motivate the student, the teacher has tended to choose short-term motivation techniques. For example, creating certainty. In this case the certainty of "knowing" that there is "a meaning" to the student's individual life. This sense of certainty is a built-in motivator to the student to keep them on the path that the teacher has created. It is the classic "carrot" motivator – "If you keep following my instructions, you will eventually discover the meaning of your life." That is the implication.
Being Comfortable With The Unknown
Spiritual teachers who use that tactic in motivating their students are essentially telling their students, "Don't worry about the Unknown, because if you continue to follow my instructions, you will eventually find out – the Unknown will no longer be unknown to you." They are promising that you will know the meaning of your life if you believe in their school of thought, and follow their guidance and instructions.
Being Comfortable With Oneself
Instead, I think it is much more powerful, more accurate – and in the short and long run free from harm – to take the following approach.
Believe not in what someone else tells you to believe. Believe not in some other mind or soul's school of thought. Instead turn within, go inside your soul, inside your mind and figure it out as best you can at that particular moment in time. Be your own teacher. Become more comfortable with your self.
Find and align yourself with techniques and teachers who espouse this sort of approach. Run away from the ones who want you to be their disciples, who want you to unquestioningly follow them.
Teachers are not bad. Teachers are necessary in our lives at various times. It is their messages that sometimes may be misguided due to either lack of understanding, or misplaced intent. As a student, that is what you need to look out for.
Being comfortable with oneself is the key to reducing the grip of fear that many of us have about the uncertainty of life, the great Unknown. As we increase our comfort, our understanding, our self-awareness, our knowingness within ourselves as individuals, we feel more secure inside, more self-confident, and the uncertainties of life loosen their grip on us, and eventually completely exit…leaving us free to live our lives fully.
And the technique for doing this is simple – turning within, knowing oneself, strengthening oneself from the inside out.
Now let's talk about where I think the confusion may have arisen in some spiritual teachers' minds, when they talk about "knowing the meaning of life."
Choices a Mind Can Make Before Birth
As we have discussed in other blog essays, I think the mind or soul is much more powerful and expansive than most people give it credit for. I have experienced and observed, for example, minds making choices before birth, before coming into physical manifestation – before coming into their physical body.
We can make choices, for example, to accomplish certain things in our lives, to keep an eye out for certain friends we have encountered in other lives, to seek out developing certain relationships. But these choices we may make prior to birth do not guarantee that they will happen. They are choices. They are not guarantees.
But, one could see how someone who is very self-aware and has experienced this sort of choice-making at that juncture in the soul or mind's development, and later became a spiritual teacher, could be inclined to teach their students that there is a "meaning to life."
I would say that that is a slight confusion or conflation of the experience. Instead, I think we make choices, and we may increase the probability of certain things happening by making certain choices, but that there is always the chance that we will make a different choice (for all sorts of reasons) that will give rise to different outcomes and consequences. There are no guarantees.
So I would say it would be more accurate to say that we may have a direction to our lives based on certain choices we make before birth, but that there is no "meaning" to our life, since that implies a specific, identifiable, single choice that is not subject to change.
Moreover, I maintain that the approach that there is no "meaning to life" and that our lives are a collection of choices that we make before, during and after birth that are constantly changing based on our own individual mind's ability to make more choices on an ongoing basis is in fact the ultimate self empowerment. That there is no one "pulling our strings" – no one dictating to us what our life purpose is.
We make our own lives. We make meaning "in our lives." We may find meaning in our lives but it is not because we've found what some other mind decided our meaning to be.
To use a term that I refer to in my lectures, we are "sovereign minds" – we are freestanding individual minds with countless choices, controlled by no other mind.
That is the meaning of life.
Kelvin H. Chin is a Meditation Teacher, Life After Life Expert, and Author of “Overcoming the Fear of Death.” He learned to meditate at age 19, and has been teaching Turning Within and coaching others in their self-growth for 40 years. He helps people understand their life challenges through their individual belief systems, and helps them find their own solutions. His past life memories reach back many centuries, and he accesses those memories in his teaching and his coaching in the same way all coaches draw on their own available experiences for perspective and effective analogies. He can be reached at www.OvercomingTheFearOfDeath.org or www.TurningWithin.org.