I’ve always appreciated the hierarchies in Asian religions, especially those that have sprung from Hinduism. They have a multiplicity of very specialized categories for understanding not only the universe but modes of thought and being.
In looking for structures on which to base an Open Art Life I’ve looked into many sorts of age-old philosophies. In particular, these include sources from many Asian religions (having a better fit for me than the Abrahamic traditions.) One such philosophy, for example, is contained in the Buddhist view of the “Good Life” or as they put it “Right Life.” Buddhist thought is, of course, colored by its foundational philosophy. The Buddhist motivation is to end suffering and to break free from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. I personally find many Buddhist ideas to be “true” and “good.” I see the aims or “ends” in Buddhism to largely be good (as in creating help and not harm), generally beneficial for the world at large, and generally in line with Open Art Philosophy and our general mission. Therefore, I find the concepts in the 8-fold path and the idea of “right life” to be useful. There are, however, details inherent to Buddhist thought which while “true” and “good” don’t fit perfectly. Specifically, I come to a different conclusion about the end goal. I am not a Buddhist. Regardless, for someone who is looking for their own “right life,” this is one form which can be a valuable resource for both theists and atheists alike. It is a structure under which many, or all, of the sort of meta categories which I would have organized my own thoughts into are already covered (no need to reinvent the wheel.)
In creating your own right life, you will likely go from these sorts of meta concepts or categories to drilling down into finer and more specific questions and contexts. As you drill down into the meanings and ramifications of these forms, you will eventually come to a point where you have to ask yourself what this new understanding (or formulation of ancient belief) leads you to in a meaningful and practical way. That is, what does all this philosophy mean for how you actually go about living in your day to day life?
Then you have some decisions to make–Having come to these “truths” will you:
- Live “right”?
- Compromise and live half in the light, even knowing what you now know?
- Or will you allow yourself to forget and to fall back into a tide of illusion which keeps you asleep, ignorant, and unconscious?
Using the various information in this site, your own spiritual/moral beliefs, scientific knowledge, and whatever else you draw on for these kinds of answers, critically examine what you find “the Good Life” to be.
I am afraid to talk too much about my own views, as the important part of the exercise is to examine the “problem” critically and come up with your own solutions that work for you. I don’t want to influence that–and, as ever, this is an area where I start feeling like I sound like an “asshole.” This examination is designed to root out knee-jerk assumptions especially. Any time you start thinking something like “Well of course, this is right….” that is when you must be the most careful to scrutinize those beliefs. This keeps you intellectually honest and more interested in truth than being right. This gets very tricky. How do you know a conclusion you come to is “real” and not based from the desires of the ego? This especially is a question that I have been struggling with lately–am I doing the things I am doing for the proper reasons? Or is it my ego just trying to be special? Who am I to think I have knowledge or that I can help people? How can I ever know if something is “right?”
Here’s an example:
In my own personal philosophy, I state my first principle as “Do no harm.” All else proceeds from this principle and from its corollaries. Yet there are circumstances where harm must occur, where “harm” is actually help and vice versa, and various grey areas to be argued about. What about utilitarianism? Good for whom? Is it appropriate to settle for good for the greatest number–or to insist on good for all as the only good. Can good be different for different people? Or must something always be good for it to be considered good. Is there such a thing as good enough? What exactly constitutes harm, anyway? Does it “harm” the apple when plucked from the tree and eaten–or is the eating of it the true purpose of the apple and therefore to let it fall to the ground and rot may constitute harm? How about painlessly killing a creature making sure it is never in fear and then eating it? The natural order is far less gentle typically. How about the “harm” of cutting down a tree to make a home? Surely I don’t want to give up technology and go back to the Stone Age–nor do I want to live on lab-grown meat and GMO creations. While critical examination is of utmost importance, asking these kinds of questions leads down an infinite rabbit hole of debate. It is important to examine your truth, but not to get too bogged down in the debate.
My own conclusions lead me to restate my First Principle as: “Do no harm intentionally. Do as little harm by accident as possible. Be conscious of what you are doing.” However, this still leaves a balance of harm in the world. This leads me to the first corollary of the First Principle: “‘Help’” as much as you can to cancel out any harm you may do inadvertently. Finally, because you may create harm you are unaware of, and because others may create extra harm, help extra in order to cancel out any harm debt you inadvertently cause or that caused by those less conscious.”
You can easily see that the definition of what constitutes “help” is every bit as thorny as “harm.” Let’s just say that I am constantly working this out and refining or even redefining it. Something that has been helpful for me in not driving myself crazy with it is to remember the four agreements. Most especially: “Always do your best.” This is all that you can be held responsible for.