June 28, 2011

I wanted to share with you some philosophical thoughts that I wrote to a friend. They address the false bravado of materialists who claim that the world is beautiful and ‘miraculous’ and that the shortness of life does not detract from it, but in fact makes life more interesting, and thus they have no interest in an eternal soul or God.

When we lose something of positive value, and our loss does not bring in its wake, nor is replaced by, an even greater positive value, then such a loss must have a negative value precisely corresponding to the positive value of that which was lost.

A simple example: if I lose ten dollars, I lose precisely the positive value, namely ten dollars. If I invest ten dollars and make twenty, that is not a loss. Similarly, if I give ten dollars in charity, the rewards may easily outweigh the ‘loss.’ A selfish person may enjoy the renown of having given. A more virtuous person would enjoy the happiness of virtue itself. If we simply lose ten dollars (it falls out of our pocket) and we don’t care, that means ten dollars are just not that important to us.

Thus the more we value this miraculous world, the more the unreplaced, unredeemed loss of life must be a negative value. One may argue that the very temporality of life, its shortness, enhances its value. We cherish every moment of life, as people value large diamonds, precisely because of the limited supply. I think this argument ultimately fails to get at the highest sense of ‘value.’

For some, the value of a large diamond lies in its rarity. But that is more a social vanity and a market force (i.e. the pleasure of having, or dreaming of having, that which so few possess). The true value of the diamond must lie in its intrinsic beauty, which is splendid. The sheer, miraculous beauty of a diamond cannot depend on the quantity of such objects on earth. There are innumerable snowflakes, yet each snowflakes is beautiful, regardless of its low ‘market value.’

Similarly, true enjoyment of a diamond cannot depend on knowing that one will soon lose it. Such foreknowledge might inspire one to ‘enjoy it while you can,’ but the true aesthete of nature would not depend on such a stimulus, just as their appreciation would not depend on the quantity of such objects available to us.

Such true appreciation, not dependent on nor subject to permanent loss, nor based on rarity or prevalence, must constitute the highest appreciation of the diamond or any other wonderful object.

Conclusion: prescience of the body’s eventual demise may lead one to cherish and value life more greatly, but one who truly cherishes life would not stop at that but would diligently seek a means to sustain meaningful life beyond the body’s fall. In other worlds, the miracle of life should lead one to ponder origins and ultimate states.

-Hridayananda Das Goswami (June 28, 2011)

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