Last Month

For some reason, instead of writing blog posts I spent all of last month writing Ecclesiastes in my own words. I’ve read it in the past, but having stumbled onto it recently, it seemed to say something more significant this time. It reminded me too much of what I’ve read in other ancient interpretations of life. Peering beyond the jargon, there seems to be a consensus among the wise about what life really is.

To put it into my own words, I read through several translations of Ecclesiastes, one chapter at a time. It’s a pretty short book but it still took awhile for the words and meaning to swirl around and sink in. Some of the translations I used were the King James (KJV), Geneva Bible (GNV), North American Standard Bible (NASB), Amplified Bible (AMP), and the New International Version (NIV).

Ecclesiastes seems to mesh nicely with the philosophy I’ve been developing about life. Major influences in that philosophy are the Bhagavad Gita, Jesus’s sermon on the mount, and the path of the Buddha. As far as Buddhist texts, I think the Dhammapada is decent, although more significant than a particular book, is the actual path of the Buddha, which is that of a human struggling to deal with the angst of life.

As the Buddha sought understanding, so too did Solomon. And in his way, he seemed to find it. With his perspective, I can compare and validate my own. It’s an interesting and relevant outlook, addressing the same concerns faced today. Of course the symbolism and analogies are of a different era, but once deciphered, they align well with modern life — at least from my point of view.

Ecclesiastes

This is my current interpretation of Ecclesiastes
(version 1)

part 1

Existence appears significant and solid, yet it’s merely a mirage. Man’s efforts produce nothing of value in the vastness of the eternal universe. Generations continually come and go, the sun repeatedly rises and sets, the wind forever blows round and round, the rivers flow constantly into the insatiable seas. Nothing is new, it’s all been done before and will all be done again, yet mankind fails to perceive this.

I am driven to seek knowledge in all things, yet it’s an unattainable task. As king I witnessed the efforts of mankind, yet life is nothing but a thrilling dream. The broken cannot be fixed and the flaws are too many to count. In my relentless quest for knowledge, I also found distress.

part 2

And so I sought enjoyment, but this too lacked substance. Laughter is a mindless reflex and delight accomplishes nothing. Like the merry masses, I drank of wine and let my passions lead the way. I accumulated great possessions and treasures, lived in lavish houses with lush gardens, all while served by many men and women.

I became greater than all those before me. What I wanted I took, denying myself nothing. I was pleased by all I achieved. Yet looking back, it was as if a daydream, fleeting and intangible. And so I compared the fate of the wise to the foolish, those that see to those that reside in darkness, and I realized their identical outcome. I wondered what use was wisdom if it simply vanished at the end of life. Because of this futility, I became frustrated.

All I had built by my skill and knowledge, I must leave behind to those lacking my wisdom — this is a hateful happening. Of what use is the fruit of strenuous work to the doer? Devotion to tangible things causes nothing but strain and grief.

I therefore came to this conclusion: eating, drinking, and finding joy in one’s efforts — these are the gifts of life. Those appreciative of these gifts receive delight, while the unappreciative languish in hard labor.

part 3

The happenings of this world occur at designated times within a narrative that’s gradually revealed. While engaged with this narrative, man is tasked with deriving enjoyment from the fulfillment of his life, appreciating the provisions of his nourishment, and perceiving value in his efforts. Life gives this opportunity to man.

The plots of this world are eternal, there is nothing to add or subtract, everything has been done and will be done again. Life lacks fairness and every man will find himself judged. And what of the beasts of this world? Man and beast share the same breath, as one dies so does the other — how is man any more than beast? From the earth both rise and fall, and no one knows whether they divert after death. Therefore man should be happy in his earthly endeavors, as that is his place — for what comes after his life he cannot know.

part 4

I then looked upon the condition of oppression. On one side were the oppressed, drenched in their tears, on the other, oppressors saturated with power — yet both lacked means to end their own distress. What a nasty state of affairs, so much so that I envied the dead, and even more so I envied those yet to exist, for they have not seen this evil.

I have witnessed the ways in which men compete with one another as rivals. But for what? While it’s foolish to remain completely dormant, a more relaxed approach is better than fiercely straining to overtake others.

Those toiling endlessly, lacking loved ones to care for, this too is a senseless way to live. Two are better than one, as one can assist the other — what help is there for he who falls alone? In cold, two can combine their warmth. And if attacked, two are stronger than one, three even more so.

Even kings come and go. The lowly rise while the high sink. Those celebrated by the masses can lose their favor.

part 5

Don’t demand life proceed in a particular way, and don’t make promises you can’t keep, simply watch and wait for life to unfold. Upon witnessing injustice and oppression of the poor, don’t be shocked at this drama, know that it’s set in place for a greater purpose — the excitement of existence is for all to experience.

Those that love money cannot be satisfied with money, and those that love accumulation cannot be satisfied by acquiring more — these are empty dreams. Of what use is abundance except to witness surplus waste away? Those partaking in a fair share sleep soundly, while those hoarding life’s treasures suffer a stress-filled slumber. Those that stash away wealth injure themselves, as riches provide only the sensation of safety yet are susceptible to loss, resulting in grief. As one is born with nothing, so will he depart with nothing — of what use is the stockpiling of sorrow?

Better than this, is simply to eat and drink while enjoying one’s efforts — this is the reward of life, not riches. And know that the strains of life will not be remembered by those focusing on its joys.

part 6

What good are the tangible aspects of life to those incapable of enjoying them? What good is a prosperous family to those discontented with life? The unborn are better off than those afflicted with such dissatisfaction. What good is longevity to those not delighting in life?

Man labors incessantly for sustenance, yet remains unsatisfied with existence. The wise gain nothing more than the witless and the destitute gain nothing more than the dead. It’s better to appreciate what’s attainable than to wallow in want.

What is, is. Man cannot alter the order of existence. On his path through life, a man cannot know the ultimate outcome of his actions, whether they be good or bad. And when measured upon an eternal scale, a man’s life is shadow, weightless amongst the entirety.

part 7

More so than a feast, a funeral inspires an appreciation for life. More so than laughter, a sad face inspires kindness. The wise seek the source of satisfaction while fools seek the facade. Resist the siren song of the fool whose sweet words leave a bitter taste. Though it be blinding, seek the light of the wise.

The fool seeks to abuse his power and influence, values pride over patience, is quick to anger, and speaks wistfully of the good ol’ days. The wise seek the wisdom that makes life livable. Man does not shape life, but is shaped by life. When satisfied be appreciative, but do not fear adversity, as life creates both conditions — simply watch as the narrative unfolds.

Within my life, I’ve seen everything. I’ve seen good men martyred and wicked men rewarded. Don’t take life too seriously, it’s not worth the anguish. Yet don’t be cruel or careless so as to finish life too quickly. Blessed are those seeking balance, respecting and appreciating this life.

Realize, wisdom is what provides strength in this world. Also realize, no one is without flaw, and as others criticize you, know that you have criticized others — so don’t give weight to careless words.

I sought the truths of life, yet found attainment of such knowledge difficult. Life beguiles man’s mind with desire and impulsiveness. And while under the influence of lusts, wisdom cannot be grasped.

part 8

The wise man is as a beacon burning bright.

I recommend obeying the law, since those with authority will do as they please without consequence. Even when distressed, have patience and a belief that all things have a proper time and place. No one knows what’s to come, no one has control over life, as ultimate authority does not lie in the hands of man.

Because wicked acts lack immediate consequence, people engage in them. But even though it appears that evil deeds go unpunished, it’s better to respect and appreciate the creations of this earth, for the wicked live as shadows, unable to grasp the goodness of life.

There’s a futility to what’s done on earth however, as it’s a place where the innocent can be punished and the villainous rewarded. Because of this I say: eat, drink, and be merry — there’s nothing better than that. No matter a man’s circumstances, he can try to extract enjoyment.

While seeking the truths of life, I came to understand that life was not comprised of truths, but of endless mysteries not meant to be solved.

part 9

No one knows the path their life will follow, yet every path ends the same. No matter one’s actions or intentions, all share the same fate. But surely it’s better to be alive, even as a lowly creature, than a noble dead one. Although the living know they’ll die, the dead know nothing, lacking even the remembrance of life.

So eat happily, drink cheerfully, enjoy whatever you do. Adorn yourself well while savoring time with loved ones, as this is the gift of life. Whatever you do, embrace it, appreciate it now, as nothingness awaits you in the grave.

I saw in life that nothing is certain, every endeavor is left to chance. The strong don’t always win, the smart don’t always prosper, and the skilled don’t always succeed. And like unsuspecting animals caught in traps, no one knows when their time is up.

Something else I realized, there was once a small city under siege, surrounded by a powerful force, yet it was saved by a poor wise man from within, but even so he was soon forgotten. Although wisdom is better than strength, a poor man’s words are without esteem. And so it’s the words of the privileged that are heard more than the words of the wise.

part 10

A spot of rot spoils a whole batch, as does a little foolishness spoil much good. Should those with power become angry with you, remain calm, as gentleness alleviates insult.

I’ve noticed an absurdity, where those that are low are high and those that are high are low. And those that intend calamity, may well find themselves caught by it.

Wisdom is like a freshly sharpened axe, allowing work without strain, And while words from the wise are an asset, foolish words are a destructive force, they proliferate while spoken, weakening all. A fool speaks with confidence about things he does not know.

Cursed is the land led by immature minds. While tending to selfish wants, they let infrastructure crumble. For them, money is the answer to all things. But do not denigrate such leaders, not even in thought, for it can result in nothing good.

part 11

Invest in life and in people, don’t be so cautious as to do nothing. Ignorant of the underlying hows and whys of life, don’t fret and just live. Keep busy, who knows which endeavors will succeed. Appreciate the pleasant, but also the unpleasant, as it’s all part of the show.

Follow the most lighthearted of passions, knowing there are consequences for wicked acts. Remove distress from your thoughts by perceiving life as a fleeting fantasy.

part 12

Appreciate life now while you can. And know that wisdom is what unifies the world. But as words are only words, life must be lived. Lastly, respect this realm and all within it.

Beckoning Beacon

We can criticize and attempt to fix all that’s wrong with life. We can try to stay out of things and just observe. We can dive right into our role and relish the experience.

Obviously we’d rather just travel a well defined path and feel fulfilled by our physical existence. But as ambitions and opportunities don’t always align, frustration can set in. From there we can rebel against life with rage or disinterest — burning out early or retreating at every opportunity.

We might also try acceptance. But acceptance is no easy task for those unable to relate to their internal inclinations or external circumstances. For some it seems as if asking a dog to live as a bird — build a nest and eat worms.

Because life contains dilemmas too numerous and intertwined to manage, it’s of no use to fix life. Because urges force action, we can’t simply sit still. For many, just dealing with the angst of life is a primary theme of existence.

But that’s good news, as that angst represents an actual pathway. It is the role of some to act as beacons, traveling ahead, shining so others miss the ruts and rocks. Starting as dim flickers these beacons gather resources, enough to build a brilliant light.

Extreme Dissatisfaction

Jesus rejected the bullshit of life and proceeded to rage-quit. Buddha rejected the brutality of life and developed a passive resistance, refusing to engage in harshness. Arjuna ultimately accepted life and played along, resulting in the slaughter of many family members. These figures illustrate three different approaches to extreme dissatisfaction with existence.

Jesus witnessed the conditions caused by a society based in selfish materialism, and was enraged. He rejected the leadership and its ways, refusing to play their games of authority. When threatened, he essentially said: do it. He was fed up with assholes and their oppressiveness.

Buddha witnessed the brutality of life and was deeply disturbed by it. After engaging in a brutality against his body via asceticism, he settled into passivity. He accepted that life was brutish, but now he refused to participate, remaining calm despite the surrounding turbulence.

Arjuna disliked the drama unfolding before him, a war between loved-ones. So saddened, he wanted to slink away. Eventually he accepted his role, actively participating in the bloodshed. He recognized life’s brutal yet futile nature, a man’s life was nothing in the scope of eternal existence.

Life is an exercise in perspective. Seeing similar things, interpretation creates a world within our minds. And to this contrived image, we react. Oftentimes we’re frustrated, and from this feeling we may become angry or despondent, and from there we quit or cope. Throughout it all, life remains exactly as it is, with outlook and reaction defining each existence.

Cyclical Apocalypse

A time may come when most of life resides in the digital realm. Videos, books, photos, currencies, careers, schooling, relationships — so much of daily life won’t tangibly exist. And what does exist, is likely made of a biodegradable substance, environmentally friendly and readily reabsorbed. Construction and manufacturing might become so green that they leave little footprints and have minimal environmental impact.

The digital realm requires a globally connected network of complex machinery. Yet as people’s lives become digitized, they’re likely to lack the capabilities of those that physically built these networks. The complex network of interconnected machines has been built over time, and not many will have the capacity to rebuild or maintain it should something stop working. And as complexity increases, so does ease of failure.

If there is a collapse, civilization will crumble quickly. Without the network, there is no knowledge. Small pockets of people will scramble to subsist utilizing the most primitive of methods. Tiny groups cannot sustain advanced technology, and over time as civilization devolves, it’ll appear that humanity consists only of undeveloped wandering nomads, simplistic tribes lacking all but stone tools.

There will be rumors of ancient air devices, legends of gods among men wielding fantastic powers, some of these stories will be blown out of proportion, some will be true but seem as fairytales. This is not a pessimistic doomsday prediction, merely the cycle of existence. What is, will be as it was. What was, will be. And so it goes, again and again. Fear not the end of civilization, as it is also the beginning.

Thematic Alterations

Comedic and dramatic stories often contain themes of misunderstanding and overreaction. For example, a guy thinks his girl is cheating on him, he proceeds to cause all kinds of ruckus only to find out she was merely planning a surprise birthday party — hilarious.

And throughout our daily lives we can witness the same themes. But it’s odd to think we manufacture so much drama in our lives — why not simply seek clarity while maintaining a calm demeanor? He didn’t show up!? Well maybe he had a good reason, I’ll wait until I hear more, then I’ll respond in a composed manner.

Our lives, even our histories, are a series of misunderstandings and overreactions. But maybe we’ve run that theme into the ground. It can be amusing, but how many times should we shout about something that’s not even true? Instead of yelling and condemning, maybe we could ask questions while curtailing our pessimistic speculation?

Instead of buffoonery as our theme, perhaps we could pursue alternative themes such as exploration and advancement. Instead of yelling about conclusions based on conjecture, we communicate peaceably, seeking truth and fellowship. Enough with the immature bullshit already, let’s move on.

Detached Delight

People’s lives make for interesting stories — funny coincidence huh? Sympathetic characters, suspense and tension, story arcs of maturation, overcoming obstacles, conflict — it’s all there, all mixed up in a big stew of intermingling drama.

The actual action can be pretty mundane but it’s interpreted so imaginatively that it seems exciting. He said WHAT!? Oh NO!! That’s our lives though, a constant series of misunderstandings and overreactions.

Due to the intensity, sometimes it helps to view life with a detached perspective. It’s quite a silly little farce we’re experiencing here. Taking it too seriously is a recipe for distress. So spending some time staring at it from the outside makes the whole thing a bit less worrisome.

Don’t stare too long of course, as there’s more life to be lived. Yes life employs a lot of cheap tricks to try and hold our attention and evoke emotional responses, but it’s all in good fun. Know this, and live life lightheartedly — after all, it’s only a story.