The Meaning of Life (1)

Author Charles Yeung

Translated by Soula Lo

Life is a kind of responsibility. As long as we are alive, we need to take the responsibility of surviving. The famous psychiatrist Victor Frankl who created Logotherapy said, “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for. Consider man as a being whose main concern consists of fulfilling a meaning and in actualizing values, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts.” He believes that when a person has found the meaning in his life, the gratification to live is beyond wealth, social status and material pleasure. But when a person loses the meaning of his life, no fame, social status or material pleasure can ease his pain. Frankl helps people to realize their own meaning of life in everyday life, in order to fundamentally change their attitude towards life and further to face the reality and live optimistically. He said in his book Men’s Search for Meaning, “In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

Furthermore, the famous Chan Master Sheng-Yen shares two points of the meaning of life in his book Chan Gate: first is being responsible, and second is fulfilling duty. There was a notable man who was eminent and outstanding, but after he retired and had nothing to do; he felt there was no meaning to keep on living. Master Sheng-Yen replied, “We can’t say how long we want to live, but we have no right to say we don’t want to live too long either. Humans not only have no right to commit suicide, they also have responsibility to maintain life in good shape and face the reality of living. Regarding our current situation, we can improve the bad with effort and wisdom; for the good experience, we can strive continuously to make new progress for the future. We need to pay good attention to life and enjoy life, and make good use of it until the last moment. Do not cause regrets for ourselves, or to others. Otherwise we are being irresponsible and not fulfilling our duty.”

As for what is the responsibility in life? Responsibility is doing one’s own tasks; you will do your tasks that fit your position. You are in a certain position, and a certain social status means you need to fulfill the responsibility that belongs to you. This is what we call “role and orientation.” When we find ourselves in different periods of time or situations, we need to play different roles. When we were young, we needed to play as our parents’ children. When we grew up we become husbands, wives or parents. When we are at home, we act as someone’s family members, whether of the senior or junior generation. When we are at work, we act as others’ superior or as their subordinate.

We need to know that every role has its orientation and responsibility, just as when we are someone’s child we need to fulfill filial piety. When we are students, we need to do our homework, learn and study well. When we are being leaders, we need to lead by personal example, to subjugate others with virtues. As a subordinate we need to be honest and loyal. To our friends we need to have a sense of honor and trustworthiness. When we have good command of our roles: coordinate with each other with respect, accomplish honor between monarch and subjects, have caring between father and son, order between young and old, and trustworthiness between friends, then we will have harmony in family, have success in career, and have peace in society. The country would then be prosperous and the people all live in safety.

The Chinese modern philosopher Qi-Chao Liang has a famous saying, “We need to know the bitterness of responsibility in life in order to know the joy of fulfilling responsibility.” Everyone has a responsibility which belongs to him; we need to face it and solve it by ourselves. Only when we actively take our responsibility, can we do things right. Live life well, so life can be lived with abundance and meaning.

“A person’s life should be lived this way: when he reminisces about the past, he should not regret or fool away his time, and he should not be ashamed of being average and achieving nothing.”—An excerpt from the book, How the Steel Was Tempered written by Nikolai Ostrovsky.


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