Life and Living

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Life and Living

Philosophical Texts Centered on Existence

We've all asked ourselves the pivotal questions at some point in our lives: Why are we here? What is my purpose in life? Is their a true meaning of life? Existentialism is a philosophy that helps us begin to understand these things. Existentialism is the analysis of existence. It is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice and personal responsibility. These books' philosophies have helped me develop a better understanding of myself and life. 

The Stranger by Albert Camus
The book is a quick easy read but carries so much depth between its pages. Meursault, the main character, lives in a cold, indifferent world, where the only certainty in life is death. He believes one can take this path in life, or that path, do this action, that action, or inactionit all ultimately, amounts to nothing. Camus puts us inside the head of Meursault, and it's a bleak, scary, place. However, the book is a powerful analysis about the arbitrariness of justice and an exploration of the existential stages of life in which one is expected to trudge through to become a genuine human being. 

Tao Te Ching by Laozi

The Tao Te Ching teaches us lessons about self-awareness and its teachings are just as applicable today as they were when it was written in the 6th Century B.C.E. However, the lessons have been passed down from as early as 4th Century BCE. What the Tao Te Ching does is attempt to show us how we might see things if we could spend more time in awareness, and less in naming. But the central theme the Tao Te Ching asks us to be aware of is not the world, but our self. Self-awareness: We are all aware of the term, but do we really know what it means? "Love the world as your self; then you can care for all things."

Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
One of my favorite books, Notes from Underground, is a masterpiece of existentialist literature. The book deals with heavy issues such as man’s desire to always choose free will, even if it’s not in his best interest but merely for the fact that he can choose free will. It's a very complex read even though it's just about a man who has retreated from society ranting in his basement. However, it is very much worth it. Dostoyevsky tackles the age old "fate vs. free will" argument with a fascinating twist as well as a litany of other philosophical teachings. 

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ellison wrote that Invisible Man was influenced by Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground. It does have comparable themes and structure: in that it is the current day ruminations of a man driven into isolation for various reasons recalling the events of 15-20 years earlier that led to his current state. Invisible man shows the great depths of racism and the many, many, many physical and psychological ways it affects people of color. Written over 50 years ago, the book's themes are just as relevant today and should be revisited and reread again and again. 

The Bhagavad gita translated by Gavin Flood and Charles Martin
I've always enjoyed ancient Eastern philosophies. A lot of the "big name" existentialist philosophers like Kierkegaard and Sartre were heavily, heavily influenced by the teachings from the East. This book is very long and is only one part of the ancient Hindu scripture, The Mahabharata. The 
Gita revolves around questions such as: How can someone live a life spiritually meaningful without withdrawing from society? What can someone who does not want to give up family and social obligations do to live the right way?