The Mystery of Life

The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved; it is reality to be experienced.

Beware of the man who claims to have solved the problem of life, who would explain its complexities and, with deadly logic, build a system in which all the facts of our existence may be pigeon-holed and neatly stored away. He stands condemned by his own claim.

The child which sees wonder in all the world around it, to whom the shells with which it plays on the beach are objects of breathless excitement and thrilled amazement, is nearer to divine truth than the intellectualist who would strip a world of its mystery and takes pride in showing us its anatomy in ruthless dissection.

For a while it may satisfy evolving man to know that the splendors of a sunset are but the breaking of light-rays in a moist atmosphere; he will come to realize that he may have explained the method, but has not touched the mystery at all.

Recovering from the sureness of youth, never doubting itself, awakened man returns to the wonder of childhood and once again sees a world, which, as the years pass by, deepens in mystery and beauty, but is never exhausted or explained.

Many are the systems claiming to explain life, contradictory in their premises and consequently in their conclusions.

They may be clever, they may fit perfectly in all their details, but life itself never evades them; were it possible to contain life in a system it would no longer be life, but death.

Life is ever changing, ever becoming, yet eternal in its abiding reality and the desire to grasp and hold it, to see it stretched out before us, as a butterfly in its glass case is destined ever to be disappointed.

Our systems of theology and philosophy, yes, even science, are but as momentary glimpses of a rapid movement; they may show us an instant of that movement in frozen immobility, the movement itself can never be contained in them.

And yet, even though the attempt to solve the problem of life and explain it logically is doomed to failure still the yearning to understand more, to know our own meaning and purpose is so irresistible that even the thought of failure cannot hold it back.

The thirst for truth is a sacred aspiration; like water seeking to gain its true level its onward pressure is unending until its purpose is fulfilled, its object achieved.

Such a fundamental desire cannot exist only to be frustrated; the very existence of the desire for truth is the promise of its fulfilment and prophesies achievement.

Fundamental instincts are never wholly mistaken; if truth were not for man the desire for truth would not be as a burning unrest in his heart, the eagle ever eating out Prometheus’ liver which ever grows again. That man should desire truth above all things is right, that he should be willing to sacrifice himself, his years, yes, his very life, to achieve it does but show the nobility of the desire.

But when, in blindness of materialism, he wants to have truth, to grasp and hold her, to lock her between the pages of a book, to make an object, a thing of that which is the heart of things, then the nobility of his aspiration is lost and the hero of yesterday becomes an object of pity, at whom the great gods smile in compassion.

Though ever again men may claim to have found truth and to possess her, truth herself remains untouched; truth is the mystery of life, which the hand of man can never reach.

Truth never descends to our world of error, he who would know must ascend towards that world of Reality where he can see face to face and, for a while, becomes living truth.

But it is ever man who must climb the mountain of reality; the Vision on the Mount does not descend into the valley.

Thus it is possible for man to know the mystery of life; solve it he never can, still less contain it in an intellectual system, however logical.

Life is not logical; thought logic is the alphabet, which we must learn if we would speak the language of life, which is truth.

And yet no intelligible language can tell of the vision to him who has not seen it; each must tread the weary path up the mountainside by himself and reach the bare and lonely top where alone the vision can be seen.

We may point out the path, tell of the hardships on the way, the dangers to be avoided and the obstacles to overcome, but none may tell the final mystery–its name is experience.

The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, it is a reality to be experienced.

Excerpt from ‘The Conquest of Illusion’ by Dr J.J. van der Leeuw, (1928)