Meaning of life
The question after the meaning of life is one of deepest questions that can live in us human beings.
To answer it we have to ask what is life, what is our life, what is life around is, life in the universe, visible and invisible, physical and spiritual.
We also have to ask what is meaning, again it is related to the frame in which we ask the question for meaning, how we define what is supposedly meaningful? for our mundane tasks in our personal life today, for humanity and the planet, for the whole of the cosmos where we fit in?
No answer of this question is satisfactory on its own, the answer is as good as the depth of contemplation about these things by the person who asks the question. So no answer can be given in a short sentence, not a few pages, not a book, because the real answer is a process and an attitude in life.
Man fits into a cosmos that consists of ever-evolving spiritual beings (re Spiritual hierarchies) in a great creative evolutionary dynamic (re Evolution). And as a person, as a people, a generation .. we are like drops or waves .. fitting into that larger whole that has meaning much greater than what we can imagine, because everything we can know us was created around us by higher beings with a 'plan'.
- if you are looking for an answer to this question, quite practically looking for a place to start, here is what can be suggested
- step 1: read the two lectures 1912-05-23-GA155 and 1912-05-24-GA155 in full as a starter
- step 2: for yourself, put together a small document where you combine key statements from the following, from the specific pointers to the sections that are given on this page (and other topic pages on the site)
- step 3: explore the spiritual scientific framework on this site to develop for yourself a frame of reference to understand these statements in depth and in full context. This is a lifelong mission, of course it shouldn't and doesn't take a life, but one cannot do it in a day, it typically takes some years (but things always gets better along the way - in fact you get better along the way).
The meaning of human life is the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth, and that means the replacement of the egoistical, hating, dictatorial and irrational things with a life of brotherhood, freedom and reason
as quoted by Daskalos in 'The Esoteric practice'. 1912-05-23/24-GA155
It would be a grave error if one were to believe that the question as to the meaning of life and existence could be put in such a simple way that one could ask: “What is the meaning of life and existence?” and then someone could give a simple answer in a few words, saying perhaps: “This or that is the meaning of life.” .. Rather must we penetrate into certain secrets of existence and life, if we would grasp something like an answer to a question of such far-reaching importance.
Schema FMC00.037 illustrates Man's most important questions in the conscious quest for the meaning of life.
Schema FMC00.094 illustrates Rudolf Steiner's coverage on the topic of the meaning of life in two lectures in 1912. The schema below puts the question in a broader perspective and can be approached from various angles. One of which is the 'receiving from above' and the 'giving back upward arrow'. That is: how death, or not-developing one's self, or sacrifice, is 'giving life' on another level, in another way. See also Overview Golden Chain.
Lecture coverage and references
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
The whole purpose of the universe is unerringly aimed at one thing - you.
relates the purpose of Man's development during the Earth stage of evolution to the beginning of John's Gospel, and the spiritualization with the Christ Impulse.
.. the meaning of life upon Earth is this:
That men should overcome this darkness of the soul, in order that they may recognize the Light of the Logos.
1912-05-23-GA155 and 1912-05-24-GA155
There are two lectures on the meaning of life; 1912-05-23-GA155 and 1912-05-24-GA155
“What is the meaning of existence as a whole?” and particularly “Why has man his peculiar position within this existence?”
It would be a grave error if one were to believe that the question as to the meaning of life and existence could be put in such a simple way that one could ask: “What is the meaning of life and existence?” and then someone could give a simple answer in a few words, saying perhaps: “This or that is the meaning of life.”
It might be said that the meaning of life consists in the fact that spiritual beings to whom we look up as Divine Beings gradually bring man to the stage where he is permitted to co-operate in the evolution of existence, so that man who was imperfect in the beginning of his development and was incapable of taking part in the whole construction of the universe, might in the course of evolution gradually be trained to participate more and more in this evolution.
That would be an abstract answer, telling us very little. Rather must we penetrate into certain secrets of existence and life, if we would grasp something like an answer to a question of such far-reaching importance.
What is it that takes place through Man’s furthering down here the development of the living form of the group-souls?
He provides thereby the fertilising seed for souls which otherwise could not develop further. If we keep this in mind, then we can say: Hence we see that where Man looks on the animal kingdom outwardly, he evolves from within certain inner impulses which have to be stimulated from without; these are fertilising seed for the animal group-souls. These impulses, which are the fertilising seed for the animal group-souls, arise through stimulus from without. But not from outward stimulus do the visions of the clairvoyant arise, nor those visions either which are selected as real. These exist only in the spiritual world, and live within the souls of men.
But you must not believe that nothing takes place in the spiritual world when out of a multitude of grains of corn certain of them are consumed, while but few develop again into heads of corn. While the grains are consumed, the spiritual part connected with the grain passes over into man. This is most evident to clairvoyant vision when directed towards a sea in which there are many fish-germs, and it is seen how few develop into full-grown fish. In those which develop into full-grown fish small flames may be observed, but those which do not develop physically, which disappear into the abyss physically, develop huge flaming light-forms. In these the spiritual element is so much the more considerable. So it is also with the grains of corn which are eaten. The material part of them is eaten. When crushed, a spiritual force which fills the space around, issues from those grains of corn which have not reached their goal. It is just the same for the clairvoyant, when he looks at a man who is eating rice, or something similar. When he assimilates the material, the spiritual forces connected with the corn flow forth in streams. All this is not such a simple matter for spiritual observation, especially when the nourishment is not of a vegetable kind. But I will not enter into this today, because anthroposophy must not agitate for any party movement, and therefore not even for vegetarianism!
Thus it is that spiritual beings are linked together. Everything that apparently perishes, gives up its spiritual part to the environment. This actually unites with what lives within man when he becomes clairvoyant, or is by any other means in his visionary world; and the selected visions (after inspiration) are what fertilise the spiritual part that has been forced out of those life-seeds that do not reach their goal; the visions fertilise it and bring it to further evolution.
So our inner nature, through that which it inwardly evolves, is in continual relationship with the outer world, and works in connection with this outer world. This outer world would be condemned to perish, could not develop further, if we did not bring to meet it fertilising germs. Outside in the world spirituality exists, but only a half spirituality, as it were. In order that this spirituality outside may have offspring, the other spirituality that is within us must approach it. That which lives within us is by no means a mere reflection of the other, perceived mentally, but something that appertains to it. It unites with that which is outside us, and evolves further, just as the north and south poles have to come together as magnetism or electricity in order that something may be achieved. That which takes form in our inner world of visions must unite with that which flashes forth from those things which apparently perish. These are wonderful mysteries, which are however, gradually solved, and which show us how the inner is connected with the outer.
quote in the context of teleology and cosmogony (see below)
The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books - a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.
 - Relevant concepts and terminology
A teleology is an account of a given thing's purpose. For example, a teleological explanation of why forks have prongs is that this design helps humans eat certain foods; stabbing food to help humans eat is what forks are for. A purpose that is imposed by a human use, such as that of a fork, is called extrinsic. Natural teleology contends that natural entities have intrinsic purposes, irrespective of human use or opinion.
In the late 18th century, the concept of 'telos' and teleology are fundamentaly underlying the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Immanuel Kant.
A cosmogony is a model concerning the coming-into-existence (i.e. origin) of either the cosmos (i.e. universe) and/or the so-called reality of sentient beings. Developing a complete theoretical model has implications in both the philosophy of science and epistemology.
In astronomy, cosmogony refers to the study of the origin of particular astrophysical objects or systems, and is most commonly used in reference to the origin of the universe, the solar system, or the earth-moon system. Cosmogony can be distinguished from cosmology, which studies the universe at large and throughout its existence, and which technically does not inquire directly into the source of its origins.
Note: the cosmological argument from theology regarding the existence of God is technically an appeal to cosmogonical rather than cosmological ideas. In practice, there is a scientific distinction between cosmological and cosmogonical ideas. Physical cosmology is the science that attempts to explain all our observations of the universe . Questions regarding why the universe behaves in such a way have been described by physicists and cosmologists as being extra-scientific (i.e., metaphysical), though speculations are made from a variety of perspectives that include extrapolation of scientific theories to untested regimes as well as philosophical or religious ideas.
Eschatology is a term from theology and the history or religion concerning 1) death and the final destiny of the soul (judgment, rebirth, resurrection, immortality and development of the soul) and 2) the final destiny of humankind as a whole and expectation for the end of an age (also called 'the end of time' .. the end of a period of human history and/or the world itself).
It captures the moral aspects of the soul and its relation to the evolution and future of mankind. In other words it is connected to what is described on the topic page Seeds for future worlds and Rudolf Steiner's teachings of Man's cycle of reincarnation and karma or destiny.
Allmost implicit in the religious viewpoint is the perspective that humanity creates its own future through the 'mechanism' of the soul and moral behaviour of mankind. See also: Impulses from waves of reincarnating souls and Moral ideals. This is different from the contemporary materialistic culture with mineral science that positions the human being as something that arose as if by coincidence in the cosmos, rather than putting the human being central. Rudolf Steiner covers extensively how the development of natural sciences caused a split and disconnect between the physical-material and the moral that will have to re-unite again in the future.
 - Parsing the question
The focus of most discussions centers around the 'what'. What we can observe and measure, repeatedly, is within the bandwidth filter of our senses and intellectual thinking, in short our current state of (sensory) consciousness. The 'why' and 'how' are not answered, no matter how long or deep the discussions about the 'what'. We know lot’s of small little ‘what’s, but these are by applying the scientific-material paradigm in a reductionist experiential framework.
- Reductionist because it studies and analyses by dividing the whole into components: the human body into organs, etc as in medical science .. matter into molecules, atoms, and elementary particles as in chemistry and physics.
- Experiential because the facts need confirmation through repeatability, drawing laws of behavior eg the laws of mechanics (gravity), thermodynamics, electricity, magnetism .. we know how to calculate gravity and electromagnetism by its laws, and apply it .. but we don’t know what it really is, as in: how it developed, how it works, and why it is there, as it is .. what is the reason for it, the place in the whole.
Furthermore it is difficult to scale the human experience in our limited life duration to the whole of history and evolution of time scales we can not contemplate experientially, hence our logical thinking is trapped into 'foolish extrapolation'. Last there is the challenge of the Johari window: you don't know what you don't know.
So the question about the 'meaning of life' bounces off on the limitations of our human faculties and the framework within which the questions are asked, which is necessarily human and limited, and unable to answer the question .. given the fact some higher form of intelligence than human must have created in some way all that is there (irrespective if you fill that in from a perspective of mineral science or religion).
Hence, the question of Meaning of Life, central to philosophy across the ages, cannot really be answered in a living, thinking and operating framework, a worldview that is coupled loose from nature, the cosmos, mankind as a whole .. and that does not have a teleological cosmogony: a framework or model for the coming into-existance of the cosmos and mankind, and it’s purpose at all levels.
The universal depth and richness of this question is that it really asks the question not of what you deem important for your own selfish agenda in this incarnation, but how things stand for the whole of life and the evolution of nature and mankind.
We can distinguish two types of Worldview from which to consider the question:
- the mineral and material reality 'only' perspective .. which has difficulty with, or can be shown to not be able to deliver a teleological cosmogony
- the spiritual worldview that includes/encompasses the above and is a meta-representation at a level above
Observe: the contemporary buzzword ‘the matrix’ seems a modern term for 'Maya' as an illusionary world of sensory perception in a material world.
 - Answering the question
This topic page is more about the question itself, than about the answer. That answer is given by the whole body of knowledge of spiritual science and philosophy and your own study and contemplation of it.
The view that this site documents is the following. It is not easy to write short condensed statements, but still a worthwhile exercice. You are invited to try, your attempts are welcome and can be added here.
Short statement 1
Man is the tenth hierarchy of spiritual beings in a spiritual cosmos where creation, stemming from The three Logoi principles, already put the Evolution of nine classes of Spiritual hierarchies or beings in motion. That whole dynamic is ever evolving as all spiritual entities are ever-evolving and intertwined rather than separate. So Man also is part of that whole and cannot be seen as separate. And the plan and 'meaning of life' for mankind find its origin with these higher spiritual beings who have created the cosmos we know in order to support Man in that development. Man is placed in creation as a free being to co-create the future, we can coin that as Free Man Creator.
The evolutionary goal of Man is to become a spiritual being that can create based on freedom of choice, and out of pure love. In other words mankind will evolve to become gods, to Sacrifice the own being for the creation of new worlds. That is a long way off though ;). Currently mankind is at the stage of just having received self-consciousness and freedom on Earth, and now in a battle between good and Evil in order to ascent and spiritualize its lower beings into spiritual principles, in short become a spiritual being. Man's transformation and spiritualization, to become a spiritual being functioning on the basis of love, will only be realized in the next three planetary stages of our solar system. Just as where we have arrived today is the result of three previous planetary stages.
 - Regarding Schema FMC00.094
The schema illustrates the 1912-05-GA155 lectures, that also describe the apparent 'waste in nature' in the physical world. The schema shows the physical ànd spiritual worlds, because as describes the one flows into the other, they are both connected and actually just one and the same.
We find this back in suffering, sacrifice, death.
And this again we find back for humanity in great disasters of nature, or man made catastrophies such as wars.
The following quote is another illustration of this. Note the caterpillar to butterfly is the image metaphor used for reincarnation, but also for spiritualization: going from an ancient to a new form of life.
1943-01-01-BD - Beinsa Douno
The excerpt below is from the lecture "New Foundation", Sofia, January 1, 1943 (translated by Annael) and talks about why war has to exist.
War is a contradiction, the reasons for which lie in the distant past.
Because God transforms evil into good, the war will bring some good to humanity. For humans war brings misery and death, but for the Great Beings it is a [kind] of show. Just as actors die on the stage and are "resurrected" behind the scenes, the same way the participants in the war will be resurrected. God will give them new bodies, healthier ones and more beautiful, with new and healthier legs, arms, eyes, and heads.
People go through great sufferings and will go through great suffering, but after [that], they will rejoice. Suffering is the material for building future human bodies.
Today's people live more for themselves than for their neighbors. They close themselves in their shells and think only for themselves.
The war will force them to open their coffers, to open their minds and hearts, to take out everything they have hidden in them. It will make them give up their selfishness. Selfishness is coming to an end.
The end of the caterpillars' life is coming. Until now, humans have been caterpillars, gnawing leaves and thinking only for themselves. This life is over. In four or five years they should hatch, they should become butterflies.
.."We want to indulge in life." ..
How do you want to indulge in life? As caterpillars, or as butterflies?
You can no longer live like caterpillars - the life of the caterpillars is over!
References and further reading