Why Do We Exist? (5 Religious Perspectives)

Why Do We Exist? (5 Religious Perspectives) September 28, 2023

Man’s quest for knowledge and in fact, his very lengthy journey on the Earth leaves many questions unanswered but the one that is both the most interesting as well as the most unanswerable is “Why are we here?”. Why do we exist within this time and place? Or…as the famous philosophers such as Leibniz and Heidegger once asked “Why is there something rather than nothing at all?”


This perennial question is unanswerable in secular understanding because it is predicated by two assumptions.


  1. Someone or some force was present prior to our creation who generated life on this planet.
  2. There is indeed a purpose for our lives


The secular scientific world cannot conclude upon a supreme being or omnipotent creator of the universe and its inhabitants and nor can anyone provide empirical evidence of a purpose for our lives. 


Hence, to explore more viable answers to this question which is not within our world of secular reason, we can turn to the 5 dominant religions and their sacred text explanations for the purpose of our being in the world. 


Judeo-Christianity and Islam’s Answer to Why We Exist?


In Genesis 1:26 

God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Islam delivers a similar message within the Quran chapter 51, verse 56 where God confirms I did not create the Jinn (spirits) or humankind other than to adore (worship) me. 

Both the Bible and the Quran mainly speak of what God creates but there is really no other answer provided as to why an omnipotent God would create creatures and beings to inhabit Earth other than to worship Him. However, it should also be pointed out that the “long game” of all 3 Abrahamic religions is that all souls who worship God and who act in line with sacred text doctrine will ultimately join again with God. 

Once we leave the domain of Abrahamic religions, let’s explore what Hindus and Buddhists believe about why we are here. 


The Hindu Answer: The Purpose of Humanity:


Hinduism’s answer to why we exist is a bit more complex in that Hindus follow a doctrine that requires more of an integrated understanding between the 4 main deities, and the role that humans play with being in the world.  Hinduism, unlike the Abrahamic religions, is not a monotheistic religion but rather it is typically referred to as a henotheistic religion. Although non-Hindus often mistakenly categorize Hinduism as a polytheistic religion, Hinduism actually has a well-defined supreme God known as Brahman and a similar “Trinity” (with the gods Vishnu and Shiva as the other trinitarian gods) to that of Judeo-Christian faith. As a henotheistic religion, Hindus do believe in Brahman but do not deny the existence nor the worship of lesser Gods. 


Although this hints at a much larger discussion, the key to understanding Hinduism for purposes of our discussion is that the Hindu faith doesn’t simply require the worship of Brahman or any specified god as the catalyst or the purpose of humanity. For Hindus, the course of one’s “Samsara” is to undergo a series of cycles or stages from life to death and rebirth. The specific objectives of one’s life are known in the Vedas sacred texts as the following:


  • Dharma – To act with good purpose (morality)
  • Kama – To seek and act with love and the pleasure of the senses (hedonism)  
  • Artha – To seek wealth and posterity. 
  • Moshka – To seek ultimate salvation. This is also referred to as achieving good Karma.


Thus, for the Hindu, the purpose of humanity is an acknowledged path through the above life stages in order to achieve or gain good Karma and to end cycles of rebirth (reincarnation) in order to join with the highest level of reality and to join with Brahman.


Buddhism’s Answer to Why We Exist?


Buddhism is sometimes referred to as a non-theistic faith in that there is really no god who is worshiped and no real purpose for humanity other than the letting go of earthly attachments and desires in order to achieve “oneness” with the universe (Nirvana). 


Buddhism is thus, really more of a set of philosophical principles than a faith. It was developed by Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) over 2,000 years ago in India. Although modern day Buddhists ascribe to many of the same reincarnation beliefs as per the Hindu faith, the main differences have to do with the nature of cyclical rebirths and their intended ultimate path. 


Since there is no identifiable god or supreme creator in Buddhism, followers are expected to work towards achieving freedom from all hedonistic objectives so that they may reduce all suffering in their lives as well as in the lives of others. One of the main tenets of Buddhism is that all suffering comes from our earthly wants or desires. Hence, the rebirths are more correlated with the “letting go” of desires and acknowledging that our impermanent life is by default, designed to cause suffering. 


There are some logic and practical issues with Buddhism however as with negating a “purpose” for humanity, it goes against our known human experience with regards to perception, sensation and survival. 


Additionally, while it is indeed true that malevolent acts where man has caused suffering upon his fellow man begins with some sort of desire (i.e., war conquests of land, etc.), not all suffering that man undergoes is caused by himself or others. Disease or suffering from natural disasters are not caused by man. The Buddhist argument that an acknowledgement that human life itself is not to be coveted due to its impermanent nature is simply not universally achievable. 


A Secular Take on the “Purpose” of life.


The purpose or non-purpose of human existence has been a philosophical war for many centuries and it run the gamut of mathematical proofs supporting both sides of the argument to the existentialists, absurdists and atheists citing weak arguments such as Bertrand Russell’s theory that “The universe (and its inhabitants) just is” or the equally lackluster imbedded arguments proposed by Albert Camus that man’s experience on this earth is absurd and pointless in his Myth of Sisyphus novel. Camus even raises a “suicide solution” for life’s purpose or lack thereof. 


The problem with Camus and others like him is that they work solely under existential, atheist assumptions where man’s utility becomes the sole yardstick by which his conclusions are derived. His novel introduces an indeterminate loop where he cannot conclude as to whether the quest for life’s meaning in a mundane, utilitarian society becomes the reason for one to commit suicide. 


The truth is that man can never really conclude upon the purpose of life in secular terms. To do so, would first require that man was indeed designed and created and this precursory assumption contradicts the atheist argument.


Emmanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason famously documented the limits of man’s understanding in the world of experience (the world of reason). Concepts such as finding the purpose of our existence is thus, not possible as we can neither see the origin of our creation on the Earth nor are we capable of designing it. 


***Visual Poem Link***


Here is a short visual poem on this subject called “The Remains of Truth” . It depicts what happens to man when he views himself on the level of God, begins to question his existence,and looks for truth solely within himself. Please watch and leave feedback here as well. 

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