What we want in life is very simple: happiness, freedom, fulfilment, peace and security – you could no doubt add more. We’re all the same in this, but how often do we lose our way and end up in the mire? We pin our hopes to external things and end up frittering away our lives chasing what never, ultimately, satisfies.
And then, to make things worse, in pursuit of these limited external things, we end up squabbling: whether it be two children over a sweet, two families over a hedge, two countries over a patch of land, or two religions over a set of beliefs.
Worse still, in losing sight of the true desires, mistaking the externals for what we really want, we change aspects of our natures and blunt our perceptions. The battered spouse; the abused child, the drug addict and the drug baron, the victims of genocide or religious persecution, are all the products of genuine, true desires (for love, happiness, etc.) operating under terribly, horribly distorted perceptions.
For most it doesn’t get so extreme – we rub along picking up crumbs as and where we can, occasionally having spats with others who want the same crumbs. But somehow the crumbs, even the really big ones, never truly satisfy.
It comes down to correcting the perceptions ('with all thy getting get understanding’ – Proverbs 4:7), and wise men throughout the ages have been pointing the direction. But it’s not a matter of ideas – of accepting one set of beliefs and rejecting others. Understanding is seeing things clearly; seeing things aright.
That is why Practical Philosophy is so valuable. Concepts and ideas can be important, but are of limited use – at best pointers of where to look. They only really come to life and have meaning through our own observation and experience. That is why a simple injunction is given to all students early on in the course: neither accept nor reject what is heard in the course, but go away and look – put it to the test of observation and experience; make it practical.
There’s nothing to acquire, nothing to store up. What’s truly seen and understood will never leave, and will pop up from nowhere when needed – it’s not a baggage to carry around.
PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY can open the door to freedom, wisdom and happiness – and a real understanding of human nature.