return to the unconsciousness

Schopenhauer, influenced by Buddhist thought, proclaimed that all will is suffering. Therefore, the ultimate goal of the self should be annihilation—a return to the unconscious eternity whence it emerged: “Awakened to life out of the night of unconsciousness, the will finds itself as an individual in an endless and boundless world, among innumerable individuals, all striving, suffering, and erring; and, as if through a troubled dream, it hurries back to the old unconsciousness.”

Schopenhauer’s quasi-Buddhist view of life may seem a needlessly jaundiced one. Still, the idea of annihilation as a return to a lost state of peace can have a powerful emotional resonance, one that harkens back to our childhood.

We come into existence in the womb—a warm sea of unconsciousness—and then find ourselves at our mother’s breast, in a consummate state of satisfied desire. As our sense of self gradually emerges, it is in an atmosphere of total dependence by rebelling against our parents, repudiating the comforts of home, and striking out into the world. There we compete to reproduce ourselves, beginning the cycle anew.

But the world is a dangerous place, full of strangers; and our rebellion against our parents leaves us with a sense of alienation, a sense of having ruptured a primal bond. Only by returning home can we expiate our crime of existence, achieve reconciliation, and restore oneness.

Holt, Jim. Why Does the World Exist? New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 2012. 269–70. Print.