[Huburt Dreyfus are Sean Dorrance Kelly, authors of a new book on Western philosophy. They] argue [the lack of a shared set of values we all absorb as preconscious assumptions] has led to a pervasive sadness. Individuals are usually not capable of creating their own lives from the ground up. So modern life is marked by frequent feelings of indecision and anxiety. People often lack the foundations upon which to make the most important choices...
Dreyfus and Kelly say that we should have the courage not to look for some unitary, totalistic explanation for the universe. Instead, we should live perceptively at the surface, receptive to the moments of transcendent whooshes that we can feel in, say, a concert crowd, or while engaging in a meaningful activity, like making a perfect cup of coffee with a well-crafted pot and cup.
We should not expect these experiences to cohere into a single “meaning of life.” Transcendent experiences are plural and incompatible. We should instead cultivate a spirit of gratitude and wonder for the many excellent things the world supplies.
I’m not sure this way of living will ever prove satisfying to most readers. Most people have a powerful sense that there is a Supreme Being over us, attached to eternal truths. Though they try, Dreyfus and Kelly don’t give us a satisfying basis upon which to distinguish the whooshing some people felt at civil rights rallies from the whooshing others felt at Nazi rallies.
I am convinced that much of what is going on in the Western Buddhist practice however incoherent, however error-prone, however inarticulate is providing the answers that these Western philosophers say can't be given and that Brooks tut-tuts in response to these philosophers that there is no acknowledgment of a monotheist behavioral hegemony. As for myself, I remember this "shared sense of values" that were inculcated. I didn't see pervasive happiness. I doubt there was such happiness in previous times, what with slavery, pogroms, small pox, polio, child labor, and other horrors.
I think we're doing something important; it will be needed. I think in a way, we're practicing to be janitors. We're going to have to clean up a really big mess someday soon. But of course we're not doing it primarily because we're cool. We have to live our own lives where we find them, right here.