The Naked Wise Man

Alexander conquered most of the known civilized world, then he reached the Indus river. There he met a local (what Alexander's historians called) gymnosophist (which means naked wise man). Alexander approached the man and asked him " what are you doing?"
The man replied, " I am contemplating nothingness. What are you doing?"
"I am conquering the world," said Alexander. Both men laughed thinking the other a fool.

Here is a case of cultural difference. Alexander was brought up with stories of Theseus, Perseus, Heracles and, especially, Achilles. He was taught to believe that great heroes received a special place in the afterlife, rather than the generic hell that regular people went to. Alexander's culture as a whole believed that after life was over all that was left was an eternity in Hades.

The Gymnosophist, however, was brought up to believe that all beings were reincarnations of previously living beings, and all would continue on in the reincarnation cycle. The gymnosophist was just taking this life to appreciate nothingness. You see he was taught the story of Bharat, another world conqueror. Bharat set out to conquer the tallest mountain, but when he reached the top and was about to plant his flag, he saw the flags of all the other world conquerors. Bharat discovered his own insignificance.

Alexander was fighting is own insignificance, striving to be remembered throughout the ages. Remembrance is one of the few consolations for the dead. In our own culture we try to live with purpose, try to be remembered by generations that follow after us. It is all about our mindset, would we be so stressed out if we knew that this life was not our only chance, that there were more than two choices in the afterlife, or even that there was an existence afterlife?

Perhaps a middle way would make this mind-numbing question a bit easier to deal with. We are minuscule organisms of this universe, we are both insignificant (in that we exist for but a moment in relative time) and significant (in that we affect what is around us). If we live according to our own ideals and attempt to do what is right, our lives will not be meaningless. Concerning an afterlife, we will see when we get there.

Other gymnosophists: Ben Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, and Alexander Graham Bell

Current Reads: Alexander to Actium, The Time Traveler's Wife, Zombie Survival Guide.