In that spirit, the goal of this study is to explore the insights of central thinkers and texts that address fundamental existential questions. Specifically, we will explore the connection between concepts of divinity or an absolute and the good life. While we as moderns often associate religion with the search for eternal liberation or immortality, central texts of the world’s religious and philosophical traditions are equally concerned to uncover the meaning and purpose of life in this world. These key texts and thinkers maintain that human beings find true fulfillment by making contact with fundamental values at the heart of reality.
Our first question as we undertake this search: why is spiritual life so often described using metaphors of quest and journey? A journey implies movement in space, a physical going out toward a destination. A quest too implies going out in search of something. The quest and the journey suggest that history, events, and narrative are meaningful––perhaps even holding intrinsic, sacred importance. In contrast, many traditions speak of God, ultimate reality, or nirvāṇa as a spiritual absolute that does not move or change; they suggest that the ultimate human goal is to arrive at a static eternal perfection. For example, Aristotle’s philosophical God does not change; it is pure Being, the unmoved mover, thought thinking itself. It does not seek or lack; it eternally contemplates its own nature. Similarly, Plato’s realm of the Forms is a beautiful mosaic of eternal, unchanging essences. The metaphor of the quest, in contrast, suggests that narrative, search, and change are meaningful; that the journey itself is its own reward.
The latter perspective is at the heart of this study. It is not my goal to arrive at a universal definition of God and the good. Rather, I will endeavor to present the aesthetic beauty of multiple visions presented by thinkers across history and across cultures. I will suggest that investigation and discovery are themselves processes of value.