Siddharth asked:

I was brought up on the stories of Buddha and his quest for truth. In fact, I got my name from him. His life has always been an inspiration and like him I feel a growing sense of disillusionment with the world as I engage more and more with it. Like him, I am intrigued about the meaning and purpose of life in the face of death, disease and suffering. I also feel a need to denounce the world not because I hate it but because I believe you need to shed off the monotony of daily chores and responsibilities, at least temporarily, to focus your mind’s eye on your quest for the truth.

My question to you is about the modern equivalent of this temporary denouncing of the world? Obviously, there are no forests left to go to in peace. I don’t know of too many sects/ cults who would let you stay with them and bear your expenses without endorsing their agenda. The university system seems to be the best bet since they will fund your PhD and hopefully not impose an agenda on you. But even they would look at filling 90 of their Philosophy PhD positions with young philosophy grads with straight A’s who can finish their PhDs by 2730 and then devote a good number of their years to churn out research papers like an automaton.

In today’s world, what is the place to go for someone who genuinely wants to know the truth?

Answer by Shaun Williamson

How do you know that you genuinely want to know the truth and why should that matter to anyone else except you? What have you done so far to find out the truth and what sort of truth are you interested in? How do you know that you are not just a lazy person who wants to waste his time by pretending to contemplate the universe? How do you know that you are not just suffering from depression? How many books have you read in the last year? What truths have you discovered in the last year?

You are certainly filled with many illusions. For example you seem to imagine that it is easy to go to university and to get funding for a PhD. Try it, its not as easy as you think. It takes lots of hard work.

By the way when you talk about ‘denouncing’ the world, what you really mean is ‘renouncing’ the world. There is no reason why anyone should want to pay for you to renounce the world, you may have to pay for that yourself.

In the past people who went to the forest had to be able to survive in the forest and that is not easy. However now that I have poured all this negativity down on your head here are three practical suggestions for you.

1. Join a Buddhist monastery and become a monk. However this isn’t easy and will involve getting up very early every morning.

2. Undertake some further education. Find a course in something that really interests you.

3. learn to play a musical instrument. I don’t mean try to learn to play a musical instrument. I mean learn to play to a very high level. This will take extreme dedication and concentration for at least two years.

Answer by Helier Robinson

You need a ‘lonely job.’ A good example, which unfortunately does not exist anymore, is that of being a light-house keeper at some lonely outpost; you had to keep the light burning all night, but that was all. A lonely job in Canada is that of fire-watcher; you live at the top of a wooden tower, deep in the forest, miles away from anywhere, and you have to be on the lookout, all day and all summer, for smoke from a forest fire, so that you can radio in an early warning. Another kind of lonely job is working in the high Arctic, as a radio operator or a meteorologist. Lonely jobs usually give you lots of spare time to meditate on the truth, and as well pay well (because recruitment for them is difficult). So after a while you will be ready to return to civilisation, with enough money saved to go to university.

Answer by David Robjant

A prize question, though your remarks on forests and the funding of PhDs seem both wide of the mark. In fact doing philosophy need not require a private workshop, not even a roofless one. But doing philosophy does need moments of silence and access to the fruits of human intelligence, such as it is. If you are sufficiently well resourced to be able to live in a major city, membership of something like the British Library would be option A, meeting both requirements. Otherwise the internet is plan B, meeting about 20% of one requirement thus far, and I hope you look forward to open access as much as I do: