Siddhartha is said to have discovered in his youth four basic truths: that life contains suffering, that we grow old, that we die and that suffering originates in desire. The fourth is certainly an existential dilemma. But it is realization of the other three that brings home the existential truth of life. We of course know intellectually that we suffer and someday will grow old and even die. But the truth only becomes real when we feel these things in our bones, when we finally realize in our stomach that they apply to us.
A colleague recently died. He was a good man and just a bit older than me. He turned 60 which I will face next year. I’ve meanwhile experienced a certain minor but annoying health problem that affects my ability to experience the world. All of a sudden, I do feel quite mortal. This is not a profound discovery. After all, we already know not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It is always for us. But it is perhaps the start of true wisdom. For a long time I followed Socrates in believing wisdom lies in knowing that in the end we know nothing. But maybe it is really in learning what Siddhartha did.