Money is Unfulfilling
Throughout the book, the narrator and Isabel plead unsuccessfully with Larry to focus on making money, but to no avail.
“Financial independence would make the life I propose meaningless,” he says.
This is the most idealistic and preposterous part of the book. Plenty of people who have lots of money have found meaning in their lives; it may not be what Larry wants but his comment is naïve. Yet his views of money are multi-layered.
When the narrator, who lives in France and talks with Larry while dining constantly, accuses Americans of being obsessed with making money, Larry disagrees.
“You Europeans know nothing about America. Because we amass large fortunes you think we care for nothing but money. We care nothing for it; the moment we have it we spend it, sometimes well sometimes ill, but we spend it. Money is nothing to us; it’s merely the symbol of success. We are the greatest idealists in the world. I happen to think that we’ve set our ideals on the wrong objects; I happen to think that the greatest ideal man can set before himself is self-perfection. When a man becomes pure and perfect the influence of his character spreads so that they who seek truth are naturally drawn to him.”
By focusing on being perfect, this makes you wonder while reading if Larry thinks he’s Jesus Christ or a saint or called by God to live the life he chooses, a servant for others. After everything unfolds, I don’t think he finds much more truth in his journey than when he started.
The Evil Ego
After more than a decade studying books and traveling around Europe pursuing meaning-of-life questions, his insight is that a core problem human beings have is they’re too obsessed with their own self-interests, stroking their own egos to feel important and worthy of attention. While not breaking any news, about this he is correct; people struggle to think about anything else other than their own well-being, whether they have food in the refrigerator for dinner, because they fear suffering, starving, and death. It’s egotistical while at the same time practical and highlights, ominously, yet another complex layer of being a person. We’re conflicted. We need to eat but that’s watching out for ourselves, which is selfish if over-emphasized, which people often do.
“What is individuality but the expression of our egoism? Until the soul has shed the last trace of that it cannot become the Absolute.”
He defines the Absolute as Reality. “You can’t say what it is; you can only say what it isn’t. It’s inexpressible. It’s nowhere and everywhere. It is truth and freedom.”
So Larry seems to be saying what’s real is undefinable. Truth and freedom are abstract niceties but don’t really resonate for me as breakthrough insights. Larry’s insights in this book are often self-evident and not really all that valuable.
Fraudulent Religious Founders
From his reading, Larry concludes that some founders of religion weren’t authentically spiritual themselves and went about their religious lives in an unattractive way.
“I’ve always felt that there was something pathetic in the founders of religion who made it a condition of salvation that you should believe in them. It’s as though they needed your faith to have faith in themselves.”
Larry doesn’t trust organized religions that pressure people to conform to their rules. On this he’s wise; it’s smart to be skeptical of anyone pressuring you to believe what they believe.
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