The Jungle Boo…dha

A wild child’s journey to find meaning

Vichar Mohio
8 min readApr 25, 2023

NOTE: The following short-story is a prelude to a series that delves into “meaning stories” — i.e., stories that give meaning to our lives.

Read this article to delve deeper into the three big “meaning stories” that exist forever & why they are under threat.

Read this article alternate philosophy that aims to give meaning to life while avoiding fantasy & nihilism.

Part I: The Wild Heart

Once upon a time, in the dense foliage of the jungle, a tiny human baby cried out to no one in particular. Many theories abound as to how exactly this delicate thing found itself in the forest all alone, but no consensus was ever reached.

The mystery of his arrival led to the wild inhabitants seeing him as the son of the jungle itself — and this is why he was well taken care of. Contrary to one’s perceptions of nature being red in tooth and claw, his upbringing was almost ideal, albeit not normal.

Unlike other children of his kind, the boy’s life was intertwined with that of the wild. Raised by a loving family of wolves, he was given the name Gauwgli and embraced the jungle as his home.

As Gauwgli grew, he formed close bonds with the creatures around him, learning valuable lessons from a wise panther, a protective bear, and even Sheer Khan, an escaped circus tiger who had picked up a flair for sartorial choices from his erstwhile captors. These animals taught him the art of living in the moment, and to worry only about the present. The ‘now’ was all that mattered in the jungle & life was good.

Over time however, Gauwgli’s body and mind matured — and the same forces of nature that allowed his friends to enjoy a life in the present moment, began pushing him in another direction. His ‘humanness’ became stronger & with it a desire to think about the past and the future as well.

As he grew up in the jungle, sheltered from the usual distractions of his kind, Gauwgli’s mind became supremely preoccupied with an age-old human concern — the search for meaning in life and an answer to why anything mattered at all? Unfortunately, this was not something his jungle compatriots could help him with.

The jungle whispered tales of others like him, humans who lived beyond its borders. More importantly, these humans were rumoured to have spent decades pondering the same questions that plagued Gauwgli presently. With many of them coming up with good answers as well, or at least better answers than Sheer Khan could muster — it turns out he had only inherited a fashion sense from the humans.

Determined to explore his curiosity, Gauwgli pleaded with Sheer Khan to guide him to the city. The old tiger, aware of the dangers humans posed, hesitated but was no match for Gawgli’s tenacity and eventually agreed to help the young boy out.

Unlike Gauwgli, Sheer Khan was an alarming sight for the people of the city, so the tiger agreed to take him to the edges of the jungle and introduce him to an old friend, Charles, who would then guide Gauwgli for the rest of the journey.

Charles was very distantly related to Gauwgli’s wolf family — the former’s ancestors having moved out of the jungle hundreds of years ago. They had even changed appearances and liked to maintain a respectable distance from both the jungle and their cousins. But Charles was a peculiarly curious member of the ‘dog’ tribe & Sheer Khan had immediately realized that Charles would be instrumental for Gauwgli’s mission.

The journey from the heart of the jungle to the bustling city was an arduous one. As they traveled, Gauwgli marveled at the stark contrast between the world he had known and the human world that now unfolded before him. He observed the structured landscapes, the towering buildings, and the cacophony of sounds that marked the city’s rhythm.

Part II: The Three Sights

Soon after approaching the city limits Sheer Khan managed to locate his old friend & introduced his new friend to the old one. After that Sheer Khan bid them both adieu — not wanting to stay a second longer than absolutely necessary.

A lengthy conversation between Charles & Gauwgli ensued, wherein each would try to explain his way of life to the other. The irony that the human spoke of the wild and the animal spoke of civilisation was not lost on them either.

Gauwgli mentioned his reason for coming — to understand his place in the world and make sense of this thing called life. Charles had been around humans a long time himself and knew that this was a topic that bothered many of them tremendously. His own philosophy of living in the moment and enjoying a steady supply of treats was shared by some humans indeed — but even those humans would often be overcome with a sense of existential dread. He’d seen it time and again.

Thankfully for Gauwgli, Charles truly was the best guide one could have gotten. He was a keen observer of human behaviour and had identified a few ways that humans seemed to overcome similar philosophical conundrums — even if he didn’t understand them well. He promised Gauwgli that he would at least take him around the city & get Gauwgli acquainted with a few ways that he had observed over the years.

With this, the first destination they headed for was a temple. Gauwgli had never seen such a sight before — the ancient temple’s weathered sandstone walls stood proudly, adorned with intricate carvings that seemed to dance with life. The rhythmic echo of fervent prayers and the harmony of temple bells reverberated through the air, as a congregation of devotees, draped in vibrant hues, humbly offered their heartfelt devotion to the divine. The prayers ended with a sermon from a priest who spoke of everything following a divine plan.

Gauwgli felt something stir within him — was this what he was looking for? Had he been feeling the way he was feeling because God was missing from his life?

Gauwgli walked out of that temple happy and told Charles that he thought he had all the answers. He did notice, however, that not everyone was going into the temple and to him that was strange. Upon further questioning, Charles mentioned that there were multiple such temples and people were divided on what the truth truly was.

This slightly confused Gauwgli, but before he could ask further questions he happened to walk by a large university. Charles informed him that this is where humans looked to further their understanding of nature. Intrigued by this, Gauwgli insisted that they go in. As luck would have it they witnessed a lively debate on the intricacies of science versus religion. The contrast between the unwavering faith in religion and the questioning nature of the university left Gauwgli with a sense of uncertainty. If knowledge could contradict faith AND there were a multitude of faiths to begin with, the situation was way more complex than the religious devotion he had seen earlier implied. He realized that he should continue his journey through the city.

After a short while, Gauwgli and Charles came across a hardworking labourer. The concept of work itself was foreign to Gauwgli, who had looked to nature to support him and his family, but Charles (ever the informative host) filled him in. It turned out that nature was a fickle mistress & that humans had decided to take control on their own. In order to bring about a lesser reliance on unpredictability, man created a system of specialized labor & currency. It was all a little complicated, but Charles mentioned that many people found their purpose in life through the work they did — aiming for perfection & finding meaning in ever improving the quality of their output.

To Gauwgli’s mind, this thinking had a jungle-like simplicity that he liked. It came as close to the here and now as it was possible. He began to wonder if meaning could be found in the toil and accomplishments of one’s chosen area of expertise.

But just as Gauwgli started to embrace the idea, he witnessed a march occurring nearby. Curious about what it was, he approached the men and women marching angrily. Turns out that the path that began with trying to reduce the unpredictability & uncontrollability of nature ended with the reduction of unpredictability & uncontrollability of man himself.

In this instance, an entire community of workers had been fired as they couldn’t compete against something called ‘machines’. The sight made Gauwgli question whether tying a sense of purpose to work was a strategy flawed from the very start. His search continued.

The final stop in Charles & Gauwgli’s search led them to a family home, filled with joy and laughter. The warmth and love within the house reminded him of his own family in the jungle. He began to think that perhaps the answer to life’s meaning lay in the bonds of family and the happiness they shared.

As Gauwgli peeked into neighboring houses, however, he saw families with fewer children or none at all. He wondered if these families had been prevented from experiencing such joy, or if they had found happiness in other ways. Charles helped fill him in on this as well — as far as he could tell, younger humans seemed to not care too much about building families. The reasons were still unclear to Charles but it was clear to him that family did not always provide the meaning that Gauwgli was looking for.

Once again, his newfound beliefs were challenged, and Gauwgli realized that his search for meaning was far from over.

Part III: The Eternal Question

Confused and disheartened, Gauwgli shared his observations with Charles. The dog suggested that the search for meaning was inherently fickle and rested on shaky grounds. But despite this suspicion, Gauwgli couldn’t let go of his desire for understanding. He yearned to uncover a less shaky foundation for his life’s meaning while retaining his human ability to question and learn.

Determined to find the elusive truth, Gauwgli decided to meditate until he discovered a more stable basis for his life’s purpose. After years of deep contemplation, he finally attained a profound insight: his life had no inherent meaning, and yet, there was a deeper significance in this very realization. It was a sort of Sacred Nihilism.

Gauwgli smiled as he recalled a poster he had seen during his years searching for meaning, it now seemed to capture the essence of his enlightenment:

“What’s the difference between a Zen master and an unenlightened person?”

“The unenlightened person is not aware there is no difference.”

With a newfound appreciation for the paradoxical nature of existence, Gauwgli wondered where he might fit in better — the jungle or the city?

Read more about meaning stories here.



Vichar Mohio

Writing about topics I find interesting & original. Usually a mix of philosophy, evolutionary psychology & technology