A jaded man of the world follows the Ancient Sage up the mountain path to his cave, carrying a poem that embodies (beautifully) the materialist philosophy that was already taking root in 19th Century Britain, and which has since become the default world-view of Western secular society: All that we do to build a brighter future is destined to end in the grave. Those of us fortunate enough to live into old age must look forward to losing our wits and our strength, moving with difficulty, living in chronic pain. Therefore, the best we can do is to put our wretched future from our minds and seek pleasures in the present.
The Sage reads the poem aloud, and comments as he goes. He perceives that the crux of the man's despair is his belief in the finality of death. He offers a glimpse of escape from narrow fatalism: Science tells us nothing about the provenance of our core awareness or the relationship between body and soul. In the absence of material evidence, it is healthy to adopt a positive, hopeful disposition.
The Sage intuits the temperament of his interlocutor sufficiently to shy away from any mystical or spiritual declaration. But as the poem sinks deeper into nihilism, he offers an epiphany from his childhood which parallels an experience that Tennyson elsewhere describes in plain prose:
A kind of waking trance I have frequently had quite up from boyhood when I have been all alone. This has generally come upon me through repeating my own name to myself silently, till all at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this is not a confused state but the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, the weirdest of the weirdest. Utterly beyond words, where death was an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction but the only true life.
-- Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
or listen while reading.
Sri Yukteswar (1855-1936)