Creating Your Own Spiritual Framework

What’s the meaning of life? What principles should I live my life by?

Yep, let’s start with the easy questions today šŸ˜€

The Meaning of Life

What’s the meaning of life? There are perhaps as many ways to answer this question as there are people in the world. Here are just a few ways of answering…

Some might say it’s to decide for ourselves how we want to give meaning to our lives. This answer seems reasonable enough, but then it’s very easy to get lost in trying to decide how to add meaning to our lives. It’s a continually open question with ever-changing answers… it often doesn’t feel very satisfying. I’d rate this answer 6/10.

Some might say it’s to enjoy yourself as much as possible, maximising your short-term happiness and pleasure. Roughly speaking, that’s known as hedonism. Initially this approach seems quite appealing, but eventually you realise that chasing after good times comes with some pretty hefty costs. Often people find that the physical, mental and spiritual costs of enjoying yourself all the time are simply not worth it. People who follow this path often end up addicted, lonely and broke. I’d rate hedonism at 4/10.

Some might say life has no meaning; everything is meaningless. This is known as nihilism… and I think it’s very dangerous. On the surface, nihilism can seem quite appealing… it seems realistic in a sense. However it’s easy to go from nihilism into depression and suicide, or the destruction born from resentment, anger and bitterness. I’d say that nihilism is only one step away from hell. I’d rate it 1/10.

Some people advocate aiming for contentment. In other words, find ways to live where you’re trading off your short-term interests against your long-term ones. It’s quite a balanced approach and compromise is required. You accept that nothing in your life will be perfect, but you’re aiming to get all the important parts of your life good enough so that they at least feel acceptable to you. This is a very utilitarian approach – you’re looking to maximise utility (or benefit) for yourself and the people around you. I’d rate this 8/10, and it’s roughly how I try to live myself.

Systems of Ethics and Principles

How should we live our lives on a day-to-day basis?

One option might be to choose to be utterly selfish. We’d manipulate and use other people to maximise our own benefit. But I think being Machiavellian isn’t a particularly satisfying way to live. You might fool some people, but the chances of you having stable, reciprocal relationships with others is pretty low. If you don’t give a shit about anyone else, maybe that’s fine for you. But most people deeply value the trust they feel with friends and family. I’d rate selfishness as 1/10.

Maybe we could attempt to live ethically according to a particular religion’s doctrines, such as Christianity. I think this isn’t a bad start. It’s helpful for people who just want to be told what to do without having to sit and study, working out their own system of ethics. Religion definitely has its flaws, but overall I’d say it’s a force for good. At least most religious people are trying to do what they feel is right. I rate religion 7/10.

We can attempt to come up with our own system of morals and ethics, perhaps based in part on certain ancient spiritual or religious ideas, but adapted for modern times and with a hefty dose of rationality chucked in. I really like this approach – it’s how I try to live my own life. I’d rate this approach 9/10, and it’s what I strive for personally.

Which Spiritual Principles Should We Choose?

Great question! There doesn’t seem to be one definitive answer. Again, different people choose different starting points.

Religious people usually take the word of God (The Bible / Koran etc) as the ultimate resource in deciding what’s right or wrong. But there are many difficulties here. I think books like The Bible are meant to be interpreted, not taken literally. And there are many different ways of interpreting The Bible… hence all the different Christian denominations.

And then we have translation issues… how do we know that our translations in English are accurate to what the original authors intended?

And then we have the fact that ancient cultures can’t possibly have predicted what life in modern society would be like, with our smartphones and social media. Are we so sure our religious principles are still valid, bearing in mind they were created hundreds or thousands of years ago?

Truth / Love / Courage

Right now, I really like the spiritual system of Truth, Love and Courage invented by Richard Garriott and used in the Ultima series of videogames.

Richard performed considerable research into various real-world religions. He was looking for underlying principles.

The 8 Virtues

From the 3 principles of Truth, Love and Courage, Richard derived the 8 virtues.

In an interview with Computer Games Online, Richard Garriott revealed some things about how he developed the Eight Virtues for Ultima IV:

“I started with a whiteboard and wrote down all of the virtues and vices I could think of, the seven deadly sins, many, many others. Obviously I wanted to talk about a few of these, but I couldn’t address them all.”

“As I did more research, I began to notice things like greed and envy would have some overlap, so I needed to create a core set. You can easily split them up into virtues and vices, and eventually arrived at three primary aspects, which became the principle virtues of Truth, Love and Courage. Truth became Honesty, Love became Compassion, Courage became Valor, and I created the eight possible combinations of these three. Truth tempered by Love became Justice, Love and Courage became Personal Self-sacrifice, Courage and Truth became Chivalric Honor. Truth Love and Courage was kind of arbitrary, so I thought, “What is the all-encompassing virtue?” I said, “Spirituality,” whether or not you’re doing good or bad deeds in the world.”

“And what if you do none of the above? If not being virtuous is part of your psyche, I call it pride. Pride is not a virtue, so I decided to use the opposite, Humility. Since the eighth combination created a non-virtue, I began to create bits of pseudo-science I was pretty pleased with.”

“Ultimas are big in mathematical pseudo-science and alchemy, so I invented the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom to graphically illustrate their relationship. Then I associated the cities with the virtues, with the eighth one – which I called Magincia, the city of Pride – destroyed. Having these seven positive things with one eighth one that had to be flipped made for a nice variety of quests you could create.”

“Once the eight virtues were created, I needed to come up with quotes that expressed why each was important. And had to think of tests for people to see if they were supporting that virtue. Honesty was easy – I let you cheat shopkeepers and steal things, but the game kept a record where it could, later in the game, come back to haunt you. Just like the real world. Why is it you don’t steal from people? Because if you do they’ll throw you in jail or disown you. So that’s how I designed the game – people will reject you if you’re not honest.”

“So I went virtue by virtue and tried to craft these types of experiences.”

From the Ultima Wiki:

Implementing the 8 Virtues

Here’s my rough stab at how I might choose to implement these 8 virtues in my day-to-day life…


Honesty is pure Truth. “Tell the truth… or at least don’t lie,” says Jordan Peterson in his 12 Rules. Trust is so fundamental to human relationships. I’ve promised my wife I will always tell her the truth; this strengthens the bond between us. A customer at work overpaid me by Ā£10 the other day. I could easily have kept the money for myself, but I decided it was better to live according to my principles and I gave the money back.


Compassion is pure Love. It’s about helping others, especially those in greater need than you. I can be compassionate to others when I give them my time and attention. Simply listening to others is a form of compassion.


Valor is pure Courage. It’s often thought of in violent, militaristic terms. But there are plenty of ways we can be brave in modern life, even if you’re not engaged in combat. For example, I feel that facing up to difficult situations takes great Courage. Facing your own dragons voluntarily – that’s Courageous. Valor is also about being willing to explore different points of view and opinions.


Justice is Truth, tempered by Love. For me, it’s about setting healthy boundaries and sticking to them. It’s also about being prepared to face the consequences of my actions.


Sacrifice is the Courage to give of oneself in the name of Love. It’s about putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, at least some of the time. It’s about focussing on the greater good for all concerned, rather than just being selfish.


Honor is having the Courage to seek and uphold the Truth. Sometimes it takes great bravery to stand up for the Truth. This is about standing up for what we believe is right, even if it’s risky for ourselves. For me, honor means being proud of myself and my actions (in a good way).


Spirituality is to seek all of Truth, Love and Courage, both from oneself and from the world. It’s the sum totality of living ethically, according to a code of values. I am spiritual when I live in accordance to the 3 principles and 8 virtues.


Humility is the opposite of Pride – the absence of Truth, Love or Courage. We are humble when we accept that we don’t have all the answers. Being open-minded is a form of humility. We need to always accept the possibility that we might be wrong. We need to be aware of our own ego… and willing to put it to one side. I am humble by always being willing to learn.

Picking & Choosing

I’m not that keen on Honor or Justice, they seem like the weakest of the 8 virtues in terms of their usefulness for real life.

If I strip down Richard Garriott’s spiritual ideas to their bare essentials, I’d just have: Truth, Courage and Love, plus the virtue of Humility.

The other virtues seem a bit redundant as they’re just combinations of other virtues or ways of re-stating the 3 main principles.

Spiritual Principles in the 12 Steps

I was curious to see which spiritual principles crop up in my 12 Steps fellowship and how they might relate to the 8 virtues above…

  • Open-mindedness. I think this is closely associated with the virtue of Humility. But it also seems linked to Honor – having the bravery and Courage to explore the Truth.
  • Willingness. This is surely Valor – it’s about having the Courage to try out new ideas and behaviours even in the face of fear or doubt.
  • Honesty. This is the same idea as in the 8 virtues… telling the truth even if it’s uncomfortable, not misleading ourselves or others.

(I may come back and update the list above as I learn more from the 12 Steps).


To summarise, I think it’s well worth each of us having a system of ethics and personal values. These can help us navigate life’s trickier episodes – help us choose between right and wrong.

When you’re deciding on which ethical ideas are important to you, there’s a huge variety of choices: religious, spiritual or even secular/humanistic.

Maybe it’s less important which system you choose, as long as you do choose one. It seems to me that evil (pride?) often comes from nihilism or an absence of solid beliefs.

So, don’t leave a hole in your soul which the devil can exploit! Fill yourself with goodness, however you define it!

Personally, my beliefs and values are always open to future revision. This is my way of trying to be humble.

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Contacting Lord British

Richard Garriott (AKA Lord British) is a legendary videogame developer, responsible for the beloved Ultima series, amongst others.

Ultima IV holds a special place in my heart. The player aims to become a paragon of virtue, known as The Avatar. That’s where the subtitle for this blog comes from – Quest of the Avatar.

Ultima IV, Sega Master System version.

I really like the system of spiritual principles and virtues contained in Ultima IV. The 3 main principles are Truth, Love and Courage.

These 3 principles are not just a cool videogame idea, I think they’re actually a pretty solid foundation for a real-life religion! It’s been over 2 months since my Spiritual Awakening and I’ve been thinking lots about how to apply Truth, Love and Courage in my own life.

I was interested to find out Richard Garriott’s views on TLC and whether he’d considered using them in the real world.

I’ve contacted a few heroes before – book authors, videogame designers and favourite musicians. And I’ve heard back from my heroes more often than not.

I remember meeting George R R Martin (author of the Game of Thrones books) with a friend at a book signing. I was utterly star-struck and couldn’t think of any good questions to ask him, but luckily my friend did.

It’s such a cool feeling to form a personal connection with someone I respect and admire, whose work has made my life better in some small way.

So, I messaged Richard Garriott, thinking he’s probably far too famous and busy to respond to my silly questions…

Hi Richard! Thank you for bringing the Ultima series of games to the world. I have especially fond memories of IV and VII. I’m also interested in applying the principles and virtues of The Avatar to my own life. Truth, Courage and Love seem like great principles to live by. I was wondering if they are important to you in your own life? Have you ever considered starting your own religion, based on The Avatar?!

Bollinger, R. (2019), writing to Richard Garriott

He wrote back, within a few hours!

Thanks for the kind note!
I too have pondered these same questions.
I work hard and did lots of research to arrive at T/L/C, and do expect to write more on the subject directly… 
Where and how much, to be determined.

Garriott, R. (2019), legendary game developer.

He’s expecting to write more?! That means he’s already written something about the real-world applications of TLC! I guess I’ll have to check out his recent autobiography, though I’d be surprised to find more than a paragraph or two.

How exciting! It seems that TLC forms the basis of several existing world religions… And I suspect that if Lord British were to create his own real-world religion, he’d have almost as many followers as those who self-identify as a Jedi!

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Ultima IV and its Principles and Virtues

Jordan Peterson argues, and I agree, that the most popular stories in our culture are those which resonate with deeper truths about humans and our reality.

Two examples: The Lion King, Harry Potter.

In this blog post, I argued that the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion also contains deeper truths.

So if books, movies and anime series can communicate deeper truths, what about other artforms?

What about videogames? Aren’t they just frivolous fun, only for children and young men in their parents’ basements who are escaping from the real world?

Not at all.

Just like other forms of art, games can tell us a lot about ourselves.

Cover art for the videogame Ultima IV

Ultima IV was one of my favourite games as a child (back in the 80s and 90s). There’s so much about it that I love. It holds a special place in my heart, even today.

I have fully completed the game back in the 90s – it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my teen gaming life.

Part of me really wants to go back and play it again today. But I’m scared I’ll have rose-tinted spectacles and quickly lose patience with it… some of the game’s systems are really archaic and clunky by modern standards.

Anyway, Ultima IV is all about the Quest of the Avatar. The player controls a character known as The Avatar of Virtue, whose ultimate goal is to master the 8 spiritual virtues. This is so he/she can end the fight between Good and Evil in the world, once and for all (classic videogame trope!)

I really do think that Ultima IV might be onto something very real with its belief system featuring 3 principles and 8 virtues.

Let’s take a quick look at them:

A visual representation of the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom, from Ultima IV

The One True Axiom

  • Infinity

Three Principles

  • Truth
  • Love
  • Courage

Eight Virtues

  • Honesty
  • Honor
  • Valor
  • Humility
  • Sacrifice
  • Compassion
  • Justice
  • Spirituality

There’s also one anti-virtue: Pride.

The 3 Principles and 8 Virtues from Ultima IV. Notice how the 8 Virtues are the intersections of the 3 Principles.

Interestingly, I found myself writing about Truth, Courage and Beauty (which is perhaps similar to Love) in this blog post about sorting your life out. Was I channeling my memories of Ultima IV from my unconscious?

I was curious about how the game’s author(s) came up with this in-game belief system.

“The concept of virtues was inspired by a TV show about the Avatars of Hindu mythology, which described the avatars as having to master 16 different virtues. The eight virtues used in the game were derived from combinations of truth, love, and courage, a set of motivators Garriott [the game developer] found worked best, and also found in one of his favorite films, The Wizard of Oz

Wikipedia page for Ultima IV

For many years now, I’ve been interested in exploring ways to lead a meaningful life. What if I already had a spectacular answer from a videogame (of all places!) from way back in my childhood?

What would my life look like if I attempted to be like The Avatar of Virtue?

What would the world look like if we all strived to be virtuous?

What’s the relationship between one’s personal core values, and Ultima IV’s virtues?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.