THE PURPOSE OF
Every intelligent person sooner or later comes to a stage in his life where he begins to ask himself what purpose there is in life, in being on earth. "Why am I here? What am I to accomplish in life?" No doubt the moment this question has arisen in a person he has taken his first step in the path of wisdom. Before, whatever he did without being conscious of his life's purpose, he remained discontented. Whatever be his occupation, his condition in life, whether he be wise or foolish, learned or illiterate, there is always discontent. He may have success or failure, but that desire "my life's purpose should be accomplished" remains, and unless it is accomplished a person cannot be satisfied. It is because of this that many people who are successful in business, doing very well in their profession, comfortable in their domestic life and well-off in society, yet remain dissatisfied because they do not know the purpose of their life. After knowing the purpose of life one may be handicapped by many things, one may lack means and conditions favourable to go forward, but in spite of all that there is strength of conviction in the knowledge, "I am here for a particular purpose".
There is a story told of the Prophet Muhammad's life. At the time when the Prophet - who was born with his particular purpose in life - felt a kind of restlessness, a dissatisfaction with all things in his life, he thought he had better go into the forest, into the wilderness, into the mountains and sit there alone to get in touch with himself, to find out why there was that yearning which he did not understand. He asked his wife if she would allow him that solitude for which his soul longed, and she agreed. Then he went into the wilderness and sat there for many days. When the vibrations of the physical body and of the mind which are always upset and in turmoil in the midst of the world calmed down, and when his mind became quiet and his spirit was tranquil, when the heart of the Prophet became restful, he began to feel in touch with all of nature there: the space, the sky, the earth. Then it seemed as if everything was talking to the Prophet; the water which was running to him and the clouds, everything was talking to him. He was in communication with the whole world, with the whole of life. And then the word came to the Prophet, "Cry in the name of thy Lord". This meant the lesson of idealism: not only to be in touch with nature, but to idealize the Lord.
At the present time there is the great drawback that when people become very intellectual they lose idealism. If they want to find God they want to find Him in figures. There are many who would rather meditate than worship, than pray. In this way there has always been conflict between the intellectual and the idealist. The Prophet was taught as the first thing to idealize the Lord, and when this ideal he had made became his conception of God, then in that conception God awakened, and the Prophet began to hear the voice saying, "Now you must serve your people. You must awaken in your people the sense of religion, the ideal of God, the desire for spiritual attainment and the wish to live a better life". He then knew that all the prophets who had come before him had always been intended to accomplish the same thing which it was now his turn to accomplish.
Sa'di, the great poet of Persia, says that every soul is born with a certain purpose and the light of that purpose is kindled in that soul. So we are each born in this world to accomplish a certain purpose, and as long as we do not know the purpose we have to accomplish, we remain ignorant of life; comfortably situated or uncomfortably, we remain ignorant of the purpose of our life which is the first knowledge we must receive. It is a great pity, that education as it is today gives very little attention to this question. Children, youths and grown-ups, all go through life toiling from morning till evening, studying or working and at the same time not knowing what purpose they have to accomplish. Among a thousand persons there may be one exception, but nine hundred and ninety-nine are placed in a situation, whether they desire it or not, where they are working just like a mechanism, a machine put in a place which is made for it, where it must work. Out of a hundred persons ninety-nine are discontented with the work they are doing. Either it is their life's condition that has placed them there, or it is because they have to live and therefore must work, or because they have the idea that they should first gather what they need. By the time they have gathered the means to be able to do something in life the desire of accomplishing it has gone.
In spite of progress it is a great drawback that individuals have no occasion to accomplish something they desire. Many youths and grown-ups never think about it; they think, "We must do that work and finish it", and they have no time to think of the purpose of their particular life. Therefore hundreds and thousands of lives are wasted. In spite of all the money they make their hearts are not satisfied, because it is not the wealth one gains that can give that satisfaction.
When we look at life with a philosopher's view we see that every person is as one note in this symphony of life, that we all make this symphony of life, each contributing the music which is needed in this symphony. But if we do not know our own part in the symphony of life, naturally it is as if one of the four strings on the violin is not tuned, and if it is not tuned the violin cannot give the music which it must produce. So we must each produce that part for which we are born; we must contribute the part that is meant for us by destiny. Be it a crude part, a higher pitch or a lower, it is only by playing that particular part which belongs to us that we shall get satisfaction.
Maybe many people will not think as I do: for instance those who believe in pacifism, those who believe so much in the idea of peace. They will say, "Is it not madness that anybody should make war!" But everything one does, whether it looks better or worse, belongs somewhere in the scheme of life and we have no right to condemn it. If only every individual becomes conscious of the duty for which he is born, that is the principal thing.
Now coming to the question of the purpose of life: there are two purposes, one is a minor purpose, the other a major purpose; one is preliminary and the other is the final purpose of life. The preliminary purpose of life is just like a steppingstone to the final one. Therefore one must first think about the preliminary purpose of life. For instance, if a person wishes to collect wealth his whole thought is absorbed by it. You can tell him, "No, that is not a good thing. What is wealth after all? Is it not material? Is it not useless? You ought to be devotional, spiritual". But his mind is not there. He cannot be spiritual, his whole thought is concentrated on that wealth, and if he cannot collect the money he wants to have he is unhappy. If you force spirituality upon him, religion, devotion, prayer, these will not help him. Very often in the place of food people give water, and in the place of water they give food. That is not good. Spirituality comes in its time, but the preliminary purpose is what a man will contribute to the world as the first thing before awakening to spiritual perfection.
All the great teachers of humanity have taught this preliminary purpose of life in their religion, whatever teachings they have given. Muhammad, Moses, Christ, Krishna, Buddha in their teachings to their followers had the motive to help them to be able to accomplish that first purpose of life. For instance, when Christ called the fishermen he said, "Come hither, I will make you fishers of men". Christ did not say, "I will make you more spiritual". He wanted them to accomplish the first purpose of life; it was the first step. The next lesson was, "You will become more spiritual". The teachers of spiritual knowledge who look at it in this way consider it their first duty to show a person the first purpose of his life or to help him to accomplish it. When this is done then comes the second purpose.
As to the preliminary purpose of man's life, there are four different ways people can take. One way is the way of material benefit. By his profession, by his occupation, business, industry a person wants to make money. Something is to be said both for and against this ideal. Against it may be said that while working for money one very often loses the right track, thought and consideration; one overlooks the rights of others. And what is to be said for it is that it is after all those who possess wealth who can use wealth for better purposes. Charitable institutions, hospitals, schools, colleges, all are founded by charitable people who have given generously to such organizations. Therefore there is nothing wrong in earning money and in devoting one's time to it as long as the motive is right and good.
Another way is that of duty. One thinks that one has a duty to one's community, town, city or country; one does some social work, one tries to do good to others and considers this one's duty. It may be that one has a duty towards one's parents, one may be looking after one's mother and sacrificing one's life for her or for one's wife and children. There is great merit in this also. No doubt what is against it is that very often the lives of the dutiful ones are spoiled and they have no chance of doing something worthwhile in the world, but if it were not for them the world would be devoid of love and affection. If the wife had no sense of duty towards her husband, nor the neighbour towards his friend, then they would be living like creatures of the lower creation. It is the sense of duty that makes man greater than other beings; that is why we admire it. Heroes who give their lives for their country are not doing a small thing. It is something great when a person gives his life for the sake of duty. Another example is a wife who sacrifices her own ambition to care for her invalid husband. Duty, the sense of duty is a great virtue, and when it is valued and deepened in the heart of man it wakens him to a greater and higher consciousness. People have accomplished great things. The great heroes have lived a life of duty.
The third way one chooses in life is to make the best of the present. It is the point of view of Omar Khayyam who says in his Rubayat:
O my Beloved, fill the cup that clears today of past regrets and future
It is the point of view of the person who says, "If I was a great person in the past, what does it matter? What matters is what I am just now. The past is forgotten, and the future - who knows what will come out of it ! No one knows his future. In order to strengthen myself for the future I have to make the best of this moment and make my life as happy as I can". It is not a bad point of view. It is a philosophical point of view. Those who adhere to it are happy and give happiness to others.
No doubt all these different points of view have a wrong side also, but when we look at their right side there is something in it to appreciate.
People nowadays use a phrase, "He is a jolly good fellow". In songs on different occasions this phrase is used; it expresses what everyone wishes and what he wants to be. It appreciates the tendency of mind which tries to make the present moment happy. It is difficult, very difficult, and not everyone can manage to do it, because life has so many conflicts, so many troubles. One has to face so many difficulties in life that to be able to keep on smiling is not everyone's work. Yes, in order to keep smiling a person must either be foolish and not feel or think about anything, just close his eyes and his heart to the world, or he must be as high as such souls as in the miracle of Christ walking upon the water.
There are some who sink, others who swim and some who walk over the water. Those who are drowned in life's misery are those who cannot come out of it; they are tied down in the depths of life, they cannot get out and are miserable there; they are the ones who sink. Then there are others who are swimming; they are those who want to strive through the conflicting conditions of life in order some day to reach the shore. And there are others who walk upon life. Theirs is the life which is symbolically expressed in the miracle of Christ walking upon the water. It is like living in the world and not being of the world, touching the world and not being touched by it. It needs a clear perception of life, keen intelligence and thorough understanding of life, great courage, strength and bravery.
Therefore I do not mean to say that the man who makes the best of the present moment is the same as the one whom we call happy-go-lucky, who is a simple man. He lives in another world, not aware of life's conditions, not awake to the conflicting influences of life. If he is happy it is not surprising; he is happiness itself. I mean to say that for those who are awakened to life's conditions, who are tender and sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others, for them it is very difficult to go on living and at the same time to keep smiling. If a person can do it, it is no doubt a great thing.
The fourth way is that of those who think, "What is life on earth after all? Is it not just four days to pass somehow? The day ends, the months and years pass, and so time slips by. One comes to the end of life before one has expected it, and the past becomes only as a dream of one night". Ask a man who has lived a hundred years, "What do you think about life on earth?" he will say, "One night's dream, my child, it is no longer than that".
If this is all there is to it, then those who think about what may come after this life say, "We should think of the hereafter. While we are able to work we must strive in order to make provision for our old age that we may be more comfortable. In the same sense we should work for the hereafter. Life means a short stay, it is nothing but an opportunity to prepare something so that later we shall have the benefit of it". No doubt there will be some who have a proper understanding, while others make too much of it and have a wrong conception of the hereafter. But the wise ones who think, "We must use the time and opportunity which are given to us in this life to prepare for the next one", have accomplished a great deal. It is something to admire.
These are the four different ways people take in order to accomplish the purpose of their lives: gathering wealth, being conscientious in their duty, making the best of every moment of life, and preparing for the future. All these four ways have their good points, and once you know this there is no need to blame anyone for having taken a path different to the one you have taken for the accomplishment of your life's purpose. By understanding this we become tolerant.
Now we come to the ultimate purpose of life which is one and the same. Every person has in the end to accomplish the same purpose of life in whatever way he will. He comes to the purpose either consciously or unconsciously, easily or with difficulty, but he has to accomplish it. That is spiritual attainment. You may ask if a person who never thinks about it, who is so material that he refuses to consider the question, will attain to spiritual realization. The answer is : yes, everyone, consciously or unconsciously, is striving after spiritual attainment. Sometimes he does not take the same way as you do, sometimes his point of view and his method differ. And sometimes one person attains spiritual realization much sooner than another; it may be in a day. And another person may strive his whole life long and not have attained it yet. What determines it? It is the evolution of a particular soul.
There are stories told in India of how a person was awakened to spiritual consciousness after hearing one word from his guru. That one word inspired him instantly to touch the higher consciousness. Then again we hear stories in the East of people who went to the forest, to the mountains, who fasted for days and months, who were hanging by their feet, their head downwards or who stood for years and years. This shows how difficult it is for one person and how easy for another. We make a great mistake when today we take every man's evolution to be the same. We say, "They are all human beings". It is not so, there are great differences between "people : one is creeping, one is walking, one is running and another is flying. Yet all live under the same sun.
It is the custom in the East that those who begin to seek for a spiritual purpose in their lives look for a spiritual teacher. They do not set forth on the spiritual journey by themselves, because in the East after thousands of years of experience they have found that in order to tread the spiritual path it is necessary to have a leader to whom one can give one's confidence and trust so as to follow him to the end. The difficulty in the West is that there is no doubt a general awakening - everybody wishes to know something about the spiritual path - but people do not stick to one and the same thing. There are many who go to one esoteric school and then to another and so on. In the end they have learned so much that they do not know what is true, which is right and which is wrong. It is just like visiting a restaurant and eating so much that one is not able to digest it. Besides when a person takes in all that is false and true there remains no discrimination between the two. The greatest merit that seekers after truth can show is their confidence and trust in their teacher. It is according to the confidence one gives to the teacher that the heart is able to receive the knowledge which leads one to higher consciousness.