The purpose of life is a question that all conscious being should ask themselves at least once in their life time. It is a question that could be philosophical and is usually overlooked by many. Happiness, financial freedom, material abundance, better living standards are some of the purpose of life for many subconsciously. In the spiritual path, the answer to this question can help to silence the mind, to focus better during our meditation and devotion.
It was end of September 2003 as I was busy making travel preparations to study abroad at the age of 18. Back in schooling days, most teachers were fond of me as I was an active person. However there was one teacher in particular who was closer in my heart. She had invited me for a farewell treat along with some final chat before I left for my studies. Her name is Madam Doreen, a motherly figure with short hair and a loving smile.
I remembered very clearly seeking permission from her prior asking an important personal question.
"Dear teacher, what is the purpose of life?" I asked.
She smiled at me and replied, " I always knew that you were a special student. It's an important question that you have asked me."
She went into the kitchen and brought out some hot chocolate drink for me and sat directly in front of me looking straight into my eyes.
She answered me, " The purpose of life is to serve God".
I was absolutely surprised to receive such an answer from my school teacher.
To serve God? How is that? To be a monk?
I was instead expecting answers like; to serve mankind, to be remembered as a good person and so on. I patiently listened to her further explanations. It's only then I realised that she is a devoted Christian as she began talking about God and his only son Jesus Christ. I was not a stranger to Christian philosophy as I studied in a Catholic Missionary School, St.Xavier's Institution. I listened to her with great respect though not really agreeing to her answers. The day ended with a simple meal with lots of loving story of the Jesus Christ.
However, this question no longer bothered me during my studying days abroad. Though I was an obedient child who followed my parents to temple weekly, I stopped depending on God during my university days. I developed a believe that I had to work hard to achieve success in both my education and in life and shouldn't simply rely upon God. I continued to ask more questions to myself. Why does human go through hunger, poverty and suffering while others flourish? Why are climate changes happening in the world and how to curb these problems? I also had made my personal conclusion, that purpose of life is to serve Mother Earth and the needy as much as possible, but firstly I had to establish myself financially. However life always has it's own twist to the plot.
Everybody are at different phases in their current life with a different overall spiritual progress. Hence it is extremely normal for everyone to have different purpose of life. In the Vedas, it is mentioned that the purpose of life can be divided to 4 categories ; 4 Purusharta
- Kaama- sensory pleasure.
- Aartha- meaning and security
- Dharma- Duty and Righteousness
- Moksha- self realization leading to cessation of the cycle of birth and death.
Naturally everyone seeks for some form of pleasure which is the fulfillment of the 5 senses; vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste. When seeking to fulfill sensory pleasures-Kaama, one will realize after some time that pleasure is followed by pain and is never permanent. Then desires to re-experience pleasure appears along with the need to secure them. This is when one pursue security in life, Artha; financial security, marriage, shelter, health and so on. To uphold their home, relationship and finances, one will have to give importance to their duty. However, the sense of righteousness doesn't appear to everybody despite optimally carrying out their duty. The thoughts of righteousness appear when a person develop compassion towards all of creation and drops ego and self-interest. This is when Dharma becomes purpose of life. Finally it is only those who give importance to Dharma and practice it will have their mind prepared and opened towards self realization, Moksha.
A poor farmer in Indonesia works at 2 different places to meet his daily wages. In the morning he works at a large corporate farm spraying pesticides on the crops and by the evening, he works at a wet market as a butcher. During certain period of the year after harvest, the fields are set on fire so that new crops could be planted.This causes wild fire to quickly spread across the open field towards nearby forest. These are the main reason behind yearly forest fire causing air pollution and haze in South East Asia. However the farmer is only performing his duty when burning the field and slaughtering the animals to secure his income. Global climate changes and animal rights are not of his concern.
In another scenario, a dentist with material abundance continues to open up more businesses to achieve financial freedom. He allocates time for devotion and meditation, but his purpose and prayers still remain for financial and health well-being. He never bothers thinking about surrender and moksha. This is because of his natural tendencies and purpose of life.
Not everyone's purpose of life will be upgraded from kaama to artha to dharma to moksha in a single life. Many will get stuck in the first 2 or 3 Purusharta for many lifetime. It takes many lifetimes of punya (good merits) and good karma (good actions and it's consequences) for one to finally to choose Moksha-self realization as their purpose of life. It also takes many life time of punya to be born at a time when a Living Master, the Guru walks on earth. With the grace of the Guru, stages of life and purpose can be altered instantaneously. Even the pursuit of lower purpose- kaama could suddenly be change towards moksha. Hence it is never a coincidence for someone to be in the spiritual path towards moksha.
My purpose of life has changed several times from financial abundance to serving mankind, making a difference in the world to Self Realization. Surprisingly in this spiritual path towards self realization, I have come to learn that it is all about the Loving Relationship with God and Serving God. How ironic as I have once again arrived to the same 'purpose of life' proposed by my school teacher 16 years ago. Such is the greatness of the guidance of the Guru.
<to be continued>