We generally don’t get asked what is the goal or purpose of eating delicious food, or smelling a rose or having sex, but we do get asked what is the purpose of working hard or earning money. It’s because we see the first category of activities as “the end in itself” whereas the second category as “the means to an end.” Applied to life, when someone asks what is the ultimate goal of life they are seeing life as a means to something and not an end in itself, otherwise they would’t ask this question.
Whenever spiritual Gurus get asked this question their standard answer is – “the purpose of life is to live and live joyfully, don’t look for any deeper purpose.” Which basically means don’t see this life as a means to something else but an end in itself, it’s a reward, a gift of god to be enjoyed and not a fuel to be burnt to achieve something outside of itself.
The next logical question is how can we just live and not make any plans for future, how will we grow. The example given here is that of a tree, a tree just lives and in living it grows, when it stops growing it starts dying. It has no ambitions outside of its own life. It has no desire to travel, become something other than who it is, doesn’t make any plans as to how its flowers and fruits should be utilised, who should consume them.
The growth here can be understood in terms of the two important dimensions – growth in the external world and the growth in the internal world. Having too many desires and big plans in the external world can come in the way of one’s inner growth. In fact the expression “inner growth” is a misnomer as nothing grows inside of us – on the contrary the ego is destroyed when one connects with the deeper reaches of one’s psyche.
When someone who was grieving for the loss of his wife and child asked Ramana Maharishi, “how shall I overcome the grief that I feel in my heart for loss of my dear ones,” Maharishi replied, “happiness, unhappiness, death, birth, the external world all are inside your ego, the part of your mind that you identify with as your own self. If you can destroy your ego, all these will end, silencing the ego is not enough, it has to be destroyed.” The ego is a bundle of desires, and they originate from within itself. The ego arises from within so looking inward is the solution.
Too much involvement with the external world can be an obstacle in one’s attempts to live life. We create big goals and life slips by when we are busy achieving those goals. This reminds me of John Lennon’s famous quote – “life is what happens to you when you are busy planning it.” Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle but more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” It goes to show that too much involvement in the external world can stop us from living truly.
Swami Vivekananda also said that people who work too hard and are very busy will have difficulty finding God. The goal of life should not be to work too hard but to work joyfully.
Hindu scriptures talk about the following four fundamental goals of life:
1. Artha – Earning money to sustain life on this earth.
2. Kama – Seeking pleasures, joy, love, contentment, happiness. This is unique about Hindu dharma as most religions discuss goal of life as avoiding eternal damnation and seeking heaven, they diminish the value to earthly life – which one starts seeing as a means to seek heaven. Even Jainism encourages individuals to see human body as fire-wood that needs to be burnt for the sake of liberation. The extreme ascetism in some religious sects can include – extreme fasting, refraining from music and dancing, sleeping on hard surfaces, self-flagellation, etc.
3. Dharma – Righteousness – doing the right thing and doing one’s duty; duty to one’s parents, sibs, relatives, friends, neighbours, society, countrymen and international community. It helps us accumulating good karmas.
1. Moksha – is not just a liberation from further suffering in this life and life after but a discovery of the inner source of happiness. This can also give meaning to one’s life. No one has ever asked the purpose and meaning in taking out a thorn from one’s body or taking medicine for pain and disease. Undoing of one’s suffering can also give meaning to one’s life. In fact many a times one experiences a loss of meaning and emptiness in life when all of a sudden the suffering is eliminated from one’s life e.g. disabled family member who had required a lot of care and attention passes away.
The mantra for living life properly is to never lose one’s equanimity, do things that can be done in an easy going and joyful manner and only require pushing our boundaries a little bit at a time. Let the righteousness guide our involvement in the remaining three goals in life. Not to take life too seriously and see all that is happening around as a dream or something that will soon look like a dream.
© Kishore Chandiramani, Consultant Psychiatrist
Emotions Clinic, Education and Training Centre Cic, Staffordshire, England
Image courtesy: https://www.soulveda.com/happiness/importance-of-focus-in-the-pursuit-of-life-goals/