(Note: A writer for many years, Mr. Idikkula has written on a wide range of topics, mostly on religious philosophy. Mr. Idikkula's focus of interest is Indian philosophy in general and Vedanta philosophy in particular. He writes with the sole intent of making a difference, if possible, in ways most of us think and act in our lives. Jk, editor)
As the year rolls by one after another, we seldom realize the flight of time. Much sooner than we expect, our time to exit this world could be a reality. Yet for most of us, especially for those who have entered the second half of life, the homework of life—shifting our focus from the physical plane to the spiritual—remains a neglected task. If that happens to be the case, is it not the time to reflect where we are heading and with what purpose? If we lack a promising purpose in life, how are we different from animals who also live, eat, mate, and die?
To make our life meaningful, there must be an overriding reason to live, which cannot come from the world outside but from the world within. Because whatever that exists outside us will perish, but that which is within abides forever. It is for this reason that all the world’s great scriptures as well as all the great teachers unanimously declare that there’s a purpose to our life, and that’s to discover the divine presence in us, the ultimate truth of the unity of life. Also, this is not something to occur after death but here on earth. Even if it doesn’t happen now, an earnest attempt to know the divine, which is within, is a first step that leads us higher in spiritual life.
Purpose of Life
Naturally, spirituality is the pursuit of the divittne, for which alone we’re born into this world. It is quite fascinating that the goal of humanity is unique in all religions and teachings of the Masters, though it is expressed differently. For instance, Jesus summarizes the means and the end of this goal in few words: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as the Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Perfection is what Jesus invokes all of us to seek as our goal in life.
Mahatma Gandhi conveys the same theme in a slightly different language: “Man’s ultimate aim is the realization of God, and all of his activities—social, religious—have to be guided by the ultimate aim of the vision of God.” But where do we seek God? The answer is explicit in the words of Yoga Swami: “There is only one temple, and that is the temple of yourself. And to find God you have to know this temple of yourself. There is no other temple.” The same idea is reflected in one of the sayings of St. Paul as well: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?”
Bhagavad Gita, the most esteemed scripture of India, conveys vividly both the means and the end of life in these words: “They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego-cage of “I,” “me,” and “mine” to be united with the Lord. This is the supreme state. Attain to this, and pass from death to immortality.” Commenting on the Gita, Eknath Easwaran writes, “This is the message of the Gita in a nutshell: life has only one purpose, and that is to know the divine ground of existence and become united with it here and now.”
It has been said that perfection is the goal to seek after. But perfection is our real nature, though we’re not aware of it; which is why, we’re all searching, consciously or unconsciously, for perfection—not momentary but a lasting one—in all our ventures in life where perfection is indeed our ultimate aim. But we never find it; because our search is misdirected in the outside world.
Everything in this world, including what we consider life, is limited—that comes and goes. What comes and goes is not real and therefore cannot give us lasting happiness. The Upanishad says: “There is no joy in the finite; there is joy only in the Infinite.” How is it possible to find lasting happiness in this world which is truly meant for us to experiment and experience—a great school? That’s why our life is presented to us in pairs of opposites: pleasure and pain, heat and cold, success and failure, and so forth.
Meaning of Life
What we consider life is not what life truly is. We’re not what we think we are—the body, the mind, and the ego. Instead, we’re what we think we’re not: the Self, the divine presence in us.
Because of our identification with body and mind, we can’t help seeing the world through the window of our senses, and we see everything separate—separate individuals, separate objects, and separate events. The most crucial byproduct of this identity is a sense of separate individuality: the sense of “I,” “me,” and “mine.” This individuality, a false concept of separate existence, is what we call jiva or the individual ego.
The ego is the real villain, so to say, that not only prevents us from knowing the truth of unity but also makes us believe that it is the only reality worth pursuing in life.
Moreover, what we ordinarily consider our personality is nothing but a heap of samskaras that our ego has acquired over an unimaginably long stretch of lifetimes that are behind us. Oddly enough, we consider this personality a real person.
Better put, our so called personality, which we call life, is more of a shadow than of a substance. For, it is not an entity but a process, ever shifting from moment to moment. Admittedly, no one has ever succeeded, not even Alexander the Great, in realizing one’s desires fully in the world of ego. Yet we cling to it as though it were real. Shakespeare compares our life to a dream: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our life is rounded with a sleep.”
The real picture of life, by contrast, is a unified whole where everything is interconnected, and we’re all part of the same whole. To think that we’re separate from the whole is ignorance. The unity of life is not only the conviction of the ancient sages of India, but is also a proven fact of modern science. Listen to Dr. Fritjof Capra, an eminent physicist, who observes: “The basic oneness of the universe is not only the central characteristic of the mystical experience, but is also one of the most important revelations of modern physics. The unity of all things and events will be a recurring theme throughout our comparison of modern physics and Eastern philosophy.”
As long as we remain in the domain of our ego, we’re not free, and we’re bound by the miseries of the physical world. Our focus in life must be such that we don’t empower our ego, but we demolish it to regain our natural freedom.