63. What is the purpose of your life?
Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V
What is the purpose of your life or anyone’s life? Why are you here? Even if you believe that you are born by chance, is there nothing else to it? This is one conundrum about our lives, for which there is no clear and satisfactory answer, unless you have read and assimilated the wisdom of the Bhagavadgita, or any Hindu, Buddhist or Jain scripture, and understood why we are subject to karma and why we are advised to engage in sacrificial actions without any selfish motive or intention.
When you try to answer the question, you may manage to find an answer, but you may also find it difficult to get rid of the nagging feeling that it may not be the right or perfect answer. However thoughtful and well intended it may be, the response invariably arises in the domain of the mind and ego rather than the soul. Therefore, it is subject to the limitations of your knowledge and awareness, and to egoism, desire and delusion.
If you want to find a genuine answer to this question, you must pay mindful attention to the world around you and to all things that exist here, and learn from your observation the interdependence and interrelatedness of the whole existence, which are at the crux of it. You are not alone here, and you cannot live alone. Everything in creation is directly or indirectly connected to the rest of creation, just like the spokes in a wheel. Your actions affect others, just as theirs affect you. Therefore, in every religion you will find a great emphasis upon the importance of virtuous and responsible living. By nonviolence, we mean not hurting or disturbing others, and not being disturbed by them. It is possible only when you practice other related virtues such as compassion, truthfulness, etc.
It also leads to another important conclusion. Your purpose cannot be separate or disconnected from the rest of the world. If you want to find your true purpose, you must see your own life from a broader perspective of the whole world, and see yourself in relation to it. You will find the true answer only when you include others in it and align yourself to the larger aims and interests of the world and all life upon earth.
For example, think of the food you eat. Think of the countless living beings, who sacrifice themselves to become a part of your eating ritual. Think of countless others, who through their own labor and hardships, make it available to you, even though you may have never met them and perhaps will never know. They may have been motivated by their own selfish intentions in supplying that food, but without them you would not have obtained it.
What can you learn from this? What seems to be the highest purpose of all that exists here? Pay attention to the world again. Think of all the life forms, from the smallest to the highest. Why are they here? What roles are they playing? Is it all just a random play of random events? Whom are they serving? Is there any purpose to a tree in a forest, other than serving the forest in some useful way? Is there any purpose to a blade of grass, an insect, a bird, a fish, a plant, tree or shrub, other than being part of a larger system and doing their part?
These questions are important, and so are the answers. You may make a difference to the world, but the world does not depend upon you. You depend upon it. A bird does not know why it is here or why she is born, but she dutifully lives, surviving against odds. She lays eggs, builds nests and brings up her chicks with complete dedication. When the chicks are ready to fly, she lets them go, without holding any grudges. Then one day, after many years of serving Nature in her own way and producing countless progeny to ensure the continuity of life upon earth, she dies and becomes food to numerous other creatures.
The same pattern is repeated with minor variations by countless other life forms, big and small. They all live, perform their natural functions and die, without even knowing that they have filled a place and served a purpose in creation. They do not actively choose that purpose. It is ingrained in their instinct or their limited consciousness so that they can naturally uphold the Dharma (duty) for which they are meant.
This is what all living beings are supposed to do, including humans. They are supposed to be a part of God’s symphony, the Bhagavad Gita. However, we are a different species. We do not live by instinct alone, nor can we be bound to a particular Dharma against our will. That choice has to be made by each of us. We are also programmed to be distinct and separate and pursue our own goals and interests according to our knowledge, discretion and desires.
Therefore, we cannot easily fit into the overall purpose of God’s creation, nor do we willingly take up the duties for which we are meant. We find a purpose or some purpose according to our desires and intentions to create our own life stories. In most cases, that purpose remains selfish, self-centered or egotistical. It is primarily meant fulfil our desires and serve our interests. Any altruistic notion arises only afterwards, if we have time and inclination.
In choosing our purpose or finding it, we do not go beyond our egoistic thoughts and selfish desires, nor do we think of the larger aims of our existence. We remain constricted and narrow-minded, as we try to make the most out of our otherwise purposeless lives. It does not matter, if in the process, we ignore others or hurt them with our actions and intentions. We do not know what seeds we sow and what misery we create for ourselves and for others, as we selfishly pursue our aims and desires.
We are not separate from the world. Our actions create their own ripples. Everyone and everything count in the continuity of life. Even science affirms it. However, we ignore that underlying connection, as we become caught in the wheels of life. From the microorganisms to the large mammals, millions of beings are born everyday and millions die, leaving behind no history or memory of their own. Some of them cannot be even seen or known. Yet, every one of them performs a definitive role (dharma) in Nature and leave their own footprint. They also help in the improvement and refinement of her processes and mechanisms. The world thus thrives upon the collective Dharma of all. When we all do our parts, we create harmony, peace and happiness and make the world a fit place to live.
Serving Nature or serving the larger aims of creation or life itself seems to be the main moral purpose (dharma) of human life upon earth. It is true even in case of humans, gods and demons, who according to the Vedas are three classes of beings created by Brahman. Any selfish purpose on the part of anyone is a potential trap and the source of misery, as it creates a discordant ripple in the normal flow of life and the wheel of Dharma.
Millenniums ago, the seers and sages of India, who lived closer to Nature in the deep forests of Gangetic plains and Himalayan foothills, realized this fundamental truth. They believed that the duty of every human being upon earth was to serve the larger interests of the world by performing a set of functions or obligatory duties, rather than pursuing their own selfish goals. They considered it the Dharma (moral duty) of humans. That Dharma has to be in harmony with God’s own Dharma so that it would lead to order and regularity, peace and happiness for everyone. Since selfishness was a major obstacle to that exalted goal, they equated it with evil itself and declared selfish actions as the source of suffering and karma.
Human beings are endowed with intelligence, with which they can discern their obligatory duties, which are essential for the order and regularity of the world. Their lives are not meant for the narrow pursuit of selfish desires. Instead, living in a world which they do not own and which they cannot claim as theirs, they are supposed to live their lives as a sacrifice in service to God, the true owner, for the greater good of all.
Here, God does not mean just a divine being, but everything that exists here and in creation. It includes all that, which is perceptible and imperceptible, known and unknown, transcendental and immanent, here and above, all the dualities, God, Nature and their numerous manifestations. To that God we must make our offerings through our duties and obligations. That God, we must selflessly serve with dedication and devotion, and without showing any deference or the distinction of high or low. By performing our actions as an offering and sacrifice, we must serve all that he represents here and above.
As we live in harmony with all things, doing our part and upholding our Dharma in the larger interests of all existence, we become free from the evil of selfishness and from the suffering and the chaos that may arise from our indulgence in it. It is what we call “nishkama karma,” which means performing actions as a sacrifice without desiring their fruit. The Bhagavadgita states that God (Isvara) himself follows this principle to set an example for others. He performs his actions with detachment and upholds the creation for the sake of all the beings that depend upon it.
All plants, animals and other living creatures naturally live that way. They follow their respective dharmas (natural duties) to ensure the continuity and preservation of life upon earth. They are continuously engaged in sacrificial actions, without their knowledge or will. Hence, they are not tainted by karma as much as we are. They instinctively follow their respective Dharmas, without knowing what they are or what they mean.
By that, they become a part of the larger sacrifice of God upon earth in his manifestation as Kala or the Lord of Death. According to the Bhagavadgita and the Vedas, this God of Death is supposed to be the first Being who manifested upon earth. For him, everything is food, and life itself is a continuous sacrifice in the wheel of Time, in which he is the sacrifice, the sacrificed, the priest and the enjoyer of the sacrifice. He devours everything that he creates to facilitate the transmigration of the souls and the modifications of Nature. He is the same God who showed his universal form to Arjuna and explained to him the importance of performing one’s Dharma, without desires and attachments.
The Bhagavadgita thus conveys a very important lesson about the purpose of human life. It is meant to be lived in the larger interests of God’s creation. We are not supposed to live solely for ourselves or our selfish aim. Since the same Self exists in all, we cannot ignore the underlying connection and the unity of life. We must ensure we live in harmony our environment, without hurting and harming, without encroaching upon their space, without taking what does not belong to us, without deceiving and envying and without becoming a burden or a problem to others.
As far as possible, we must do our obligatory duties, help others, treat them as we would like to be treated, facilitate the flow of life and abundance through our actions and choices, promote peace and happiness through right living, and exemplify the best behavior, character and conduct. Living this way is a duty (dharma) sacrifice (yajna) in itself. It is what we mean service to God or the way of the Bhagavata (a divine servant) and it is what leads to the order and regularity of the world, nearness to God (samipyam) and liberation (sayujyam).
Your life’s purpose is not to live for yourself, but to be useful and helpful in the sacrifice of life, transcending selfishness, egoism and desires, engaging in actions with choiceless awareness and feeling oneness with everything around you, as if you have stepped into the all-inclusive vision and consciousness of God. If you do not believe in God, you may substitute the word with Nature or the universe. The idea is, you must find oneness with the system that governs us and that is largely responsible for our birth and preservation. You may deny the existence of God, but you cannot deny that you cannot be happy if the world around you is in chaos.
Therefore, if you want to find a purpose, find one which is larger than your own life, and which can help you achieve peace and happiness for yourself and others. Do not aim for your own pleasure or happiness. Selfishness makes you small and builds walls of separation and delusion around you. It puts you in competition with others and pits you against forces that you cannot control. Think of living in harmony, flowing with the flow and being useful to the very system or power that supports your life and happiness. Think of others as you think of yourself or your aims. Accommodate them in your plans and actions. Try to help them as much as you can in whatever capacity you can.
You can do it in numerous ways, sometimes by letting them be, sometimes teaching them wisdom, sometimes saving them from problems and sometimes by just sharing with them love and laugher. This is how we are supposed to live, to be a beautiful and melodious note or a sacred chant in the symphony of God. Use your discernment, knowledge and wisdom to avoid evil actions and association with evil people. Know that you are vulnerable to selfish thoughts and intentions, and you have an important choice to make, which will determine the course of your life and where and in what direction you will progress upon earth.
When you abide in Dharma and selflessly help others, seeing God in them or yourself, you will attain purity and become one with God himself. However, if you engage in selfish actions, driven by your own desires, attachments and egoism, and follow your own selfish purpose, you will keep learning harshest and darkest lessons until you realize your faulty ways. Know that by abiding in your natural Dharma and helping others, you do not become special or a great soul (mahatma). You would be just like every other creature that lives here and does its part in the continuity of life, performing its natural functions and abiding in its own natural Dharma, except that you possess the awareness of yourself and others and the power to change your life and your destiny by your own will, choices and actions.
As a human being, endowed with intelligence, self-awareness and consciousness, you have the unique privilege to manifest God’s will upon earth and be an important part of his eternal Dharma, which even the gods of heaven do not have. Unlike you, they are bound to their heaven and their duties, with no freedom to seek salvation or ascend to higher worlds. Just as we are, they are also created to depend upon others and help others in their own ways. By helping others and receiving help in return, and by doing our dharma and helping others to do their dharma, we can be an important part of God’s eternal sacrifice.
When you think of your life’s purpose, remember that it cannot be separate or detached from the larger purpose of the world, Nature or all living beings. Your goals must be in harmony with the goals of Dharma, and your life must be in harmony with the larger aims of creation itself. There is no purpose here upon earth, which is other than or separate from the larger purpose of God or creation. It is our duty and purpose to know it and be a part of it. Living life as a sacrifice, this is our Dharma, our duty and the hidden purpose behind all the chief aims of human life. Through that only, you can pursue them namely duty, wealth, pleasure and liberation. Even in that pursuit, you have to renounce selfishness.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- The Wisdom of the Bhagavadgita, Main Page
- The Wisdom of the Upanishads, Main Page
- The Bhagavad-Gita Essays and Translations
- An Introduction To The Bhagavad-Gita And Its Three Secrets
- Why to Study the Bhagavadgita Parts 1 to 4
- The Abbreviated Bhagavadgita
- The Problem of Maya Or Illusion and How To Deal With It
- The Problem of Maya Or Illusion and How To Deal With It
- The Bhagavadgita, Philosophy and Concepts
- The Many Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism
- Divine Qualities Of A True Worshipper Of God
- The Bhagavadgita on Karma, the Law of Actions
- Maya, The Grand Illusion Or The Delusion Of The Mind
- Aspects, Emanations, Incarnations and Forms of God Vishnu
- Dvaita or Advaita What is the Truth?
- Symbolism in the Bhagavadgita
- The Truth About Karma
- Meaning and Definition of Bhagavan
- Brahman the Supreme Universal Lord of All
- What is Bhakti or Devotion?
- Bhakti Marg, the Path of Devotion
- History and information about Mathura and Vrindavan Temples
- True Devotion and Qualities of a True Devotee
- Essays On Sorrow And Its Spiritual Significance
- The Yoga of Knowledge or the Samkhya Yoga, Verses and Commentary by Jayaram V
- Essays On Dharma
- Esoteric Mystic Hinduism
- Introduction to Hinduism
- Hindu Way of Life
- Essays On Karma
- Hindu Rites and Rituals
- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
- Symbolism in Hinduism
- Essays on The Upanishads
- Concepts of Hinduism
- Essays on Atman
- Hindu Festivals
- Spiritual Practice
- Right Living
- Yoga of Sorrow
- Mental Health
- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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