The Meaning of Life
If we examine the average person’s life, it would seem that it’s all about finding happiness through improving one’s lot in life: earning a comfortable livelihood, having relationships and raising a family. If people are not actively involved in such pursuits, they are perceived as having empty lives. But can any of these constitute the meaning of our lives, and can they give us a true sense of purpose?
Some would answer that they do, since what else is there? That’s a poor argument, of course. The weak point is that even if one were to achieve all these goals, there is no guarantee that they would bring happiness. Even if one were to land a good job, there’s no guarantee that you would be able to hold on to it. And even you marry and have children, these too are no guarantee of life-long happiness.
The question naturally arises: where else can we look for meaning and purpose in our lives if the ‘traditional’ pathways do not qualify? Well, first we have to understand the reason why they don’t qualify, and that is because they are all unreliable and relatively short-lived. Even if we are particularly successful at all our worldly endeavours, and achieve wealth and fame and have lots of friends and an idyllic family, there is still one serious problem: All of us are going to die. This is an unassailable reality. Therefore, no matter how much we achieve here, one day we will have to leave it all behind, and someone else will get it.
So now we know where not to look for purpose and meaning. Where then do we look? What is there that endures and is not limited by our mortal lifespan? And how are we going to find it, since it is obviously not in this material world that we call our home? The honest truth is that without proper help and guidance, we would not have even the slightest hope of finding answers to our questions.
Happily for us, there are those who know the answers to all these questions, and they seek us out and offer to share their superior knowledge with us. There have always been those great souls upon this earth who have possessed this knowledge, and they have always taught struggling souls the means by which they can indeed find their way to that which is lasting and true – upon which we can base a meaningful and purposeful life. These are the Masters.
They point out that the world in which we live does not contain the solution to our problem, and that continuing to seek meaning and purpose here is not only futile but actually perpetuates our unhappy situation. Therefore, we need to look somewhere else. But since this world is all we know, we find ourselves asking, “What else is there and where should we look for it?”
The Masters say: Look within. Of course, initially, we don’t even know what this means, but they explain that within us is the entire universe. The macrocosm is contained within the microcosm. This is not easy to understand but, they say: Put your judgment on hold, accept this as a postulate, and put into practice the teachings which we will give you, and the truth of all this will reveal itself, in the fullness of time.
The Master gives us the practice of meditation, which, when performed correctly, automatically leads us in the direction that we need to go. Even without fully understanding or grasping what the Master is trying to tell us, this practice will take us to the point where we experience this truth directly for ourselves. At that point further explanations will be entirely redundant, because we will just know.
In the meantime though, before we achieve this state where every-thing stands revealed, we have this thing called ‘normal life’. Somehow we also have to cope with having a physical body, and having to house it, feed it and generally look after it, which necessitates us having to earn a living. This tends to take up most of our time, so that we have precious little time and energy for much else. How do we pursue the meaning and purpose of life in these circumstances? Even if we’re retired, there’s still so much that we have to do, to keep body and soul together in this world.
Well, the Master has one word for this: balance! Basically this means that we have to find time for all of these things and create a balanced lifestyle for ourselves. We need to look after our physical needs, and we need to look after our spiritual needs. We need to do our duty by our family, our friends and our community, and we need to do our duty by our Lord and Master. We need to find ways to prioritize what is important in our lives and give our time and attention to that, and with whatever time and energy we have left, we can attend to other things also.
So yes, we have to take care of the body, we have to eat and bathe and generally pay attention to our physical health, but we should always remember that this body has a sell-by date, and each day brings it closer. Basically, we should be preparing ourselves for that day when our time will come to depart this world, because that is when we will experience our true situation, our true status in God’s universe.
In the meantime we need to understand that the very first essential in the whole process is the perfect living Master of our time. Without contacting him we cannot even begin our journey. He is to all intents and purposes the be-all and end-all of the path for us. We need to cultivate our relationship with him. Initially, devotion will consist of our trying to carry out his instructions to us, as given at the time of initiation. Eventually, however, as our love grows and blooms, our entire focus in life becomes our Master, and every moment of every day seems to be centred on him. Our every action gets weighed in the scale of his approval. Our greatest wish is to please him and serve him in whatever way we can.
When we were initiated by the perfect living Master of our time, we received the most wonderful and powerful gift imaginable. We should appreciate this fact and think deeply about what it is that we would like to accomplish with whatever time remains to us in this life. There are many things that we could do. But we should constantly remind ourselves that these may come back to the same point: they are confined to the realms of mind and maya, and by pursuing them, we too will be confined to the realms of mind and maya. The point is that our true identity is that of soul. This soul has been wandering in this creation for untold ages and has become weary of it all. Its great desire now is to return to its original home. Our Master has given us the gift of devotion to the Name. The task before us is merely to answer the call of our spiritual heart and follow the road leading home.
To nurture the Guru’s devotees
the true Lord has created the earth –
the drama of birth and death is only a sideshow.
One imbued with the love of the Guru’s Shabd
gets absorbed in Truth and goes home with honour.
Bereft of the true Shabd one receives no honour,
and without devotion to Nam, O Nanak,
how can one merge into the Truth?
Gurbani Selections, Volume I