The Value of Life
Life is valuable – this is a universal human belief that applies to our own lives as well as to those of others. We all do our utmost to stay alive and to prolong our lives. We put a lot of effort into keeping our bodies healthy and trying to heal them when we suffer from a disease. To stay healthy, we put endless energy into our diet, take vitamins and food supplements, play sports, go to the gym, and we even have organs and joints replaced, all for the purpose of staying alive and fit. But we all know that this life is temporary, and there are higher values than merely living and surviving.
Basically, the only certainty we have is that this life is going to end. Saints keep telling us that this life is short, that we are only here to play a role in the karmic stage play that has been assigned to us by the Lord. Apart from that role, this life and all that we see here is of very little value. It is all a dream.
So if life is temporary and only a dream, what is of any real value? Maharaj Sawan Singh writes:
Love is the richest of all treasures. Without it there is nothing and with it there is everything. He who does not have love in his heart is not entitled to call himself a human being … Wherever there is love there is life. Where there is no love, life is worthless. Actually, a man is not a true man unless he has within him the divine spark of love. God, in the form of love, is within everybody.1
So it is love that gives value to life:
- Love that is given to us by the Lord and that permeates everyone and everything in this creation,
- Love that gives warmth to our lives, without which our existence would be cold and barren,
- Love that radiates through our heart and soul,
- Love that is an aspect of the Shabd and that makes us aware of our yearning to return to our origin, to the ocean of divine essence from where we originated and to which we will return when our stage play is over and our roles have been played.
Less killing, less karma
At the same time, the value of life is a universally recognized fact that has become part of the constitution of every civilized nation. It is also expressed in the well-known words from the Bible “Thou shalt not kill,” which applies to human beings as well as animals and plants. Given the fact that we have to take life in order to survive, we can minimize the harm we cause by taking life only from the most simple life forms, ranging from plants as the lowest to animals as the highest – in other words, by following a vegetarian diet.
The words “Thou shalt not kill” are reinforced by the words “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” i.e., respect another person’s life as you respect your own. And it is a reminder that we do need to respect our own life! After all, even when life gets unbearably painful or unpleasant, we should not neglect our bodies, let alone end our lives, whether by means of suicide or euthanasia. Life is a gift from the Lord, and it is the Lord who decides when a life will start and when it will end, despite the modern societal trend of “makeable man,” which tries to shift our perspective away from the notion that it is only the Lord who gives and takes life.
If we consider our own lives from the perspective of karma, life as a human being is a valuable opportunity to pay off any remaining outstanding karmic accounts and thus rise on the ladder towards our final destination. As human beings, we have been gifted with the sense of discrimination, and we have been given the possibility of choice, however limited the scope of our choices may be. Depending on the choices we make, we can either rise or fall, pay off karma or create new karma, and thus make use of the value of this life to rise towards our final destination.
Society imposes limits
If we consider the value of life from a societal perspective, we soon see that totally different aspects play a role. Take the medical world, for instance: many workers are motivated by compassion and love for humanity, but due to limited resources they often have to make choices about whom to help. A recent example is the Covid-19 pandemic, with more critically ill patients requiring urgent treatment than the available capacity to help. What criteria are used to decide who will get the treatments and who will not? Would you give priority to an older, weaker person who will certainly die without the treatment, or would you choose a younger person who has more years of life ahead of him?
Health insurance companies are often faced with similar issues. Costs for medicines for curing a rare disease can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per treatment, whereas the available funds are also needed to cover the milder diseases of larger numbers of patients. To support their decision-making process, the medical world uses a formula known as the “Quality-Adjusted Life Year” (QALY), in which a year of perfect health is considered to have a higher value than a year of life spent in a coma. In Western countries the value allocated to one year of life of reasonable quality is in the range of USD 100,000, whereas in countries with a lower GDP, the value would be half that amount or even less.
Relief workers handing out food packages in areas struck by famine, or teams that try to help drowning refugees, are also forced to make choices. Obviously, making those choices is extremely difficult, but given the constraints within which relief workers provide their help, they can only do their best. Beyond that, from a worldly perspective, the ultimate responsibility lies with society at large, and from a spiritual perspective, it is a matter of karma and destiny.
Unlimited value through love
Despite all the shortcomings of modern society, fortunately there is still a great deal of compassion and willingness to help. That willingness stands as proof of the realization of the value of life, and it is an intrinsic part of living life as a good human being. It is inspired by the love that radiates into our lives, and through sharing that love, we make our own lives valuable.
In the RSSB-produced video “Life Is Precious,” which focuses on the healthcare provided free of charge at a number of hospitals throughout India, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
If we can do anything to help anybody, we should. That is our duty. We are meant to help each other. Humans are meant to help humans. Who else will help? Birds and lions won’t come to help you. You have to help each other.2
The video emphasizes that we should do whatever we can to help others. If we have the time and resources, rather than using them solely for ourselves or leaving them unutilized, why not use them for others? From that perspective, there are virtually no limits. We are drawing on an infinite source of energy, and we have the privilege of sharing that energy. We are just a medium to share boundless love and energy, of which there is more than enough.
“Life Is Precious” documents an outstanding example of help being provided to others. But there are plenty of other examples throughout the world. Think of the humanitarian aid funds and initiatives that are set up after natural disasters, famines, wars, refugee crises, etc. Think also of the healthcare workers who, even though humanitarian concern may be an aspect of their professional duties and they are being paid for their efforts, risk their health or even their lives to help others in this current time of Covid-19.
Elsewhere Maharaj Charan Singh says:
We should help others – not only human beings, but even the lower creation. We should help them by not killing them and by being merciful to them, by not eating them, and in so many other ways we can help.3
If we believe that life – i.e., the force that keeps us alive, call it the spirit or Shabd – is a direct expression of the divine energy, then this entire universe is filled with one and the same life force. We are all part of that same force, of that same ocean. Being part of that same force, that same ocean of life and love, entirely rejects the idea of separation – of you and me, me and my neighbour, human being or animal or plant. That idea of separation is the illusionary dream we are living in, and which we need to rise above.
As it is said, “a drop is just a drop as long as it believes it is separate from the sea.”4 The moment the drop realizes it is not separate from the waves of that ocean of life and love, then it will realize that we are all one. Then automatically you will love your neighbour as yourself, and not only the person next door, but every living being – be it a human of any caste, colour or creed – or any mammal, bird, insect, plant. With that realization, the thought of killing wouldn’t even enter your mind. It would only instill immense respect for the value of life in this entire creation – a creation in which everything is filled with that invaluable life force of love in which we are all one.
- Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. II, p. 113-114
- Video: Life Is Precious on www.rssb.org
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, #206
- Dara Shikoh, The Compass of Truth, quoted in Scott Kugle, Sufi Meditation and Contemplation, Omega Publications, 2012