What is life and what is its purpose?

At some point in our lives, many have pondered over the deeper meaning of life. Some think life is the sum total of everything we have or what we own – friends, family, property, vehicles and so on. Others think that life is what we do – love, play and work. So what constitutes life, and what is its significance?

Sometimes, even with all our education, we are unable to grasp the meaning of life. It’s a perpetually intriguing and mysterious play of actions and circumstances, and each individual needs an answer to it. Life can be as simple or as complicated as we make it. Its vastness and intricacy is near impossible for an average human being to figure out. We are brought closer to this introspection when we face the various challenges life throws at us. It is then that we ponder over questions like – how to understand life or what is the purpose of this life? Our ancient spiritual wisdom from the Upanishads points us towards simplifying this complexity, so we can navigate successfully through the course of our living.

Is life perishable?

As living beings, we are confronted with the cycle of birth and death. We know that the lifespan of any living creature is limited, but what we sometimes don’t reflect upon is that this is only a transient change, and not the ultimate end to ‘life’. All great seekers, before enlightenment, inquired into this – if one is to live and die, then one is helpless within the confines of creation, and life may, in fact, be meaningless.

When the body dies, it takes up another form. A body is never alive in and of itself; it pulsates because it has a ‘life-force’, which vitalizes the inert matter constituting the physical self. This life force is called the jiva, according to Vedanta. In common terms, we call it the ‘soul’.

The soul is eternal. It forms the core of our being. When we talk about ourselves, we are referring not to the body but the soul. The body is akin to the clothes that the soul dons to take form. When one body dies, the soul takes up a new body; it inhabits many bodies in its lifetime. In this vein, the Bhagavad Gita beautifully points out, “Just as people remove their clothes and wear new ones, the soul drops one body and picks up another one.”

What is the purpose of life?

On any given day, our mind is persistently planning for a future that we know nothing about. We live in fear of tomorrow, and plan for it rather optimistically, knowing fully well that it is impermanent. We are always trying to be greater or bigger, not realizing that to be infinite is our nature. While living up to our potential, we feel fulfilled and happy. So if we discover our infinite nature, then we will surely encounter bliss. In short, the true purpose of life becomes to discover ourselves.

But does that really happen, and so easily?

Seeking our true selves with inquiry

Since the soul carries our karma, the actions from our past life create our present fate, and our current actions will give birth to our future destiny in forthcoming lifetimes. Asking ourselves the question again and again, “What have I done with my life thus far?” is a sure step towards gaining clarity and the correct perspective on the necessary actions as we go forward.

Inside the uncut diamond of our life lies the brilliance of wisdom, bliss and immortality. With the tools of right knowledge and unflagging determination, we have only to cut the diamond, on all sides, all aspects of our life, such that it shines forth to radiate light and beauty all round.

Everyone’s purpose in life eventually boils down to seeking peace and happiness. And what we seek doesn’t lie outside, but within us ¬– our own infinite potential that we live with every day but are oblivious towards. Each one of us is infinite, yet each is also unique. Our seers and Rishis point us towards the highest goal there can be – to aspire to be more a part of our own infinite nature. Throughout the scriptures too, the infinite nature of a human being has been highlighted to comprehend the very purpose of life.

Swami Swaroopananda
Global Head, Chinmaya Mission