The Power of Women
The Purpose of Life
by Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
What is the purpose of life? This is a very common question that people often ask. It is not easy to give a satisfactory answer to this apparently simple and yet complex question. Although some people have given certain answers, according to their way of thinking, it seems that they are not very satisfactory answers to the intellectuals.
The reason is that they have not learned to see life objectively and to understand the proper perspective of life. They have created imaginations in their own minds about life according to their understanding capacity. At the same time we also know that many religious teachers, great philosophers, well-known poets and great thinkers are also not satisfied about life. When we read what they have to say about life, it would appear that some of them, too, are unable to give a clear picture of life. Some say that life is full of suffering, uncertainty and unsatisfactoriness. Others would say: “How nice if we never born”. Still others would ask: “Why were we born to this world full of suffering?”
According to their concepts we can understand that they have seen life objectively as it is. But the ordinary man only sees life superficially as it appears to him, and not as it really should be.
Some people say that there is no specific purpose in life and that it can be utilised for any purpose. Based on this theory there is something for us to ponder over wisely: to make use of life for purposes beneficial to ourselves as well as to others instead of wasting it for unnecessary things. In this manner, the purpose of life can be said to be dependant on the way we handle and use it. If we mis - use it by violating good humane qualities, by disgracing human dignity and committing immoral practices, or by giving in to our human weaknesses, it is impossible for us to achieve something worth-while in our life. But on the other hand, if we act wisely by observing universally accepted moral and ethical principles such as exercising patience, tolerance, sympathy, humility and kindness, as well as render some service to others and train the mind to be unbiased, then we should be able to achieve something noble and beneficial to all. Those who cultivate such virtues would experience peace, happiness, calmness and satisfaction. Life would then be worth-while living! That type of life would be more meaningful and beneficial to everybody.
The Nature of Life
“Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live”, says one learned man. “Sickness, old age, and miseries are the payment we are making for occupying this body of ours as a house,” laments another learned man. “We have to pay the price of fear and worry for creating selfish desires,” which is yet-another saying of a religious man: “Birth of a man is the birth of sorrow. The longer he lives the more stupid he becomes. His thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present”, says another Chinese philosopher. “We are the result of what we were and will be the result of what we are”, says the Buddha. When we consider all these views, we can find out and understand the true nature of life and its purpose.
If we are going to please only our senses as the purpose of our life, then, we must be prepared to face various problems arising there from, because no one can enjoy pleasure without facing different problems as a result of one’s actions.
Although scientists have discovered wonderful things for man’s convenience yet they could not fully understand the very purpose of life. Therefore another well-known scientist says:
“Is there a purpose of life?
What is the purpose of life?
What, or where, or when?
Out of space came universe
Came sun, came earth, came life,
Came man, and more must come,
But as to purpose: whose or whence?
Regarding the behaviour of man one scholar said: “Man is not what he is; man is not what he is not”. According to him, man does not behave as a real “Man”. Man is not a fixed substantive entity but an expression, existing literally only from moment to moment on the basis of energy. Human life neither appeared nor was created by anybody for an experimental purpose as a guinea pig for any supernatural being. Life has its own individual identity.
We cannot understand the real nature of life due to our own ignorance and strong craving. That is why we crave to exist inspite of having to suffer in this world. Therefore it is impossible for us to find out whether or not there is any specific purpose to life in this world without proper understanding.
Life has been described as a combination of mind and matter. As a result of this combination a being comes into existence and it goes on changing until dissolution takes place. However, dispersed mental energy and molecules once again form elements or matter and reappear in various other forms and in different spheres as life in accordance with the behaviour of one’s previous life. This continuity of life-stream goes on again and again as long as the Karmic energy and craving for existence remain.
The Five Aggregates
According to the teaching of the Buddha, life comprised of five aggregates (pancakkhandha) namely Rupa (material form), Vedana (feeling), Sanna (perception), Sankhara (mental formations), and Vinnana (consciousness). Four kinds of elements such as solidity, fluidity, heat and motion comprise matter. Material form plus the four mental factors classified above as feeling, perception, mental formation and consciousness are combined together to form life. The real nature of these five aggregates is explained in the Teaching of the Buddha as follows: material form is equated to a heap of foam, in which feeling is like a bubble, perception is described as a mirage, mental formations are like a banana tree and consciousness is just an illusion. With such an analysis of life, it is difficult to ascertain the reality or purpose of life as constituted.
This analysis of life posed a big challenge to many religious beliefs at one time because according to the Buddha there is no such thing as permanent life or entity that exists without changing and without dissolution.
Body is nothing but an abstract generalization for a constantly changing combination of chemical compositions or elements. Life is a drop in an ever flowing river and contributes its part to the great stream of life.
World is nothing but a series of waves
The scientific analysis of the universe shows that the world is nothing but an unbroken continuity of a series of movement. Dr. Einstein says: “All matter is made of waves and we live in a world of waves.”
“We are part of the same waves,
If a man can be aware
of the states of his body
of his feelings,
of the states of his mind and
of the states of mental objects
such an awareness will lead him to find out whether there is any purpose in life.”
What can you achieve by changing the world? Can you achieve perfection? Never. You will only be able to feed your vanity and fulfil your ego. You will be bound to the wheel of existence. But by changing yourself, by realising the nature of self through selflessness, self-discipline and self- exertion, you can achieve perfection. By achieving such perfection, your life becomes meaningful and you can render great service to others. People will be inspired by your example; they will follow you and also achieve the common aim of life.
Man today is the result of millions of past thoughts and actions. He is not ready-made for he “becomes and continues becoming.” His character is determined by his own thinking process. Man is not perfect by nature; he has to train himself to be perfect.
Life does not belong to human beings alone. Many other live forms exist in this universe. However, human beings have a greater thinking and reasoning power. In that respect they are superior to other living beings since they have the intelligence to mound their way of life in order to get rid of their worldly sufferings. Hence, if the purpose of life is just to get rid of sufferings, then human beings can achieve that end through their own effort. But life will be a failure if it is not used properly.
The Buddha in his teaching stresses upon the value of being a human. He painted the most perfect picture of a human being striving and struggling from life to life in his quest for perfection.
In fact, life is a unique experience. There is nothing with which to compare it, no measure of its value could be determined in terms of some other things, and money cannot purchase it. Yet, with this ‘priceless pearl’ many have not learned what to do with it. Here life does not mean mere physical body or senses, but the thinking human mind.
Classification of Men
The Buddha has classified mankind into four groups:
1. one who works for his own good, but not for the good of others;
2. one who works for the good of others, but not for his own good;
3. one who works neither for his own good nor for the good of others;
4. one who works for his own good as well as for the good of others.
One who works for his own good, but not for the good of others: it is he who strives for the abolition of evil thoughts, words and actions in himself, but he does not encourage others to abolish greed, hatred and delusion.
One who works for the good of others, but not for his own good: it is he who encourages others to abolish evil thoughts, words and actions but does not strive for the abolition of greed, hatred and delusion in himself.
One who does not works neither for his own good nor for the good of others: it is he who neither strives for the abolition of evil thoughts, words and actions in himself nor does he encourages others to abolish greed, hatred and delusion.
One who works for his own good and also for the good of others: it is he who strives for the abolition of evil thoughts, words and actions in himself, and also encourages others to abolish greed, hatred and delusion (Anguttara Nikaya).
Life is not free from suffering
If we contemplate deeply, we have to agree that life is indeed one of eternal suffering. Every moment we are suffering, either physically, emotionally or mentally. Can we ever find a single person in this world who is free from physical, emotional or mental pain? Even those who have attained saint-hood are not free from physical pain so long as their physical bodies exist. Life and suffering are inseparable.
If anybody should ask, “What is the most uncertain thing in the world?” – The correct answer could be “Life is the most uncertain thing.” Everything that we do in this world is to escape or evade ourselves from suffering and death. If we neglect this life for even one second, that is more than enough for us to lose our life. Most of our daily routine, such as working, eating, drinking, sleeping and walking are ways and means adopted by us to avoid suffering and death. Although we occasionally experience some sort of momentary worldly pleasures by satisfying our desires, the very next moment these same things that gave us pleasure might turn into suffering. Therefore, the noble treasure of peace and happiness need not be in the rich man’s hand but in the man who has renounced worldly pleasure.
Everything pertaining to our life is subject to change and unsatisfactoriness. That is why the Buddha has explained that as long as there is craving for worldly pleasures or desires for existence, there is no way one could escape from suffering. Desire is important for existence. When existence takes place, suffering is unavoidable.
Many contemplate seeking eternal life and yet, ironically, many seekers of longevity find life so boring that they do not even know how to pass the day! There is a Chinese proverb on man’s insatiable desire for longevity: “Man fools himself. He prays for a long life, and yet he fears an old age.” Apparently his intention is to remain young in order to enjoy the pleasures of life perpetually. According to the Buddha, this craving for immortality is one of the causes for selfish ideas and sufferings.
“It is easy enough to be pleasant
When life flows along like a song
But the man who can smile
When life goes dead wrong.”
Whatever little happiness we get is secured amidst many disappointments, failures and defeats. Man cannot find a life where there are no difficulties, problems, conflicts, disappointments, and so on among thousands of other uncongenial situations. Day and night man is struggling to get rid of these unpleasant situations. The more he struggles to escape from this unhappy state of affairs in a worldly way, the more he entangles himself with some other problems. When he manages to get rid of one problem, intentionally or unintentionally he would have created himself some other problems. When then is the end of these problems? For our own survival, we have to accept such difficulties and sufferings without complaining. There is no other alternative. Suffering will always be there. Yet suffering and unhappiness are by no means inevitable. Suffering, says the Buddha, is a disease and can therefore be cured completely when purity or perfection is attained.
Lao Tze, the well-known Chinese teacher, said, “I have suffered because I have a body. If I had no physical body how can I suffer?”
“If all the mountains were books and if all the lakes were ink and if all trees were pens, still they would not suffice to depict all the misery in this world” (Jacob Boehme).
When you look at the way people suffer in this world, you can see the real situation of worldly life. Why should they suffer in this way? And who is responsible for their sufferings? According to the Buddha each every person is responsible for his own suffering. They are suffering here today because of their strong craving for existence; as craving for existence influences them to commit evil deeds. This is the main cause of suffering. It has taken more than 2,500 years for many philosophers and psychologists to understand that what the Buddha said was indeed true. A poet analysed our life in the following way:
“To the fire flies the moth
Knows not it will die.
Little fish bites the hook
Knows not of the danger.
But thought knowing well the danger
Of these evil worldly pleasures,
We still cling to them so firmly
Oh how great is our folly!”
Fleeting Nature of Life
Buddhism points out that the duration of life is very short and we should work mindfully, vigilantly and heedfully for our salvation.
“People can never really understand
That we are here but for a little spell
But they who realized this truth indeed
Avoid from suffering and quarrels” (Theragatha)
The World is a battlefield
The whole universe is a vast battlefield. Existence is nothing but a continuous struggle, molecules against molecules, atoms against atoms, and electrons against electrons and so on and within the physical system itself it is a big battleground. The mind itself is the biggest battlefield.
The man who is not at peace with himself cannot be at peace with the world, and external wars have to continue in order to hide the fact from individuals that the real war is within. The most important prayer of mankind today is for peace, but there can be no peace in this war-torn world until the conflicts of man with himself are ended.
In the eyes of the Buddha, living beings tremble like fish in a stream that is almost dry, being in the grip of craving, either leaping hither and thither, like hares caught in a snare or lost like arrows shot at night. He saw the struggle of all against all, the sense-less series of predators trying to prey upon or rob their victims in which one feeds upon another, only in order to be fed upon in return. War is created by the human mind and the same human can create peace with justice if only man uses his unbiased mind.
World history tells us that racial discrimination, color bar, religious fanaticism and greed for political power and wealth have created enormous disasters, miseries and sufferings in this world. They have taken a heavy toll of human lives in a cruel way. Such issues have never contributed anything towards worldly progress. People, who are thirsty for power and wealth, are intoxicated with jealousy and greed, always create troubles and often try to justify their cruel acts by talking nonsense in the name of peace and justice. We are living in a make-believe world which appears physically united but mentally divided, and at times mentally united but physically divided. The following saying indicates how changes take places in our life.
“We live and work and dream
Each has his little scheme
Sometimes we laugh
Sometimes we cry
And thus the days go by.”
A Lot of Nonsense
A lot of fuss A lot of tears
A lot of people A lot of money
A lot of time And all for what?
A lot of trouble A little body!
A blob of proteins
A little corpse
No longer is it
Dear Father, mother
Or any darling other.
In spite of this
We must have
Consolations and coffins
Processions and tombstones
Parties and mourning
Rites and rituals
Buried or burnt
Embalmed for ever.
All for these little
And after them
Are the dead forgotten.
Stones and bones alone remaining,
So is this not
A lot of nonsense?
Julian Huxley says: “Life should lead to the fulfilment of innumerable possibilities – physical, mental, spiritual and so forth – what man is capable of. And humanity is capable of greater and nobler things.”
You are born into this world to do some good and not to pass your time in idleness. If you are indolent, then you are a burden to this world. You must always think of rising higher in goodness and wisdom. You will be abusing the privileges of becoming a human being if you do not prove yourself worthy of the merit which brought you here. To waste ones’ existence in grieving over the past, in idleness and heedlessness is to show his unfitness for this world.
The tree of civilization has its roots deep in spiritual values which most of us have not realized. Without these roots the leaves withered would have fallen and left the tree a lifeless stump.
The Buddha advised us not to be lazy, but to get up and do some work and try to gain some income and protect what we have earned without neglecting or wasting it. The Buddha saw worldly life in its proper perspective, without any selfish or egoistic attitude. On the other hand, enlightened religious teachers explained that if we allow this life to go round and round in the cycle of birth and death, while suffering physically and mentally, there is no real purpose of this life. But we can make use of this life for a better purpose by being of service to others by cultivating morality, by training the mind and living as cultured men in peace and harmony with the rest of the world. According to the Buddha, human beings are not puppets devoid of responsibilities. Man is regarded as the highest fruit of the tree of evolution. Our ancient philosophy, however, expresses the purpose of life in this way: “Leading from darkness to light, from untruth to truth and from death to deathlessness.” These simple yet meaningful words give us much food for thought.
Immortality after Death
All the questions man asks about his life are related to the reality of death; he differs from all other creatures, it would seem, in being aware of his own death and in never being fully reconciled to sharing the natural fate of all other living organisms. If only man can understand that life is short and that death is inevitable, he can solve many problems pertaining to life. In his resistance to death, man has achieved some prolongation of life which may be equated to a child playing by the sea-side, working desperately to build up his sand-castle before the next wave breaks over it. Man has often made death the centre of religious objects and invoking heavenly blessings for the gaining of everlasting life.
Death happens to all living beings, but man alone has created, out of his constant fear and threat of death, a will to endure. And out of the desire for continuity in all their conceivable forms, man has created religion, which in turn, has attempted to give a more meaningful end to life.
Although certain religions believe in the existence of heavenly abodes where life would be one perpetual bliss, we have yet to hear that the devout followers of any particular religion were at all keen to give up their earthly existence to be with the Almighty in heaven. Similarly, even Buddhists would prefer to cling on to their precious earthly existence although they fully realise that life in this world is nothing but suffering, and that the ultimate bliss is liberation from suffering.
The biggest problem faced in many countries today is the problem of population explosion. Ways and means will have to be found to curb this perpetual swelling of this stream of life. These millions need food, shelter, comfort and security. To these people, the question is not “what is the purpose of life” but “what to do with life.” The simple answer is that one should make the best use of life and its resources and find whatever happiness that one can grasp in a practical and righteous manner rather worrying unduly on the metaphysical proposition of the mystical purpose of life. However, religion steps in to console man, or rather awaken him to the fact that life is not dreary and hopeless, as often viewed on the basis of the physical aspect alone. There is a hope for a better life.
All the progress in this world made by man is due to the fact that he realises that he is mortal and to that he would like to leave his mark behind after he is gone. If man were to achieve immortality and his days on earth were endless, he would be inclined to take things easy and lose all incentives or initiatives to progress; there would be no desire for him to make the world a better place than when he found it. If there was no death, life would become stagnant, monotonous, unspeakably burdensome and boring. If man is given the insight to realise and know the time of his death, he would definitely act differently from what he is doing presently.
“Man body turns to dust, but his influence persists” (Buddha)
Even though our ancestors are dead and gone, we can assume that they still exist amongst us, not physically but through the influence created by them in the past from generation to generation – their influence persists. By the term “ancestors” we refer not only to our forebears but also to all those who had contributed for the welfare and happiness of others. In this sense, we can say that the heroes, sages, philosophers and poets of days gone by still exist amongst us – through their influence. As we link ourselves to these martyrs and thinkers we come to share their wisest thoughts, the noble ideals and even fascinating music of the centuries.
The cry of a man’s heart for a purpose is the dim recognition of the nature of life. When a man comprehends within himself his divine or noble nature, he no longer cries for a purpose of life, for he realizes that he is himself that very purpose.
Thinking people have realized that the course of human history is determined not by what happens in the skies but by what takes place in the hearts of men.
The Buddha said that there is no other supernatural living being higher than the perfect man.
Man can and must raise himself above the limitation of his individuality, but he cannot raise himself above the laws and principal characteristics of his kind.
Make the best use of life
The important point about life is that we have it and therefore we must make the best use of it. This indeed is the great value of life, the opportunity of making the maximum use of it. Many people lead narrow, unhappy and depressed lives because they do not try to make the best use of life; most of the time they spend by worrying, and struggling for survival, working like slaves, confronting enormous problems and hindrances. We spend more energy in a battlefield – fighting for survival, fighting for power, fighting for gain, fighting for name, fighting for pleasure and fighting to be free form danger. Occasionally we do gain a little bit of momentary emotional satisfaction but every pleasure inevitably ends with suffering.
Look at the world, and you can see how people are fighting against each other, bombing, hijacking, and harming one another. The whole world is like a mad house. People have forgotten their good human character and have allowed crookedness, cruelty, cheating, robbing, harboring of anger, grudge, greed and ignorance to reign over them. Apparently there is no room in man’s mind to cultivate good thoughts. How then can one find peace, happiness and contentment in a battlefield in which one is continually fighting either for gain or escapism from danger? “Man inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.”
If you can understand the real nature o flife and the world, then you can readily understand why it is absolutely necessary to attain liberation – Nibbana- and you would not delay your effort for attainment of this blissful state. Today you are fighting to escape from suffering through a worldly way, which is a losing battle. However, if you try to get rid of your suffering by developing to spiritual aspect of your life, then you can find real peace. That is Nibbana.
We know there are many in this world, even amongst Buddhists, who are not prepared to work for the attainment of Nibbana. For this reason, some have introduced their own version of Nibbana as a paradise where people can enjoy everlasting sensual pleasures. Such an introduction will appeal to those who have a very strong craving and attachment to their life and worldy pleasures. They cannot understand that such a concept of Nibbana is but a dream. Neverthless, worldly people always think and pray for this kind of “Nibbana.” On the other hand, there are also people who think that it is better to remain in this world inspite of all sorts of sufferings in order to enjoy their life. They are ignorant. They fail to understand that due to their cravings and attachments which they have developed, they are unable to appreciate the fact that Nibbanic bliss is the real everlasting bliss and that other worldly conditions which they consider as happiness cannot relieve them of physical and mental suffering.
According to the Buddha, it is due to ignorance that people crave for existence within this “Samsara” (cycle of birth and death) while enduring suffering and running after a mirage in a perpetual search for something to please their senses. They should learn to calm their senses instead of placating them by fleeting indulgences.
Endless World System
Some people think that if all of us attain Nibbana, this world will be an empty place and that there won’t be anybody to work for the progress of this world. This is a shallow idea appearing in the minds of such people who lack the real knowledge of living beings.
They should understand that this world will never become empty since very few wise people will be ablt to attain Nibbana. As far as world systems are concerned, there is no limit to them. And there is no such thing as either the beginning or the end of world systems and the universe. World systems always appear and disappear. When one world system disappears, another is born. The dispersed world systems reappear due to combination of molecules and energies. Living beings who have departed from other world systems also come into existence due to the recombination of these elements, energies and their mental formation with karmic energies. One should not think that there are only a limited number of living beings who appear and disappear again and again in this universe. Living beings are numerically unlimited and infinite.
Progress and Pollution
Are we really working here for the progress of this world? We may think so but we are actually damaging this world. We have discovered many gadgets to destroy this world. Nature has produced so many things here in this world. To achieve our own ends, we are destroying the natural beauty of this earth. We are polluting the atmosphere, the water and the air. We are destroying plant life as well as all animal lives. We should not assume that we as human beings are the only ones who have got the right to live on this earth. Each and every other living being too has got an equal right to live here. But we deprive other beings of their privileges. Not only that, even within our own human community, one race will try to topple the other race, hindering their progress and not allowing others to live in peace. They declare wars and start to slaughter one another in the name of patriotism.
As long as human beings have polluted minds there will be no peace on earth. It is due to the existence of such people that this earth has become a place of turmoil. Today we see blood-baths all over the world. Each and every person is planning to swindle another person. Selfish ideas always prevail in their minds. One man cannot trust another man. They view others with suspicion in their hearts. One cannot understand the real character or motive of another man.
Man is responsible
People always talk about the uncertainty of the world situation. Who is responsible for this unfortunate situation? Is there anybody else other than the so-called smart man? How can we expect a better and peaceful world if men behave as uncultured persons? How can we enjoy our life in this uncertain world? Scientists seek to conquer nature for their own material ends. Religions and philosphy aspire to live in harmony with nature for peace of mind and spiritual achievement. You cannot change worldly conditions according to your wishes but you can change your mind to develop contentment to find happiness. A man who is absorbed in seeking only worldly satisfaction will never reach higher knowledge for it cannot be found without strenuous search. Materialism degrades man to the brute state while religion elevates him into the divine or noble state. In a materialistic regime men become slaves to their senses. Naturally most people dislike to face the true facts of life. They like to lull themselves into a false sense of security by sweet dreaming, imagination and take the shadow for the substance. The Buddha’s atttitude to worldly powers and worldly pleasures is best described thus: “Better than absolute sovereignty over the earth, better than going to the heaven, better than even lordship over the worlds, is the fruit of a stream winner – the first stage of perfection.” By spending his life only for the material worldly progress to feed his insatiable desire it is impossible for man to see the end of unsatisfactoriness in his life. According to the Buddha, this world is based on conflict, friction or unsatisfactoriness and impermanence. Again, He says that the way to worldly gain is one thing and that to Nibbana is another.
The Man and His Honey
Here is a small parable to help us understand the real nature of life and worldly pleasure. A man had lost his way whilst he was going through a thick forest covered with thorns and rocks. Then he was confronted by a huge elephant which started to chase him. He ran for his life. While he was running he saw a well and thought that this would be a good place for him to escape from the elephant. But very unfortunately he saw a big poisonous snake at the bottom of the well. But since there was no other way of escape from the elephant he jumped into the well and managed to cling to a thick thorny creeper that was growing on the side wall of the well. While he was hanging on to the creeper he saw two mice, a white one and a dark one. To his horror he saw that these two mice were slowly nibbling at the creeper to which he was holding on. He however found a beehive closely from which occasional drops of honey trickled down.
Facing his death in three different ways in that precarious position, he greedily started to taste the honey drops. Then someone passed by and, seeing the pathetic situation of this poor man, volunteered to give a helping hand to save his life. But this greedy and foolish man refused to listen to him because of the irresistible taste of the honey he was enjoying. The taste of honey had intoxicated him to the point that he preferred to ignore the dangerous position he was facing.
Here in this parable, the thorny path of the forest is equated to Samsara (the wheel of existence). The thorny path of Samsara is a very uncertain amd troublesome one. It is not so easy for a person to carry on his life through the rough and tough jungle of Samsara. The elephant here represents death. Death always follows us and makes us unhappy, our old age also creates unhappiness and insecurity in our minds. The creeper is our birth. Just as a creeper goes on growing and coiling with other plants, so also our birth goes on accumulating, holding, clinging to so many other superfluous things in this world. The two white and dark mice represent day and night respectively. From the very day that we were born to this world, the passage of day and night goes on cutting and shortening our life span. The drops of honey are the fleeting sensual worldly pleasures which tempt man to remain in this impermanent and uncertain world. The kind man who came to give his helping hand to show him the correct path and to get rid of his dangerous situation was the Buddha.
A man who thinks that it is better for him to remain in this world to enjoy worldly life without trying to attain Nibbana, is exactly like this foolish man who refused the offer to escape from the dangerous situation of his life just to taste a little bit of honey.