The Inescapable Question – What is the Purpose of Life

A very quaint question but one that may have crossed your mind at some time is one that baffles almost everyone. What is the purpose of life? Is it to study, earn a living, pay your bills, buy fancy new things, eat in style, travel the world, reproduce and raise kids, be the best player on the field, earn the largest paycheck, climb the mountains, relax on the beach, help thy neighbors, be kind, remain honest, search for the meaning of life itself? The list goes on.

Some Have Tried to Tell Us

Despite the complexity of this question, people have tried to answer it in their own ways.

Aristotle believed in the Ergon Theory which explained that to live like humans, we need to be more than just plants or animals. Therefore, the purpose in life was said to be more than something that could grow, use energy and reproduce like plants and to do more than just perceive our surroundings and move around like animals.

Humans possess reasoning and language, something that differentiates (and according to Aristotle place man above plants and other animals) us from other living things. Aristotle, therefore, propounded that indulging in philosophy and thinking about the nature of various things was the main purpose of a human being.

Dalai Lama states that the purpose of life is to be happy. Steve Pavlina, another self-development blogger feels that the purpose of life is to search and explore. Others feel that the purpose of life is to love others, to find out what is ‘real’, to discover yourself, to follow your heart, to give away your life in charity, to make a positive difference in the world and again the list goes on.

Hierarchy of Purpose

It’s interesting to see how we perceive these potential purposes of life as being at a higher level than earning a paycheck each month or paying the bills. In fact, there seems to be a hierarchy of sorts that is created in our minds.

Stop a little and think about this. Is this ladder in your mind self-created? Do you actually think that paying the bills is a mundane and less important task than discovering yourself? Is it a natural thought that comes into your head or has this hierarchy been created over decades of subliminal conditioning?

In the last few years that I have been mulling over this aspect, I have come across various kinds of people. Housewives wonder whether there is anything more to their lives than to prepare meals and manage the household each day. Corporate biggies wonder whether their life’s purpose is to go to office each day, attend meetings, oversee mergers, acquire customers and of course make some politically right noises. Young people seem upset about the fact that their life seems to be one long and arduous road towards what they see other adults doing. Even those who are lucky enough to know and follow their passions sometimes wonder whether climbing mountains, travelling or fighting for women’s rights (or whatever their passion is) is all that there is to life.

Exalted Sense of Self

My truth, the truth that I perceive, and experience makes me believe that there is no purpose to our lives at all!

It is our exalted sense of self, the ego, that makes us believe that each one of us has been created for a purpose and that we must explore and find what that purpose is. The cosmos is too expansive a universe for us to even fathom, let alone understand it. Yes, we may some day break many more space barriers and uncover many more truths about nature, but we will still be microscopic in that scheme of things.

The world will continue (though as a species we are proving to be pretty good at destroying the planet to begin with, not to mention space garbage too) even if you die today. Don’t get me wrong, it is not about your particular insignificance. Even if the most powerful man on Earth today dies, the world, the universe, the cosmos will continue to exist along with the trillion other living things that share the space with us.

We also seek the purpose of life in order to set an objective for ourselves. When we strive towards that objective, it gives us a sense of fulfillment and pride. It adds to our ego and we feel that we are worth something and that we can make a difference. These are nothing but psychological crutches that we use.

Minds with Purpose are Crazy Minds

Sometimes we become so dependent on these crutches that we need that we lose sight of reality completely. Those who think they have a higher purpose in life are fanatics who can be driven to do the most heinous of things in the name of that purpose. Think religious zealots, Hitler, and many more like these. Even those who start with peaceful and well-meaning purposes end up taking extremist actions under the protective shadow of a higher purpose that they so staunchly believe in.

Then What’s the Point of Action?

It is easy to fall into an unending abyss if you realize that there is no purpose to your life. It can take you into spiraling depths of depravity, inaction and darkness. In fact, it is obvious that man or society created this exalted sense of self or objective oriented community in order to steer man away from this inaction and darkness. It is a psychological structure that has been created to protect us. If there is no purpose to life, then what is the point in doing anything at all?

The naïve are likely to fall into this self-defeating argument very easily. It is an escape that is easily acceptable, especially to those who are lazy or those who do not have the confidence to take action. If you break this psychological fantasy of a purpose in life, you are likely to go through an extremely bad time, probably fighting depression or a sense of worthlessness.

The wise, on the other hand, realize that man would become a vegetable without action. It is therefore critical to find that balance where you continue to participate in the world as best you can and as best the circumstances allow without getting too hassled about the what the purpose of life is. They understand that the purpose of life is to live and to live as best as can be!

So, are you living life to the fullest? Are you experiencing every moment of it to the maximum? Are you aware of the beauty that life itself is? It’s not too late to start!

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17 comments

  1. Is it ego that makes us believe that that we were sent to the world with a purpose in life?? Don’t think so. It is that we grow up hearing from our elders, gurus, philosophers etc etc that there is a purpose to life. It is one of those things – unanswerable questions like karma of previous birth being responsible for today’s misfortune or good fortune. This is stuff that originated to give solace to people as answers to questions that elders had no answer for. For example, someone who never harmed anyone but still had to face a very bad situation. The guru had no answer to that: so he told his disciple that it was his previous birth’s karma. Similarly, elders and gurus put a purpose to life so that youngsters/disciples would do things that they want them to do.

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    • It may be triggered by elders and gurus to begin with but then we grow up and think on our own. Why do we then not realize that there is ‘actually’ no purpose? Because our psychological structure (ego) needs us to have a purpose or else there would be no reason to exist or act…something that may be too dark for some to accept.

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    • Hi sir, with due respect, how do you define good and bad? Is not there only a situation and good/bad exists relative to a person? If that’s the case, how can an external person, called GURU by you, help at all? A guru is the one who guides not the one who solves. And, GURU never lays the path, but shines the path. Anyways, coming to “….not having answers”, what is an answer? Is it only a verbal statement(s)? If so, all problems would have verbal solutions. In fact, a textbook under our pillow or a tapered order with solutions would have solved our problems. But, a problem’s solution lies in experience, not thought. Problem lies in thought because when asleep, same problem is not a problem any more! So, a conscious mind is seat of problem. A solution exists when an action is done in aiming to remedy this problem. This action causes experience which then soothens the troubled mind. This is actual answer.
      So, elders or gurus KNEW the answer but they could not put in words. So they laid few steps that lead people into acting. Actions would lead into Wisdom. Wisdom helps us fight problems.

      I do not know with what preconceived notion you said that” elders or gurus do not know”, but you may amend the statement, if you consider it logical, to “some of the elders/gurus….”.

      It’s simple. Humans are as old as their problems. The type of problem may have evolved but not the root of problem. If that is the case, it is only in past that we find perfect answers, for, the generations have passed and hence the solution to root out the problem. We just need proper interface to modern viewpoints.

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      • Sir, the subject matter of my post was not PROBLEMS but questions.

        However, I feel that we are probably on the same page.

        Yes, we cannot define good or bad, nor can we define satya or a-satya, because, at the end of the day, it is only a matter of opinion.

        I do not have a preconceived notion about elders/gurus. What I really mean by elders/gurus is the philosophies propounded in our scriptures. Indian scriptures do provide answers to almost all questions that arose in the mind of humans. However, some of them do not seem logical and are difficult o believe.

        Also, I do not subscribe to the theory that GURUs/elders KNEW the answers but could not put in words. I believe that if ONE CANNOT EXPRESS IN WORDS THEN THE THOUGHT ITSELF IS NOT CLEAR IN ONE’S MIND OR ONE IS NOT SURE OF IT.

        Talking of problems: well the human mind creates problems and the solution to them lies from where they originate.

        I do agree with you that a GURU can only show A PATH but not solve problems for you.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Can I jump in (this being my blog and all) …@triund – I only want to comment on your para about – if one cannot express in words then the thought itself is not clear….
        I don’t think that is the case at all. Language is limiting and just becuase one cannot express in words does bit mean that thought is not clear or an understanding of a concept/feeling/emotion is not clear/unsure.

        Liked by 1 person

      • 1) Please don’t call me sir, I am still a student. You can call me Tej 🙂

        2) Let’s say you tasted a spoonful of Sugar. Imagine I never know what sugar is. Can you put in words the taste and attributes of sugar so that I can clearly know what it is?

        3) Logic is to mind. Scriptures are essence of Buddhi or experience put in parables and allegories. If you can answer two, you will understand what a scripture does in reality. Logic takes you up to certain extent. Logic says Moon exists even during day. But to perceiving self, Moon has no truth value unless it perceives. Perception Vs Logic has zamin asman farak. In life, though we analyze with logic, we have to live through perceptions. Perceptions refined and finetuned are scriptures. So sxriptures’s statements, when seem illogical, needs only a different approach but not total shunning out.

        4) So true in saying human mind is origin of prob and sol at same time. Depth!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Beautifully written,,Shiwani.
    Every word made sense to me.
    Purpose or no purpose, life is beautiful.
    My belief, take each day as new, decide accordingly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hmm… Purpose of life is serving others. The very human existence depends on mutual dependence including other species. In serving everything else along with himself, a human finds his purpose. This is easily understood when we look around us. If we are born on Earth, we look around naturally. If we look, we will see how symbiotic our existence is. Trees breathe O2, clouds rain us H2O, fellow farmer struggles to produce few grains (which, out of ignorance and pride we waste), and so on. Now when human asks the question of purpose, he will realize that he is not involving himself in symbiosis as much as he should, for, he is having time to think a useless question. If we do not serve those to whom we owe our existence, let alone finding purpose, our very existence will have no value to the thing that produced (call it god, nature or chance)

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  4. We re talking of people who are experts — those who wrote scriptures, philosophers, wise people who are known to be calm and rational; who live a life of reason with equanimity. If they cannot express their thoughts properly in language, howsoever limiting it may be, then the reasonable conclusion is that the thought is clear in their mind.

    @ Tej (@Hints of Ancient Wisdom) I do not believe that life’s purpose is serving others. My contention is that the most important person in your life is you, yourself.

    As far as serving others is concerned, there is no surety that you are actually serving the other person. How does one conclude what the other person wants? Where is the guarantee that your SERVICE will make the other person happy?

    The fact is that when we say ae serve others, the reality is that we actually serve ourselves – it gives us solace – or like what we say — parlok sudhar rhein hai (we are insuring our next Janam).

    Altruism is poppycock. The underlying motive is always you, yourself, your own happiness under the guise of doing good serving others.

    Yes, our existence is indeed symbiotic but does that mean that we OWE our existence to others? We exist simply because we ARE. So are OTHERS. It is a matter of coexistence. I make your existence easy because it suits me and you do the same. The underlying idea is me, MY benefit.

    The famous analogy of giving a person a fish or a fishing rod .. remember that? If you give a person a fish, you are giving a freebie, a message that you need not work. You give the person a fishing rod, it still tells him that you do not need to work to be able to BUY a fishing rod. AND if you give him a job? Are you sure that he really wants to work hard? The basic idea of this is that YOU want to do it for reasons best known to you and most likely the reason is that it makes you happy.

    These are my thoughts. I would like to be proved wrong.

    P.S. My thoughts on the limitations of LOGIC, yes, —- some other time if an occasion arises

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is no right or wrong or u and me in this unit existence. When you realize this, you will realize what I meant. When you don’t, you need to wait. Until then what you see as truth is “the truth”. (One can go on an on with logic in debates. But they end in voluminous paraghs but nothing else. So I stop at what I said before). It was nice to know your thoughts. Good luck with further explorations of human self. Cheers.

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      • If @tej feels the purpose of life is to serve others, he has found his calling in life. If @triund feel servings others is a garb for serving your own self because that is socially acceptable, you understand life in your own way. Neither is wrong in their belief. One thing however I believe is that you can only change modify or manage yourself alone and not others and you owe yourself a self development goal in life. What you can or cannot do however is limited to your awareness, consciousness and experiences. And yes, best of luck to all of us in trying to understand or experience this universe!

        Liked by 2 people

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