Monday, April 11, 2011

Purpose of Life

In some eastern spiritual texts it is mentioned that life is inherently full of sorrow. To support this contention the texts mention that sickness, death and old age are integral parts of human life. As an escape from this sorrow, texts suggest that humans should learn to banish their thoughts and desires through advanced yogic techniques. Eventually when all thoughts are stilled, all desires banished and consequences of all previous actions i.e. karma exhausted, it is said that the individual soul gets freed from this cycle of births and deaths. It then merges with the infinite consciousness from which it originally arose. In the absence of this liberation or nirvana the soul is subjected to repetitive births and deaths.

Although an ardent student of spiritual philosophies, my own view differs somewhat from this philosophy. I believe it can even be misleading. The same spiritual texts clearly state that this liberation is achieved only by rare human souls, possibly one in millions. Therefore, my own opinion is that giving it too much importance is of no use for the vast majority of humans. However. I do accept the eastern viewpoint of the existence of an  individual soul,  and a universal spirit - the Almighty God - as the father of the universe as well as the concept of reincarnation. My own belief is that the purpose of life is to evolve. The human soul evolves through millions of birth, starting as bacteria and then gradually moving up through insect and animal lives to the human level. At the human levels we acquire linguistic and intellectual abilities that make this sort of an article and discussion possible. Evolution does not and should not stop at the human level. The eastern approach of trying to approach the bliss of nothingness is however useful in that the very attempt for it makes us march in the right direction of evolving because to focus much on worldly gain often does precisely the reverse.

It appears that even amongst humans levels of evolution differ greatly on our planet. If there are humans on other planets elsewhere in the universe then the variations are likely to be even greater. Life on other planets is not entirely impossible if one went by the latest theory of evolution - panspermia (or my version pansmeria in another blog of mine).

What is being talked of here is spiritual evolution and not physical evolution. That is a whole topic by itself and I have an entire separate blog devoted to it -  However, it may be something entirely possible that physical and spiritual evolution take place in harmony.  It is so because the physical body is merely an expression of the inner self .

There are variations between individuals in any one geographical area at any given period of its history and their are variations with time. At the present time it appears that in some parts of our world, human life is still only slightly different from the life of monkeys and chimpanzees, the evolutionary and genetic predecessors of humans (the chimpanzee is perhaps 99% human genetically), whereas in other parts we have a well-organized civilization with well managed cities and towns. These differences appear to be a result of the different levels of evolution amongst various human groups.

As a result of modern communications things such as motorized cars, shirts and jeans and even computer access may be imitated by a relatively less civilized and remote tribal society. However, these external accessories cannot mask the fact that levels of evolutions vary greatly on our planet. The ability to drive a car is not a mark of evolution. Even chimpanzees can be taught to drive one. Amongst monkeys and chimpanzees it is not considered immoral to steal or indulge frequently in violent fights. It requires a certain degree of evolution to conduct one's life on the basis of moral principles. Animals on the other hand function on the basis of their immediate needs. A scam that most computer users are familiar with is the frequent emails announcing that you have won a lottery. The idea is to con you into parting with some of your money through deception. Most such emails probably originate from persons who have not evolved very much since their animal past or returned to that level again.

It takes some lifetimes to evolve before a human realizes that earning money through fraud is monkey behavior and criminal. It takes some evolution as a human to realize that the best course for a human is to earn his living honestly. Similarly, there are parts of the world where large cities, and legal systems such as courts and police forces have come up imitating civilized parts of the world. However, a closer look reveals that in such countries even basics like electricity and water supply are highly irregular and intermittent. The courts and police forces are ineffective, corrupt or lethargic. It is common in some countries for a simple civil suit to languish in courts for over twenty years and common for policemen to spend more of their energies in collecting bribes and concocting false evidence rather than doing the work they are supposed to. Such behavior implies a need for further evolution within these countries.

It has also been noted that variations take place with time. Parts of the world such as ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Indus Valley and Athens that have led human civilization and presumably also human evolution are not in the forefront anymore, whereas other parts such as Central and Northern Europe appear to have led the march of evolution, at least in the past few centuries. This is an indication that evolution is not a one way process but has its ups and down. The overall trend for humanity as a whole is hopefully upwards.

Returning to our spiritual discussion, my own understanding is that the purpose of any life form including humans is to evolve to higher levels. This improvement includes cultivating  virtues of truth and non-violence i.e. love and honesty. Such an evolution can take several lifetimes. It is only then that a human being can increase happiness. Eastern philosophies also stress on stilling thought and desire. In my view meditative techniques that teach how to still thought may be restricted to develop control over the thinking process, so that when we do think we can channel it in the most productive directions. The Universe /Almighty has given us the ability to think so that we can use it for our evolution and well being, not as an encumbrance that should be permanently extinguished. Yogic techniques that teach how to control desire may be used so that we learn to be happy with whatever is available and easily attainable and to turn our thoughts and desires away from that which cannot be attained easily or is perceived as harmful in the long run. The idea is to develop joy and contentment while avoiding pain and frustration. The question arises as to what happens after a human attains the highest possible levels of human evolution. My view is that just as evolved human souls take birth amongst evolved humans, a soul that has evolved to even higher levels would take birth in parts of this vast and infinite universe where beings exist that are even more evolved i.e. amongst beings we may refer to as gods and goddesses. Evolution would not stop even at this point. Our universe is vast enough to support still higher life forms. At the very apex of this vast chain of evolution is the father of the Universe, the almighty God. Since there can be only a single God in the universe the most evolved soul of the universe must necessarily merge with the infinite soul and thus become a part of God. Until that happens, most souls must continue on the paths of their respective evolution.

One must attempt to make this evolutionary journey joyful by increasing happiness and reducing sorrow. Old age need not be sad. It is undoubtedly a phase when human energy reduces. One can make the most of it by using the period for reflection and for preparation so that the next life would be a good one. Death is not sad when one firmly believes in reincarnation. It is like changing old clothes for new ones. Each phase of life will be a happy one, provided one has prepared for it adequately in the previous phase and makes the most of the present one. The past cannot be changed therefore we need not be bothered with any more than it is necessary to make our present moment wiser. We do have the present in our hands. Each phase is enjoyable, provided we divide our time wisely between work and play. Thus childhood needs to be spent in acquiring education and disciplined habits besides play. As an adult one needs to divide time between entertainment and earning enough so that one does not have to work or suffer in old age. Old age needs to be spent in reflecting on ones strengths and shortcoming, life and the universe and strengthening our love for God, so that next time around we are born as a more evolved human in more fortunate circumstances. Much bad karma can be resolved through reflection, repentance and forgiveness so that we do not have to carry this burden with us into future lives.

A powerful way to hasten our evolution is to help the lesser evolved part of the universe - plants, animals and other less evolved or less fortunate humans in their evolutionary journey. The attitude towards the less evolved needs to be one of love and compassion, rather than hatred because love raises us to higher evolutionary levels while hatred does precisely the reverse.

I wrote this article a long time ago elsewhere on the internet and thought it is interesting enough to post here again with minor changes. It is a continuation of the philosophy of many other posts of this blog.


Vincent said...

Ashok, I'm a little confused. Did you delete my comment? You have every right to do so, but I'm just wondering. If not, please check your spam folder.

ashok said...

Dear Vincent this response is before reading your comment fully. I shall check the spam folder first. I\Earlier to a comment by John Myste was found there and I dug it out and I shall do the same now before reading the rest of your response.

ashok said...

Vincent as you know I had found a comment by you in the spam folder and restored it yesterday. However this morning on reading it looked liked that is leading to duplication and confusion, therefore I have deleted it again along with a few more of our comments associated with it.

The hope is that the discussion becomes less confusing for us and others who may join in. Hope you do not mind my having done this editing and I am hoping to hear more on this from you.

The Heathen Republican said...

Since I made my journey from Christianity to atheism, I hear this question about the purpose to life. Apparently, as a Christian, the purpose in life is to serve God (as amorphous as that is), so having walked away from God I have no further purpose.

I'm sure this is meaningful to a Christian, and they may even fear the lack of purpose that comes from non-belief, but it never meant anything to me. After all, the day I decided I didn't believe, my life's purpose(s) remained the same. I stll sought to improve myself, care for a family, and hopefully leave the world better than I found it.

Don't know if this is where your post was meant to go, but that's what it made me think of.

ashok said...

Heathen thanks for your views. I completely agree with your statement as a worthy one

" I stll sought to improve myself, care for a family, and hopefully leave the world better than I found it."

essentially this post is about the same purpose although it goes into some mystical aspects too and that part has to do with belief taht varies as it must.

ashok said...


I made a few very minor changes to the language of the blog post in response to the part you had found objectionable.

John Myste said...

I am disappointed that Vincent's comment is missing. In my opinion, you should leave any comment that someone posts, even if it is confusing. You can post a note explaining the problem. I consider it wrong, insulting and unjust to remove a comment.

Mr. Heathen and I agree on very little. Mr. Heathen is a conservative, much like our friend Vincent, only far more conservative, I believe.

However, Heathen and I share a lack of faith in God. I cannot speak for him, but I also share a lack of faith in the Eastern concept of nature as the divine thing, and I definitely doubt reincarnation. Oddly enough, I am huge fan of New England Transcendental philosophy, which is the American equivalent of Buddhism before scientology came along.

Were I forced to partake in a religion, I have said many times that Buddhism would be one. I find the least contradiction in it(I don't really know as much about Hinduism or perhaps I could afford it the same respect).

Western religions: Judaism, Islam (which I must include in this case) and Christianity, are, in my opinion, mostly self-contradicting.

I see no reason to believe in reincarnation, but the idea that nature and God describe the same thing appeals to me greatly. The idea that science and nature are one, also speaks to me.

Oddly enough, though they are relatively young, western religions seem very shallow by comparison, and seem to hearken back to the Gods of Greece, Persian and Rome. They all see this man God who controls everything. Some see Him as a being with an iron fist. Others see infinite compassion. I think in most cases, westerners create God in the image they wish they could see themselves.

In the case of Eastern religions, I see people who seek the truth. In the case of western religions, as with western politics, which is really little more than religion, I see people who claim they have found truth, and believe they own it.

Vincent said...

John, I too wanted the comment to be removed, for I regretted it. I had been a little impatient and negative towards Ashok’s ideas or expression thereof. Also I had said things which seemed threatening, though not intended that way. Altogether I was shocked at myself and remorseful at the effect upon Ashok.

Returning to the rest of your comment, and your giving Buddhism some favour, I was strongly in favour of it myself for many years. However, the consequences of that direction of travel blighted my life severely, leading me to treat Buddhism as a dangerous toxin.

The virtue of having such strange prejudices, of course, is the encouragement they give me (normally) to keep them to myself. As per the traditional rules of English social behaviour (never discuss religion and ---one or two other things which I cannot recall).

John Myste said...

Vincent, are you familiar with Larry David?

Vincent said...

I saw him in the lead role for Woody Allen’s film, ‘Whatever Works’. Otherwise no. But am intrigued by your question.

ashok said...

Vincent, Thanks for clarifying.
I think the idea was that in a pub one does not talk of religion, wine and women. However in blogs devoted to the topic one has to.

John, Vincent and I exchanged some emails before deleting the comments and both agreed that it was a good idea to.

In blogs that do not have comment moderation sometimes one has to. As I mentioned in Vincents blog, to err is human and when errors are made in verbal communication they disappear with time. However a written statement would stay forever unless intentionally deleted. Except for the most recent unresponded comment the blog owner is the only person who can do it. On the whole though the occassion to delete a comment in this blog has been rare.

John, Reincarnation is a central idea in Buddhism and an essential part of it.

As regards Hinduism one is free to choose one's own beliefs and there are very few taboos. One is not to disrespect the religion and belief of others even if one does not agree with them. In Hinduism one could even be an atheist ( the buddhist version since Hinduism regards Buddhism as a set of Hindu beliefs. It does the same with Christianity), regarding God as formless or one with form etc.

There are very other taboos. One these are not to eat cow meat. A second is not to eenter a temple with shoes on.

ashok said...

John, regarding not having faith in God, Vincent and I have had lengthy discussions about it in some older posts. My point was before saying that one has to define what one means by God because different persons have different meaning for it.

Someone not believing in God is saying that he does not believe in God the way he has defined it. However he may be believing in God in a way that someone else has defined.

ashok said...

It, sorry for using It with lower case for the word in last comment.

John Myste said...


I fully realize what reincarnation is to Buddhism (and to its American cult cousin scientology, which combines the basic plot of Buddhism with cognitive psychology and life management principles). This fact of Buddhism is one of the things that prevented me from considering it "an option." However, what appealed to me was a lack of blatant contradiction found in western religions.

As for your suggestion that not believing in God is saying that you do not believe in the definition of a specific God, I also agree. I even wrote an article about it, in which I claimed that it is possible that “God” exists if this god is an entity that has more power and ability than humans have and may have directed the beginnings of human life. I argued that this being could exist, though I see no reason to think he does. I then argued that it is utterly illogical to think a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, perfect, all compassionate, etc. exists (and further, that a being that is “all” anything is an inconceivable concept, like saying He is all-purple. What does it mean?)

I wrote that essay probably twenty years ago and for one pair of eyes only. So far as I know, those eyes are the only ones that ever read it.

I wish I had more time to respond, but for now, later.

John Myste said...

As for defining what one means before declaring a belief in God, that is textbook. Whose text book? Atheists. It is what they all say: "I am not saying there is no God. I am saying I don't know what God would be if He existed and we have no record of such a being having existed." That is the typical atheist's argument, not mine.

I come right out and say I think there is no God, but I am in the minority (and oddly enough, I consider myself more agonistic than atheist, but that is a longer story). I do this because in Western Culture, theists mean one or more super natural beings when they use the term, and I am convinced that nothing supernatural exists.

However, Emerson, Thoreau, etc., and a number of religions do not so specifically define God. I do not say to them "your God does not exist." Instead I say: "You have no God for me to deny. You are more like me."

It is a bit narrow-minded, I suppose, but it is my answer, nonetheless.

ashok said...


I label myself as an Independent theist, someone who has come to his own definition independent of other religions (the term independent theist is discussed in an older post)

I do not believe in a supernatural being although I do think there probably are more advanced/evolved beings in the universe whose doings would appear supernatural to us (just as a TV does to a tribal who has never seen one although that kind of tribal does not exist anymore perhaps)

As regards God, my definition does not include any being. I too do not believe in any supernatural being as God.

To me God is the everything, the entire universe, and all its parts including those that can be seen and those that cannot be. It includes the consciousness of all beings and of non-being as well, also the intelligence of all and all the laws such as gravity are His manifestation.

I guess everyone believes that the universe exists so everyone would have to believe in this definition of God.

I also believe like Stephen Hawking that a supernatural being is not necessary for creation but creation can come about through laws of Gravity etc. - that as per my definition imply that God created the universe.

ashok said...

John, I was going to speak on reincarnation here but then decided the resonse had enough substance to be a new post. Moving on to post that now. I think Vincent too shall find much too debate on that perhaps.

Ketaki said...

Hi. I guess what the eastern spiritual texts say here can a bit misinterpreted too by some. I guess the texts could only be meaning to say that sorrow is there as long as we use logic too much in things that need to be dealt with either heart or wisdom in life. That is why they tell us to calm down our thoughts. I guess they only mean that if we are spontaneous and honest, not thinking and planning before evrything, then life is not sorrow or sickness or old age. It could be just a way to put it. What do you say?

ashok said...

I found your comment just today. Whatever you have written sounds good. If you leave a comment in the most recent post of the blog I would find it quickly enough , or perhaps a message there that you have another comment with such and such post. All the best.

John Myste said...


How do you differ from a Buddhist?

ashok said...

John my habit is to check the latest post only and I only revisited this post after more than a year and found your comment. Well perhaps I shall answer it now. better late than never. I do not think I differ too much from the original Buddhists but later there were many sects with varying practices and rituals that I do not know much about.

ashok said...

Since I wrote the last comment I have added email notifications so that I can respond wherever a comment is posted.