Living on Purpose
By Swami Rama
We are all making a sacred journey to our true, divine natures.
Fear is removed and life is enjoyed only when there is a purpose in life. We need to ask ourselves if life has a purpose. What is the meaning of life? Usually we begin asking this question when we have experienced a great deal of pain after suffering the loss of property or relationships. We’ve seen the emptiness in getting more material wealth or fame or power. We’ve seen how fleeting the pleasures of those are. We’ve begun to say, “If wealth, fame, and power do not give happiness, then what does?”
Out of our pain we begin to suspect there is something more to life, that life is not limited to what our senses experience. We may only suspect. Our knowledge of anything beyond the world of forms—that which we see and hear, and so on still may be barely a whisper deep within us, but the possibility is worth the exploration.
The exploration begins by establishing the philosophy that there may be something more to life. That philosophy at least gives a direction. With a philosophy life takes on more meaning and immediately begins to take a different shape. The intention to learn more provides focus and focus gathers energy. There is joy in that alone.
With only the vaguest of goals and our motivation still only a whisper, we begin to see the objects and relationships in our lives differently. They are no longer the center of our lives The pain inherent in the loss of them, or in the fear of loss of them, is not so intense.
Having such a philosophy that suggests a greater meaning than owning and keeping changes life’s atmosphere. A sense of freedom grows. Gradually we begin to detect that it is not owning and keeping the things of the world that matters, but something else—perhaps giving and letting go.
Yet these thoughts remain only faint sounds within us, especially since we have heard all our lives so loudly and distinctly that acquiring possessions and wealth and power, and having sensory pleasures, are topmost in priority for a good life. Nonetheless the faint inner sounds continue.
The second step is to reorganize one’s life. As with all great transitions of mind and changes of old habits, the second step is done gradually, as personal capacity allows and grows. For instance, as the shift is made from a philosophy of acquiring objects to one of a greater purpose, our needs diminish. Materially, life becomes simpler and less burdensome. Following a philosophy that life may have greater meaning, we begin to see that we don’t need relationships with others in the same ways. We don’t need others to give us something. We don’t depend on relationships for what we can get from them. We can be more free in our relationships and the emphasis changes from needing and taking in a relationship—whether marital, parental, filial, or any other—to giving. Emotionally, life becomes lighter.
This philosophy and reorganization usually mean our lifestyles become less opulent and require fewer distractions. More is given away. Less is needed. Concerns for health change. Ironically it seems to be those who are most afraid of dying who do the most to hasten the process by eating rich, heavy foods, ingesting too much alcohol, and smoking. Their fear of death draws them to the sensory pleasures that bring death about more quickly. With a philosophy that says there is more to life, we naturally shift to a healthier diet and more exercise.
Other changes also come about. As we expand from the narrow viewpoint that the priorities in life are material and sensory wealth, to a greater view of life with spiritual purpose, then not only do we change in lifestyle habits and relationships, but we see the world differently. If we no longer think we were dropped somehow by accident onto this planet to get all we can, then we see that is also true of all other people. If we are here for a greater purpose, then so are all five billion plus inhabitants of the planet. Our sense of community changes. Our family grows. We realize we are part of a global community, all brothers and sisters on a long journey, though on different paths.
No longer can we do work that might harm other people, or harm the world in which we all live. If we have jobs that pollute the environment, or create difficulties for other people, we will feel obliged to find other work.
At the same time we no longer feel threatened by the differences in other people. If all five billion people on the planet are here for a higher spiritual purpose, then the differences in race, color, and beliefs are ultimately superficial. These differences, along with everything else happening on the planet, are serving the higher spiritual purpose. Race, color, and creed are part of the different paths toward the same goal. The fear that these varieties of race, color, and creed once held, that somehow people who were different were a threat to what is owned, disappear.
In eastern philosophy this wide angle reorganization of a person’s life is called dharma. One sense of the word dharma means to organize one’s life in such a way that individual action is in harmony with interpersonal relationships and with the community, local and global. It implies morality, righteousness, and virtue. A life that is led with unselfishness, harmlessness, compassion, non-possessiveness, and non-covetousness in personal relationships and toward the greater global community and earth itself, is a spiritually healthy life. However, if a person is selfish, harms others, brings harm in some way to the community, and feels a sense of possession of things and people, such a person’s life is contracted, and spiritual progress is hindered.
Another interpretation of dharma is the notion of destiny. Dharma is a person’s duty in life. Put another way, dharma is the path a person takes to best use this life to most effectively reach the goal of life.
A person’s dharma is related also to personal karmas and samskaras. What does a person need to earn, burn, and discard in order to move forward in spiritual life? What is the dharma that can effect that learning and burning? Whether that dharma is to be a carpenter, social worker, fireman, nurse, computer technician, mother or father, Californian or Italian, it doesn’t matter. From a general point of view, no dharma is better than another. From the standpoint of making spiritual progress, being a small vegetable farmer or street cleaner is as valid and efficient a dharma as being president or pope. Each person has a dharma that best suits his or her spiritual needs.
It is vital then to look for and establish a personal dharma that provides a personal set of values to follow and develop, and identifies those duties that will be helpful in the process of personal growth.
In this exploration of something beyond worldly life it is necessary to find a spiritual path. We all need a guidebook into the geography of the heart. We are all making a sacred journey to our true, divine natures. Although that divine nature is so close and so known to us, it also remains hidden in the tangled recesses of our thoughts and desires.
All the religions and spiritual systems of the world come from the human aspiration to know the truth about our real identity. Within each of these systems are maps to that Truth that is shared by all. Some maps are written in Sanskrit, others in Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, or Chinese. Some maps take sea routes, others overland or air. Some guide followers this way up the mountainside, others that way. They all, however, come to the same pinnacle of Truth.
We usually find ourselves in those systems that represent our culture. Religions evolve out of cultures to serve the spiritual needs of people in the context of their lifestyles, environments, and histories. Islam emerged from a particular culture, history and community need. The same is true of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and all the religious systems of the world. None is better than another. They merely reflect cultures, times, and needs. Hinduism in reality is a way of life and a philosophy of life. It is not a religion.
As the world has shrunk with sophisticated communications systems, it has become easier to share the knowledge of religious systems with other cultures. There has been a mixing of ideas and techniques that are benefiting people throughout the world. The great movement of eastern philosophies in the second half of this century throughout the United States and Europe is an example of this sharing.
However, it is important to remember that spiritual disciplines that have become religious systems have been reinterpreted. Institutions have emerged that have become something other than the spiritual imperative that gave rise to the institutions. Jesus said he was not creating a new religion; he was simply telling the truth. A religious system developed and concealed the truth told by Jesus. The truth is still there, but around it is this new institution and its interpretations of truth.
Jesus said, for instance, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” He meant that the way to eternal life, or Brahman, is by knowing the Atman, the pure Self that is embodied by all. The institution that formed seized on the statement and used it as an institutional bludgeon, demanding that people join that institution and take on its dogma or be doomed.
So is the case with Islam. Internal research of Islam has been done by the Sufis. The Sufis have dived deep into the Islamic scriptures and emerged with gems of wisdom. I find that all religions have one and the same truth to share with their community. The fortunate few who have realized this truth know that it is priestly wisdom and churchianity that have created confusion.
The same phenomenon has happened in all spiritual systems. The institutions are meant to protect the truth, and they grow to bind a community together. That’s the meaning of religion from the Latin ligare, to hold or bind together a culture or people of like beliefs. However, often the institution takes on a life of its own, ignoring the truth it meant to teach. The institution and its leaders become more vital than the truth itself. This leads usually to politics, prejudice, dogmatism, factionalism, and sometimes bloodshed with one religious group fighting another. The mentality develops that, “We have the truth, you don’t. God is with us, not you.” All manner of injustices and harm in the name of religion come from this attitude. The egos of religious leaders create a situation where their followers worship them, or fear them, and the purpose of the path is forgotten.
The desirable path is that which responds to the true spiritual needs of the individual, not to the demands of an institution, and not to the whims of institutional leaders. In truly spiritual systems both the institutions and their leaders exist solely to serve the spiritual needs of their members and followers.
This website is devoted to sharing the teachings
of Swami Rama of the Himalayas