One of the most basic questions about human existence that we could ask ourselves is: What is the purpose of life? Or, to put it differently, What on Earth are we on Earth for?
God, our Maker, has created each one of us, just as He has created the rest of the vast universe. Surely, He must have had some reason to do so it couldn’t have been just in jest. There must be some definite purpose for which God brought us into being and sent us to Earth, to spend a bit of time here before we are called back.
So, then, what is this purpose?
Do we have any clue at all?
If you really think about it, you might be led to realise that there is hardly any question that is more important than this one for us to ask and to seek to find the answer to. But despite this, how many of us actually do ever ask ourselves (or others) this question, leave alone seeking to find the answer to it? If I recall rightly, for several decades (I am now in my 50s) I gave this really important question no serious thought at all. My case might hardly be exceptional. It may be almost the universal norm actually.
I was born in a supposedly ‘well-educated’ and ‘very cosmopolitan’ family. Growing up as a child, not once did my parents ever raise the issue of the purpose of human life in general, or of our own lives in particular. The issue wasn’t once broached in conversations with relatives either. Nor was it with classmates and teachers at school, or, later, in the college and in the universities where I studied. Later on, I worked for a living in different places, but not once, if my memory serves me right, did I hear a single person talk about life’s purpose. All through those many decades, in my conversations with other people, we talked about all sorts of things, but possibly on not even one occasion did we ever refer to the purpose of life.
Now, isn’t that really strange?
The conspiracy of silence on this most important question about life is actually really eerie.
Although the purpose of life was hardly, if ever, referred to in my interactions with others, there was, right through and all along, a certain implicit understanding of this purpose that possibly most us shared. It wasn’t ever stated explicitly, and maybe for that reason it was particularly seductive and pervasive. Possibly, it had come to be so widely accepted as obvious, as in the very nature of things, that it did need to be articulated in words. At home, in the various educational institutions I studied at, and later, in the places where I worked, there was probably a broadly-shared consensus about the purpose of life being centred on the notion that life was meant for maximizing the pleasure that one could derive from the five senses. This is what (supposedly) gave meaning and purpose to life. Pampering the never-ceasing demands of the ego was what a meaningful and purposeful life was essentially about, although this could be sometimes tempere . ‘Have as much fun as you can while the game lasts’, or ‘Shop till you drop’ could be other ways in which this idea could be described. This understanding of the purpose of life was also endlessly purveyed by the mass media, advertising companies and the ‘entertainment’ industry till it was converted into plain ‘commonsense’ for probably hundreds of millions of people.
Hedonism, a worldview that is based on the notion that the purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure, had become the de facto creed for vast numbers of people, including myself and probably a great many of those I knew, including several who described themselves as ardent believers in this or that religion. Hedonism had, for all practical purposes, become the religion that we were passionately devoted to, even if we did not ourselves consciously recognise the fact.
Now in my 50s, and having gained some insight (including through some ‘bitter’ experiences) into the hollowness of the hedonistic worldview, my understanding of the purpose of life is or so I hope not quite the same now. I’m learning about diverse theistic spiritual traditions of the world that have a very different understanding of life’s purpose. While these traditions might differ on some issues among themselves, there are certain points they agree on.
One of these commonalities is that human beings (and all other life-forms) have been created by a transcendent God, and for a certain purpose.
A second common teaching is that death is not the end of us. Death is the dying of the physical body but not of the real ‘I’ the soul. We continue to live (in some or the other form and in some or the other realm) even after the death of our body. Our state or fate in the life after death will depend on how we had lived our short life while on Earth.
Coming to recognise two basic facts the fact of God, the Creator, and the fact of life after death can completely transform one’s understanding of the purpose of life. Seen in the light of these two facts, the ideology of Hedonism can be recognised as not just totally bankrupt but dangerously self-damaging and delusional as well. Along with this, the true purpose of life can now come to be seen as in having a deep and loving personal relationship with God and seeking to do His will for us, moment by moment.