By Bhante Mahinda
We have all come to this world with some purpose. Some of us may be aware of this purpose, but many of us are not really aware of our true purpose in this life. Some of us have come into this world to do something, to be of service to a certain group of people. For parents who have one or two children, they spend a good part of their lives looking after those children. That would appear to be their purpose in life. But others have come to this world with a greater sense of purpose, to help more sentient beings. But there are also some who have come to this world with a less worthwhile purpose, such as to take revenge. That is why it is important to really consider: what is our true purpose of coming to this world?
From the Buddhist Perspective, understanding the very basic teachings of the Buddha with regards to karma, rebirth and the Four Noble Truths, plays an important part in understanding the true purpose and meaning of life.
Karma and Rebirth
Firstly, we need to have some understanding about the law of karma, and rebirth. This is not our only lifetime, we have all lived in the past. In the past we have made many promises or aspirations, sometimes you can call them ‘vows’. If we have made these vows or promises with very strong intention, but we were not able to accomplish them in the past, they will follow us from life to life.
However, when we are born in this lifetime, from very young days we are exposed to all kinds of distractions and because of these distractions, we are not able to connect to our past aspirations. We totally lose track of what we really came here for. But there are some people who deep down in their hearts have some idea as to why they come to this world. And when they meet certain people, or go to a certain place, something may trigger them to remember why.
Sometimes we are unconsciously searching for someone, or something, that we lost in the past. But due to distraction, we cannot connect with that purpose. Deep down in our hearts, we are looking for something that we cannot find and become very restless and unhappy.
What do you want in life?
If we ask this question: What do you really want in your life? Any sensible person will say they want happiness. But what is happiness? Most people only understand happiness in terms of the material things that give them pleasure, some kind of thrill or excitement. That is considered happiness.
From childhood, we try various means to get happiness. Ask yourself what gave you happiness when you were five years old? Some toys to play with? But ten years later, by age fifteen those toys have been put aside and you were looking for other things. Then, another ten years on, at twenty five years old – again, you will be looking for something else.
This is how people go on looking and looking for something – Something to give them happiness. But the real happiness is not found in all these material things outside, in the happiness experienced through our sense: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. There is another kind of happiness which does not depend on material things: peace and blissful contentment in our hearts. This happiness is found through the cultivation of the spiritual path. To Buddhists, the real happiness is the ultimate bliss of Nibbana. Nibbana paramam sukham – ‘Nibbana is the highest bliss’.
As long as we have not reached that ultimate goal, we will always be looking for something. And whenever we get something, we will find that it is unsatisfactory. When we start to realize the unsatisfactory nature of life, our priorities in life will change. Our quest for peace and happiness will direct us onto the path to realize the ultimate goal.
Edited and revised transcription of a Dhamma talk on The Purpose of Life given by Bhante Mahinda in Singapore in 2005.
This article is one of two parts. Part Two will be published in the next MRTW Newsletter.