The Meaning of Life: Our Greatest Mystery
We instinctively sense that we are more than we currently realize. An integral part of us realizes that the short time span that we live on Earth is but a transitory moment of our existence; a component of an extraordinary spiritual journey which has some momentous purpose. Though we all sense this—consciously or not—few know what to do about it. This not knowing often becomes too hard and so we move on, relegating this thought to the back of our mind. Life presses us, demanding our attention: Obligations, relationships, and ambitions take precedence. That feeling of “being something more” remains hazy, undeveloped, and unexplored.
Yet, thoughts concerning our existence endure, ever waiting for us to take notice of them. They are patient and persistent. They will not go away, truly they cannot, until they are fully heard and their significance completely understood. Of all the mysteries that have puzzled us since the dawn of time, the most mysterious is self. There never has been, nor will there ever be, a time when we are not preoccupied with the mystery of self. This preoccupation affects even the busiest of people engrossed in the hustle and bustle of everyday living. Who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? What do I want? What is the purpose of all this?These are questions that baffle us all.
Why We Question
At the basis of this questioning lies a fundamental need to understand our mortality. History tells us of civilizations that developed tremendous culture over sometimes thousands of years, and then faded away. We know of mountains that have risen high above sea level, and then in time crumbled away. We see waves momentarily rise from the ocean, expressing shape and individuality, then fall back into the sea. Every day human beings are born and every day they die.
In observing all this it is not surprising, then, that we would be compelled to wonder if all there is eventually passes away; if there is permanence in anything.
Without giving it significant thought, many people hold to the idea that individual existence begins with birth and ends with death: You are born, you live for a few years, and then you die. But if you carefully think about it, could one be more pessimistic about one’s own existence than this? On face value, human life does appear to be very short indeed. Compare an average human life of about 80 years to the time it takes for mountain ranges to evolve. The collision of lithospheric (the plates on Earth’s crust and upper mantle), for example, results in the formation of mountains averaging 10 to 100 millimeters per year. The mountain ranges with which we’re familiar, then, were formed over millions of years.
Referring to the duration of human life, Swami Vivekananda once described it as no more than three minutes in a body of clay. My guru describes it as similar to the life of a drop of water landing on a red-hot frying pan. Think about it: It was just a memory ago when you were young playing with toys, and it is but a memory away when you will be old, bent and grey! Such a momentary existence! Could this really be the sum of our being? Is our allotment to existence so brief and purposeless in that we come from nothingness, exist for a short time, then again return to nothingness?
The Supreme Potential of Human Life
Over thousands of years, numerous Yogis, Rishis, Munis, Saints, and Sages of India have sought and realized the nature of their true self and have proclaimed that human life holds supreme potential. Their legacy is a wealth of intellectual blueprints so that we may discover this truth for ourselves. A study of their lives and writings reveals such profound wisdom and spiritual experience that sincere individuals can be helped beyond measure. The challenge however, is to not only understand this wisdom, but to learn how to interpret it in a meaningful, accessible, and applicable way that benefits modern day society. My time in India, learning from a legendary Master, showed me how to do this.
with Swami Govindananda Ji
April 14th * (Part 2)