The universe is an ordered, harmonious system where everything is determined by cosmic intelligence. It’s not by chance that you and I are human. Vedanta, an ancient spiritual wisdom tradition explains that being born as a human is a rare privilege that comes from the merits of many, many past lives.
Humans are unique in that of all the millions of species of life on the planet, we alone have the capacity to consciously advance our inner growth.
Our ultimate purpose
Having such a special capacity, there must be a higher purpose to our lives. According to Vedanta, our ultimate purpose is to use our special gifts to rediscover our essential spiritual nature of the Self. This will bring us the highest happiness and fulfillment in life.
Most of us aren’t aware of this, living fully identified with our human personalities. We take ourselves to be our bodies and allow ourselves to come under the sway of our thoughts and emotions without stopping to question if they are serving us. We identify with our roles, responsibilities, and lives governed by our personal desires, likes and dislikes, attachments, greed, and selfishness. We spend all our time pursuing worldly goals, totally missing the real purpose of our lives. Life is short—now is the time to go within and grow spiritually.
No time to waste
The great spiritual master Adi Shankaracharya was once walking along the streets of Benares in India. He noticed an elderly gentleman sitting by the side of the road with a thick book in his lap. He was engrossed in memorizing Sanskrit grammar rules. Seeing the futility of learning grammar rules when the gentleman obviously didn’t have many more years left, the master stopped and gave him this advice: Seek the divine O Fool. Grammar rules will surely not save you at the time of death.
Isn’t this true? We will not be able to take our worldly achievements or possessions with us to the afterlife. Why are we consumed in pursuing worldly goals which will all be left behind when we die? Vedanta tells us that it is only in a human body that we can earn karmic merits or demerits. We take these karmic results of our actions with us to our next life.
I can imagine that if I were to die today, I wouldn’t look back at my life and say, “I wish I had spent more time working in the office, focusing on accumulating more wealth or degrees.”
Chances are I would look back and wish I had put in greater efforts to grow spiritually, to be more loving, kind, generous, and forgiving. I would wish that I had the big heart and courage to focus less on my own concerns and more on giving to others. These qualities are what we all value and love. Time is running out and our lives will come to an end all too soon. We must shift our priorities and embark on our spiritual journey back to our true Self.
The right view of life
My guru, Swami Chinmayananda, advises us on the right view of life: The right attitude would be to play about in the world as in a field of sport and consider secular activities as hobbies – all the while maintaining a constant vision of the ultimate goal of human existence, that is, a realization of one’s true Self.
This may seem quite radical or even absurd. He wants us to consider all our everyday activities as hobbies, while holding the main pursuit to be the rediscovery of our innate divinity. This perspective turns the tables on our vision, values, and pursuits in life. But there must be truth in it, coming from an enlightened spiritual master. Think about it. We put in all our efforts to acquire, enjoy, and preserve our possessions, family, relationships, careers, and skills only to leave them all behind when we die. What’s the point of it all? Without a higher purpose, our lives would not make sense.
Now is the time to go within and grow spiritually. Where do we start?
Commit to a daily practice
The very first thing to do is to set aside at least 30 minutes every day for our spiritual pursuits. Early in the morning is the best time because the mind is fresh and uncluttered with our usual everyday concerns. We can take a little time to read some spiritual literature and then reflect on what we’ve read. Reflecting on the new ideas will help us assimilate the teachings into our life. Without it, new knowledge will be quickly forgotten.
Taking up some formal and focussed spiritual study may also be a good idea. It will help us gain the answers to the larger questions of life such as, Who am I? What is the purpose of life? What is the cause of suffering? Where can I find true happiness? Is there a God? What is His/Her/Its nature?
Once we have a better understanding of the larger picture, our values, ideals, emotional reactions, and bodily actions will follow accordingly. Cultivating devotion for God or the higher power is key discipline. We could pray, chant the holy names of God, and read or listen to stories of the divine. We could end our daily practice with a short meditation. Outside of our practice, our interactions with others must reflect the noble qualities of the head and heart such as integrity, honesty, humility, love, kindness, forgiveness, and patience.
Live and leave happier
When we put in efforts to grow spiritually, our lives will begin to take on greater purpose and meaning. It will help to steer us away from melancholy, depression, resentments, anger, and frustration. It will take us to living happier and more fulfilling lives.
When the time for leaving this world comes, we will have a better chance of parting with greater peace and satisfaction knowing that we did our best to bring out the spiritual shine from within. There is an urgency to make the best use of our human lives. We must cultivate a spiritual outlook on life that will transform our vision from being limited humans to souls on an evolutionary journey through lifetimes.
Now is the time to go within and grow spiritually