Why are we here?
The following discourse represents my personal understanding of the Hindu view on the above topic and I acknowledge that given the broadness and diversity of
the Hindu Religion, some of my views may differ from those of other Hindu schools of thought.
Why are we here? Is there something we are looking for? Perhaps something we have lost?
It would appear that what everyone really wants, is happiness and everything that we do is in some way related to our attempts at finding it. The problem is
that the world only offers us short bursts of it at a time and life seems to be a constant chase after a series of momentary pleasures between the pains which
only serve to remind us of our limitations to fulfilling our search on earth. Yet we seem to be programmed to search for total fulfillment, permanent happiness
and constant contentment, for that is what we are constantly seeking.
So would God have created us to search for the impossible? Or could it be that by making it impossible to find it amidst the objects of the world, He is guiding
us to look elsewhere in order to find it?
The question “Why are we here?” calls for a closer look at how we define “WE” and “HERE” and then hopefully the WHY will become self evident.
Who are WE? Are we the body? This body belongs to me only for the duration of a lifetime, i.e. from birth until death. I am something else other than the
body. I shall evacuate this temporary shelter upon death and I will continue to exist. I am not made of matter like the body. I am spirit in nature. Spirit is not
perceivable through the senses or any physical instruments. Spirit cannot be affected by that which affects the body. Fire cannot burn it, a knife cannot cut
it, disease cannot weaken it, - even death cannot kill it.
Being unborn and undying, the eternal spirit is infinitely older than this body. In relation to our entire soul lifespan our temporary existence on earth within this
body must seem like a millisecond of time.
Our present notion of who we are, is however very different. This notion defines us according to the names and forms that we associate with our present physical
bodies. Indeed a very temporary and inaccurate definition of ourselves! To describe ourselves based on what we see of ourselves in this lifetime, is like trying to
describe a three hour movie by looking at one single frame on a strip of its film! and with 24 frames of film per second of a movie - there is certainly much more
to knowing ourselves than what we can see in this single frame of a lifetime.
Acknowledging this cosmic timescale of our existence, it becomes a little easier to accept the so called Hindu view of our material existence as ‘Maya’ or illusion -
a temporary manifestation of a permanent reality. That which is temporary cannot be real. Only that which is permanent can be real. So our bodies cannot be
not a true reflection of who we really are, due to its transient or temporary nature.
Taking this further, even the entire universe with its awesome mind boggling magnitude and timescale represents a temporary manifestation of its True,
Permanent, Ultimate nature that of spirit. Just as water in the form of a gaseous vapour is able to condense into liquid and frozen into ice, spirit is able to
manifest at a physical level as matter. Spirit also provides the energy to sustain the very existence of every atom of matter.
So with the Hindu view of man and the Universe focusing on the underlying spiritual nature of reality as we know it, it also affirms that
our ultimate goal is to realize our innate oneness with this Omnipresent Omnipotent and Omniscient Spirit or God
In this sense, our search for and union with God, is not to be found in some high up location called Heaven but it is a search which goes deep within ourselves to
find a connection with our innermost being. It is here that we will find the spirit which gives life to us, the same spirit which resides at the heart of our neighbour
and within and between every speck of dust, planet or star in the universe.
And it is here that we find that the kingdom of God lies truly within ourselves and that ultimately our true image is indeed that of God.
It is thus understandable why the religion recommends meditation as one of the practices to assist us on this journey inward in our quest for God consciousness.
If at our innermost core is seated the divine, then it would imply that the journey to God is a process of stripping away all that which covers the divine. To
explain this let us look further at what constitutes a human being.
The body, energy, mind & intellect are part of our makeup but it is the soul that represents who we truly are for the soul alone can bear testimony to our
existence even when all else is stripped away from our being. *(see illustration at end of script). The rest represents the equipment we use in order function as
human beings. At this level Hinduism holds two semantically different views of the soul one that each individual has a soul or Atman which is similar to that of
God or Brahman but is separate from Him and the other view holds that Atman = Brahman.
At the time of God realisation the individual spirit soul, becomes absorbed into the cosmic spirit soul, and becomes one with it - like a drop of sea water floating
momentarily above the crest of a wave, and falling back into the ocean. Both the droplet and the entire ocean were always identical even before they merged.
This is how we understand the reality of man, nature and God. Beyond the illusion of all the diversity of living and non living forms all are really one!
All are different names and forms which emanate from the one spirit most high. All are embodiments of God and all are sacred.
So what has all this got to do with the purpose of life or the reasons for us being here?
The Hindu world view as outlined, merely serves to provide a map of where our final destination should be. It directs us to the nature of reality or truth or God.
It warns us of the illusion and delusions of our current perceptions of reality, and it prompts us to make every effort to realize the absolute truth of our
eternal existence rather than the relative truth of our temporary one.
To realise this truth, is not merely to intellectually accept its validity. Realisation is a state of deep awareness, and its measure would be the ability to
perceive God in all beings. When one has realised one’s divinity, one’s thoughts words and deeds become divine and one’s life may serve as an inspirational role
model for other aspirants on their journey to fulfilling their life’s purpose. Having reached the destination, one is also qualified to direct others to it. The
history of Man is dotted by many such masters from different parts of the globe, speaking different languages and teaching in a manner which is always
tailored to be meaningful to the cultural context of their recipients. Hence the existence of apparently different religions ultimately and jointly aimed at leading
all of mankind to God.
The paths to God Realisation are many, but like different roads leading to a particular city from different directions, all roads are valid routes to follow the
vital question is "Where on the map are YOU?" From wherever you are on the map of spiritual growth, there is an appropriate path for you.
It is therefore irrelevant to argue (as many unfortunately do) about which path is better. Perhaps the best path is the one that directs YOU from where you are
to some point closer to the destination, from where very often, another path may need to chart you on to the next stage of the journey. And so on until we attain
Hinduism acknowledges that each of us may be at different stages with differing leanings in the journey towards perfection and therefore offers many paths to
suit the interests of the various aspirants. Observing the various paths, one may notice many differences in approach, but all operating within a broad common
framework. Interestingly other religions also tend to fit into the same broad common framework. It is therefore natural for a Hindu to accept another
religion as an equally valid path sanctioned and directed by the one God of all mankind. Hence it may be said that Hindus see other religions as different
chapters of the one continuously evolving book of God!
In order to grow closer to God we need to undergo a process of transformation where we purge ourselves of our lower qualities and develop our nobler virtues.
This is aimed at a total transformation of character from animal-like to human and from human to Divine, and is brought about by reducing our focus on the
material and shifting it to matters spiritual. Principles like Love, Peace, righteousness, Truth and Non-Violence should guide our every action towards our
fellow man as well the rest of creation, and a life lived accordingly would no doubt do much to strip away the obstacles that obscure our innate divinity.
Remember that although God realization appears to be a process of becoming increasingly divine, this is a natural side-effect of the actual process of
becoming aware of the divinity that we have always been. The layers of material consciousness, strengthened by years of association with our false notion of our
selves have to be shed.
If I am already God but I see myself as a person by the name of Sunil, then God realisation can be represented by the equation Sunil minus Sunil = GOD. Or
rather Sunil minus (every egoistic notion of myself as being separated from God) = my awareness being GOD.
When my focus is on serving my self, my desires I strengthen my notion of my false self or ego and hence re-enforce my separateness from God, but when I
serve others then I diminish my ego and come closer to minusing my self from my self.
Serving others selflessly, develops in us a sense of compassion and love the highest of all virtues and it is this love for one’s fellow man which is coupled with
love of God. Love for God itself sustains the will to serve God in all His names and forms selflessly. It purifies the individual and develops the constant
awareness of being merely an instrument in the hands of God. With such an attitude, an individual surrenders his will to the will of God and acts not for
himself but acts in loving service of God. Here it is not the action itself but the feeling of devotional surrender with which it is performed, that is important.
Also the fact that God resides at the core of every being has certain implications for the spiritual aspirant in terms of the way we are expected to
relate to others. In a nutshell we are to love our neighbour as we do, not only ourselves but if we see ourselves as essentially divine then we should ideally
strive to love our neighbour and treat him as we would, God. In fact the traditional Hindu greeting “Namaste” means “With all the humility of my heart, I
salute the divinity within you” and is an acknowledgement of this fact. At the pinnacle of any path leading to God Realisation, is the nurturing of love
and devotion to God in any of the names and forms which may be dear to the particular devotee. All other paths are aimed at this too even if at first it may
not appear so.
For they are all aimed at a certain transformation of character which is the necessary preparation ground for pure divine love to manifest and develop in the
heart of the devotee. Any sincere effort on the part of a devotee is able to earn the grace of God, and naturally attracts guidance along the path leading to God
realisation. If God Realisation is the purpose of life, then the historical evidence around us
suggests that most of us will never get there by the time we breathe our last breath. It also seems very unfair of God to give some of us at least a fighting
chance of getting there and others no chance at all. Compare a child born into a pious family and nurtured with a strong spiritual awareness and every
opportunity for making spiritual progress in life, with that of a child born to a family plagued by a lack of moral values, criminal activity, and exposed to all
sorts of abuses and tragedies from birth.
Where is the perfection in God’s design if He holds up a goal to be achieved in one hand and in the other, appears to deprive you of the means of achieving it?
At the same time unfairly favouring others with all the necessary opportunities.
To answer this let’s go back to the cosmic timescale of the soul where-in this lifetime appears to be a mere blink of an eyelid. What goes on for the rest of
our soul’s existence before we arrived here - and after we will leave this realm? Hinduism provides the view that the soul takes repeated births on earth, each
time progressing from where it had left off in the previous life - similar to the process of schooling where you start off in grade one and acquire more and more
knowledge, maturing as you progress through the ranks.
At the end of each academic year you take a short recess and return to school the next year. If you fail to achieve the required pass in certain lessons you have
to go back and repeat them until you are deemed fit to proceed to the next level. So it is with our soul. Life is our university and the experiences that life
offers us are our curriculum. Oh and we know all about the tests we are given from time to time! We have our failures and our successes. Our greatest
teachers are very often our problems through which we grow as we deal with them. As we act out this life we also earn merit and de-merit points based on the
quality of these actions. For example actions performed for the good of others will attract similar benefits for ourselves and actions done to harm others will
likewise attract the same degree of pain in our lives.
This is the Law of Karma which can be simply stated as… “As you sow, so shall you reap.” It also helps us to understand the fact that we are the creators of our
own destinies and that God who loves us all equally whether we may be sinner or saint, does not act unfairly by favouring some and punishing others.
It is we who attract our own suffering or happiness into our present or future lives by the actions performed - using our own God-given free will!
Our results are judged as if at the end of each lifetime (the so called day of judgment if you like) and the amount of heaven or hell due to us in our successive
lives will thus be determined. (Actually in the Law of Karma there is no judgment by a third party, or at a particularly appointed time, since every action
Performed carries with it the seeds of its own reaction, except if the fruits of such actions are surrendered to God and the action is thus performed as a form
of selfless devotion).
This cycle of birth and death, is repeated until the state of Self or God Realisation is attained and we are fully and eternally merged in the awareness of
our own divinity. It is only here that the goal of finding eternal happiness can be found.
To Summarise :
- We are eternal spirit souls having a temporary Human experience on earth.
- Our overall goal is to evolve to a state of perfection as human beings no matter how many lifetimes this may take.
- Our purpose in this lifetime is to work towards perfection within the current context of our lives perfectly performing our duties and developing love for God.
- The ideal path for you on your journey may not necessarily be the ideal path for someone else. However parallel paths can and sometimes do merge at some point.
- Upon attaining perfection, we are merged with God, and are eternally bathed in the bliss of his Divine Love.