Fulfilling life's purpose

Fulfilling life's purpose

In fulfilling the basic necessities of life, namely hunger, thirst, shelter and other physical and emotional needs, man tends to forget the fundamental purpose of life, that there is something beyond material wants, that he has to strive to lead a balanced life of materialism and ethical and moral values.

In Indian philosophy, Adi Shankaracharya’s Vivekachudamani is one such work which expounds on this subject.

Shankara commences this section of the text by saying that there are three guiding principles for man to follow.

They are, in order, the teachings of the scriptures, self reasoning and lastly, the words of the preceptor. While these may primarily be meant for spiritual aspirants, it must be noted that they are equally applicable to ordinary people too, containing as they do many a valuable instruction.

The scriptures are the authority, the moral law, which prescribe the path of righteousness, the dos and dont’s to be followed.

Man transgresses this law at his own peril. If he follows it, so much the good for him. The second principle is reasoning.

To reason, to discriminate between right and wrong, between the permanent and the transitory is the mark of a wise man.

Shankara here gives the example of a man searching for his gold chain everywhere, while all the while it is around his neck.

Similarly, man, though gifted with thinking ability, with eyesight, fails to see the divine manifestation in front of him in the form of other beings, nature and physical phenomena. The third principle is paying heed to the words of the Guru or preceptor.

Whether it be worldly matters or spiritual subjects, the guidance of a learned  and qualified teacher is imperative.

Spiritual guidance demands additional attributes in the teacher, such as absence of greed, scholarship in the related subjects, an unblemished character, awareness of the supreme reality and man’s oneness with it.

The fundamental requisite for receiving guidance is faith in the words of the teacher, just as it is in everyday life where man seeks professional advice.

Next, Shankara says that though one may receive guidance from a preceptor, there are certain things that are to be known only  by oneself, such as hunger, thirst, health, anxiety, satisfaction, etc.

They are all a matter of personal experience, not to be learnt from others.

Understanding them from external sources is only indirect knowledge which leads to misconceptions, delusions.

Shankara says, “By all means take the advice of a preceptor, but do not forget to supplement it with your reasoning and hard work.”

When these three principles are understood and followed, says Shankara, man is truly ‘Awake’ and becomes free.

But, cautions Shankara, the Guru can only stand on the shore and show the way.

It is for the student to exert himself and row the boat to the other shore, using his skills and exertions.

Finally, on top of all this, is the Grace of God, without which all of man’s efforts are futile. “Strive for this grace,” says Shankara.