How to Lead a Purposeful Life

I talked to the children of the Summer Camp conducted by Ramakrishna Math, Ulsoor, Bangalore ( Here is an outline of the talk.
The topic has four significant words. We can understand each of them one by one.
Life – What is life? This question was asked once to Swami Vivekananda. He replied that life was struggle against forces that try to put the organism down. This gives us a deep insight. Life is a struggle. We live as long as we struggle. If we stop struggling, we will stop living. Every moment the body is fighting against germs and disorders that are trying to destroy it. Same is true with the mind also. Every life struggles to Exist, Express and Enjoy. There are forces from within and from outside that are constantly trying to suppress these. Every moment every life form tries to establish its individuality. Without these problems, there is no life. We should face problems in life. If we succumb to them, that will be death. The body might continue to live, but we may be dead in other aspects of life like cultural, intellectual, moral and spiritual. We need to keep struggling against forces external and internal. This is life.
Lead – What is leading a life? How is it different from merely living? The direction of our life is governed by two factors – Preyas (likes and dislikes) and Shreyas (right and wrong). Animals don’t have a concept of right and wrong. They live as per their likes and dislikes. Human beings should lead a life based on right and wrong. There may be things that are right but not very pleasant. Nevertheless we should follow them and continue to stick to them. There may be things that are wrong but pleasant. But we should abstain from them. If we don’t, then we are not living life as human beings but as animals. To live as human beings, we should lead our lives based on right and wrong, irrespective of likes and dislikes.
Purposeful – What is the purpose of life? Is there a purpose of life that can lead us till our last breath. Some children may think “to become a doctor” or “to become a teacher” is their aim in life. But after that, what? Does life become aimless? These are all means. The purpose of life is to “Be Good and Do Good“. This is a purpose that is applicable today, tomorrow and till our last day. “To be a doctor”, “to be a teacher” are all means to “do good”. That is the real purpose. We should not lose the purpose in pursuit of the means. The purpose is to “Be Good and Do Good”.
Why should we “Be Good and Do Good”? What will happen if we are not so? Being good and doing good will give us peace of mind. Without peace of mind, we will not enjoy what we achieve in life.
Once there was a king and his minister. The king said, “Peace of mind is more important than material comforts.” The minister disagreed. The king became angry and said, “Tomorrow morning you will be hanged. You can go home now.” The minister went home sadly. Soon a messenger came from the king with a letter from the king. It said, “I am very sorry that I gave an order to hang you tomorrow. But I cannot change that now. As a compensation, you are welcome to the palace to live a life of royal comforts today.” A request from the king is as good as a command. So reluctantly the minister went to the palace. He was taken on a big elephant. He was given a royal welcome at the palace. A royal lunch with several dishes was waiting for him. After lunch, he was given the royal bed to take rest. In the evening, there was a great music and dance program arranged specially for the minister. There was a great dinner too and in the night also, a great bedroom was given for the minister in the palace. In the morning the king came to meet the minister in the room. The king asked, “I hope you enjoyed the royal treatment given to you yesterday.” The minister replied, “When I am going to be hanged the next day, how can I enjoy? The welcome was uninteresting. The food was tasteless. I could not sleep. I did not have the mind to hear or see the music and dance. With great difficulty I sat through the performance.” The king replied, “Now tell me. Isn’t peace of mind more important than material comforts? Without peace of mind, you cannot enjoy anything even if you are in their midst. I created this drama only to make you understand this. You will not be hanged. You can go home now, freshen up and come to the palace for your regular duties.”
This peace of mind can come only by being good and doing good. Also, we live a normal life based on the assumption that the people around us are good. Without that faith, we cannot live. When we go in a bus, we sit peacefully only because we believe that the vehicle is in good condition, the driver is not drunk, he is not sleeping and the other vehicles and drivers on the road are also in good condition. Without this faith, we cannot travel by a bus. Similarly, when we buy something from a shop, we believe in its quality and quantity. The entire world runs on faith. If people do not follow “Be Good and Do Good”, the entire world will be a chaos. To maintain the order in the world, it is the duty of each one of us to “Be Good and Do Good”.
How – For any work to be properly accomplished, three questions have to be answered – What, Why and How. What we get by answering these questions are called “Jnaana Shakti”, “Iccha Shakti” and “Kriya Shakti”. In English they are termed as “Head, Heart and Hand”, respectively. These three should come together to do any work. We saw that the purpose of life is to “Be Good and Do Good”. That answers the “What”. We also discussed “Why” we should “Be Good and Do Good”. Next comes the question “How”.
The statement “Be Good, Do Good” has been more elaborately presented by Swami Vivekananda as the motto of the Ramakrishna Mission – “aatmano mokshaartam, jagat hitaaya cha” – “For the freedom of the self and for the good of the world”. The first part means in simple terms – “Be Good”. The second part means “Do Good”. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna calls the first part as “Tapas”. He deals with the second part as two aspects – “Yagna” and “Daana”. There are several verses in the Gita that talk about these three “Yagna”, “Daana” and “Tapas” in great detail.
Everyone of us takes so much from the world and society. We need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, clothes to wear, place to live, etc. All these are provided by various objects and people in the world. This debt is called “Runa”. Paying them back with gratitude is called “Yagna”. There are five kinds of “runa”s described in the scriptures. Our debt to the natural world of air, water, earth, etc is called Deva runa. We should not waste resources. We should plant more trees and take care of the environment. We should not create pollution. These are the ways to pay back Deva runa. We take so much from other plants and animals for food, clothing, etc. This is called Bhuta runa. We should take care of the plants and animals in the world with respect and treat them with kindness. This the way to pay this back. We take services from different people in the society like farmers, masons, tailors, etc. This is called Manushya runa. We should pay them their dues and treat them with gratitude and kindness. We should do social service to uplift the under privileged. This is
the way to repay this. Our parents and ancestors have given us this human body. We are indebted to them for that. This is called Pitru runa. We should take care of our parents, grand parents and all elders in the society. Similarly, we should take care of children. We should care for orphans and old people who have no one to take care of them. These are the ways to pay back Pitru runa. We have got our human culture in the forms of science, arts, technology, religion, philosophy, etc. Without this rich cultural heritage, we are no different from animals. We are indebted to our teachers and the great people who lived before us. This debt is called Rishi runa. We should learn well and donate to people and institutions who are developing and spreading knowledge. We should respect our teachers. We should also develop knowledge and pass on to others. These are the ways to pay back the Rishi runa. This five kinds of paying back is called Yagna. It should be done with gratitude as a duty without expecting any further returns. For children, studying well and being obedient to the parents and teachers is itself a great Yagna.
We should give more than what we take. We should consume less and contribute more. We should help people who need help and will not be able to help us back. We should do this with humility with due respect to the other person. This is called Daana. For children, not to demand too much from parents and to help them in their work is a good way to start. Help your friends and support them in their weak moments. This is a good beginning to do Daana.
If we follow these two – Yagna and Daana – we will be able to follow the purpose “Do Good”.
“Tapas” means austerity or discipline. Being conscious and in voluntary control of what we think and do is called Tapas. Krishna talks about several kinds of Tapas. To start with, we can consider one of them now and try to make it a part of our life. Krishna describes five disciplines as “Vaak tapas” – “discipline of speech”. They are:
anudvegakaram – Non-violent – We should talk softly without using harsh words.
satyam – Truthful – This is the greatest discipline. We should avoid telling lies under all conditions.
priyam – Pleasant – We should tell only that is pleasant. We should avoid telling unpleasant truths.
hitam – Useful – We should avoid all useless and harmful talk.
swaadhyaayam – Study – We should read good books. We should be selective in TV programs and movies so that we watch only things that will help us to grow.
Following these five disciplines, we will be able to follow the purpose “Be Good”.
To summarize, life is a struggle. We should lead our lives based on “good and bad” and not based on “likes and dislikes”. The purpose of life is to “Be Good and Do Good” as elaborated as “Yagna, Daana and Tapas”.
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One Response to How to Lead a Purposeful Life

  1. rob says:

    You Know,

    Absolute. The only word to describe the uncertainty of life is death.

    We will never as live beings understand death, because our lives would become insignifigant if we never feared “the end.”

    I belong to no specific religion, and would hope that all people in the world could become independent enough to follow their gut instead of thye general population. Yet you would have to be a little crazy to think there is no god. Common demoninator.


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