Let us first ask an even more fundamental question:
What is the purpose of this universe?
The question has been answered in the above article “Why and how was this universe created?”. From this article, we understand that the purpose of the universe is that God can experience himself.
Now, who is God?
God is the embodiment of love and all other virtues such as:
So, the purpose of the universe is to experience these virtues.
How do we experience these virtues?
By being them. By being love. By being kindness. By being compassion. By being courage.
That is probably why, Neale Donald Walsch says, “Your soul doesn’t care what you do for a living – and when your life is over, neither will you. Your soul cares only about what you are being while you are doing whatever you are doing.”
There is a short story, which probably all of us would have heard. I feel like sharing it here.
A child was asked in the school, “What do you want to be in life?”.
He replied, “Happy”.
The teacher replied that he didn’t understand the question.
The child replied that the teacher didn’t understand life.
Happiness, Joy, Bliss, Peace are all our true essence. However, we have forgotten our true essence in this illusion of darkness and are mostly spending our lives in the darkness of sadness, depression, and turbulence.
Still, at our core, we are all seeking these virtues, especially happiness. All our actions are driven by our expectation of where our maximum happiness lies. For some people, given their understanding of life, happiness (or even salvation) lies in hurting (or even killing) others. For some, happiness means having enough money to line a comfortable life. For some, happiness means devoting their lives to helping the poor. An understanding of where our happiness lies makes all the difference in our lives: what we do, when we do, and how we do.
Everyone is just the same: Everyone is after happiness.
And there is nothing wrong about seeking happiness. Rather, the purpose of our life is to be joyful or happy or enjoy this life.
Our pursuit of joy is the real pursuit for which we have taken this physical form. As someone once said,
Follow your joy.
Now, the question comes: where does our joy lie?
The answer, as you should know by now, is that it lies at our essence. Our true essence is joy. So, once we connect with our true essence, we experience joy. All the virtues listed above are also a part of our true essence. Whenever we experience any of these virtues, we experience our true essence. So, the path to joy is the path to your true essence and the path to all of these virtues. As Gurbani says:
It is very important here to understand the difference between just expressing virtues and being virtues i.e. the difference between
- loving and being love
- compassionate and being compassion
- kind and being kindness
- happy and being happiness
- joyful and being joy
Our true essence is love, compassion, kindness, happiness, and joy. However, we can be loving or compassionate just at the superficial level, without being in touch with our essence. An example of a flower and perfume might be appropriate here.
A rose has fragrance. A person who applies a manufactured perfume also has fragrance. However, there is a great difference between the two fragrances. In the case of a rose, the fragrance originates from its being, and one cannot separate the fragrance from the rest of the rose. The fragrance originates from the core of the rose and stays till the death of the rose.
On the other hand, the fragrance of the person who has applied an artificial perfume will soon fade away, and in some time, the true smell of the person will come out. The fact is that there exists stench, not fragrance, at the core of this person.
When Gurbani asks us to recognize our true self:
The Gurbani asks us not to just wear perfume but to become a flower, from which all the love and virtues will flow out, just as water flows out of a fountain.
To realize our true essence, Gurbani asks us to:
- Listen to Kirtan
- Associate with holy people
- Perform selfless service
- Abandon vices and act virtuously (Not acting virtuously just for the sake of it or getting the praise of people, but acting virtuously in order to connect with our deeper self)
However, all of these activities are not ends in themselves but are means to recognizing our true self.
And if we forget the purpose of these activities, Gurbani says
Here, it might help to understand a few things:
- Different levels of joy
- The price of joy
- How does one follow his or her joy?
Different levels of joy
- Winning a chess game at the office
- Winning a lottery
- Holding your baby in your hands for the first time
Do the above three things give you the same level of happiness? The answer should be No.
Holding a baby for the first time is very close to a divine experience and is filled with immense joy and bliss that winning thousand chess games would not equal. Similarly, winning a lottery i.e. a good cash prize would also be generally more joyful than winning a chess game.
We understand that happiness or joy has several levels. We would be happy to leave a lower level of joy for the sake of attaining a higher level of joy. This is easily seen in all the struggle that students do to achieve good marks, the employees do to perform good, and the athletes do to come out at the top. We readily accept the struggle for we can appreciate the rewards of the struggle.
Similarly, there is joy, the highest form of joy, in connecting with our true selves. Rather, our true self is the fountain from which all joy flows. When we connect deeply with any aspect of our true essence i.e. any real virtue, we experience a very high level of joy. We experience these glimpses of joy when we fall in love, when we are kind to others, when we forgive others, when we care more about others than ourselves (selflessness) etc.
Now, it doesn’t matter what we do for a living, we can experience and express our true selves. To connect with our true selves, we don’t really need to be sitting in a posture or be at a specific place. We connect with our true self as soon as we express any of these virtues. The more and more we express them, the more and more we get closer to our true selves, and the more and more joy and peace we find in our lives.
But very few people around are filled with these virtues or in other words, are close to their true essence. A vast majority is running hither and tither in pursuit of happiness without an understanding where it actually lies. A major reason of the current condition is the lack of awareness. We don’t even know the path to happiness. We just accept the society’s model that
More the money, more the happiness
Even though, after achieving money, we realise that it doesn’t make us a lot happier but then, we think that this is the best possible state we can get in. We believe that this situation is the happiest we can experience. Or we believe that we’ll get happier once we have even more money. This mirage thus continues.
However, there exists a possibility of eternal and limitless joy but we are unaware of it. Rather, we discount it on the grounds of utopian impossibility. Also, we don’t even know the path to this eternal joy.
Given what we have understood from Gurbani, let’s first accept that there exists a state of endless and pure joy and that state is our natural or true state. In such a situation, all we need to do is just connect with our true self.
The price of joy
You do experience a glimpse of joy when you win an argument.
You do experience a glimpse of joy when you slap your competitor.
You do experience a glimpse of joy when you make fun of the other person.
You do experience a glimpse of joy when you lie and use the other person to your advantage.
You do experience a glimpse of joy when you are promoted even when it involved lying with peers and bootlicking the seniors.
These five and thousands other situations exist when we do experience a momentary joy. We all engage in these things. Why? Because they give us happiness. Isn’t it?
What about the price of these joys?
Are we paying up $100 of joy for every cent of joy? Are all these victories pyrrhic?
If we go by our true essence of love, compassion, kindness, truth, isn’t
- winning a heart better than winning an argument
- forgiving a person better than seeking vengeance
- loving another person better than hurting him
- helping the other person better than using the other person
- being truthful better than lying and bootlicking?
Aren’t we moving farther away from our true essence and thus, away from joy, when we pursue these temporary highs?
These drugs do give us high but the addiction to them has cost our life dearly. We have been rendered incapable to realise and enjoy the real joy. Incapable of enjoying our real self, we keep living in the darkness and thus, keep reverting to these temporary highs.
What is the way out?
How does one follow his or her joy?
The path of joy is the path back home to our true essence or God. Any moment, we decide to choose to express a virtue over a vice, we take a step towards joy. Any moment, we decide to choose to express a vice over a virtue, we take a step away from joy. The terrible condition of the world is a testament of the choices we have made in the past. We have been choosing vices over virtues in almost all aspects of our lives.
Now, in a given situation, how do we decide what is a virtue or what is better for us?
The below questions may help you make decisions:
Do you feel great doing it?
Would you love yourself more if you did it?
Would you appreciate someone else doing it?
If the answers are yes, then you should do it. Otherwise, you may want to do some other way.
Besides, there is an intuitive voice (which, in Hindi, we call “zameer ki awaaz”) in each one of us. This voice guides us at every moment. Bhai Vir Singh ji calls this voice “Hukam” in his explanation of Japji Sahib.
“So Long as we hear and obey the silent whisper of our Inner Soul, we will be out of reach of the clutches of the ‘Karmic Law’. This silent whisper, called conscience, warns us, within ourselves, against any digression of Divine Law, but we have become so obdurate that we fail to hear, catch or care for this sublime esoteric warning. Thus we sow the seeds of our sins, and reap the consequences of our depraved karmas. In fact our ‘conscience’ is the esoteric ‘Police’ to deter us from doing wrong deeds against the ‘Divine law of Karma’, but we ignore it to our detriment.”
We may choose to listen to this inner voice or ignore it. Every time we ignore it, we walk farther away from our true self. Every time we listen to it and follow it, we walk closer to our true self. True self is where our joy lies.
It is important to understand that following this voice will be gradual process. You may not change into a virtuous person overnight. It takes a lot of effort and commitment to always follow this inside voice – the voice that guides us to our joy. “Follow your joy” means following this voice. However, it is not easy. The journey is long. Don’t get disheartened. Keep walking as much as you can. The more you walk, the more visible effects you’ll start seeing in your life. Once you start seeing the results, the motivation to walk will only increase. Then, you’ll be in a virtuous circle. You’ll walk more -> You’ll see more visible positive effects -> You’ll walk even more.
Here, it may also help to understand that virtues also exist at different levels. For example: let’s say currently you respond to shouting by shouting.
At this stage, it will be virtuous for you to just keep silent.
Once you develop this ability to not respond to shouting of people, you may want to go to next stage where you’ll even try to calm the other person. You have not only subdued your anger but you don’t want the other person to suffer because of anger. Different level of virtues exist at this level depending on how much you do to calm the other person.
There may also come a stage where you’ll be completely unaffected by shouting of other people and continue to love them irrespective. At this stage, it will not be an effort for you to stay silent or calm down the other person, it will be very natural for you to empathise with the other person and feel love for the person who is suffering out of anger.
The inner voice guides you to higher and higher levels of virtues, one level at a time and thus, higher and higher levels of joy, peace, and bliss.
And achieving higher and higher states of joy, peace, and bliss is the purpose of life.