Q.345 – The Purpose of Life, part 2

Go to Ramesam’s answer to this question

Part 2 – Peter’s answer to this question

 Q345: What is the purpose of life?

 If, as stated in Advaita, we are actually in a state of sat-chit-Ananda and we are actually this ‘Self’ already, why have these ‘illusions’ and this ‘ignorance’?

 How can we believe in lila? What could be its purpose? There is no convincing answer – I am sure you will concur.

This then raises my more fundamental query. This ‘Self’ on which reams have been written – what is the proof that such a ’Self’ exists?

 The root problem is that in the end, even Advaitic teachings finally rely on ‘blind faith’ to put their point across. There’s nothing wrong in having faith. All religions ask for blind belief in the almighty to get you your promised ‘Kingdom of God’. It’s only in Advaita that folks try to push their case by saying: “No, it’s not pure faith, it’s by reason and discourse that we reach the truth etc”.

 To quote Gaudapada in his Mandukya Upanishad kArikA, “That which is stated in the scriptures ‘and is supported by reason’ is true  and nothing else”. The ‘reason/discourse’ argument for following Advaita is pure bunkum, in my opinion. It relies on blind faith not on a deity, but in an obscure ‘Self’.

 And even if reality is non-dual, why this seeming duality? Why does this mithyA of life exist?

A (Peter’s first response in Jan 2012): I have every sympathy with the original questions which, if I understand them correctly, are:
. What is the purpose of life?
. Do we need to take it on faith that there is something called non-dual Brahman (Self) that becomes variegated and multiple?
. And I am that?

Starting to answer the first of these first:

Common observation will show that the purpose of everyone’s life is to end one’s nagging sense of insecurity and smallness and to be happy. To this end most of us work hard to surround ourselves with ‘stuff’ that will protect us from the world and people who could make our lives uncomfortable. The things we usually choose to employ for this end are name, fame, wealth, knowledge, skills, family, power, friends, etc.

Some add a pessimistic twist by claiming that ‘life’s a dog and then you die’ but… just in case there really is an afterlife, a heaven and a hell, the security and happiness that I seek will only be delivered in heaven; so I should live a good, ethical, moral life to ensure that I end up where I will escape pain. This new purpose – living a life of values – also gets added to some people’s daily activities. And, of course, because all these efforts are exhausting, we take holidays and diversions in the form of ‘drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll’ – the short cut to happiness (albeit temporary).

What becomes lost, however, is the real purpose: we forget that we’ve taken the means to be the end. We take the acquisition of wealth to be the purpose and forget that we wanted the happiness that we believe that wealth can deliver. That happiness the true purpose that drives 99.9% of human lives: and not just fleeting happiness, but we want to be happy all of the time, in all situations, with all people. And it is a choiceless, universal purpose: everyone chases it, even if they don’t realise that they do. Ask any sane person if they prefer to be happy or be miserable to validate this…

At some stage, however, people who pursue the life behind the fortress of wealth, name, fame, etc – boosted by techno music and ecstasy – find that the nagging sense of insecurity and unhappiness does not disappear despite the thickness of such ‘insulating’ walls. Most re-double their efforts or intensify their prayers. Some, if they’re lucky, start to examine the nature of the insecurity and ask: am I really insecure? Is this my nature? If it is my nature then is there anything I can do to ever change it, because the definition of the true nature of a thing is that which never changes? And, if it is my basic nature, why do I hate the feeling of misery so much and why do I love the feeling and relax when I’m not unhappy? Do I really accept that ‘life’s a dog and then you die’, because if I really accepted misery to be how things are then I would not struggle so hard to banish it? Is it possible that happiness is my true nature because I never want that feeling to change?

Then, if they’re really lucky, the person stumbles upon a teaching that says: Yes, Ananda, happiness, is your true nature. And there’s a way to live in this everyday world – naturally, and free from the mistaken notion that ‘I am small and insecure’. All that’s required is stop holding the false notion of who you are…

This changes the way of life: security and happiness continues to be pursued, in conformity with dharma, but now in order to discover the truth of who one is. But NOTE the purpose, essentially, remains unchanged: basically to be happy all of the time, in all situations, with all people. The only thing that has changed is the means. Self-knowledge becomes the means – it is the means only, and not the end. Limitless happiness is the end. (It just so happens that self-knowledge and limitless happiness happen to be the same thing).

Hopefully this answer (at least about purpose if not yet about means) accords with experience. The next question now becomes: Why, if pure, unalloyed happiness is my true nature, do I not know it?

Short answer: because the nature of the move from the unmanifest, undifferentiated condition of the subtlest matter called mAyA or prakRRiti to the perceptible matter of the universe takes place in two steps:

  1. The truth of the fundamental nature is covered
  2. A personal universe is projected upon that covered truth.

In the snake-rope analogy this is explained as follows: In the semi-dark room, first the nature of the rope is covered and then the snake is projected on top of it. If there was no ignorance of the rope as rope then the mistake is not possible. Only a snake and not an elephant can be projected becase of shared characteristics of appearance. If the room was totally dark there would be no mistake either – you wouldn’t even see the rope. If the room was totally lit there would be no mistake – you’d see the rope for what it is. Only in semi-darkness – partial light – is the mistake made.

In the man-stump analogy: first the tree stump in the dark wood is not seen for what it is and then imagination projects a sinister figure upon it. Or a benign figure, if you prefer. The fact, however, remains that the true nature of the thing is first covered by ignorance and then unreality projected upon it.

The question ‘Why?’ is simply answered: Because that is the nature of matter – it cannot unfold in any other way. If the question ‘Why?’ is replaced by ‘How?’ then the answer is much longer and needs an explanation of the nature of mAyA and guNas and how they end up as subtle and gross bodies and things. It will take a lot of trawling the internet and still not much satisfaction will be found.

The only way is to trust that a qualified teacher and shastra can point out the truth – find that sort of teacher and work with them. Then, reflect on what is learned using logic and reason. Ultimately, however, the answer to ‘why’ and ‘how’ will be found to be irrelevant in the same way as answers to the nature of the snake and the method of its entry to the room become redundant on discovering that it is nothing but a rope after all!

The next sort of objection seems to be: prove to me that there is something called the Self and only then I will make efforts to ‘realise’ it.

This mistakes the nature of self-knowledge. If someone can prove it – and you understand the proof – then the very answer is the end of the search. This is not like human knowledge where several pieces of circumstantial evidence and verbal testimony is required to convince one that, for example, there is a beautiful valley 10 miles North of Badrinath and then one makes the trek to confirm this with one’s own eyes.

Vedanta isn’t interested in ‘conversion’. If you are happy with your life stick with it. If another concept ends your existential pain then go for it. But no amount of reciting the name of the medicine will cure the illness. You have to trust the doctor and swallow it. This is not blind faith, this is reasonable. If it doesn’t work, go back and complain. But if you don’t take the medicine you cannot reasonably claim that it is ineffective. Shraddha is not blind faith, it is the suspension of judgement pending confirmation.

A (Peter’s second response in Jun 2013, having forgotten about making the first response!):

What is the purpose of life?

If, as stated in Advaita, we are actually in a state of sat-chit-Ananda and we are actually this ‘Self’ already, why have these ‘illusions’ and this ‘ignorance’?

First: sat-cit-ānanda is not a state: these terms imply Reality at the individual level in terms of its intrinsic nature. Secondly: asking why consciousness is manifest in a countless variety of forms is like asking why gold is manifest in innumerable varieties of jewels and ornaments, etc. Why not? Or why water appears as countless waves as well as steam and ice and rain and snow: that is the nature of water that lawfully supports the variety according to time and place. Or knowing the limits of the body, why do you identify yourself with the person who can fly in dream? ‘Why’ questions are not always useful. But, as you ask, the answer is that ignorance is the root cause of creation. If there was no ignorance there would be no experience of variety and thus no play.

How can we believe in lila? What could be its purpose? There is no convincing answer – I am sure you will concur.

Play, by its very nature, is not result oriented like work. So there is no purpose. Ask a child why he or she plays or why they see a universe in a cardboard box. If there was no variety there would be boredom and staleness: enjoy the play, enjoy the change of routine, enjoy the unpredictable, enjoy the ability to invent, to create, to imagine. I hope you find this answer convincing.

This then raises my more fundamental query. This ‘Self’ on which reams have been written – what is the proof that such a ’Self’ exists?

What an odd question: do you really deny that you exist, that you have a self? And, if you are asking for proof that the ‘Self’ is other than what you take yourself to be – an amalgam of bones, flesh, marrow and fat, encasing a mind – then you might need to entertain the possibility that self-study, as you obviously do, is incapable of delivering the answers; so you might want to consider finding a qualified teacher to unlock the subtlety of the scriptures.

 The root problem is that in the end, even Advaitic teachings finally rely on ‘blind faith’ to put their point across. There’s nothing wrong in having faith. All religions ask for blind belief in the almighty to get you your promised ‘Kingdom of God’. It’s only in Advaita that folks try to push their case by saying: “No, it’s not pure faith, it’s by reason and discourse that we reach the truth etc”.

If you have never had a qualified teacher, if your position is arrived at by self-study, how can you dismiss the teaching? Maybe it is not a matter of Advaita ‘folks’ trying to push anything, but instead an inability to follow the reasoning. It takes a subtle, refined mind to follow the argument. The highest type of discussion, vāda, is where both parties are interested in the truth of the subject under discussion and are prepared to surrender their own position for a better idea. Alternatively we have a wrangling argument with winner and loser where the aim is to defeat the opponent’s idea with your own (jalpa). Or there’s a pointless argument (vitaṇḍa) where you just knock the other without anything of your own to propose. These latter two are really not fruitful to the serious seeker. Searching for the non-dual cause is not restricted to Advaita ‘folks’: even science looks for the singularity behind the material cosmos. Advaita Vedānta never promises the kingdom of god as that would still be duality. Maybe you can suggest a more powerful explanation of how things are: or maybe you are not sufficiently interested in what happens after your body drops. Nor are you seriously interested in getting to the truth of the matter: if you are, then state your position instead of merely knocking others.

To quote Gaudapada in his Mandukya Upanishad kArikA, “That which is stated in the scriptures ‘and is supported by reason’ is true  and nothing else”. The ‘reason/discourse’ argument for following Advaita is pure bunkum, in my opinion. It relies on blind faith not on a deity, but in an obscure ‘Self’.

I suggest that there are two sides to this matter. Instead of Gaudapada and other advaitins being hypocrites that are so immature as to swallow the ‘bunkum’ of the Upaniṣads hook line and sinker, maybe it is your understanding that is incapable of rising to the argument. Instead of merely dismissing the arguments in the manner of vitaṇḍa, maybe it would be more helpful to put up your own views about what’s what. What, in your view, is the nature of the universe? How did it come into being? What is the essence of the individual? Are there universal laws? Or do you believe that all this is just a happy coincidence?

And even if reality is non-dual, why this seeming duality? Why does this mithyA of life exist?

Why not? What do you understand mithyā to be that you believe that the non-dual reality cannot accommodate it?

Go to Meenakshi’s answer to this question

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