Monday, 1 September 2014

Life's Purpose?

Once, in a time when there were heroes and these things happened, there was a growing boy, on the threshold of manhood. He was noble and full of energy and enthusiasm, ready to take on life as an adventure with its triumphs and difficulties, facing its challenges and fears. He was also very sincere in his desire to understand the nature of his calling and purpose, so his life would be put to good use. He thought about this for some time, then came to call on God, whom he saw as a friend and whose presence and guidance he never doubted.

God hears his call and responds to his sincerity. "Yes my son", he says, "How can I help you?" The young man explains his desire to understand his dharma, to set the course of his life correctly. God says to him, "That’s good, come with me", and he takes him to a very high place looking down between the clouds as it were. The young man sees a vast ocean with a beautiful ship sailing on it. God says, "There you are." The young man understands immediately and becomes very excited and can't wait to set off on his life's adventure. God sees his hurry and says, "There's something you should understand." But the young man is very impatient, so God says, "Well, remember whatever happens, always have faith." The young man says, "Yeah yeah" and is just too eager to get on with it. God smiles. The young man quickly makes his way to the ship. 

It's a beautiful ship and quickly he develops a love for everything about it. From the lowliest position he learns and masters everything and in the course of time through the development of courage, skill, intelligence and leadership he becomes the captain of his ship and earns the respect of his crew. And eventually his name is well-known on the seven seas.

In his life as a master mariner he has many adventures - of discovery, of battle and peace, of storms and calm, of long voyages and rewards in sheltered ports. Everything in a life on the sea he has experienced. 

One day he is standing on the deck watching the sun set, his face showing the experience of many years of adventure, and he is reflecting how life has been good to him, how he has followed his star so to speak. He hears and sees and knows everything about his ship and he feels well satisfied and is glad to have put his faith in God who has supported and sustained him. 

That night, seemingly out of nowhere, a most terrible storm blows up. The captain and the crew use every skill they know, but the storm utterly lays waste and destroys the ship. The captain survives. But clinging to the wreckage he hardly cares because he is so disillusioned and angry. In the storm he is yelling and screaming at God, "How could this happen? You told me to have faith in you. I did, and look what happened." God has been watching all the while, hears his call and says, "I told you to have faith." The captain is almost speechless, but says, "I did, you know I did, how could you do this, how could you let me down?" God replies, "Well, I had to do that.'' The captain is utterly bewildered. God smiles with great love and affection and says, "I tried to explain but you had made your choice. When I said, 'There you are', I didn't mean the ship, I meant the ocean."

Though there is individuality with dreams to achieve and obligations to fulfil, there should also be an awareness of the ultimate purpose of life: to know one's true nature. Become the master mariner but never lose sight of the aim through the means. When the time is right it will all be left behind. 

There are a few thoughts to consider within the story itself. But also consider these unasked questions:

  1. The god he spoke to was going to tell the young man that he was not the ship but the ocean, but the young man's impatience wouldn't allow it. Even if he had heard it, would he have listened?
  2. Suppose at some stage a 'wise man' on the ship had told him he was not the ship but the ocean, how would he have reacted then? Early in life, later in life? How would we react?
  3. If there is no previous knowledge at all, no friendly intervention that tries to enlighten us, how then do we react when the storm hits?

Lack of knowledge and understanding, or having the knowledge and not acting accordingly, is what the yogis call avidya, ignorance.

Yoga, meditation, is to realize the nature of avidya by confronting it squarely with unblinking eye, seeing it for what it is. Only then can the nature of wisdom, the truth behind the appearance, be seen for what it is.

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