World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Chapter 3: The Purpose Of Life For The Individual

1. Joy and Happiness
2. For God's Good Pleasure
3. Image of God and Temple of God
4. Inborn Goodness and Conscience
5. Original Mind, No Mind
6. Perfection
7. True Love

The purpose of human life is an ideal which transcends the mundane goals of human existence, for it is based upon the vision of God or Ultimate Reality. The beatific vision, divine joy, and uniting with the divine will or divine nature are some of the ways in which this purpose is expressed. At the same time, since the human being is grounded in this Ultimate, the purpose of life coheres with the essential nature of human beings. The highest and best of human values--love, truth, beauty, goodness, joy, and happiness--are aspirations grounded in the original human nature. Therefore, the purpose of life may also be conceived as the realization of what is most essentially human. That is, true human beings manifest the Ultimate in themselves, through manifesting the perfections of purity, wisdom, impartiality, integrity, and compassion in their own lives. The fulfillment of humanity is also the sanctification of humanity.

The first section in this chapter describes the purpose of life as the desire of all people for happiness and especially inner satisfaction. The beatific vision, divine bliss, Nirvana, and the joys of heaven are incomparably more desirable than the joy that comes with the satisfaction of mundane desires. In the second section, we turn to the purpose of life as determined from its divine source. Especially in monotheistic religions where God is the Creator and humans are creatures, the purpose for human life flows from the purpose for God's creating. We may speak of the purpose to do God's will, to glorify and return joy to Him.

In the next three sections the purpose of life is considered from the point of view of the intrinsic nature of the human person. The third section gathers passages on the human being as the image of God or the dwelling place of God. The fourth section discusses humanity's intrinsic goodness: the innocence of a child and the inner compass that is the conscience. The fifth section gathers passages on the original mind, the true Self or Buddha Nature; its realization is the goal of the spiritual life. This most essential Self is far from the ordinary egoistic meaning of the self: free of conceptualizations, desires, or egoistic grasping, it may also be characterized as without self or No-mind.

Finally, we turn to the purpose of life understood as the realization of the divine perfections. The sixth section expresses the ideal for human existence as a state of holiness, perfection, or sanctification. The person who attains such a stage of maturity knows at all times an abiding unity with the Absolute. He is unaffected by self-centered desires and unmoved by praise or blame from others; his mind is absolutely unified and clear. The final section describes the perfection of human existence as revealed in the person who has deep love and compassion for others. The saint is known for his overflowing love, which has its source in the divine ground of his existence.

The purposes of human life encompass the human being not only as an individual, but also as a social being and as a participant in the web of all life. We find identity, meaning, and fulfillment in relationships of family and community. Thus religions define correct social roles and promote the ideals of social harmony, justice, and peace. Furthermore, human beings have a purpose in relation to nature. We must protect and enhance our environment while at the same time cultivating it and harvesting its riches. Finally, human beings have an ultimate destiny, sometimes expressed in terms of personal immortality and sometimes as a final merging with the Absolute. These additional dimensions of human life and its purposes will be treated in subsequent chapters.


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