The True Purpose of Human Existence

by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda) (excerpted from a talk about Ananda’s founding)

The real purpose of our lives here on earth is not what we accomplish outwardly, but what we accomplish within ourselves. We can build empires, but if in the process all we have done is conquer territories and build monuments, it will all soon crumble into dust. The deeper purpose of human life is to understand our relationship to a broader reality than our own. This is made difficult because we’re so used to living in our little egos. We look at our hand and think, “This is my hand.” Do we realize that it’s made up of molecules that were once in the rocks and soil? That long ago the molecules in our hand may have been in some distant galaxy, or even in some earlier universe that exploded and dissolved in a Night of Brahma? These molecules may then have ultimately recondensed from star gases to become a part of this planet, which our human body absorbed in the form of food. For a little while these molecules compose our hand, and then they will be something entirely different. We look at ourselves in the mirror, and think with such concern, “Oh dear, another gray hair here. Another wrinkle there.” But life goes on, and it all changes.

Through all of these outward changes, however, we can remain unchanged at the heart of everything. We can be like that power of calmness at the heart of the storm, or in the great depths of the ocean. No matter how strong the tempest is, no matter how the waves crash, we can be untouched in our deep essence. It depends where we place our consciousness. If we live on the surface of our beings, we will feel the storms, but if we dive deep to our center, we are untouched.

Our purpose in life is to reach that level within where we can look out at the universe and see ourselves reflected everywhere. We then see ourselves not only as this ego, but as part of one great life of which we, too, are but an example. We have been born into this world to expand our consciousness, expand it beyond the moment, beyond the ego, beyond the body, beyond the activities of this one lifetime. We must expand it outward, and realize as Jesus did: “I and my Father are One.”

As long as we are living in this world, we should try to do good, to serve God. This means to bring God outwardly into our lives and into the lives of others. We want to do a Godly thing. If we have to be active, why not act in harmony and love? Why not show people an example of how richly rewarding it is to live in joy instead of sorrow, in love instead of hatred, in peace instead of disharmony?

Ananda as a Living Laboratory

Our goal in starting Ananda was to offer people everywhere the opportunity to share spiritual ideals with others. We speak of the community as a living laboratory because it gives people the chance to test their beliefs. So often people are told to behave in a certain way because the Bible or the Gita or some authority says so, but very few people have understood the reason for an action from within.

I read recently that some people would rather speak in terms of “The Ten Suggestions” instead of The Ten Commandments. This is perfectly in keeping with modern psychology, and yet neither “suggestions” nor “commandments” really work. It might be well to say “The Ten Guidelines” because if you try to live them, you will see for yourself that they work. Then you will have faith in their value, and won’t have to be convinced by anyone. If you live with humility, with loyalty, with truth, with a serviceful attitude, you’ll discover a great expansion of your own joy. If you live in all the good ways that are taught in the Scriptures, you’ll find yourself growing towards what you want to be. Then you’ll find that these were “commandments” only in the sense of, “Try it and see — this joy you feel is what you really are.”

If you are living untruthfully, you are living against your own nature. If you are living unkindly, you are hurting your own self. To live a spiritual life is the most practical thing in the world. The more you understand this principle, the more you understand there isn’t anything heroic about it. Once you know the best way to find happiness is to share it with others, then where’s the self-sacrifice in service? We haven’t done anything heroic — we just know where our real happiness lies.

At the Ananda community it’s been a wonderful opportunity to have the chance to see the varying degrees that people are able to apply these teachings — and the results. It isn’t as though everybody who comes to Ananda is a saint. Sometimes people come with a lot of doubt about the spiritual path. Different ones, according to their own nature, their own talent, their own faith, their own devotion, will apply these spiritual principles on different levels. After twenty years and seeing hundreds and hundreds of people, we can very clearly say from experience that practicing the truths of the Scriptures does work. Those who were able to serve God and others whole-heartedly are the most self-fulfilled. Those who have most resisted these principles are the ones who have had the most trouble in their personal lives.

Universal Truths Apply to All

These truths are applicable to people everywhere. One of the good things that came out of World War II has been the real examples of people in concentration camps who didn’t think only of their own survival and suffering, but who thought, “How can I help others here? How can I live for others? How can I keep my dignity as a human being and as a child of God?” Those who were able to rise to that level became great people. You don’t become great by drifting into it. You become great by meeting the challenges of life with faith, by taking everything that comes, difficult as well as easy, with a positive attitude and doing it all for a higher ideal.

That’s why we were born on this planet — not to build a beautiful country, or beautiful homes for ourselves, not to improve our freeway system. All these things that people are so busy doing will be forgotten in a few years. In a few centuries no one will ever know that they existed.

We are here for who knows how many years. Recently I had to have an operation and the thought occurred to me that people can die under the scalpel. As I went into the surgery I thought that I have to give it all to God, and say, “Fine, I don’t care.” I came out of that operation feeling so joyful. But whether I was in this body or on the other side, it wouldn’t have mattered. We’re here for a day, a year, a decade, another fifty years, but it’s all like a minute.

We live here in this world for lifetimes, and we get so involved in starting communities, raising our families, writing our books, and doing so many things that seem so important. If you go into the world and ask people, you won’t find anyone that doesn’t think that what they are doing is important. But what does it all matter in the end if it doesn’t bring us to God? It’s all a dream — when we wake up from this dream and look back, we’ll see that it lasted for just a few moments.

What we can do while we’re here is to awaken from the dream and expand our identity, expand our consciousness. We can realize that we are one with the great ocean of life, that we are one with God and with the God in everyone. The more we do, the more we will fulfill the only purpose for which we have been born. St. Augustine said, “Father, Thou has made us for Thyself alone, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” You have no other duty in life except to find God. If Ananda can be of any service in this goal, service to the people who come here, service to the people around the world who are helped by it, then we will feel that we have fulfilled our entire function.