A Perspective on Purpose

Sundar Kadayam English 6 Comments

What is our purpose in life?

An existential question, along the lines of “Why are we here?” and others like that.

My earliest recollection of having questions like this, was when I was a teenager. Looking out at a world filled with inequities, poverty, illness, suffering and more, I remember these questions arising from the fiery insides of a teenager who could sense that this was not right.

Later in my journey, in the early stages of learning Reiki as a healing system, I was nearly sure that there was a purpose to everything, that everything happened for a reason, and that must also mean that we are here for a reason in the first place. This belief was reinforced by the flow of events and miracles in life.

Even until recently, say, a year ago, I had formed an opinion of what I thought my purpose was. I would be a healer, a teacher, a facilitator in people’s transformation from suffering to joy, an instrument of manifesting creative ideas for the well being of others and so on.

Somewhere in that process, this sense of purpose got co-opted by the “I”. It became key to the vision and the part of the grand plan of the “I” and its push to make this unfold. The sense of grandeur, the sense of making a difference, the sense of leaving a mark, the sense of being special, more special than others etc. these would ebb and flow. I can’t say that I noticed it and knew it to the be case, but looking back now, the “I” certainly had take over Project Purpose completely.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a family member, and we were touching on mortality, how we all come in with an expiry date but don’t know what that date is and so forth. In the course of the conversation, my relative made the point that he’d like to live longer because he didn’t know if he had lived to fulfill his purpose.

I hadn’t thought about “Purpose” for a long while, months at least. And the question arose in a very pregnant pause: “What is our purpose in life?”

Many amazing people have commented on this matter. Here are some juicy ideas that have stood out for me.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better. ~ Robert F. Kennedy

 The purpose of life is a life of purpose. ~ Robert Byrne

 The purpose of life is to live, learn, and love.”~ Christine Rice

 Why stay we on earth except to grow? ~ Robert Browning

 The purpose of our lives is to be happy. ~ The Dalai Lama

Too many people think that finding the reason God placed us here on earth will come in one assignment with a big title and complete job description. I believe that discovering our purpose will unfold slowly, like a seed planted deep in the ground. ~ Lysa TerKeurst

The purpose of life is to perfect love, and love is selfless action. Therefore, the purpose of life is to live in a state of fearless union. ~ RaSoul

And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak.God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.
“Certainly,” said man.
“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God. And He went away.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

So, what is the purpose of life? A quick scan of what we hear from these amazing people is this: Perfect love. Selfless action. Living purposefully. Grow. Make things better. Be happy. Be useful. Be Compassionate. Make a difference. Also, if this is not good enough? Make one up 🙂

Seriously though, can we not see Usui san’s precepts in all of that? As I see it, Usui san taught us not what our purpose is, but how to live purposefully, in the moment.

And this is what is increasingly resonating with me.

I now see “Purpose” not as much as a grand vision that “I” should strive to “achieve”.

Rather I see it as choiceful living in the moment. How so?

I’ve been using a simple guideline — that which makes my heart-center expand, is in keeping with my reason to be.

That way, rather than trying to map out some grand big plan about my life, or uncover one that already exists for me, I figured I’ll move that into small bite-size chunks, of noticing my heart-center and see if my experience in the moment is contracted or expanded.

If I’m feeling contracted, like it does when I get angry or fearful for instance, I know that I’ve chosen wrong in that moment, and can immediately make the change needed, to shift from contraction to expansion in the heart center.

That, I see as being choiceful in the moment.

By trying to simplify it to how I should be and choose to be in the moment, I feel like the burden of having to know my purpose has lightened (can’t say it has disappeared, but it has surely lightened).

In all humility, I have no idea if this is a better way or not, but it is certainly helping me pay attention to the detail in the moment, and not get caught up necessarily in far reaching plans as “I” used to get caught up even months ago.

What is your perspective on”Purpose”? What resonates with you about Usui san’s teachings in this regard?

Comments 6

  1. Another great post, Sundar! I agree that there are many ways that “I” sneaks into our lives, and one of the worst is when “I” am trying to do good. I’m sure that more harm has been done in the name of doing good than has been done in going all-out in overt selfishness. It’s one thing to overindulge in booze or watch movies with popcorn and chocolate every night, never giving a thought to the plight of others, and quite another to stone a couple for adultery (as just happened in Syria) or for religious conservatives under the lead of a total fanatic (later sainted for his actions) to kill every man, woman and child in a French city in the Middle Ages, knowing that some of them had untraditional thoughts and announcing, with total confidence, “Kill them all, God will know his own.” I’m sure both those stoning the couple to death and the “saint” ordering the murder of innocents thought they were doing good. We can certainly see what WE think they were doing. (Too bad Jesus wasn’t there in Syria with his lesson about throwing the first stone.) We do good by simply being, by merging with the All, and all of Usui Founder’s teachings attempt to get us to that point. As your evolution and your wonderful quotes make clear, what matters is getting yourself out of the way, no matter whether you’re trying to save the world or eat that super burger, and that’s where Usui Founder was (and is) trying to take us.

  2. Hi Sundar,

    Like you I also have thought about this question in different ways growing up – about suffering , what is GOD , who is this invisible force , why are we here etc. etc.

    I think as seekers we tend to come across this question many times but in different ways and forms . May be initially it is just we try to “improve” self , than try to “change” self. Than as the awareness slowly dawns in , may be one day we find nothing matters and everything is temporary. Still during the journey like you pointed out , “I’ start to come in place. As “I” wants to heal, help , change the world, bring joy in people’s life or anything else…

    I think it is not only human nature but also a “need”, especially for spiritual seekers.  We need to feel needed, useful or to be in position to be helpful etc. and during that process very easy to get carried away in thinking we are the “doer”.

    I think the question is- who is asking the “purpose of life” ? it is “me” who ask this question. As soon as “me” and “I” see the impermanence of things , this awareness also some times pull us down in this dilemma . Than we start to expect things from life or our practice – and it start to become almost a “greed” for us . A greed to be good, desirable, useful , kind , compassionate etc. etc.

    You asked what is your perspective on purpose ? – Just few days ago , in one of the difficult moments I felt useless, helpless and that moment felt I really don’t have any purpose in life and all hopes, desires start to vanish and than suddenly in same moment another thought came that I have the “duty” to live in this life and moment, best of my abilities as possible and I jumped back again. See , the need and want is there …no matter what it is…“me” and “I” still came….

    they( me and I) never really go. So , for me meaning of life is to become ONE with the present moment , so we no longer is asking what is the meaning and purpose of life , we just “live” in that moment. I think this way meaning is always apparent , always there..in present moment !.

    Frans wrote this new article – harmony with nature , when I read that again , found a relation with yours as well. If we look at the nature , everything flows, everything changes always , even if we don’t really see it. Here is Arizona , when I go to see Grand Canyon , I always get mesmerized with the metamorphosis in the rocks and mountains…everything changes , that’s their nature. I think this is how it is for us humans also. We go through changes , some times erosion, some times hammering , some times fungus grow on us etc. etc. and we try to resist that change ! , how can we do that? change is part of nature of environment and also man kind.. nothing different.

    What is the purpose of River , mountain ? I think the answer is same for them and also for us…and that is “becoming one with the moment of life through ourselves”. In this life , the life is expressing through our “physical body” ..and all we can do is align ourselves with our innate nature , opening our hearts , so may be we can finally be sync with what life is bringing on us and than no longer feel the resistance..and just be free with the ever change that is happening around us…all the time…and drop the burden to be “good” , “kind” helpful , useful…and stop identifying with it…

    Not sure if I am clear , but , in everything that I wrote above there is a “purpose” :)..

    the purpose is to “let go purpose” , so can live in the moment.

    I read this today on practicing zazen – “How can we go through this contradiction and continue to practise? It is like sitting on a cushion while trying to take away the cushion on which we are sitting. ” by Shohaku Okumura.  I think our situation is some thing like this :).

  3. Hi Seema! What a thought-provoking comment, so full of experience for the rest of us to work with. And I really loved the Okumura quote. I could just picture it, trying to drag the cushion out from under ourselves! Thank you.

  4. Elly, Thanks for sharing those comments.  As you point out, much bad has come from the guise of doing good – fanatic following of religions, ideologies etc. are often the drivers.  Since so many of us lack clarity on profound ideas like “Purpose”, it is so easy to be swayed into following groups where we find a safe home for our fears, prejudices and such.  As you share, history is full of awful things having emerged from it.  And yet, the wise that have come before and those still among us always seems to point to ideas of love, compassion, and so forth as the fundamental reason to be.  This quote attributed to Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in this world” always rings true for me.  In the midst of chaos and trouble, what can one person do?  What can they hold as a clear purpose?  I guess we can start with learning to BE, in the moment, and let clarity flow from that space of silence.  Usui san’s teachings do provide the framework to be able to practice learning to BE.

    Seema, thank you for sharing those insights.  “Become one with the present moment” – that is a nice way to express the idea of living mindfully, purposefully.  A common challenge for the aspirant, practitioner, seeker is that we try to find answers that satisfy our intellectual curiosity or demands, and in turn, we have to encounter the world of more words and concepts.  But as you say, the contradiction of our journey as seekers is that it is when we can “drop the burden to be “good” , “kind” helpful , useful…and stop identifying with it”, that we can truly experience the truth beyond concepts, and satisfy that thirst that cannot be satiated by deeper indulgence in the web of concepts!  I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts about “Purpose”.

  5. Thank you for your writing Sundar!  I will have to remember to read your posts more often! Beautiful!  And it makes me think of an essay by Omid Safi, a Muslim writer, I read a few days ago.  The quote below is from that essay; here’s the link to the full essay:  http://www.onbeing.org/blog/have-your-heart-be-where-your-feet-are/6930
    “One of the teachings of the Prophet with regards to these questions was this profoundly simple advice:
    Have your heart
    be
    Where your feet
    are.”

    And Seema, what you wrote reminds me of something I read in an essay by Sufi Elias Amidon, “Open Heart,” in “Desert Call,” a journal by the Spiritual Life Institute.  I referrred to this quote in another post, “Open me Lord and let me flow.”  Here are some additional thoughts on this quoted from that same article.

    “What is the ‘me’ that is opened ad that flows? When the me opens, is it any longer a me? When the me flows, what flows?

    Here is the heart of this everyday practice.  This is where it changes from words and good advice to in-your-face truth.  Here we have to stop thinking, and look for ourselves. What ‘me’ opens? 

    When we look, we don’t find anything!  There is simply open, clear perception, immediate and naturally spontaneous.

    Sabkar Lama, a 19th century mystic-minstrel of the Tibetan plateau, speaks beautifully to this same question, What me opens?  ‘Do not look at the vision but look for the viewer. Looking for the viewer, if you fail to find him then your vision is at the point of resolution. This vision is which there is nothing at all to see but which is not a blank nothingness, is vivid and unalloyed perception of the here and now.’ ”

  6. Hi Elly, isn’t that a great quote :), I laughed when I read that , like you was trying to see myself pulling the cushion :-))

    thanks Sundar , your article came at the right time in my life , these subtle yet powerful reminders some times bring our focus back to our path..

    Debroah , thanks for sharing all the lovely quotes you have posted in this and other thread as well. I love sufi poetry myself , part from Rumi I also like Iqbal , he has written some powerful poetry and prose on nature and elements..

    I think opening heart is very powerful experience , we break , expand and build and transform at same time…and I think there is no limit to that :). Thank you for all your lovely writings .

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