The Meaning of Life

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The Meaning of Life

When One inquires deeply into life one finds that what all souls seek is to know the meaning of life. The scientist looks and searches for it in the realm of science and the artist finds it in his art. Whatever different interests people may have, their only real inclination is to find the meaning of life. This shows that it is the nature of the soul and that the soul has come here for this purpose, that it may realize and understand the meaning of life. Thus in either a material or a spiritual way every soul is striving for what it longs for all the time, each in its own particular way.

 

One can see this in the behavior of an infant. The desire of an infant to look at a thing, to tear it to pieces and see what is inside it, shows that it is the soul’s desire to look into life, to understand life. No doubt the effect and the influence of life on earth are intoxicating. And through this intoxication man becomes so absorbed in himself and his own interests that he so to speak loses the way, the way which is inborn in him. Not only in man, but even in the lower creation one finds the same attitude. In animals, in birds, the deepest desire is not looking for food or seeking for a comfortable nest. The deepest tendency is the wish to understand the nature of life. And this tendency culminates in man. A child will continually ask his parents, ‘What does this mean?’ and this shows a continual longing to know the meaning of life, a longing which continues all through life.

 

What does this teach us? It teaches us the principle that the source and goal of the universe are one and the same, and that the Creator created it all in order to know His own creation. But how does the Creator see and understand His creation? Not only in its highest and deepest aspect, but also through every thing and every being He is continually knowing and understanding His creation. For instance if a person should ask, ‘What is art? Is it not made by man?’ I would answer, ‘Yes, but made by God also, through man.’ And if that is so, then what is this whole mechanism of the universe doing? It is working. Working for what purpose? Working for the understanding of itself.

 

And what is this mechanism of the world. Is it living or is it dead? All that we call living is living, and all that we call dead is living too. It is for our convenience that we say ‘thing’ and ‘being.’ In reality there are no things. They are all beings. It is simply a gradual awakening from the witnessing aspect to the recognizing aspect. And no science, however material, will deny the truth of this. For the truth is to be realized from all things, from religion, from philosophy, from science, from art, from industry. The only difference is that one takes a shorter way and the other takes a longer way. One goes round about and the other takes a straight path. There is no difference in the destination; the only difference is in the journey, whether one goes on foot or whether one drives, whether one is awake or whether one is asleep and is taken blindly to the destination, not knowing the beauties of the way.

 

Destiny may be divided into two parts. One is the mechanism that activates the destiny, and the other part is the soul which realizes this. Therefore the mechanism is the machine and the soul within it is the engineer who is there to work this mechanism and to produce by it what is to be produced. There are many methods and ways which man adopts in order to know and understand. And the mind is the vehicle, the tool, by the help of which he experiences life in the accomplishment of this purpose. In Sanskrit the mind is called Mana, from which the English word man is derived. And that means that man is his mind, not his body.

 

According to the readiness of its tool, the soul experiences and knows life. It is the condition of the mind which enables the soul to see life clearly. The mind can be likened to water. When the water is troubled there is no reflection to be seen. When the water is clear then it shows the reflection. But in the pursuit of material gain, which is what he values most, man has become absorbed in that kind of life and has lost the benefit of life. As it is said in the Bible, ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’

 

When, as at the present time, one defines civilization as commercial or industrial progress, that becomes the ideal of every soul. And it becomes difficult for a soul to retain tranquility in order to accomplish that purpose for which the soul was born. I do not mean by this that industrial or commercial development is not necessary for the life of man. Not at all, as long as it does not ruin or hinder the life’s purpose for which man was born. Otherwise in spite of all his progress he will have wasted his life, he will not have attained the purpose for which he was born.

 

There are superstitions in the East, and also in the West, that animals such as horses, dogs, cats, and birds, give warning when a person is about to fall ill or die, and many have found that there is some truth in these superstitions. Why is it then that man does not understand and perceive life as the animals do? The answer is that the animals live a more natural life. They are nearer to nature than man, who is absorbed in his artificial life.

 

So many of the things one thinks about and does and says are far from what is true, from what is natural. The more one can be at one with nature and at one with the deeper life, the more one realizes that what man does is to act continually against reality, not only when he does wrong or evil but even when he is doing good. If the animals can know this, man is even more capable of knowing it. And it is this knowledge alone which is the satisfaction of his life, not all the external things. As it is said in the Bible, ‘The spirit quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.’

 

Where is man’s wealth? It is in his knowledge. If his wealth is only in the bank and not in his knowledge he does not really possess it. It is in the bank. All desirable and great things, values and titles, position and possession, where are they? Outside? No, because outside is only that which one knows by the knowledge one has within. Therefore the real possession is not without but within. It is the self within, it is the heart which must be developed, the heart which must be in its natural rhythm and at its proper pitch. When it is tuned to its natural rhythm and pitch, then it can accomplish the purpose for which it is made.

There are five different ways by which the knowledge of life is perceived. One way is known to many of us, though to woman perhaps more than to man, and that is impression. Very often we come into a house or we meet a person, and before we have spoken to that person we get a kind of impression, either pleasant or unpleasant, a certain knowledge of that person’s being. Sometimes at the sight of a person we feel like saying, ‘Keep away’. Sometimes at the first glance we feel drawn to a person without knowing the reason. The mind does not know, but the soul does. It is not only that one gets an impression of a person one meets, but if one is sensitive to impressions one can also feel the impression of a letter that comes to one from a stranger. Many say that they can tell someone’s character by physiognomy or phrenology, but if they have not the sense of impression in their heart, even if they were to read a thousand books on physiognomy or phrenology they would never get the true impression. What does this show? It shows that true knowledge, from beginning to end, does not belong to the material realm.

 

There is another way, and that is the intuitive way, by which one knows before one does something whether it will be a success or a failure. The more intuitive people feel this before doing or undertaking anything.

 

But then there is a third way, and that is the dream or the vision. Some will say that dreams have a meaning, while others hold that there is no meaning in a dream. But in point of fact there is nothing in this world which has no meaning. There is no situation, no action, no word that has not its meaning. All that is done with intention and all that is done without intention has a meaning behind it, if one can only understand it.

 

The reason why one should see more clearly in a dream than when awake is that when a person is in a dream his mind is naturally concentrated. For when man is in his waking state all that is perceived through his senses calls his attention at every moment. No doubt the impression or intuition of a true dream is not manifested to every soul, and it is manifested to one soul more than to another. Neither does everyone live always in the rhythm in which he can receive impressions and intuitions. At different times his impression differs, and in accordance with his evolution he is able to experience the knowledge of life. The more evolved he is spiritually the more naturally he receives the knowledge of life from within.

The fourth way in which one can receive the knowledge of life is by what may be called inspiration. It may come to an artist, to a musician or to a poet. At the time when it comes he can write or compose or do something that he will afterwards be surprised at, and he will wonder if he really did it himself, or if it was done by someone else. If it had not been for inspiration that same poet might have striven for months on end and not have been able to write the verse which he then wrote in a few minutes. What is the explanation of it? Is it by the development of his mind that a man receives inspiration? No, it is by the receiving quality of his mind, by the purity of his mind, his absorption in his art, the direction to which he has devoted his life. One might ask what would be the best way for an artist to receive inspiration: by waiting, by praying, or by continuing to work till inspiration comes? He should do all three together: wait for inspiration while working, and pray to God while waiting.

Where have the great souls whose inspirational works have become immortal, got them from? They have got them from inspiration. And how did they get this? They got it by forgetting themselves, by being absorbed in the object of their love. That is the meaning of sacrifice, sacrificing to the beauty of the ideal. One has to place the ideal before one, that is the way to get inspiration.

 

Souls get inspiration from outer life or from another person. In all names and forms there is a source of inspiration, if one only knew how to tap it. In point of fact, whether inspiration is received from outside or from within, it all comes from God. The only difference is that when it comes from within it is more direct. But the first step is to receive it from the outside.

All those who begin to receive inspiration receive it first from outer life. Man is created in such a way that he first looks outward. And then, when he is disappointed, when he cannot find all he wants in the outer life, he turns within. He wants to see if he can find it in the inner life, and thus he becomes connected with the source of inspiration, which is the Spirit of Guidance. And he who has once found the Spirit of Guidance will always be able to find it again if he keeps close to it. But when he goes astray, when the way of his life takes another direction, then he wanders away from the Spirit of Guidance.

 

And with still another step further there comes the realization which may be called revelation. When the soul is tuned to that state then the eyes and the ears of the heart are open to see and hear the word that comes from all sides. In point of fact every atom of this world, either in heaven or earth, speaks, and speaks aloud. It is the deaf ears of the heart and the closed eyes of the soul which prevent man from seeing and hearing it. There is a verse of a Hindustani poet which says, ‘O self, it is not the fault of the divine Beloved that you do not see Him, that you do not hear Him. He is continually before you and He is continually speaking to you. If you do not hear it and if you do not see it, it is your own fault.’

 

It is for this purpose that every soul has been created and it is in the fulfillment of this that man fulfills the object of God. When the spark that is to be found in every heart, the spark that may be called the divine spark in man, is blown upon and the flame arises, the whole life becomes illuminated and man hears and sees and knows, and he understands. A Sufi poet says that every leaf of the tree becomes like a page of the sacred book, when the heart is open to read it and when the soul has opened its eyes.

Inyat Khan

3 Comments

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  2. Laurie says:

    Thanks for the read, as the second half of the Superbowl is my background noise.

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