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Here is the purpose of life || Acharya Prashant, with Delhi University (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
7 min
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Questioner (Q): I am studying philosophy at Hansraj College, and I have read that Hegel’s philosophy was that mankind has been increasing its power by increasing its knowledge about itself and its surroundings. This kind of a philosophy might suggest that our projected purpose is to become the most powerful or knowledgeable being possible. So, why is it that, according to spirituality, the purpose of life is liberation? Why can’t knowledge or power be the purpose of life?

Acharya Prashant (AP): It is not about your opinion versus somebody else’s opinion. It is not about Hegel versus Vedanta or something. It is about reality. If knowledge or power can give you fulfillment, by all means go for knowledge and power.

The purpose of life is a very, very subjective thing, right? And when I say subjective, I don’t mean variable as per the subject; I mean it is something that is intimately got to do with the subject, and you are the subject. You are the subject because we are talking of your life, we are talking about the purpose of your life.

Why do we need to talk of the purpose of life? Because we don’t feel alright as we are and where we are. Because we don’t feel alright where we are, therefore we need to be somewhere else. Because we don’t feel good about the way our self-concept and our self-image is, therefore there is a need for change, right?

So, it all starts from you. It doesn’t start from the Upanishads or Hegel or Kant or Voltaire; no, not from there. It starts from you. What is it that would fulfill you? Because you are the one who is restless. Over the millennia, countless people have tried power, and countless have tried money and knowledge and prestige and adventure and sex—you name it. Man has tried all kinds of possible means to come to a certain fulfillment because there is a gaping hole within. We are not at rest. We are not alright.

The child is born crying. Human beings are always running hither thither to gain some satisfaction, which in itself is a far cry from fulfillment. But we all are looking for something, no? The eyes are continuously wandering in search of something, the ears want to hear some special kind of news, and the mind is continuously restless. And that is why there is the question, “What do we want? What is all this desire for?” We are desiring all the time.

And then there were those who realized that we want an end to all wants; we desire the end of desires, and that is called liberation, and that is mokṣa . Coming to the end of desire itself, that is what desire wants. Now, power or knowledge doesn’t bring you to the end of desire, because after power you can want more power. And there is nothing called absolute power because the hunger for power will still remain. There is no end to knowledge, because the one who is seeking fulfillment through knowledge will never be satiated through knowledge.

Q: According to Christianity, there is a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing.

AP: No, none of that. Vedanta does not admit any God. Brahman or Truth or Ātman are not God. In fact, Vedanta categorically dismisses all devī, devatā, and Īśvara. Brahman is not God; Brahman is not Īśvara, The Truth is devoid of everything that you can think of.

We want to know who we are and why we are so restless and confused. We want to come to terms with our own existence; that is what Vedanta is all about. And when we come to who we really are, we discover that the reality that we perceive outside of ourselves is identical with the reality within. That is Vedanta.

So, Vedanta is not about believing in some creator God and his created universe. Vedanta says, “Who is the perceiver of the universe? I am that. And who am I? Somebody who is half-mad.” This kind of honesty Vedanta begins with. “Who am I? Someone who is utterly confused, somebody whose perceptions and conclusions are heavily unreliable. And if the world is my own perception, how do I begin with the world? I don’t know whether even the world exists. All I can say is that I am not alright; this much I can say.”

So, Vedanta begins with this simple observation: “All that I see around me is my own perception, my own experience, and I am not alright. So, I will not talk of my experience. I am the kind of person who can say these are twenty-four fingers (raises five fingers) , so how do I go about finding out who made these twenty-four fingers when they don’t even exist? How can I talk of a creator God when the creation itself is still not something to be certain of? Before I say, ‘Who was the God who made the mountains and the trees?’ I have to ask myself, ‘Do the mountains and the trees even exist at all?’

“And who am I to say they exist? I am saying they exist based on my own experience. But I am a lunatic, very humbly I admit that I am a lunatic. And if I am a lunatic, how do I aver that the mountains do definitely exist? They probably don’t. So, I will not talk of the mountains. I will talk of myself, and I will ask myself, ‘Why am I so restless? Why don’t I see things as they really are? Why do I project my desires upon everything?’” That is what Vedanta does.

Vedanta keeps peeling off layers after layers of impurity and conditioning, and comes to the pure mind or no-mind or the core mind, and that is the Ātman, the pure Self, also called as the Truth. And when you are there, then what you see through your senses gains an immense clarity, and then you don’t see distinctions outside of you. Not that the eyes don’t see distinctions and black and white appear as one, but the meanings that those distinctions used to carry, they are no more there. And then you say, “All is Brahman .” That is what Vedanta is about.

Vedanta is not about worshiping a God, or worshiping this or that, or believing in a certain creator. Vedanta believes in nothing. Vedanta is ruthless inquiry. No belief, no superstitions, no mandates, no commandments, nothing of that kind; very, very pure and solid and ruthless enquiry. That’s all.

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