Purpose in Life
In these times of self-centered thinking, it is very difficult for us to understand Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Sikh Guru. During his short life of 44 years, he sacrificed his father, his four sons, and eventually himself for the sake of protecting others from tyranny. At one point, most of his followers had been killed or had abandoned him; he had to survive, wounded, by himself in the wilderness. No self-centered person could have tolerated such pain. But Guru Gobind Singh knew very clearly that God had given him a mission, and he never wavered from his dedication to that purpose. As he recounted,
Under God’s command
I took birth in Kali Yuga, the darkest of times.
My heart did not really wish to come down,
Because I was totally immersed in meditation at the feet of the Lord.
He then explained to me His purpose
And sent me here with His command.
The Eternal Lord said,
“You are my chosen and cherished son,
Whom I have installed for strengthening faith and religion.
Go down to earth and propagate righteousness
And guide humanity away from wickedness.”
This is the purpose for which God sent me
And in consequence I took birth on this earth. . . .
In contrast to Guru Gobind Singh’s tremendous God-given sense of purpose, many of us either feel that we have no purpose in life or else we set very small personal goals. Our societies encourage rather limited objectives—getting a college degree, marriage, a job, two children, a house for our own family, a car or two. These goals are not in themselves the ultimate pleasures that we are taught to believe. For the majority of the world’s people, such material goals are simply unattainable in any case.
Yet without a sense of purpose, our daily activities seem hollow, pointless. Some of us retreat into recreation as a reward for our meaningless hard work; some of us take to drugs and alcohol for an artificial feeling of pleasure or to deaden the pain of a life without meaning.
It need not be this way. Each of us came here for a purpose which probably has nothing to do with material gain. It is more likely that we came here to serve God in some way. Those who have discovered a sense of spiritual purpose in their lives, and who give themselves to it fully, are typically charged with energy and they are happy no matter what their material circumstances. This is especially so if they recognize that it is God who is doing, through them.
These are not just abstract ideas. I have experienced their truth again and again at Shiv Sadan in India, a very large farm on the banks of the Ganges. It had been a sandy, alkaline wasteland, home only to coarse weeds, dangerous animals, and people who lived by theft because they were so poor.
These lands are now becoming one of the most productive farms in all of India, under the inspiration of Baba Virsa Singh of Gobind Sadan. He has forsaken normal family life, wealth, comfort, and privacy for the sake of living among the poor and serving them by lifting waste lands and peoples into extraordinarily productive life. Thousands of people come in to volunteer for this sacred purpose. All day they work very hard without tiring. Many are young men who would otherwise be doing mischief with their high spirits, but on this farm their bursting energies are voluntarily given to driving tractors, planting trees, and digging irrigation ditches, from dawn to dusk.
Baba Virsa Singh emphasizes the importance of dedicating ourselves to some socially beneficial goal. He says,
A mission is a programme made by God; it is guided by God’s orders. Whether you are sleeping, standing, or thinking, the mission should be your thought. If a person is committed to a mission, even if something happens in his household, he will not be concerned. His mind is still firmly engaged in the mission. Even if he must lay down his life for his mission he will not be fearful. He is so whole-heartedly committed to the programme that it is his life; in fulfilling his mission he does not feel that he is sacrificing anything. He will praise God for being so kind as to allow him to accomplish His mission. He feels, “May all my lifetimes be devoted to this mission; even if I have forty more lives, I will work for this mission.”
We should all work hard and serve humanity, but take ourselves out of the picture. We should constantly thank God as the only Doer, praying, “Dear Lord, this work that I have done is all Your work. I have done nothing. This is all Your grace.” We should work incredibly hard to overcome the difficulties in the world. We should meet every adversity and then pray, “Dear Lord, this service and this success are all due to Your grace. I have done nothing.”
[for BBC World Service 8 November, 1993]