Purpose of life

On the eve of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama's birthday, his student of 40 years, Rajiv Mehrotra, shares his mentor's reflections on happiness

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama leaves after an event at his residence in McLeod Ganj, India, on 25 October 2019.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama leaves after an event at his residence in McLeod Ganj, India, on 25 October 2019. File photo/Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

By Rajiv Mehrotra | The Speaking Tree

ON THE WEB, 6 July 2020

The purpose of life is to be happy. Right from birth, every human being wants happiness. Neither social conditioning, education nor our particular faith affects this. We simply desire contentment. I don’t know whether the universe — with its countless galaxies, stars, and planets — has a deeper meaning or not, but it is clear that we face the challenge of making a happy life for ourselves. So, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.

We could divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are gravely ill or deprived of necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it. The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence, we need to devote ourselves to training it to bring about mental peace.

The greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from love and compassion.

The more we care for the happiness of others, the higher is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others spontaneously puts the mind at ease. It helps reduce whatever fears and insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of equanimity.

As long as we live, we are bound to encounter difficulties. If we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face them. But if we remember that everyone undergoes some form of pain and dissatisfaction in their lives as these are part of the human condition, we will increase our determination and capacity to overcome challenges. With this realistic attitude, each new obstacle can be yet another valuable opportunity to cultivate our mind.

We may not always be able to change the situation, but we can change our relationship to it. We should strive to become more compassionate, develop genuine sympathy for others’ suffering, and help them. We will think less about our dissatisfactions. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase.

Love and compassion bring us the greatest happiness because human nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skilful an individual may be, left alone, he will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, during ill health one must depend on others.

Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life, but also many of the smallest insects are social beings — without any religion, law, or education, they survive by cooperation based on innate recognition of their interconnectedness. The subtlest level of material phenomena is also governed by interdependence. In fact, all phenomena arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. When there is an imbalance, they dissolve and decay.

It is because our own existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore, we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for others’ welfare. We must consider what we really are; that we are not machines. If we were mechanical entities, then machines could alleviate all our suffering and fulfil our needs. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. Instead, we should consider our origins and nature to discover who we are and what we require.

Leaving aside the complex question of the creation and evolution of our universe, we can at least agree that each of us is the product of our parents. From the very moment of our conception, parental love is a key factor. We are completely dependent upon the care of our mothers from the earliest stages of our growth.

The expression of love manifests at birth, since the very first thing we do is to feed on mother’s milk, we naturally feel close to our mother. Then there is the critical period of brain development from birth up to the age of three or four, during which time loving physical contact is the single most crucial factor for the healthy growth of the child. If the child is not held, hugged, cuddled, or loved, its development could be impaired, and its brain may not mature properly. The foundation for compassion and love starts from the beginning of life. Without it, individuals and societies break down.

HH The XIV Dalai Lama’s 85th birthday is on 6 July 2020.


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