Probably the most asked question of all times is as to what is the purpose of life. A vast variety of answers are offered and believed by various people.
Some say that the meaning of life is in service through surrender of the self and self-sacrifice; others say that the meaning of life lies in delight and enjoyment before the death takes it away; some contend that the life is about creating a better future for the eternal life beyond the grave; some others explain that the purpose of life is the approach to non-existence; many claim that the meaning of life is developing and organizing the life on earth; and still there are those who assert that it is impossible to know the meaning of life. One thing strikes me hard, as I ponder over these different conceptions of the meaning of life. It’s that all these schools of thought endeavour to ascertain the meaning of life outside of life itself. I think if one thinks deeply one would find that the meaning of life is not something to be found outside of life. Once upon a time a sage called Shakespeare rightly explained “Ripeness is all”. Or as Keats regarded it, this world is a “Valley of Soul-making”.
This leads me to believe that the matter of personal perfection is in each individual’s own hands. In order to master life’s forces and to harness them in the use of greater purpose a person must cultivate and culture his ability to concentrate. For that we begin with muting our involuntary psychic activity in the form of continual friction of thinking, feeling, and acting mechanism. The productivity of our intellectual apparatus depends, more than anything else, on how we use our energy. We must guard against using our energy like the blind scorpion that stings every object it comes across. Nothing helps more than meditation in integrating a man into a significant whole. Meditation liberates us from mindless thinking and takes us from one level of life to another. When we descend within ourselves, we discover the wealth of mindfulness that lies buried under the mechanical ways of regarding things in everyday life.
The usual wisdom of the distinction between head and heart or intellect and emotions is something that creates a lot of confusion for us the ordinary folks. There is no psychological state of human life which is exclusively intellectual or emotional. In the state of conflict it is only one emotion that triumphs another emotion and never intellect over emotion or vice versa. Emotion is the experienced state of being which helps us realize our ideas. All emotions assist knowledge. For example without experiencing the emotion of love we can never understand how a mother feels for her child. Or, for instance, without ever experiencing devotion that liberates from fear and self, we cannot hope to understand what the martyrs of Karbala felt and did on the Day of Ashura in October 680 CE. Karbala offers the perfect example of how the personal element can be detached in enhancing the consciousness and power of emotions. On the contrary the more the personal elements dominate emotional life the higher is the possibility of delusion. The value of an emotion lies in the idea it realizes. Hence the prayer of a liberated spirit is described by Ali Ibn Abi Talib as a serene contemplation of God which is neither emotional nor intellectual but a fusion of the two in submission to the Almighty. Hence, all contemplation and concentration on a movement of thought that enables ego to move within is an act of prayer. A solely ceremonial bowing before an invisible power cannot be described as an act of prayer; our faith must manifest itself in the living experience of reverence before all that is great and good in our universe. Awe inspired by understanding is much more valuable than the awe in ignorance.
This cautions us to be precise in our nature of belief because belief is an essential part of human life and it’s impossible to conceive of a normal person who does not believe in something. An integrated person’s outward behaviour is a complete reflection of his belief. Belief is an occurrence of finite consciousness, for infinite consciousness has everything visible to it and thus does not need to believe. Similarly a theory is not a belief and can only be transformed into a belief by a mind with a certain attitude towards it. A theory –like the Theory of Evolution- is the academic attitude of human mind towards a subject based on established knowledge about it. It is open to both further development and correction. On the other hand, a man may believe in something without taking it to be theoretically true. For example, theoretically some people know there are no evil spirits responsible for their miseries but yet believe in amulets promising to chase such spirits away. That is so because all belief arises from the depth of our being and hence can stir our souls to help us rise above ourselves.
However, for a rational mind the spirit of questioning is awake and no belief is admitted without being backed by theoretical explanation to justify it. A rational person is very reluctant to relapse into the primitive modes of approaching the ideal. He wants to march forward in the way of knowledge by thinking, contemplating, questioning, and evaluating his thoughts in a logical manner before he even starts forming a belief. Therefore, it is not the unfounded powers of primeval belief but the forces of a well-spoken intellectual mind that can help us on our path. Modern man’s heart of awareness lies not in blindly accepting any way of life but in understanding. A fusion of prayer and meditation leads us to metaphysical insight closer to the source of life. Intellect, and not intuition, is the instrument of our spiritual perception. A richer awareness of our status and destiny is what helps our evolution. Times for blind belief in and adherence to an unintelligent philosophy of life are long gone. Rationality in prayer and meditation is the determinant factor.
The modern knowledge about the human personality further emphasizes the value of meditation. The ‘I’ as a nucleus of conscious personality represents only a slender something as consciousness of the sort we are directly aware of is not a very important determinant of our personality and reflects it only casually and incidentally. It is the deepest layer of our personality which we share with all our fellowmen and which accounts for the patterns of behaviours in human life under certain circumstances. Thus our consciousness is merely the uppermost tip of the pyramid that is our psychic life and meditation helps us to exploit our consciousness to reach the innermost depths of our personality which form the common denominator of all human life. It is from this common reservoir that great minds and great acts draw nourishment and inspiration. This probably is the reason why Newton and Leibnitz discovered calculus at around the same time; Darwin, Hebert Spencer, and Lamarck discovered the law of biological evolution almost contemporaneously; and contemporary psychologists Freud, Jung, and Adler broke new grounds in the fields of psycho-analysis and analytic psychology. To me, this phenomenon of simultaneous discoveries by different individuals working in different places and circumstances is explained by the fact that each one of us is rooted in the same basic psychic soil where new ideas are washed ashore with time by the waves in the ocean of collective humanity. The emergence of these ideas is somewhat like the fish in water which is caught by those who lie in wait. A great thinker in a state of perpetual watchfulness is able to identify and elucidate these ideas in the lingo of his time because he is in intimacy with the deepest layers of his personality. By letting their consciousness connect with the collective human consciousness, these great thinkers let out contents which are tirelessly crying to find appearance in the exhibition of time.
This process is accelerated by meditation. The better we concentrate the sharper we perceive. At the peak of the powers of concentration and perception a man becomes the voice of the spirit of his age like Socrates, Leonardo, Shakespeare, Ghalib, Darwin, Newton, Einstein etc. He is possessed by true ideas and seems being used by the Higher Powers for the communication of higher truth. Meditation can help any of us to integrate our personality in the total range of psychic contents instead of living our life on the surface of personality. Meditation helps our soul constantly bathe itself in the sunshine of the spirit, ponder over our unique role in the scheme of things, and suck profusely like an infant at the motherly bosom of the infinite. Meditation purifies our being in a world that is too full of corrupting influences and enticing temptations. Meditation helps us stay above the undignified taints of worldly intrigue. Meditation equips us to live serenely in the midst of life’s day-to-day cacophony and nourishes our moral virility for growing in spiritual stature at every opportunity. Through meditation we enhance the process of our personal evolution and comprehend the meaning and worth of life more quickly. Whatever strengthens the forces of life also ensures moral progress. There are many ways to meditate, which those interested can learn and follow. But, in essence, all meditation consists in regulating consciousness to keep it in an unmoving state. For this purpose, some methods find it useful to focus on an external object, some recommend focusing on an idea, and some others involve delving into the nothingness. But undoubtedly meditation harnesses our power of concentration which is the real engine of our psychic mechanism.