The Purpose of Human Life

A discussion of the purpose of human life must be based on a consideration of the structural makeup of a human being. This makeup defines human life, its working and its purpose.

From times immemorial, philosophers, sages, seers and spiritual masters the world over have been considering the question of what a human being is and concluded that we are more than the mere body-mind complex. Both mind and body are inert in themselves but for the immanent spark of the unseen reality (or the ground of being) that underlies all beings in the universe, animate and inanimate, including the body-mind complex. The immanent reality is the source of life and consciousness and it enlivens and animates the mind which, when so enlivened, in its turn enlivens the bodily system with all its physical sub-systems and devices. The ground of being is from which we all emanate, in which we are sustained and into which we all dissolve. It is infinitely subtle and therefore formless. It congeals as mind and body and then it pervades them. It is the source of life and consciousness.

The mind consists of three successively subtle faculties: a sensory faculty, an ego and an intellect.

The sensory faculty coordinates and operates the senses, both cognitive and active, and regulates the biological ingestion, exhaustion and reproductive systems of the body. The sensory faculty may be thought of as the soft operating system of the human organism with the bodily organs as mere devices which it operates in a coordinated fashion.Life is simply a continuous series of stimulus-response cycles ending at the death of the organism. Stimulus represents the inward flow of the perception signals from the cognitive sense organs and response representing the outward flow of the action signals to the active sense organs. Every stimulus generates a bodily sensation to act and every action generates a feeling pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feeling. Feelings are recorded in memory along with the related actions resulting in a database of sense experiences for basing future responses. This database is dynamic in nature being changed continuously with every experience. Being intimately connected with the individual organism, the accumulation of sense experience is uniquely individual. The purpose of the sensory faculty is to maximize pleasantness and to minimize unpleasantness. In addition, nature builds in the sensory faculty a mediation system to protect the infants from the excesses of sense enjoyment for life to continue and prosper.

Human beings are social beings and we must respond to stimuli ethically in accordance with social norms. The learning of the societal norms is added to the learning from sense experience into one personal database resulting into a decision making logic called the individual ego which determines the response to a particular stimulant. The purpose of the ego in doing so is to maximize the interest of the individual and/or his/her family mediating between their narrow interests on one side and that of the society at large on the other. The ego then is the second faculty of the mind. It needs to exercise dominion over the sensory faculty (in which it does not always succeed) in order to perform its mediation function.

In the next order of hierarchy of the mental faculties is the intellect. This is the final decision making faculty. It decides the response to a particular sensory stimulant. The ego provides the database to help make its decision. It has the freedom to over-ride the experiential database in the light of ultimate reality immanent in all beings provided the individual ego is ordered to it.

The immanent spark of ultimate reality integrates and animates the mind-body complex which by itself is inanimate and inert in nature. There is no possibility of consciousness or life without this spark of the divine. We are thus a four part structure comprising of the physical body operated by the sensory faculty which is run by the individual ego under the direction of the intellect. This entire structure is in the domain of inanimate nature. Life is breathed in by the immanent spark of the divine which animates the structure by making it conscious of its environment and itself.

Having thus understood the structure of the human self, we can begin to define its purpose as that which is necessary for its fulfillment:

1. It is obvious that the physical body requires material resources for its maintenance. The very first and mundane purpose of human life is to provide material security for the maintenance of the physical body of the self and/or the family.

2. In addition to material security, the body needs pleasant feelings generated by the sensory activity without which there will no procreation needed for the continuation of life. Nature has thus built in a purpose of pleasure seeking without which life remains empty, unfulfilled and un-propagated. Sensual pleasure then is the second purpose of human life.

3. To fit in and belong to the society in which we live, there is a third human purpose of following the societal ethics of seeking material security and personal pleasure. This role has traditionally been fulfilled by religious norms of behavior of the community of the individual.

4. Finally, there is the intellect which has its own need of independence from the yoke of community, family and individual needs. Thus, the statement of human purpose must include material security, pleasure seeking, religious ethics and the need to transcend these three.

The four-fold purpose must be fulfilled in totality for complete satisfaction of human life otherwise there is a sense of dissatisfaction, lack of fulfillment, hollowness and emptiness.