(2) THE PURPOSE OF LIFE
Buddhism teaches the purpose of life. The purpose of life is the answer to the questions: “Why were we born? Why are we living?” and “Why shouldn’t we kill ourselves even when life becomes bitter and unbearable?” The answer is the same for all humanity: to attain true and eternal happiness.
Great philosophers, writers, and painters have been puzzling over the purpose of life since the beginning of civilization. For example, Leo Tolstoy, in his book, A Confession, questions life and its purpose, but does not arrive at a clear and final answer. He says: “… the question can be put like this: why do I live? Why do I wish for anything, or do anything? Or expressed another way: is there any meaning in my life that will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death, which awaits me?”
As Tolstoy says, living is moving toward the future, which ultimately means death. Like walking, running or flying, ‘we are living.’ That means that we are in motion. We have passed through a point in time, which we call yesterday and have moved into today. Not stopping for even one second, each of us is headed to the future, or tomorrow. This is how each person’s life is.
Generation after generation, people have tried to improve their lives. They have established rules to govern their countries and live in harmony. They have tried to accumulate wealth and manage their possessions. Wanting to live longer, they have fought diseases. They have improved their lifestyles. In summary, people have constantly been striving to improve their lives. All that humans have created has been to increase the quality of life.
Life is like an airplane’s flight. An airplane taking off is like a human being born. Just as an airplane must move through the air, we must move through life.
Before takeoff, a pilot needs to know his destination; otherwise the flight would be suicidal. Likewise, we need to know the destination or purpose of our lives. Living without a purpose would be like flying without a destination.
Politics, economics, science, medicine, sports, morals and ethics deal with the means of living but not with the purpose. The progress of technology, medical research, politics, and economics are important for people to live longer, healthier, and in greater comfort. However, scientific progress is meaningful only when we are aware of how to use it to achieve the purpose of life. Science does not exist for its own sake. An airplane does not fly for the sake of flight; likewise, we do not live for the sake of living. Living for the sake of living would be the greatest mistake humans have ever made.
Science is a tool to help us achieve the purpose of life just as an airplane is the means to a destination. Supported by science, we live for the purpose of achieving true and eternal happiness.
For generations, we have concentrated on making our lives more comfortable. However, comfort has not brought true happiness. We have mistaken the means of living for the purpose of living. The consequences of this mistake have been devastating. Today, science allows us to travel into outer space. Unfortunately, scientific knowledge has also been used to kill and injure millions of people. Although medicine has extended people’s lives, the suicide rate has not declined.
Like a pilot who flies without a destination is doomed to crash and die, so too, a person who lives without a purpose is living solely to meet his death.