Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Embracing the Meaning of Our Human Existence

Embracing the Meaning of Our Human Existence

By Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.
(Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya)

Who among us has never, at some contemplative point in our lives or another, asked ourselves the truly big questions, questions about the ultimate meaning of this world, and of our lives in it? Questioning the reason for our human existence is a very natural pursuit on the part of any human being. Indeed, unlike any other species of life, human beings alone have been gifted by God with the unique cognitive ability to engage in self-reflection upon our very own existence as human beings. To be human means to question what it means to be human.

It is especially when such existential questions arise in our minds that we find ourselves understandably turning to the precise fields of knowledge that deal most directly with such questions: the sister fields of religion and philosophy. In the following, I will answer this universal query from the perspective of the most ancient religio-philosophical system on earth, Sanatana Dharma.

The nature of existence has been dealt with by many philosophers, both Western and Asian, from the beginning of time. Whether we are speaking of Thomas Aquinas and his metaphysical distinction of existence and essence, Soren Kierkegaard and his attempts to come to grips with the problem of existence from a Protestant perspective, the Existentialists of the 20th Century, or the Samkhya and Vedanta schools of Sanatana Dharma, the nature of our existence has been on the minds of some of history’s greatest thinkers.

The most basic of all philosophical questions that can be asked is: Why do human beings exist? When I open my eyes in the morning, why is it that there is something rather than nothing? In order to sufficiently analyze this question, the question itself really needs to be divided into two closely related questions: a) why do we exist at all, b) why do we exist as human beings. I’ll try to answer both from the perspective of Yoga spirituality and Sanatana Dharma.

According to the ancient wisdom of Dharma, we exist to begin with because it’s our very innate nature to exist. The sacred scriptures of both Yoga and Sanatana Dharma teach us that our true, innermost nature is that we are atman, or eternal units of consciousness. We have the Absolute (Brahman, or God) as both our causative and substantial source, and as the ontological sustainer of our existential being. Having God as our underlying source, it necessarily follows that we naturally share in many of God’s essential attributive qualities. Because we participate in God’s innate attributes - and if not to a quantitatively equivalent degree, then certainly to a qualitative one - we too share in many of God’s qualities. One of those attributes that both God and we have in common is necessary existence. In other words, both God and we ourselves (atmans, or souls) are eternal by our inherent nature. God and individual atmans cannot but exist. To go out of existence is simply not within the realm of our capability.

Never was there a time when we came into being, and never will there be a time when we cease to exist. So, in a way, we exist because we cannot but exist, being purely spiritual beings in essence. Such is our nature, for it is the nature of God, the ultimate source of our being.

A deeper question than the principle of necessary existence, however, is: why is it the case that we were even gifted with necessary existence to begin with? Sanatana Dharma answers this in the following manner. Brahman (God) is One (ekam). But as a natural result of the overflowing abundance of the Infinite, God decides to become more than One. God thus becomes One-with-attributes (vishishta-advaita). Consequently, in addition to Brahman, we also have atman (individual selves) and jagat (materiality). As atman, we have our own individual existence in attributive relationship with Brahman (God) in order to know, and love, and serve Brahman.

The second part of our question on human existence – “why do we exist as human beings?” – can then be understood from understanding the first part. As beings who partake in God’s necessary existence and attributive nature, we are currently in a state of self-imposed separation from God due to our self-destructive fascination with ego and the objects of ego. It is ego, and the subsequent selfishness and self-centeredness that result from ego, that produce the various layers of illusory self that we mistakenly identify with our true, spiritual identity.

The “human person” is in actuality a complex symbiosis comprised of several distinct aggregates, including physical body (deha), mind substance, (manas), intellect (buddhi), ego (ahamkara), the vital force (prana), and ultimately atman as the source of consciousness and animating source. While the “human person” is an artificial and temporal construct comprised of these many elements, it is the atman alone that is the true self, and that is eternal, true, beautiful, indestructible, and blissful by its own inherent nature, having God (Brahman) as its source of being.

We thus find ourselves in human form (and sometimes other forms!) in an endlessly unsuccessful attempt to selfishly enjoy ourselves in the illusion that we can have a meaningful existence without the benefit of God’s love. We are identifying with the temporal instead of the eternal, with the shallow instead of the profound, with the material instead of the spiritual, with the illusory instead of the real.

The meaning of life in human form is to thus reverse this negative and self-defeating tendency to serve our ego, and to instead once again serve God. We are here, as human beings, to transcend our merely human nature, to re-embrace our true identity as eternal spiritual beings, and to partake of the Divine nature that is our birthright, that is our natural state of being, and that is our true home. We are here to know, and to love, and to serve the Divine.

In Sanatana Dharma, God is presented as the source of all goodness, acceptance, compassion, and non-judgmental love. God is embraced and loved without restrictions, without fear, without force, and without loss. This is a very different conception of the Absolute when compared to the notion we find in the Western, Abrahamic religious constructs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Unlike in the Abrahamic religions, in Sanatana Dharma we find a concept of God as not only being a thoroughly transcendent source of reality, but also as a lovingly imminent and intimate friend who provides us all with a means for achieving immediate knowledge, and a direct and ecstatic experience of Him.

The path of Sanatana Dharma offers us such profoundly philosophical works as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Vedas for the unfailing guidance and knowledge necessary to comprehend life’s meaning. It also offers us a systematic path of spiritual practice that leads directly to a personal experience of the Divine. This path includes the ancient and highly effective processes of Yoga, meditation, puja, and devotion to God.

To truly know the answer to the meaning of human life, however, it is not enough ultimately to merely engage in an intellectual understanding of Truth. Rather, we need to personally experience the sweet taste of Truth as the immediate presence of God in our hearts and in our lives. To experience the profound bliss of God’s presence in your life, and to truly know why we have the joy of existence, please explore the profound depths of spiritual realization that Sanatana Dharma has to offer you. To be human is to ask.

The Author:

Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D. (Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya) is an American who has been practicing Sanatana Dharma for over 30 years. He has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies and is recognized by the global Hindu community as one of the leading Hindu Acharyas (Spiritual Preceptors) in the nation. With a large international following of both Indian and Western students, Sri Acharya Ji is especially renowned for his highly authentic approach to Dharmic spirituality, his authoritative and scholarly approach to teaching, and his clear emphasis on serious spiritual practice and direct experience of self-realization and knowledge of God. He has lectured on Sanatana Dharma at such prestigious institutions as Harvard University, Columbia, Rutgers, Cornell, Northwestern, as well as for such companies as Ford Motor Corporation and Lucent Technology. He is the Founder and President of the International Sanatana Dharma Society. To contact Sri Acharya-ji, email him at: info@dharmacentral.com.

His primary websites are: