Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Beauty of Life's Purpose

I marvel at people who are driven by an ambition to earn as much money as possible. Their objective seems so clear and inevitable. I need this and this much to support my family and to pay for my children's education. I have no choice. I have X number of children, hence I'll need to make sure I have X x amount in the bank for their education.

I myself have gone through periods in my life when cash was tight. Even now, I would not consider myself very well off, even though I live comfortably enough. I am not ambitious in the conventional sense. That's perhaps one of the advantage of being a confirmed bachelor: I don't really have to worry too much about the next generation. Neither do I have thoughts about emigrating to another country where the grass is supposedly greener.

My philosophy has always been to focus on doing good work in whatever I do. Money will take care of itself. Being frugal helps. I consider luxury a bit of a handicap--once you've tasted it, you cannot do without it. So I like to keep my life simple. My only 'luxury' is books (both the dead-tree ones and their audio counterparts). And I have more than enough books that I could ever read in a lifetime.

Why do I work so hard then? I answered that in another blog entry of mine. Rereading it makes me kind of chuckle a bit: so that one day, I can afford to live without a car and have the luxury of taking public transportation.

Why did I think that taking public transportation such a luxury? Well, it's the luxury of time: time to wait for the next train or bus; the luxury of not having to hurry, of having the leisure to enjoy the journey. I wrote that entry in 2006, more than 10 years ago. My philosophy in life still hasn't changed that much.

I've been asked this question before: What's your goal or purpose in life? I can't give the conventional answers, like: to see my kids through college and retire comfortably or to build a successful business that will sustain me and my family for the rest of my life. These 'achievements' somehow feel empty to me. I'm not exactly a card-carrying Buddhist, but I have this Buddhistic impulse in me that compels me to see all worldly attainments as ultimately 'unsatisfactory'.

Then how does one live one's life? Is a life dedicated to spiritual pursuits the only 'meaningful' one?

That could be slippery slope too, if one sees spiritual pursuits as a 'goal' in life. How then should one approach life? Our mental thirst for a definite answer to these things is insatiable.

It is in precisely situations like these, pursued by the ever inquisitive student, the Zen master would further befuddle the poor guy with a seemingly dismissive koan: "When hungry, eat; when tired, sleep".

There are many such Zen sayings that pop into my mind whenever people ask the question about life's purpose.

"Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."

"Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and grass grows by itself."

This I think, is probably the closest answer to what my goal in life is: Everyday, I chop wood and carry water; when hungry I eat; when tired, I sleep; time passes and the grass grows by itself. Such is the beauty of life's purpose.

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