In my last post I asked: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? And I wondered whether these were actually good questions to ask. Life is. We are here! The world around us is here! So, what is the point of asking? I suggested that it might be better to ask “How can we live meaningfully?” And I quoted something the Dalai Lama said: “Personally, I believe that the purpose of our existence is to seek happiness, to seek a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.”
I enjoyed reflecting more on this quote. I think we all are looking for fulfillment and satisfaction. For me the million dollar question is how and where we are looking for it. Are we looking for it wisely or are we doing it in ways that are bound to be unsuccessful and lead to suffering instead of the happiness we are looking for.
In my experience, when I look for happiness and satisfaction outside, it becomes an endless chase. There are so many things that promise happiness: sense pleasures, gain, success, being praised by others, feeling good about how others think of me. Every time I succeed with one of these, it gives me a little high of feeling good. But then the buzz wears off very quickly. It seems to become an addiction to short moments of feeling good.
The teachings even warn of the danger of looking for this ordinary happiness in spiritual teachings. I often catch myself practicing just to feel good! We might think we are following a spiritual path, but if we have this kind of ordinary motivation, it doesn’t qualify as genuine spiritual practice. It is said that it will only bring very ordinary short-lived results.
For me living a meaningful life boils down to trying to live a spiritual life and becoming a spiritual person. To be a truly spiritual person requires to have a clear idea of a higher purpose. And you need to actually use your life to work towards this purpose.
The wise way of finding happiness and fulfillment seems to me to use this life to develop positive qualities, like wisdom, love and compassion. As Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, one of my teachers, used to say, the aim of Buddhist practice is to make our heart and mind bigger. I try to remind myself often to use my life to personally grow and to learn to become more awake, present, wise and tolerant. To love and help others. To try to discover what is really true about this world. To try to to discover the essence of my being that is beyond life and death. Plus there is an endless list of wonderful qualities to embody and deep questions to answer.
It might seem an unreachable goal, but my teachers emphasize that it possible to practice this while living a “normal” life and taking care of our responsibilities in the world. I think that the bottom line is that we need to understand that there is something deeper to life beyond or ordinary activities. If we live with that understanding it will give us a sense of meaning and fulfillment. It doesn’t have to be something esoteric. We don’t have to feel we need to be a spiritual super athlete to do it. We also don’t need to feel we need to be perfect at it.
But we need to work with it and make an effort. It is not just something we can think of or do occasionally, whenever we feel like it. I know teachers that teach a very simple path of “love and light” but even they tell you that they think of it constantly every moment of their life. The point is to work with whatever your practice is. To keep trying to understand it more deeply, and to keep practicing so we get better.
Here is a simple advice on how to practice in life, that came to my mind recently. My teacher Sogyal Rinpoche often describes the essence of meditation as “being spacious.” He uses this term to describe what it feels like when are able to just naturally be. And he says that when we are spacious we can get a taste of the essence of our being, our true nature. So maybe the answer to how we can live a meaningful life can be boiled down to practicing “being spacious”. … but not just occasionally, when we feel like it.
This is part 3 of a series of three posts on this topic:
Part 1: The Meaning of Life