Essays on Life – V: On Notion of Purpose

Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as it Gets says: “And the fact that I get it makes me feel good, about me”.

That line caught me and to be honest, I used that trope many times in my life, appending it to different arguments, to get what I wanted, material or otherwise.

It is a powerful idea but we often fail to realize that it is all about oneself. It is a vanity talking and applauding and appreciating vanity.

In my opinion, liberation is a three-step process where the first two steps are not entirely well compartmentalized. But the third is way out there from the first two. Step One, awareness of externals. Step two is self-awareness. Step three is oblivious to everything.

Further argument is that Step two is the most dangerous because it attempts to present means to fulfilling the self-aggrandizing need that comes out of Step one.

The great sage Vishwamitra wanted to become a Brahma Rishi and acquired so many powers through penance. He realized his true potential. He was aware of other people and proceeded to comment on them, the same way we would like to about ants that scramble around our shoes on a warm winter afternoon. This step two brought Vishwamitra to Trishanku, and the former decided to transport the later into Swarga through sheer power thus fueling the self-aggrandizing need of step one.

No points for guessing that the great sage failed, proceeded to define a new failed reality, fall in love, beget a child, abandon her perpetuating her misery, and destroy his arduously accumulated powers. But he learnt.

And then he reached the stage of being oblivious to all of creation which eventually made him the only Brahma Rishi of human origin. The man who manifested the Gayatri Mantra, which, legends suggest that even the Gods couldn’t comprehend in its entirety.

Such visuals delight me, as does the joy of missing out on all the conversations that I now choose to avoid, because I have reached a place where I need to be at peace”. May I submit that you are not at peace. Because if you were at peace, you would not be paying enough attention to things to register its effect on you.

The system presented a distraction, just like the girl in red was for Neo in the Matrix, and he succumbed to it.

Peace is not the absence of external stimuli. Peace is the inaction in the face of external stimuli and then moving to the point of being completely oblivious to it.

“…everything is as pointless and meaningless or as meaningful and impactful as I deem it to be”. The fact that you are registering that you are observing means that you are still in the experiment.

I know what I say is hard. I have been grappling with the same issues and I have not found a way out. But I thought it was my duty to express what I realized and I wish you my very best on the path of becoming oblivious to externalities. If you succeed, do tell me how.

Just so you know, I am still struggling with step one.

Which brings me to ‘purpose’ or what I call the ‘principal intent of meaningful existence’. I can truly identify with you when you say that you search for that purpose. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers’ talk about this very idea. And its principal hypothesis is quite profound: that there is direct implication of probability in our life and success.

I for one, have been amazed at the series of happy (and sad) coincidences that have occurred in my life starting from even before my birth (and thus paving the grounds for it to happen). And I say that with some kind so pseudo-scientific evidence.

A girl was born in the one-bedroom house next door to where I was born, 4 hours earlier. She and I have managed to stay in touch till date. We had the same socio-economic background, same profession of fathers (who happened to have the same educational background), born in the same place almost as the same time (ruling out most of the exotic effects of astrology and stars), the profiles of mothers the same (both simple housewives). And yet, her life is diametrically different from mine in all aspects.

Therefore, the hypothesis based on my superficial and incorrect understanding of world is that since I have been bestowed with such gifts such abundance and such capabilities mean that I must do something with them. Which means that I must have a purpose. All this must have purpose.  

The point I am trying to make in this rather clumsy rambling is: what if there is no purpose? What if this struggling and suffering that we experience in our life serves no higher design?

Jordon Peterson talks about a scenario where a participant is called to play a game. And the bell rings to signify the start but the participant just stands there, because he doesn’t know what the game is and what are its rules. If the participant wants, he could have done anything but he just stands there. Peterson argues that infinite power begets infinite inertia. When you have the power to do anything, you actually do nothing.

If humanity is akin to any fluid (because essentially it does exhibit fluidic properties), then its motion can only happen when constraints are introduced. And my argument is that this self-created concept of purpose is that ‘constraint’ that on one hand satisfies our vanity and on the other allows us to move forward, to achieve, to propagate, and motivates us to continue on this grandiose-yet-hollow expedition of finding meaning.

Have you ever noticed that all philosophes and ground-breaking studies/books on life and its meaning are written post-facto? Why so?

Which then begs the question: how do we live a purpose-less existence? In my opinion the answer is Surrender.

Considered to be the most beautiful woman of her age, Draupadi was an unwanted child; never loved by her father; tricked into marrying five men; called a whore and abused; bargained off by her husbands; become the principal cause of the greatest destruction witnessed by mankind; lost her children; and yet she remained the same. In the epic there are shlokas after shlokas about her beauty, powers, character, charisma. And yet in her final days as she slips down the Himalayas to her death, only two words and just two words are used for the great Draupadi – Nathavati Anathvat – Having husband yet unprotected.

The point I am making is that Draupadi realized and surrendered herself to the sacrificial fires of a holocaust of which Krishna himself was the presiding deity. Her abandoning the idea of purpose allowed her to become an instrument that would bring an effete era to an end so that new beginnings can be made.

The very idea that all this good has happened to “me” and hence “I” must do good to those that are not as fortunate as “I” am, is Neo’s girl in red. The system stumped us again.                          


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