Ah! The age old question! Philosophers since centuries and scientists in the modern age have pondered and researched to find answers to this very question. Who are we? Where did we come from? What is our purpose here? What is the point of it all? Most essentially, how can we be happy? These are not existential dilemmas, but an opportunity to understand and experience life in it’s fullest capacity. In fact, every human must throw themselves into these questions in order to find peace, joy and restfulness. So many of us don’t even ponder about this and simply live on impulse without understanding how we work. Others hit this arena in times of trouble but forget it when things get back to normal. But then there are some who venture into the unknown void and emerge as enlightened beings living answers we can only think about, not experience. According to Vedic principles, the meaning of life is divided into four stages that needs to be surpassed to quench human thirst and live freely. Vedanta, the core of Hinduism segregates happiness into four categories:
This is the most easily accessible and instantly gratifying mode of happiness. Beauty for the eyes, music to the ears, cool breeze for the skin, jasmine scent for the nose and cupcakes for the tongue constitute pleasure for the body and the senses. They are essential for our happiness but the more we have this, the less it means. In fact, over indulgence in pleasure can make us irritable and restless. We do get pleasure when we snort drugs or eat pizza but it perishes in no time, leaves us craving for more, makes us compulsive and eventually harms the body and mind.
This is the feeling when we finish that long college essay or successfully put all our kids to sleep. It’s called “getting things done” and It leaves a sense of accomplishment and stability within us. It surely lasts longer than bodily pleasures and helps to engage the mind, know the world around us and thrive efficiently. After a point, just doing things is no longer intriguing, we want meaning to our lives.
This is the phase when we’ve achieved all we wanted; that job, that college sweetheart, our dream house or a private jet. None of these things bring actual meaning therefore people quit their jobs to run NGOs, donate to charities or plant trees. Well known people like Mother Teresa or Gandhi are examples of humans in search of meaning. This brings immense happiness and the joy of affecting others positively is priceless. Even though this is very fulfilling and engaging, it does not bring answers to existentialism. The real questions of life that define us, God and his creation still bother the logical mind and at this point, Vedanta demands from us to fight for answers.
According to ancient Indian wisdom, the purpose of life is to know ourselves, our true selves. To enhance our perceptions and manifest the vital source of creation within each one of us to reach it’s peak. Moksha or liberation is described by ultimate freedom, happiness and lightness of being. No amount of narcotics can compare to this state and different states of body and mind cannot affect a person who reaches this stage of life. Closer to our deaths and having lead a fulfilling life, an intelligent mind automatically moves in this direction to reach the promised land of bliss that lies within. A seeker who finds this treasure no longer has to do things in order to be happy, he simply is happy by his very nature.
Even though these stages are divided into four, one can skip the early ones to reach his/her destination with one-minded determination. If we pick any man or woman and ask them what they really want, it can be classified into these stages. These definitions are not made up by our scriptures, they have been studied and researched intensively by ancient gurus and mystics. The truth of these concepts can be verified, tested and guaranteed by most religions and spiritual teachers as Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life. It is an ancient science that not only recognizes all desires and needs of humanity, but also gives us tools to achieve our goals and exist as conscious and super beings.