The Aims of Life

I’ve noticed when listening to classes by Srila Prabhupada’s disciples that many routinely quote cherished phrases they picked up from recordings of his classes in their early years as devotees. I do that too. One recurring sentence of Prabhupada’s that left a lasting impression on me is “They do not know what is the aim of life.” By “they” he meant people in general, and he would emphasize the word aim. People no doubt know many things about their lives and the world around them, but Prabhupada insisted that most people live without understanding what human life is meant to accomplish.

Many people, of course, don’t think life has a goal other than trying to make the best of it and achieve whatever happiness they can. Srila Prabhupada, in describing the aim of life with both common sense and scriptural citations, included the quest for happiness as a suitable goal. Yes, he would say, we seek happiness above all else, but our attempts to achieve it through material pursuits must ultimately fail. True and lasting happiness can be found only though self-realization. Our aim in life, therefore, should be self-realization, which becomes complete only when it includes God realization, or realization of the Absolute Truth.

Because real happiness must include freedom from unhappiness, Srila Prabhupada often stressed that the aim of life is liberation from the various kinds of suffering we all endure as captives of the material energy. He would often point out that the desire to find the solution to our suffering in the material world is the defining quality of human life. Without that desire, human beings are no better than animals.

Still, one doesn’t have to listen to Srila Prabhupada for long to learn that he directed our aim to things higher than just liberation. Freedom from suffering entails only the convalescent stage of the soul. The soul is active by nature, and its natural, eternal desire is to act in a loving relationship with God.

So Prabhupada often framed the aim of life as reviving our relationship with God, or Krishna. The name of his society – the International Society for Krishna Consciousness – indicates that aim. He wanted to teach the world that life is meant to be aimed at knowing, loving, and serving Krishna. There’s nothing as valuable as pure devotional service to the Lord. We must set our sights on that. When we do, Krishna becomes satisfied, and when He’s satisfied, He responds by fully satisfying us.

While Prabhupada spoke of liberation as an inferior goal, he nonetheless strongly encouraged us to aim at going “back home, back to Godhead,” the highest form of liberation. By using the word home for the spiritual world, he implied that it’s natural for us to want to go there, to that place where Krishna lovingly and eagerly awaits us.

Because the most highly advanced devotees are always fully aware of Krishna’s company, they may be indifferent to their location. Still, the Lord’s pure devotees generally leave this world at death and attain the spiritual world, which is fully saturated with devotion for the Lord. Our aim in life should be to follow their example and achieve both pure love for Krishna and eternal residence in His love-filled abode.

– Nagaraja Dasa