What is the purpose of life?
Love – eternal, divine love.
Let’s analyze our current existential situation from the perspective of the timeless wisdom-traditions of the world. We are all like the biblical prodigal son. In the prodigal son story, Jesus describes how the son of a wealthy father leaves home to enjoy independently, suffers starvation and destitution, and finally returns home. Similarly, all of us, who are actually spirit souls, reject God to try to enjoy in the material world. But we are struggling for paltry material pleasures and are suffering multiple problems due to our disease-prone bodies, our conflict-prone interactions, and our disaster-prone surroundings.
In the biblical story, the father’s joy on the return of his lost son reflects the unconditional love of our supreme parent, who overlooks our past rejection of His love and eagerly awaits our reciprocation of His love. But God’s love as revealed in the Vedic tradition is even greater than what the parable describes, because He not only awaits us, but also comes to this world to invite us to come to Him. In fact, His loving anxiety for our well-being impels Him to appear not just once, but again and again – and yet again. Indeed, He appears in every millennium to change our destiny, to install us in our eternal glory as divine princes.
How does God, Krishna, change our destiny? Primarily by reestablishing dharma, the underlying, governing principle of life. To be more precise, the essence of all dharma is love or loving service.
Krishna’s illuminating teachings as given in the Bhagavad-gita explain what love – real, everlasting love – actually is. And through His enchanting pastimes (lila) He demonstrates that love in His reciprocation with His devotees. These two legacies of divine love help us direct our loving propensity to Krishna – and through Him to all his children – and thus experience complete fulfillment.
Love for God ultimately conquers even death, for, unlike worldly love, it continues beyond death in the eternal spiritual world. The great saint Srila Prabhupada offers a call to love: “If one simply reposes his dormant loving propensity in Krishna, then his life becomes successful. This is not a fiction but is a fact that can be realized by practical application. One can directly perceive the effects that love for Krishna has on his life.”
If God has designed our world, then why is there so much suffering here?
Suffering is an integral part of the purpose for which our world has been designed.
Whenever we evaluate the design of any object, we need to keep its purpose foremost in mind; otherwise even the best design can be easily and erroneously faulted. For example, if we use a cellphone’s message-typing keypad for typing a book, we will naturally feel justified in criticizing the cellphone’s design and designer. But a well-informed person will remind us that the cellphone’s design should be evaluated keeping in mind its primary purpose: to serve as a portable audio-communication device.
Similarly, spiritually well-informed people remind us that the world’s design should be evaluated keeping in mind its primary purpose. Most of us assume that the world’s purpose is to facilitate our comfortable and enjoyable living – and this often-unspoken assumption makes us feel justified in criticizing its design and designer. But could it be that this assumption is erroneous, that the world has some other purpose? How can we know that purpose? From God, the world’s designer. God is implicitly accepted as the world’s designer even by atheists when they point to the apparent faultiness of the world’s design as a proof of God’s non-existence. Therefore, for knowing the purpose of the world, logically we should turn to the designer’s words – the God-given scriptures, like the Bhagavad-gita.
These scriptures inform us that the world is meant primarily to serve as a transitional curative place – something like a hospital. Everything within a hospital – from the hi-tech MRI scanning devices to the spiceless meals – is well-designed, yet sufferings are also innately, unavoidably present in the hospital. The sufferings in a hospital are not because of the doctor, but in spite of the doctor; the sufferings are caused by the patients’ sickness, which in turn often originates in their imprudent lifestyle choices. Similarly, the Vedic scriptures explain that the sufferings in this world are not because of God, but in spite of God. They are caused by our own spiritual sickness, which in turn originates in our own imprudent lifestyle choice of wanting to enjoy separate from God.
When patients start cooperating with the doctor by accepting the prescribed treatment, they experience the benefit of improved health and realize that the hospital is truly well-designed. Similarly, if we start cooperating with God by accepting His prescribed treatment of redirecting our love from matter to spirit by chanting the holy names, we will experience for ourselves the benefit of improved spiritual health accompanied by mental peace and inner fulfillment. Then we will realize that the world is truly well-designed.