We explored the notion of purpose from various viewpoints in the first ten blog posts in this series. We then started making sense of our purpose in the last blog post, the eleventh in the series. I invited you to explore a model of purposefulness that has been developed over the past three years of my doctoral studies. This is still work in progress and will continue to evolve in this year of writing my thesis and beyond. However, I believe it has potential to help us make sense of our purpose because my professional practice over the past 20 years and my doctoral inquiry so far over the past three years has informed me of possible ways of making sense of our purpose.
The model as it stands now, presented in the previous (eleventh) blog post is based on the notion that our sense of purpose, that may evolve with life, is related to making a positive impact on the process of life using the talent, passion and compassion of each living being. I used the metaphor of the sun that provides us energy and inspiration, to explain purpose and the nine planets as the various aspects related to living purposefully. These aspects are related to each other through the space it resides in and I have a hunch that the space is the real thing. (more…)
We explored the notion of purpose from the viewpoints of Abrahamic Religions, Eastern Philosophies, Early Sciences, Modern Sciences, Philosophy, Psychology, Ecology and Action Logics (pre-conventional) viewpoints in the past blog posts in this series. Let’s now have a look at this notion from an ‘Action Logics (post-conventional)’ viewpoint.
I started the previous blog post with an attempt to understand the notion of ‘Action Logics’, which tries to explain the ‘logic’ behind the ‘action’ we take. Most unspontaneous actions are based on decisions, which are rational, and therefore they could be based on an intention, reason or purpose. The four pre-conventional action logics; opportunist, diplomat, expert and achiever, explored in the last blog post was based on the degree of mutuality and expertise.
Let’s attempt to explore post-conventional action logics in this blog post based on the proposition by Greuter Cooke (2002). According to a research study in the USA of about 4300 adults, it was found that 18.2% belong to the post-conventional group. While it is difficult to define post-conventional, to me it seems like those who are more mature, wiser, selfless, seeking happiness through harmony, simplicity, generosity and spirituality, would fall into this group. (more…)
We explored the notion of purpose from the viewpoints of Abrahamic Religions, Eastern Philosophies, Early Sciences, Modern Sciences, Philosophy, Psychology & Ecology in the last few blog posts in this series. Let’s now have a look at this notion from an ‘Action Logics (pre-conventional)’ viewpoint.
Let’s first try to understand the notion of ‘Action Logics’. It tries to explain the ‘logic’ behind the ‘action’ we take. Most action is based on decisions unless it is spontaneous. If decisions are well thought out and rational, they could be based on an intention, reason or purpose. This shows that actions can be based on a reason or purpose.
Therefore, the logic behind decisions we make that determine actions we take, could have an impact on the quality of the decision and the resultant action. The notion of action logics has some potential in understanding this phenomenon.
The developers of the ‘Action Logics’ model proposes two broad categories of Action Logics: pre-conventional and post conventional. According to a research study in the USA of 4300 plus adults, it was found that 85% belong to the pre-conventional group. While it is difficult to define pre-conventional, to me it seems like those who are more materialistic, achievement oriented, less mature, younger and competitive would fall in to this group. Let me try to make sense of the four pre-conventional ‘Action-Logics’ in relation to purposeful living. (more…)
We explored the notion of purpose from the view point from Abrahamic Religions, Eastern Philosophies, Early Sciences, Modern Sciences and Philosophy in the last few blog posts in this series. Let’s now have a look at this notion from some of the Psychological viewpoints.
Although having been appointed to boards of two of the companies of John Keells Holdings, at the age of 27, after having been appointed Marketing Manager of that company at the age of 24, largely due to the gold medal I won at the final examination of the UK based Chartered Institute of Marketing examination, and many corporate successes, I had a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness in my life during my early thirties. The various solutions applied to deal with this emptiness were related to attempting to think and act positively after having attended the ‘Mastery of Self’ playshop under Omar Khan during that period. I also find many of the participants attending workshops I facilitate grappling with such emptiness.
Positive psychology – A science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless – addresses this feeling of emptiness, described with the word ‘barren’. The exclusive focus on pathology that has dominated so much of our discipline results in a model of the human beings lacking the positive features that makes life worth living. Hope, wisdom, creativity, future mindedness, courage, spirituality, responsibility, and perseverance are ignored or explained as transformations of more authentic negative impulses (Seligman, Csikszentmihalyi, 2014, p.5).
We explored the notion of purpose from the viewpoint from Abrahamic Religions, Eastern Philosophies, early sciences and modern sciences in the last few blog posts in this series. Let’s now have a look at this notion from some of the Philosophical viewpoints.
An early proponent of the concept of purpose was Aristotle. His thinking of purpose tends to summarise the viewpoints of this diverse group of people. He suggests that the most basic meaning of quality of life refers to the ability of humans to formulate and implement purpose. Adoption of a good lifestyle that includes good health, social wellbeing and environmental safety or their promotion is purposeful activity (Jonsen,1976). While concepts of health, social wellbeing and environment is alluded by Aristotle, he does not talk about skills, knowledge and vocation, as echoed in some of the conversations I have had, and from my first-person knowing.
We explored the notion of purpose from the perspective of Abrahamic Religions, Eastern Philosophies and early sciences in the last few blog posts in this series. Let’s now have a look at this notion from some of the modern scientific viewpoints.
Modern sciences have developed new theories, from the findings of the early sciences, about the evolution of life. An initial review of this literature does not provide specific answers regarding the purpose of life and the purposeful living of beings, specifically human beings. Therefore, this body of knowledge needs to be further analysed for deeper and wider understanding, which could lead to a theory regarding purposefulness (major theme in my doctoral inquiry). The discovery of Nuclein and Double Helix Structure of DNA by Crick, Watson and Wilkins (Olby, 1974) has helped deeper understanding of its role in the makeup of human beings, providing potential to understand the purpose of our lives.
My work over the last 20 years around the notion of purpose has informed me of diverse viewpoints about purpose. These viewpoints are defined by the values and beliefs of different persons I was fortunate enough to interact with. Attempting to articulate at least a glimpse of one’s purpose may require an appreciation of such values and beliefs, so that such a purpose does not conflict with who the person is and his/her viewpoint of the nature of the world. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this blog post to various religious viewpoints regarding purpose of life. The next blog post will be dedicated to the scientific viewpoints regarding purpose of life.
The position I take, based on my years of experience of doing this work is, that those who live purposefully are more successful and happier than those who do not. Interviews I have conducted with people with various religious beliefs shows that Christians and Muslims with strong religious beliefs feel that success and happiness is to live a life that will qualify them to go to heaven. For the Buddhists, it was about living in a manner that accumulates karma (merits) to be re-born under better conditions. For the Atheist, purpose is living a good life during their one stay on earth, as there is no second chance. I also learn that people without a clear purpose could also be successful and happy, so purpose alone may not be the answer for success and happiness, but it could have a positive impact. Notions such as success, happiness, better conditions, good life’ etc. as well as the notion of purpose and assumptions about purpose can differ from person to person even if they are from similar cultural backgrounds. Lets look at purpose from the view point of Abrahamic religions and Eastern philosophies.
Let us now examine purpose from Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. According to the divine wisdom of the Torah, the ultimate purpose is mitzvah performance, fulfilling the purpose of creation, the making of an abode for the Divine in this world. This is interpreted as reconstruction of the world to the perfect state of awe and the full presence of God, which was found in the Garden of Eden. The words of advice from King Solomon, “ultimately, all is known; fear God, and observe His commandments; for this is the whole purpose of man” (Ecc 12:13 English Translation of the Tanakh) also confirms this notion. Islamic divine words; “did you then think that we created you in vain, and that you would not be returned to us?” (The Holy Quran 23:115) indicates that we will return to the creator, and the words, “and I created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship me (alone)” (The Holy Quran 51:56) indicates that our purpose is to worship Allah. According to the Bible verse; “in Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:11 English Standard Version), our purpose, the reason we are here, is for God’s glory. All three religions suggest that our purpose is to work for the glory of God, but what specific action to be taken to live purposefully by each person is not explicitly mentioned and perhaps it is left for each individual to figure out.
In this section let us examine purpose from eastern philosophies: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Zen. In Hinduism, the purpose of self is to become a Brahman, a state where all illusions of individual identity are obliterated; the ultimate goal of deliverance is reached (Ho, 1995, p.131). Buddhist philosophy suggests that purpose of life is to attain Nirvana, a higher state of being, a reality beyond all suffering and change, as unfading, still, un-decaying, taintless, as peace and blissful (Murti, 2013, p.271-275). Although the ultimate purpose of life in Confucianism is self-realisation (Tu, 1985, chap. 7, as quoted by Ho, 1995, p.117), the centrality of the family and ethics governing relationships in self-realisation is in the centre of ‘purpose’ as self-cultivation is regarded as a necessary condition for family relationships (Ho, 1995, p.117). In Taoism, a good life is a simple life and therefore from a Taoism paradigm; simple life could be a basis for purpose. The Zen philosophy of union through the dissolution of the ego (Suzuki, 1956 as cited by Battista, Almond, 1973, p.414-5) appears to be a contradictory purpose to the existentialist’s belief in mans need to develop his own unique ego and act in terms of it (Nietzsche, 1885 as cited by Battista, Almond, 1973, p.414-5) regardless, of the level of analysis.
We see above a variety of viewpoints of purpose from various religious beliefs. Individuals coming from a particular religious belief may be predominantly guided by that religious belief and could be also influenced by other beliefs. For example, being a Roman Catholic, I am influenced by the Abrahamic beliefs, while I also see a lot of relevance in Eastern philosophies, particularly Buddhist philosophy as well as the scientific paradigm. I will explore scientific paradigms in the next blog post. Meanwhile I invite you to reflect on your beliefs and the other beliefs in this post and see if it helps you make sense of the purpose of your life.
Battista, J., & Almond, R. (1973). The Development of Meaning in Life. Psychiatry, 36(4), 409-427.
Ho, D. Y. (1995). Selfhood and Identity in Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism: Contrasts with the West. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 25(2), 115-139.
Murti, T. R. V. (2013). The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: A Study of the Madhyamika System. Routledge, 271-5.