We explored the notion of purpose from the viewpoints of Abrahamic Religions, Eastern Philosophies, Early Sciences, Modern Sciences, Philosophy and Psychology in the last few blog posts in this series. Let’s now have a look at this notion from some of the Ecological viewpoints.
It’s May 2017. I got a call from the account manager from the company that manages my Mahogany plantation in the Ratnapura district of Sri Lanka. I have some bad news to share with you. What is it? I ask. One of your Mahogany plantations in Munihinkanda has got affected by the recent landslides. We have not been able to access the plantation yet as the authorities have restricted access to the plantations until they are able to confirm that it is secure. What is the extent of the damage? I ask. About ten acres of the plantation has slid down to the river below and we feel it includes one of your plots too. Interestingly I was calm as I heard this news, although the financial loss was going to be quite severe. As I digested this news my mind went to the time that a rubber plantation of a larger extent belonging to my father was destroyed due to a cyclone about 40 years ago. I remembered my involvement in the process of transporting the fallen trees to help my father recover at least a part of the losses. My mind wonders to the hundreds of lives lost due to this storm and thousands who have lost their livelihood as a result. Perhaps the reason for me to be emotionally unmoved by my financial loss could be because these are more severe than the personal financial loss I have incurred. I have watched with dismay so many natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunami’s, floods, landslides, forest fires etc. happening in various parts of the world. It seems like it is getting more and more intense.
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.
We explored the notion of purpose from the view point from Abrahamic Religions and Eastern Philosophies in the last blog post. Let’s now have a look at this notion from some of the early scientific viewpoints.
The various early sciences give a scientific basis for understanding life, and consequently the purpose of life and individual purposefulness. While purpose per se is researched in a very limited way according to the literature I have examined, reading in to some of the scientific theory and the life of some of the early scientists shows the scientific basis for the evolution of life. Therefore, reflecting on some of the concepts could help understand the purpose of living beings and the purpose of life as a whole. Theories such as the Theory of Gravity discovered by Isaac Newton, Theory of Evolution discovered by Charles Darwin, early discovery of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) by Friedrich Miescher and Quantum Theory by Albert Einstein, as well as the circumstances under which such theories evolved would provide a window in to the thinking about ‘purpose’.
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.