The Four Ways People Take
All the great teachers of humanity have taught that preliminary purpose of life in their religions. Whatever teachings they have given to their followers, their motive has been to help them to accomplish that first purpose in life. For instance, when Christ called the fishermen he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He did not say he would make them more spiritual. That was the first step. He wanted them to accomplish the first purpose of life; the next purpose was to become more spiritual. To the teachers of spiritual knowledge who look at it in this way, their first duty is to show someone how to accomplish the first purpose of life. When they have done this, then they show the second purpose.
There are four different ways people take in their lives.
- Making Wealth
One way is the way of material benefit. By profession, by occupation, business, or industry, a person wants to make money. Something is to be said both for and against this ideal. Against it may be said that while working for money one very often loses the right track, thought, and consideration. One easily overlooks the rights of others when one is working for money. And what is to be said for it is this: that it is after all those who possess wealth who can use wealth for the best purpose. All charitable institutions, hospitals, schools, colleges, are raised by charitable people who have given generously to such organizations. There is therefore nothing wrong in earning money and in devoting one’s time to it, as long as the motive is right and good.
Another aspect is duty. One considers that one has a duty to one’s community, town, or country; one does some social work, one tries to do good to others and considers it one’s duty. It may be that one has a duty towards one’s parents; one may be looking after one’s mother and sacrifice one’s life for her, or for one’s wife and children. There is great merit in this also. No doubt what speaks against it is that very often such lives are spoiled, and they have no chance to do anything worthwhile in the world; but if it were not for the dutiful the world would be devoid of love and affection. If the wife had no sense of duty towards her husband, nor the neighbor towards his friend, then they would be living like creatures of the lower creation. It is the sense of duty that makes man greater than other beings; that is why we admire it. Heroes who give their lives for their country are not doing a small thing. It is something great when a person gives his life for the sake of duty. Besides duty is a great virtue.
At the time of the last war there was a young woman who was always displeased and in disagreement with her husband and she was always wanting a separation. When the call to arms came, her husband went to the battlefield, and he hoped that in his absence she would find someone else. As the war went on she thought that while her husband was fighting she would enroll as a nurse.
And it happened that near the place where she was working, the husband was wounded; he lost his eyes, and she became his nurse. When she saw him in that condition she was astonished that it had so come about that she was to be his nurse. She had just received a letter containing a proposal of marriage, but she tore it up and changed her mind in an instant; she said, “Now that he has lost his eyes and that he is helpless, I shall remain his wife, I shall take care of him all his life.”
Duty, the sense of duty, is a great virtue; and when it is perfected and deepened in the heart of a man it wakens him to a greater and higher consciousness. In that way people have accomplished noble things. The great heroes have lived a life of duty.
The sense of duty comes from idealism. The greater his ideal of duty the greater the man. According to the Hindus the observers of duty are considered religious, because Dharma, the Sanskrit word which means religion, also means duty.
- Make the Best of the Present
The third purpose one chooses in life is to make the best of the present. It is the point of view of Omar Khayyam who told one to “Drink the cup of life just now.” There is a quatrain in the Rubayat where he says:
O my Beloved, fill the cup that clears
Today of past regrets and future fears.
Tomorrow! why, tomorrow I may be
Myself with yesterday’s sev’n thousand years!
It is the point of view of the person who says, “If I was great in the past, what does it matter? The past is forgotten. And the future who knows what will come out of it? No one knows his future. Let us make the best of this moment, let us make life as happy as we can.” It is not a bad point of view. It is a philosophical point of view. Those who adhere to it are happy and give happiness to others.
No doubt all these different points of view have a wrong side also. But when we look at their right side there is something in it to appreciate.
People nowadays use a phrase: “He is a jolly good fellow.” In songs and on different occasions this phrase is used to show appreciation for that tendency of mind which tries to make this moment happy. It is difficult, very difficult, and not everyone can manage to do it; for life has so many conflicts, so many troubles. One has to face so many difficulties in life that to be able to keep on smiling is not everyone’s achievement. In order to keep smiling a person must either be very foolish and not feel or think about anything, but just close both his eyes and his heart to the world, or a person must be as high as the souls meant by the story of the miracle of Christ walking upon the water. There are some who sink and some who swim, and others who walk over the water. Those who are drowned in life’s misery are those who cannot get out of it; they are tied down in the depths of life; they cannot get out and they are miserable there; they are the ones who sink. Then there are others who are swimming; they are those who strive through the conflicting conditions of life in order some day to reach the shore.
There are, however, others who walk upon life. Theirs is the life which is symbolically expressed in the miracle of Christ walking upon the water. It is like having in the world and not being of the world, touching the world and not being touched by it. It needs a clear perception of life, keen intelligence and thorough understanding, together with great courage, strength, and bravery. By this I do not mean to say that the man who makes the best of each present moment is the same as the man whom we call happy-go-lucky, the simple man. That man is the one who lives in another world; he is not aware of life’s conditions, he is not awake to the conflicting influences of life; if he is happy it is not surprising, for he is happiness himself. I mean those who are awakened to life’s conditions, those who are tender and sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others. For them it is very difficult to go on living and at the same time to keep smiling. If a man can do it, it is certainly a great thing.
- Preparing for the Future
The fourth aspect is that of those who think, “What is life on earth after all! Is it not only a few days to pass somehow?” The day ends, the months and the years’ pass, and so time slips by. One comes to the end of life before one has expected it, and the whole past becomes like a dream in the night. Ask a man who has lived a hundred years, “What do you think about life on earth?” He will say, “One night’s dream, my child, it is no longer than that.”
If that is all there is to life, then those who consider it thus will realize they should think about the hereafter. Just as some think, “While we are able to work we must strive in order to make provision for our old age that we may be more comfortable”, so those who think of the hereafter say, “Life is short, it is nothing but an opportunity. We must prepare something so that later we shall have the benefit of it.” Maybe there will be some who have the right understanding, while others make too much of it and have a wrong conception of the hereafter; yet the wise ones who believe that they must use the time and opportunity which is given to them in this life to prepare for the next one, have accomplished a great deal. It is something to admire.
It is said that the earth and the sky and space do not accommodate a person who does not answer life’s demands, although for exceptional souls there are exceptional laws, for the lives of exceptional beings cannot be explained in ordinary terms. One may ask what will be the future of those who have not fulfilled the demand of life; will they have to come back to learn their lesson once more? We must all learn our lesson right now. Life is lived right now, its demand is right now, and we must answer it right now. At every moment we are asked to perform a certain duty, to fulfil a certain obligation; and to become conscious of this and to do it in the most fitting and right manner, that is the true religion.
We understand life’s demands by understanding life better. There are some who do not answer life’s demands because they do not know what life asks of them; and there are others who do not answer life’s demands although they do know. When the demands of the outer life are different from what the inner life asks of us, we should fulfil the demands of the outer life without neglecting those of the inner life, as it is said in the Bible, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
We have to become like the ebb and flow. This is a symbolical expression. A certain thing is accomplished at one time by sympathy, and at another time by indifference; one situation we must meet by taking interest in it, in another situation we must become indifferent, not concerned with it. If in a sea there were always ebb and no flow, or always flow and no ebb, then this would be a dead sea. The living sea is both inhaling and exhaling; thus in everything we do in life, we should be able to meet every situation and event with the manner that the situation demands.
These are the four different ways people take in order to accomplish the purpose of their lives:
- making wealth,
- being conscientious in their duty,
- making the best of every moment of life,
- and preparing for the future.
All these four have their good points. And once one realizes this there is no need to blame anyone for having taken another path than our own for the accomplishment of life’s purpose. By understanding this one becomes tolerant.