Choosing Your Life Purpose - Make it Count

I'm always talking to people about life purpose, vows, commitments, and making life matter. The method for doing this is practicing selfless deeds to help others (meritorious/compassionate behavior) and engaging in spiritual cultivation to realize and master the Tao, but let me take another angle to explain this.

Richard Schulze, the herbalist who dealt with terminal patients, once wrote a book where he said that in his early career he decided to spend some quality time with each and every terminal patient. Almost every one of them, he explained, had regrets. He wrote, "It's really sad to see people live to be seventy, eighty, ninety years old, and then sit on their deathbed sand say 'I wish I would have done it differently.'"

He'd then ask them what they regretted and he actually kept a tally of those reports. As you may well know by now, I love people who actually record things, tabulate them and test them because I like proof and evidence and that's what we find here. That's why the report is so valuable because it is not mere subjective opinion, but a tallied report that has weight. Schulze kept the recording up for a long time -- about 4 or 5 years -- and the big results he heard people say were:

    • I wish I had more sex; I should not have worried about what the neighbors thought because that didn't matter. Women would say, "I wish I hadn't been so frigid, I wish I hadn't been a prude," or "I didn't want to say I wanted it because I was waiting for him to do it and he never did," or "I bought that sexy outfit and never had the guts to wear it and now I do, but I'm too old."
    • I wish I had traveled more
    • I wish I had spent more time at home, on vacations, or with my family

Now let's toss the first regret out, because it simply goes to show that we are indeed denizens in the Realm of Desire, as Shakyamuni Buddha stated.

Sex is a powerful motivator, and old as these people were, they still clamored after more sex and sexual gratification illustrating once again that control of your vital energies, and getting over lust and identification with the physical body, are the big barriers to spiritual cultivation. No, what I want to talk about are the next two regrets -- the desire, basically, not to have spent so much time on work but on family, travel, and other things.

As I tell people over and over, rare is the man or woman who can find work with a purpose, or inject work with a greater purpose such that it offers meaning to their life. In most cases, the job of work is simply to pay the bills so that one can live life. That means money is to be used for living, and for helping others. Free time is rare and hopefully it is spent in spiritual cultivation or service-filled functions to make life something that matters, for most of the things we get into are simply distractions to busy our mind. Free time is so rare, that's one of the reasons I teach people how to run their businesses more efficiently to free up time for cultivation, as that's one of the big hang-ups.

When people ask the purposes of life, I always tell them that there is no purpose other than what you decide the purpose to be, so make it a big purpose and take upon yourself a BIG vow to help others, and as a famous Zen master said, "Since everything is empty, put an extra load of troubles (burdens) on my back."

You have to try to do something great in this life to help others other than just consume things and experiences, and that's what gives life meaning. It all comes down to service. You have to give back to your country, culture and community. For instance, I can barely make a living at it, but I try to give back by outlining breakthrough concepts for the culture in medicine/health/healing, agriculture, education, business practices, prosperity methods, spirituality and so on. It's small, but I do my part.


Some people say there is "God's purpose," but is it God's purpose that an innocent baby is born with cancer or suffers other painful calamities? No, as the sages all explain, such things are just KARMA. God isn't a person anyway, AS AS EVERY RELIGION TELLS YOU (see all the quotes in the articles), so there is no such thought in the mind of a person named God.

I always wonder why people don't think things through when I hear someone escaped a near-fatal accident where others were killed and they say "Thank God for saving me." If you think in that way, you also have to thank God for killing the other people in the accident, or ask why did God put you in the accident in the first place? Do you see the illogic in what I'm saying? If you interpret such events in terms of karma, however, then all those logical inconsistencies are cleared up in an instant.

That's what Buddhism teaches: how to jump out of this endless cycle of reincarnation and control the process of birth and death. Why do you want to control the process? Because there is no Fourth Realm you can go into, and so in being stuck within the Three Realms, it's best to cultivate a state where you can decide where you want to go, and what you want to do and accomplish. It's best to become the master rather than the slave of this process of interdependent origination. Since you cannot escape it, the next best thing is to learn how to control it.

For this reason, the precious teachings given by Buddha on enlightenment and practicing for the Tao are revered throughout all the Three Realms of existence. You can master all the samadhi that allow you free entry into all of these realms, and yet you can still remain unenlightened if you cling to the subtle notions of a self, which means clinging to subject-object dualities. If you can attain enlightenment, then you can become free of the karmic pull of the Three Realms so as to control your birth and death, and be able to come and go wherever and whenever you wish. You can also learn how to manipulate things in the realm of interdependent origination in order to accomplish great deeds for the benefit of sentient beings.

Imagine that! There is no realm or station in the cosmos where you can permanently rest and call it quits. There is no security in the universe for even a single moment! In other words, there is no science fiction parallel universe or some other unmentioned place you can go to, even after awakening! Everything is right here in the present, all of universal potential is right here, right now folded into this present moment. There is no Fourth Realm you can go to, so there is only the possibility of mastering the process of coming and going in these realms called birth and death, and of choosing what you vow to do in this realms, and then accomplishing it.

... You've got to decide upon a LIFE PURPOSE yourself!

As to spiritual cultivation, it is the only means of learning how to gain this mastery and perfection, and so how can we adequately thank the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for revealing this path to us, and how to ultimately achieve it? When you truly comprehend the incredibly precious nature of these teachings, how can you possibly repay these spiritual teachers for their past kindness?

Shakyamuni and the other Buddhas surveyed all of existence and expediently partitioned all of the cosmic realms according to the short synopsis presented. There is no Fourth Realm you can go to after you achieve Tao, no place to go other than to cycle backwards and forwards within these Three Realms. However, these great spiritual leaders also provided us with a means to become our own master who can control our activities, or manifestations within these Three Realms.

You're caught in the process of continually cycling through these realms according to your karma and merits unless you can eventually become a totally enlightened being, a total master of this process. Then you can choose where you'll go next and what you'll next do according to your personal vows and commitments. The big thing is to self-determine what vows you wish to accomplish on behalf of others, and then actively live out full lives to achieve them. And since there is no Fourth Realm to go to, it only makes sense to continue increasing your perfections during this time, and to take on various challenges to help others. One such involvement is to help others escape from suffering, and the way to do this is to also teach them how to become Buddhas.

You can understand that there is no ultimate rest because the Lankavatara Sutra says, "there is no nirvana of the Buddha and there is no Buddha in nirvana." What is therefore left is the challenge of perfecting your functioning expression in the universe through countless acts of compassion, whether great or small. Until you become a Buddha, there is also always karma to be paid for, so you're always working off bad karma and burning up your good karma in this process, as well as making new good and bad karma in its stead. Hence there is a great importance on learning how to act skillfully in the universe so as to create good karma for the future, burn away any bad karma from the past, or even change it into something positive.

That's what cultivation is all about, for it teaches you how to do this as well as how to skillfully extend this knowledge to others.

You can set out to learn cultivation for a variety of reasons. One reason is that you want to learn how to bear any bad karma that comes your way and learn how to always be able to change it into something better, for everyone has bad karma that will eventually come due. You can learn cultivation from the positive motive of wanting to develop much better karma for yourself and others in the future. Or you can devote yourself to spiritual cultivation so that you develop both the necessary merit and ability to help others on a vast scale, for you cannot help people unless you accumulate the merit to do so. Perhaps the motivation is that you just want to improve yourself or increase your health and longevity. Perhaps it's because you want to become a perfected being. You can even learn cultivation in order that your wisdom opens up and you become capable of helping the fate of races and nations.

In any case, you'll need to perform countless good deeds in order to achieve these goals because that's the only way to accumulate enough merit to have the power to transform things on such a large scale. Accumulated merit is like money in the bank that you can spend on transforming things for the better. You can use it to help change fate and fortune. The best thing is, when you use your present stores of merit to perform even more merit (such as using your wealth to do countless charitable deeds), you in turn accumulate even greater merit which makes you even more capable in the future!

Even if you have sufficient wisdom, it's possible that you lack sufficient merit for having the power to help others. That's why many cultivation masters always remain poor, for while they can reach high stages of cultivation from many lives of practice, these lives may have been spent in purely meditational efforts without many acts of charity or offering to others (or chances to do so). When they are born in the future, these practitioners therefore have wisdom merits beyond compare, but lack the worldly merits needed for being able to effect other changes in society. They are teachers of culture, for the true cultures of societies, at their root, are always based on the ideals and teachings of true cultivation as we have been going over. The higher the sage and his initial teachings, and the better they are elucidated and spread throughout the culture, the higher the culture.

Yes there is a high and a low. Skip all that nonsense about relativism. A culture without cultivation teachings is not very high stage. You not only need good teachings about virtue, ethics, morality, responsibility, positive human traits and characteristics to cultivate ... and models of the proper relationships between human beings and others (nature, society, etc.) but YOU NEED CULTIVATION TEACHINGS. And you need teachings that get you to the TAO rather than just samadhi or side-paths of gong-fu!

This is why the Bodhisattva path of Buddhism always counsels people to engage in selfless service to others. This is also why the Bodhisattva path produces countless world saviors, whereas the Hinayana path only produces enlightened beings who have little ability to impact society. It's got the whole shebang, but whether or not people can live up to it or not is a different matter. In fact, in terms of the ideals of Buddhism, people practicing Christianity tend to do a far better job than Buddhists.

Anyway, a lack of power in this life is usually the result of past charitable deeds being insufficient, and so it's absolutely essential that you cultivate morality, ethics, virtue and helpful charitable deeds in order to experience better states yourself in the future. You must also cultivate them in order to be able to bring better states of existence to others. Charitable works, after all, are the proper exercise of enlightened compassion. That is why they are particularly emphasized in Christianity and in all other genuine religions.

A higher cosmic existence is just one of the side benefits of merit cultivation. It's a natural result which falls out of the merit you must practice to succeed on the path, and the merit you accumulate from selfless behavior. But while it's true that you need merit to succeed in cultivation, don't forget that you also need prajna wisdom as well because merely accumulating merit (by doing good deeds and acting in a virtuous manner) will not remove ignorance. Enlightenment is screened by our ignorance, so it's only in dissolving this ignorance that we can awaken.

It's interesting that people always complain that our modern use of scientific findings seems divorced from wisdom, ethics and morality, but progress in cultivation science is not divorced from such things because without them you absolutely cannot ultimately succeed! You always need this type of merit to make progress in spiritual cultivation. In their deep minds, we know that people inherently recognize this fact because we always equate high virtue with spirituality. So let me say it again: merit and wisdom are the two requirements for success in spiritual cultivation, which is why the first stage of the Mahayana path is the Stage of Accumulating Merit and Wisdom.

The Flower Ornament Sutra says, "Everything is due to true mind. All phenomena are due to consciousness." In other words, everything is consciousness only and there is no real object of consciousness; even the object of consciousness is consciousness! It's because of this principle that we can finally go beyond all religion and superstition to see things as they truly are, and it's the teachings on the alaya consciousness which enable us to do this.

The phenomena of the world are all due to consciousness, and so ultimately it is you who decides everything we call fate and destiny. There are only your actions reaching their completion stage, for there is nothing ultimately controlling you such as a God or some higher being. Of course there are gods who intervene in our world of affairs just as we intervene in the affairs of animals, but with cultivation you can overcome any of these influences and even equal the gods in their abilities. It's all a function of your merit and prajna wisdom. Essentially there is only vast emptiness, and from the conventional sphere an automatic process called empty, interdependent origination defined by the influence of all the interconnected seeds of the alaya. There is only your own fate unfolding due to the previous karma you have created, and since it is something you have yourself created, it is also something you have the power to change.

The purpose of life is whatever you choose it to be, whatever you choose to accomplish, whatever you select to build. Life purpose is a subjective thing ... something you choose and define yourself. If you think there is some ultimate something or some reason for life, then you are wrong . From the ultimate sense there is no such thing as a being, ego, I, personality or life and life itself is only a number of conditions arising and coming together. There is no being within life because that "being" we imagine top be ourselves is just a thought construction, for only the ultimate nature is real. That's why the job of cultivation is to reach It. All the endless lives ahead of you are therefore about what you select them to be about. That is, if you cultivate enough to become an actor who chooses his part in this mara play rather than someone compelled by karma without knowing it.

This is therefore how the mind should practice: always let go and never play with your idle thoughts. Yet because of the alaya, you absolutely can accomplish whatever you set out to accomplish in the universe, and it's my fervent hope you will choose goals that embody the great compassion and great welfare offerings of the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. To become able to do this, to become master of your fate, to become the master of yourself and the phenomena of birth and death you have to cultivate to find your original nature and let its clarity become one with your actions. And the only way to empower yourself in this fashion is to master the principles and processes of spiritual cultivation.

Everything is essentially resting in the unborn state of original unproduction, and yet we're screened from this absolute state because we attach to delusion instead. This is why we say "recognizing that deluded mind is not Mind is called [finding] Mind." That very same delusion that obstructs us has an ending when you awaken, so there is such a conventional thing as an ultimate release from falsity. That's what's called enlightenment, bodhi-mind, clear light, awakening, Buddhahood, liberation or nirvana. How do you awaken from primordial ignorance? By cultivating prajna transcendental wisdom that abandons all duality and perceives the true nature of things as they really are. It's through prajna wisdom that the human consciousness attains awareness of its own universality.

This is the apex of evolution, the highest accomplishment of spiritual striving, the highest status of the universe. Since the path to Tao is the only path that embodies this, the path to Tao is really the only path involved with true human perfection. How do you accomplish it? By cultivating prajna and merit, by perfecting the mind and behavior. The Zen school calls this the pathway of seeing the Tao, cultivating realization, and carrying out vows. All three are essential for finding your own mind and becoming a Buddha. These three things-seeing Truth, cultivating realization (Truth), and carrying out vows--are the crux of spiritual cultivation.

If you eliminate all mental grasping due to likes and dislikes, what "is" or "is not," what "exists" or "non-exists," then you'll surely be on the path to genuine spiritual awakening. As an expedient method, the meaning of the path to teach you emptiness and non-grasping is usually taught as "all is unreal," or neti-neti "not this, not this." However, the actual path is "it's neither real nor unreal, neither existent nor non-existent." This is the Middle Path, which actualizes prajna wisdom.

You have to remember that the mind's actual mode of existence is the mere absence of inherent existence. For a Bodhisattva to reach the higher realms of attainment, even the subtle latency of the conception of inherent existence will cause them to lose their degree of enlightenment. A Bodhisattva never attaches to any of the seeds or fruitions of the alaya, whether they're of discrete or flowing form. A Bodhisattva's mind always abides nowhere, because it is essentially a mind of no-mind. They let thoughts be born when they arise and after they appear they hold not to them. Neither do they hold onto any ideas of being a being, an ego, a personality or life because there is no such thing. Those ideas are thoughts, and everything is just the Tao. In tune with the Tao, their mind being the Tao, they hold no such illusions and yet function in line with the Tao.

The Heart Sutra tells us that "Form is the same as emptiness, and emptiness is no different than form." When we therefore try to grasp onto appearances and make them real, however, then it's the same as the man who wants to scoop up the water's reflection of the moon with his hands, thinking that the reflection is something real and solid. It's like a man in a dream who thinks that everything he experiences is real and true with concrete, tangible existence. So the Diamond Sutra warns us against this by saying,

All phenomena are like
A dream, an illusion, a bubble, or shadow
Like dew and lightening,
Thus you should view them.

The alaya consciousness itself isn't real, but the pure ground upon which the alaya is based is real. Don't think of this pure ground as a substance because it's empty, formless, void. It functions like a clear mirror which reflects everything, and all the while the images it reflects lack any substance. The images lack substance, and so they don't interfere with its clarity.

Being completely empty we can also say that this ground nature is empty enough to be full, and thus we have the world of images of consciousness and yet, these visaya are all empty. Can you access the pure nature of the Tao this very moment, or are you veiling it, ignoring it because you're fixated on these visaya taking them as being real? Even if you go to Hell, the Buddha mind is just right there for wherever you go, it is only the environmental scenery that changes. As the Koran (57:4) says, "And He is with you wherever you are." The Bible has similar statements... go find them and see for yourself. But will you interpret them correctly?

Think about it then: the Tao isn't in cultivating chakras and chi mai and blisses and samadhi-the Tao is each empty moment of mind. There isn't even time, there is only Tao! The Tao is pure presence, the Tao is Now. Phenomena have no duration whatsoever and disappear as soon as they appear, so it's the state of Presence behind them which is the important thing. As the Samkhya philosophy of Hindu yoga states, you are after "sasksitva," which is sheer, contentless, nonintentional presence.

As one function among many, the Tao has infinitely open, vast empty awareness that can be aware of these infinite changes lacking duration. So from the viewpoint of the Absolute nature the alaya consciousness isn't real at all, and yet it appears to be there because of ignorant perception, because of a fixation which screens the true emptiness nature of things. That's where the error of ignorance comes in through forming the alaya, and our propensity to remain in this state of delusion, due to the continuance of habitual error, is an energetic momentum you must break via the process of spiritual cultivation. But since ignorance isn't real, you can actually detach from this stream of false mentation and then its momentum, due to the lack of an on-going energetic reinforcement, will die down into a state of extinction just as any habit would when you don't give in to it anymore. Ignorance will depart to reveal what's always been there and what can't change or depart. All it takes is to let go of the mind's thoughts by practicing cessation-contemplation, but Buddha warned to be careful because:

Old habits flow like torrents in
Alaya's subtle consciousness.
Since the real yet unreal can create confusion
I have refrained from revealing it to you.
If mind be set on searching for the mind, that which
At heart is not illusion becomes illusory.

Now we're getting into difficult territory. This is the stuff I only tackle in the STAGES material. We started off about life purpose, and here we are talking about the alaya consciousness, as the seeds of all experiences and possible futures, and Buddha disliked talking about it for fear people would turn THIS into a God or Self, or etcetera.

So where does that leave us?

Three things:

1) In life you must do lots of good deeds and accumulate merit

2) You must strive to purify, or change your behavior

3) you must not leave this world without cultivating, and that means meditation practice.

Those three, and bringing those three together into some sort of personal life purpose or existence-purpose is your task. Want to get some more ideas? See White Fat Cow: How to Change Your Life, Fortune and Destiny Through Merit and Meditation which took me 10 years to write. That will help pull together some of these threads.




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