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What is the Meaning of Life?

“Be not careless of the virtues with which ye have been endowed, neither be neglectful of your high destiny" - Baha'u'llah

Everything has Significance and Meaning

Each thing in existence has its own effect, and significance, for instance:

  • Meaning of the gravitational force

    The gravitational force
    A significance of the gravitational force is to draw things together, allowing compositions to exist.

  • Meaning of the stars

    The stars
    A significance of the stars is to pour out light and heat into the world

  • Meaning of the seed

    The seed
    A significance of the seed is to allow the perpetuation of organic life.

Even within man himself each limb, faculty, and organ has its own distinct significance and function, for instance the function of the heart is to allow the flow of blood throughout the body.

Now, when everything in the world surrounding man, and even within man, has its own unique significance and function, is it conceivable that man himself should exist without any unique function or purpose?

Man is the culmination of all evolution in this material world; he is the greatest fruit of planet earth. Is man willing to live an existence without any significance or purpose when all inferior and unconscious forms of existence surrounding him and even within him bear witness to their own significance and purpose?

“O  SON OF SPIRIT! Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created” – Baha’u’llah

Man Must Achieve His Purpose Willingly

Of all things in this world, man alone must achieve his purpose willingly, as a conscious act, all other phenomena, howsoever wonderful, and useful it may happen to be, carries out its function and purpose involuntarily through force. For instance:

  • Meaning of the gravitational force

    Particles merge together into the form of planets and stars because they are forced to do so according to natural law.

  • Meaning of the stars

    The stars pour out light and heat into the world, because they are forced to do so.

  • Meaning of the seed

    A seed forms into a blossoming tree because it is forced to do so according to natural law.

  • Meaning of the human organs

    The organs in the human body each fulfil their designated functions, because they are forced to do so.

All movements and outcomes which occur in this world are obligatory movements forced by natural law, all movements that is except the movements of animals, and above all, those of man, whose unique privilege it is to comprehend the world around him, and to wilfully determine his actions, and to wilfully achieve his perfection, and the purpose of his existence.

In the words of Abdu’l-Baha:

“Man reacheth perfection through good deeds, voluntarily performed, not through good deeds the doing of which was forced upon him.”

With this capacity to voluntarily act, and willingly achieve ones goal and perfection, comes the deserving of both reward, and punishment. For instance the stars pour out life-giving heat and light but they receive no thanks because their perfection and function is due to force, and if they ever cease to pour out light, or cause harm to their surroundings, they receive no blame either. Man however, due to being endowed with the gift of understanding receives both praise for good actions, and blame for bad actions, because they are caused by himself. If a man achieves a noble purpose in life he will be deserving of praise and reward, and likewise if a man spends the precious days of his life pursuing unworthy and selfish goals he will be deserving of blame and punishment.

“Woe betide him from whose hands floweth evil, and blessed the man from whose hands floweth good.” – The Bab

The Meaning Of Life Is not Materialism

Many lives are expended almost entirely devoted to the pursuit of increasing material wealth, or the pursuit of enjoying as many material experiences as possible, either simply because the individual has no greater life purpose, or because it is hoped that through these temporary means he may attain lasting contentment, freedom from difficulty, and ultimately – happiness. But however much man may strive to attain peace of heart and happiness through the accumulation of material possessions, or material experiences, he will find that this lasting contentment he seeks will continually elude him, and that at best, even with extraordinary wealth and material opportunity he will not be able to attain the ease and peace of mind of a house cat, or a cow that grazes on the hillside, carefree, and contented.

In the words of Abdu’l-Baha:

The easy and trivial life of cattle

"Were ease and pleasure and freedom from hardships to be considered the highest result of human life, no man could equal in this the cattle. For even when a man becomes the master of great wealth and attains the loftiest honor in the world, a mere cow grazing on the hill-side will by far surpass him in ease and contentment.”

Yet this is what many of us set for ourselves as the ultimate goal of our existence, expending our precious hours and moments as “seekers after this life”, when all the while we are getting closer to leaving this life.

In the words of Baha’u’llah – Prophet Founder of the Baha'i Faith

"Say: If ye be seekers after this life and the vanities thereof, ye should have sought them while ye were still enclosed in your mothers’ wombs, for at that time ye were continually approaching them, could ye but perceive it. Ye have, on the other hand, ever since ye were born and attained maturity, been all the while receding from the world and drawing closer to dust. Why, then, exhibit such greed in amassing the treasures of the earth, when your days are numbered and your chance is well-nigh lost?”

"Night hath succeeded day, and day hath succeeded night, and the hours and moments of your lives have come and gone, and yet none of you hath, for one instant, consented to detach himself from that which perisheth. Bestir yourselves, that the brief moments that are still yours may not be dissipated and lost. Even as the swiftness of lightning your days shall pass, and your bodies shall be laid to rest beneath a canopy of dust. What can ye then achieve? How can ye atone for your past failure?"

The meaning of life is not material wealth

"The generations that have gone on before you -- whither are they fled? And those round whom in life circled the fairest and the loveliest of the land, where now are they? Profit by their example, O people, and be not of them that are gone astray.
Others ere long will lay hands on what ye possess, and enter into your habitations. Incline your ears to My words, and be not numbered among the foolish.
For every one of you his paramount duty is to choose for himself that on which no other may infringe and none usurp from him. Such a thing -- and to this the Almighty is My witness -- is the love of God, could ye but perceive it.
Build ye for yourselves such houses as the rain and floods can never destroy, which shall protect you from the changes and chances of this life."

The meaning of life is not material power The meaning of life is not material power

"Rejoice not in the things ye possess; tonight they are yours, tomorrow others will possess them. Thus warneth you He Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Informed. Say: Can ye claim that what ye own is lasting or secure? Nay! By Myself, the All-Merciful. The days of your life flee away as a breath of wind, and all your pomp and glory shall be folded up as were the pomp and glory of those gone before you. Reflect, O people! What hath become of your bygone days, your lost centuries? Happy the days that have been consecrated to the remembrance of God, and blessed the hours which have been spent in praise of Him Who is the All-Wise. By My life! Neither the pomp of the mighty, nor the wealth of the rich, nor even the ascendancy of the ungodly will endure. All will perish, at a word from Him. He, verily, is the All-Powerful, the All-Compelling, the Almighty. What advantage is there in the earthly things which men possess? That which shall profit them, they have utterly neglected. Erelong, they will awake from their slumber, and find themselves unable to obtain that which hath escaped them in the days of their Lord, the Almighty, the All-Praised."

Although material progress is an aspect of human life, it is not the purpose of human existence, and alone has never satisfied the human spirit, “…whose mysterious nature inclines it towards transcendence, a reaching towards an invisible realm, towards the ultimate reality, that unknowable essence of essences called God.” *

*(For a collection of logical proofs of God’s existence, click here)

The Influence of Capacity and Circumstances

A things capacity is an indication of its purpose. The capacity of a pencil is to mark a line, and its purpose is to draw. Of all phenomena, man has the greatest capacity; likewise his is the greatest goal, and the greatest purpose – To know and recognize his Creator and attain spiritual joy.

“First and foremost among these favors, which the Almighty hath conferred upon man, is the gift of understanding. His purpose in conferring such a gift is none other except to enable His creature to know and recognize the one true God — exalted be His glory. This gift giveth man the power to discern the truth in all things, leadeth him to that which is right, and helpeth him to discover the secrets of creation…” – Baha’u’llah

Difficult personal circumstances

The current circumstances in which we find ourselves also shapes our meaning and purpose of existence for that particular duration of time, for example a mother of young children may decide that her greatest usefulness and meaning is in dedicating the majority of her energy to educating her children and in beautifying their morals since they will “bear the seeds of the character of future society”. A person in a different setting or time however – for example a businesswoman who has no such commitments, may decide instead that her greatest usefulness and meaning is in contributing financially to projects which assist those less fortunate.

“Thou hast endowed each and all with talents and faculties, and all are submerged in the Ocean of Thy Mercy” – Abdu’l-Baha

“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in…” – Baha’u’llah

Lesser and Greater Purposes

Significance of red blood cells

There are multiple purposes of each existence, rather than a single purpose, however there is also an ultimate purpose of a things existence. For instance from one perspective the purpose of a single red blood cell is to survive, from a greater perspective its purpose is to fulfil its own small task, from an even greater perspective its purpose is to sustain the life of a living being.

Similarly in the life of man there are numerous lesser purposes when looked at from varying perspectives, for example from the lowest perspective the purpose of man is to survive, at a greater perspective his purpose is to care for and nurture the happiness of his offspring, from an even greater perspective his purpose is to find his talents and contribute to the welfare of his society, and at an even greater perspective – for Baha’is the ultimate object of man’s creation – his purpose to attain the honour and joy of finding and loving his Creator, and in being able to reflect his Lords divine qualities such as love, kindness, Wisdom, Bounty, Forbearance, Benevolence, and Mercy.

“Thou didst wish to make Thyself known unto men; therefore, Thou didst, through a word of Thy mouth, bring creation into being and fashion the universe.” – Baha’u’llah

The minor purposes we work through, although limited in their effects, are not without value, and assist man to gradually develop his soul, and the souls of others, and eventually find his way towards his Origin, and Ultimate Goal, Who is the embodiment of all that is Loveable.

Growth of the Human Spirit

“The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls" - Shoghi Effendi

The Founders of all of the great world Faiths have throughout history taught their followers that Creation is not restricted to this material world and that we must strive to improve our own inner beings in order to be prosperous in the next, nevertheless, striving to achieve excellence of character and all noble qualities is essential to man regardless of his belief in the spiritual nature of man and an afterlife. For instance stones and plants have no promised “Heaven”, but a stone which has undergone great pressure and heat and difficulty in its life and has become transformed into a gem-stone is far more precious and loved than an ordinary stone, and a tree that has been the most pruned and cultivated and which bears sweet fruit is far more precious and loved than a barren tree, even though they have no greater destiny beyond this physical world. How much greater then is the need for man, who is the pinnacle of earth’s evolution, to strive to achieve his highest level of perfection and acquire all noble virtues and characteristics, and who’s gem-like spirit will continue to progress in all the worlds of God.

“In the beginning of his human life man was embryonic in the world of the matrix (the womb). There he received capacity and endowment for the reality of human existence. The forces and powers necessary for this world were bestowed upon him in that limited condition. In this world he needed eyes; he received them potentially in the other. He needed ears; he obtained them there in readiness and preparation for his new existence.” – Abdu’l-Baha

Baby in womb

The physical capacities and powers necessary for man's existence in this earthly world were developed within man while in the world of the womb where he was unaware of the new stage of existence destined for him where those capacities such as sight, limbs, and lungs would be essential. Similarly in this world man must prepare himself for the life beyond. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the womb by acquiring physical characteristics necessary in this sphere of existence, similarly the spiritual characteristics of the divine existence must be attained while he is in this fast-fleeting world.

“O SON OF BOUNTY! Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things. Thus, ere thou didst issue from thy mother’s womb, I destined for thee two founts of gleaming milk, eyes to watch over thee, and hearts to love thee. Out of My loving-kindness, ’neath the shade of My mercy I nurtured thee, and guarded thee by the essence of My grace and favor. And My purpose in all this was that thou mightest attain My everlasting dominion and become worthy of My invisible bestowals…” – Baha’u’llah

God willing every person will be enabled in his or her precious lifetime to attain the purpose for which they were created, and attain the joy and honour of finding nearness to their Creator. God's attributes are always visible in varying degrees in the world of creation, however in each era God reveals His attributes in their greatest intensity in the form of a perfect man. In this era that "Sign of God", or "Prophet of God" is Baha'u'llah.