The Dalai Lama and the Purpose of Life

The Dalai Lama, when asked the purpose of life, unequivocally and unabashedly answers, “to find happiness.”  Some would argue that happiness is not the purpose of life at all, rather some higher calling, such as achieving one’s full potential, or making the world a better place, or doing God’s will, or getting to heaven.

It seems to me the ultimate purpose of life, deepest down, is the perpetuation of the species–but not just in the obvious ways like procreation.  Seeking happiness is a day-to-day manifestation of our universal urge to insure our long-term survival.  It drives everything we do. 

This purpose is not inconsistent with any other life purpose.  For example, the golden rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is a near universal religious principle.  But it’s also a critical ingredient to our long-term success as a species.  (Darwinists would say that even anti-Darwinist fundamentalism is an unconscious effort to perpetuate the species!)

People seek happiness in many ways.  If someone thinks life’s purpose is to “achieve one’s full potential”, it’s because they believe it will bring them happiness.  Likewise with “making the world a better place”, or “doing God’s will”, or certainly “getting to heaven”.  

Even someone as selfless as Mother Theresa is seeking her own happiness, or at least “fulfillment”.  Even artists who feel they need to be unhappy to fuel their creativity are expecting a long-term payoff in the happiness of artistic success.

With this explanation, we can fully appreciate the Dalai Lama’s simple truth–the purpose of life is to find happiness.  What seems at first like narrow selfishness is really a cosmic biological imperative.

~ by Bob Weisenberg on November 22, 2008.

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