Neema Majmudar explains how Vedanta addresses the fundamental questions of existence and purpose.
What is it that I am really seeking through my various pursuits in life? What do I seek when I pursue money, pleasures, fame, name, power or heaven? Do I seek all these for the sake of themselves? If it were just for themselves, I would be satisfied when I fulfilled any given desire. However, I am only momentarily satisfied when I fulfill them. Soon I find myself with another set of desires. This way, the desires I entertain may change in nature and in time. But one thing remains constant, in spite of all accomplishments I may have, me the unsatisfied and inadequate person, the person who would like to become somebody different from what I am at present. Why? Because I am conscious of myself and as a result of my relating with the world, I have a judgment about myself. My conclusion about myself is that I am limited, mortal, subject to sorrow.
I cannot accept myself as I am and therefore make attempts throughout my life to be acceptable to myself by pursuing different things. However, if I am an individual confined to this limited body, with limited powers to change situations, things and people in this vast universe, it seems impossible that I will one day become totally acceptable to myself and find a lasting fulfillment that does not depend upon any situation or any given place or time.
This preliminary inquiry into the nature of my pursuits leads me to the fact that there is no connection between what I want and what I do: I want to be free from being a wanting, limited, insignificant person. And my different pursuits in life only have the capacity to give me temporary relief, in the form of momentary satisfaction and joy.
At this point, some will say, this is the reality of existence. Life is meaningless, you are a limited entity confronted with the immense forces of the world and you have to accept this fact of existence. You can give a meaning to it by your actions: just be an ethical person and try to excel in what you do, whether you are in business, arts, science or working in a company, contribute to society as much as you can, but do not expect anything more than this from life. And, do not forget to enjoy the small and big pleasures of life. But, how can I accept this kind of reality and dismiss this intense aspiration for freedom from fear and sorrow, this fundamental search for everlasting fulfillment that seems to be at the core of my being?
Others will say, there is a heaven where you will enjoy eternally some special pleasures, provided that you behave well and follow the commandments of our scripture. But how can limited prayers and good actions that I do in this life produce an eternal stay in heaven? Since any limited action cannot produce a limitless result, eternal stay in heaven cannot be acceptable to my reason.
Then the only possibility is that maybe the conclusion I have about myself is wrong. This is precisely what Vedanta says. It says that you are already what you are looking for, the limitless, the whole, you are already free from this sense of limitation, insecurity and lack. Logically, this seems to be the only solution: because if I am really a limited individual, no matter what I do, no action will ever produce the limitless I am seeking.
But if I am making a mistake about myself, and taking myself to be limited while I am in reality limitless, there is a solution. It is in the form of knowledge of my true nature. This seems to be the only way out
It is interesting that most religions, philosophies, psychologies, etc., do not attempt to question this fundamental and universal conclusion that everyone has, “I am a limited individual.” Often they confirm the conclusion about the limited nature of “I” and start their system of beliefs, school of thought or therapy with this in-built assumption. Keeping this paradigm, whatever solution they envisage, it can never solve the problem of being a limited individual.
Since Vedanta addresses the most fundamental problem that is universally faced by everyone, any discerning person will examine what Vedanta has to say about one’s true nature.
This article has been reprinted from Discover Vedanta with permission from its authors Neema Majmudar and Surya Tahora.