Easwaran’s Talks & Writings

Meditation Gives us a Goal in Life

By Eknath Easwaran

I had a friend in India who once got so restless that he went down to Madras Central, laid his money on the counter, and said, “Give me a ticket.”

The clerk, who was used to all kinds of people, asked politely, “Where to, sir?”

My friend shrugged. “Just give me a ticket – any ticket. I don’t care where I go.”

This seems to be our condition today, and as a result we find ourselves with an increasing number of problems. To make wise choices in life, even in simple matters, we have to have a goal to which we can refer every day. Otherwise events are irrelevant; they do not hang together in any meaning
ful pattern.

An Ideal to Keep Our Eyes On

I came across a good illustration of this the other day when
I went into the living room and found that our friend Rama had spread the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle all over the floor. “It’s an elephant,” Rama announced. “But I can’t even find a tusk.”

I grew up with elephants, so I would have sworn that I could recognize one from every imaginable angle. But nothing on the floor looked like any part of an elephant I had seen.

Then Rama tactfully showed me the picture on the box. “Oh!” I said. “Now I know what I am supposed to be looking for. This must be the trunk; that must be an ear.” After that, though it probably would have taken me several hours, I knew I could find all the pieces and put them together if I tried.

This is what meditation enables us to do. In meditation we take an inspiring ideal like the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi and set it before us morning and evening: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” An ideal like this gives us a picture to keep our eyes on throughout the choices of the day, so that little by little we can rearrange the pieces of our lives.

As we learn to do this, boredom disappears. Many serious contemporary problems can be traced back to acute boredom, which is intimately connected with lack of purpose.

No matter how far technology advances, without an overriding goal in life it is not possible to live well, just as without a destination it is not possible to get where you want to go. The strongest argument I can offer against personal pleasure and profit is that they cannot function as a goal. And without a comprehensive purpose, events cannot make sense to us; incidents cannot be related to a whole.

If we were asked to give an accounting of our society’s achievements, we could claim many great technological developments and scientific discoveries, plenty of skyscrapers, and the amassment of huge sums of money, but few truly secure, truly wise, truly great men and women. It is not for lack of ability or energy, though; there is simply nothing to strive for.

To grow to our full height, we need to be challenged with tasks that draw out our deeper resources, the talents and capacities we did not know we had. We need to be faced with obstacles that cannot be surmounted unless we summon up every last ounce of our daring and creativity. This kind of challenge is familiar to any great athlete or scientist or artist.

Those I have spoken with all agree that no truly worthwhile accomplishment comes easily.

It is exactly this challenge that most young people hunger for today. Look at the Olympic Games, for example. Divers, skiers, runners, swimmers, gymnasts: these athletes work many hours a day, day in and day out, for years, making sacrifices and denying themselves things other teenagers crave – all for the sake of a distant and nearly impossible goal. But when the Olympics are over, and the medals are put away, and these daring young people pass into adulthood, what challenge does our society provide to draw out their courage and constructive energy? What do we have to offer these men and women who have glimpsed the joy of self-discipline and sacrifice?

The answer is, as I discovered for myself, very little. In almost every area of modern life, we direct our young people toward an ideal that is, to be charitable, utterly ridiculous.

A Sense of Fulfillment

Mahatma Gandhi once said something that appealed to me deeply: It is not possible to be completely happy unless everyone in the world is happy. As meditation deepens, wherever you find sorrow – in the lives of your friends, in a community crisis, even in a tragedy on the other side of the globe – that sorrow is your own.

But at the same time, this deeper sensitivity releases the capacity to help. You find ways to help others solve physical problems, set emotional difficulties right, repair their relationships, and even forget their personal problems in making a lasting contribution to the rest of life. This brings a sense of fulfillment that nothing else can.

A Goal Like the Polestar

That is why every one of us has a crying need for the highest ideal, on which we can keep our eyes always. Whenever we wander, we can still find our way back.

All of us, being human, are likely to make mistakes in life. But when we have a great purpose that transcends passing, personal satisfactions, a goal that rises high above the horizon like the polestar, we need not get lost and wander in the maze of our mistakes.

By keeping our eyes on this shining ideal, we can retrace our steps, correct our error, and continue to pursue our journey until we reach the goal.

This article is from the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of the Blue Mountain Journal.