Hinduism Asserts that Complete Fulfillment in Human Life

“Get up and set your shoulder to the wheel-how long is this life for? As you have come into this world, leave some mark behind. Otherwise where is the difference between you and trees and stones?-they too come into existence, decay, and die,” once said Swami Vivekananda. What makes for the complete fulfillment of human life? Although several answers may be provided to this question, Hinduism asserts that complete fulfillment in human life includes God-realization. Hinduism pinpoints the ultimate goal of human life as the achievement of moksha or freedom for the individual soul from the cycle of rebirth. According to Hindu philosophy, the supreme consciousness of this world is that of God. The purpose of our lives as human beings is to transcend our finite being and realize our infinite being, our divinity.

To begin with, Hinduism teaches us that this world is a manifestation of God. Hindu philosophy asserts that God or Brahman is the one absolute reality. Beyond all elements of the material universe and transcending all worldly limitations, God is sat chit ananda, an unlimited source of knowledge, bliss, and truth. This world is created and maintained by His power. As Lord Krishna remarks in the Bhagavad-Gita, “Know that all beings have their birth in this [the world]. I am the origin of all this world and its dissolution as well” (7:06). The world itself is maya, an illusion, in the sense that it has a temporary reality, in contrast with the absolute reality of God. As such, it is a training place for our individual souls to grow and break free from the worldly bondage to which we are held.

It is by the power of God that individual souls are born as human beings in this world. Hinduism teaches us that the individual is an embodiment of atman in the human body. Atman, or the “God within,” is the immortal soul of the individual that is hidden deeply behind the layers of the individual’s ego. Unlike other religions, Hinduism does not preach that the individual is a born sinner. Rather, it asserts that humanity is divine, but born unaware of this divinity. As Swami Vivekananda remarks, “Ye divinities on earth – sinners? It is a sin to call a man so.” Hindus believe that the individual is unable to discover atman due to avidya or ignorance which results from the maya of the world. The goal of human life is to transcend this maya and come to terms with the true nature of oneself by realizing God.

Until the individual soul achieves moksha, it passes through several earthly transmigrations by the process of reincarnation. Each time the individual soul is born in this world, it is subject to the natural laws of this world, samsara, such as death. Yet, even as the finite body that the soul inhabits perishes, the soul itself does not die. The Bhagavad-Gita supports these ideas, proclaiming, “Just as a person casts off worn-out garments and puts on others that are new, even so does the embodied soul cast off worn-out bodies and take on others that are new” (2:22). When the soul achieves the status of human being, it inherits personal responsibility, free-will, and effort. As such, the path of the soul is guided by the individual’s choices or karma. By virtue of the individual’s actions in this life, he or she will be reborn on earth to reap the fruits of his or her previous actions. The only way in which we can free ourselves from this cycle of life and death is by uniting ourselves with God. Thus, the ultimate goal of human life is to realize God.

As previously discussed, complete fulfillment of human life can occur only through God-realization. However, en route to such fulfillment, an individual must also fulfill other aspects of human life. Hinduism identifies three goals, dharma, artha, and kama, whose successful fulfillment, during worldly life, progressively leads to the accomplishment of the fourth and final goal, moksha. The first of these goals, dharma, refers to individual duty. Dharma is the path of righteousness and morality that the individual must adhere to. A human being must meet his or her obligations to his or her self, family, and society, as designated by his or her stage of life. Strong devotion to one’s svadharma or individual dharma, as prescribed by the individual’s role in the world, places the individual on the path towards spiritual perfection. The Bhagavad-Gita alludes to the importance of svadharma when Lord Krishna remarks, “Better is one’s own law though imperfectly carried out than the law of another carried out perfectly. One does not incur sin when one does the duty ordained by one’s own nature” (18:47).

On the path to God-realization, the second major aim is the fulfillment of artha or wealth. Although this goal is not an end in itself, its fulfillment is necessary for the achievement of moksha. In order to live in the spiritual world, an individual must first be able to live in the physical world. As such, a certain degree of wealth is necessary before an individual can begin to seriously contemplate God. As it is commonly remarked, “poverty is a social evil.” When human beings are unable to meet their material needs, they cannot claim spiritual goods, as poverty can force people to abandon their personal beliefs, morals, and dignity for the sake of survival. Although wealth cannot permanently satisfy our lives because of its transient nature, it is a primary goal that must be fulfilled before we can progress on to the higher level goal of spirituality.

During human life, we must also fulfill a third goal, that of kama or pleasure, before fully entering the spiritual realm. This goal refers to a human being’s individual physical and mental wants. Hinduism asserts that the fulfillment of human desires is necessary for spiritual progress. A person who moderately satisfies his or her innermost desires grows spiritually because he or she is able to channel his or her energy in a positive direction. For example, a person who is married feels pleasure through his family, and inadvertently exudes this happiness as love for his family, thereby reducing his own selfishness in the spiritual realm. Thus, the fulfillment of kama is also necessary in human life for spiritual growth because it heightens our consciousness of the world.

Dharma, artha, and kama, though worthy goals, are not ends in themselves; they are merely steps leading towards the greater goal of God-realization. How can we fulfill this ultimate goal of human life? Hinduism teaches us that though God is one, the paths to reach Him are many, because we are all different. Based on our individual personalities, Hindu philosophers prescribe one of four different types of yoga or training to achieve union with God. Bhakti yoga is a form of yoga in which a devotee adores God with all of his heart. In contrast, jnana yoga is for reflective people who seek to know God through knowledge. In karma yoga, a devotee performs his or her allotted tasks, submitting the fruits of his or her labors to God. Finally, in raja yoga, an individual unites with God through psychophysical exercises that discipline the body and mind. Regardless of these different paths to God, the goal remains the same, union with God. The Bhagavad-Gita identifies this goal, saying, “As a lamp in a windless place flickereth not, to such is likened the yogi of subdued thought who practices union with the Self” (6:19).

Attainment of moksha fulfills our human lives because it makes us one with this world. When we become aware of our innermost being, we are at once merged with God. As Lord Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad-Gita, “He who sees Me every where and sees all in Me; I am not lost to him nor is he lost to Me” (6:30). Freed from desire and weakness, we are able to live contently, with access to God’s infinite bliss. When we realize God, we truly become human, because we are capable of feeling the compassion that God has for us, and of serving all beings unconditionally as though we are serving God. The only aspect separating humanity from the classes of animals is our ability to know God. Through God-realization, our human consciousness is elevated and we become sharers of eternal being. As Swami Vivekananda remarks, we realize that “each soul is a star, and all stars are set in that infinite azure, that eternal sky, the Lord.”

Complete fulfillment of human life can only occur through God-realization. Hinduism avows that our purpose as human beings is to become one with God. Unless we assiduously work towards this goal, we will not be able to fully appreciate our humanity. God is waiting for each of us to come to Him; all it takes on our part is to have full faith in Him. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna assures us of His divine grace saying, “Believe in Me as sole refuge, cast aside all doubt and come unto Me. I shall save you from all sins. This is truth, friend. Cast off your fear” (18:66).