This post, perhaps a bit more than others, is a “to whom it may concern.” I am going to enumerate the points that are relevant here.
- To have security about the existence of something is not the same as knowing what that thing is. In this post, I am going to focus on how I might attain some settled sense of the existence of a purpose to existence. This, I think, is important before one starts talking about what that purpose might be. How do I come to the idea that there exists a purpose for existence? Let’s not assume that we somehow already know that there is any purpose at all.
- Often enough, my concern about the purpose of things is fueled by things lacking a purpose, from my point of view at a given moment, in both big and small ways. What do I mean? I mean that, for instance, I may see a good person suffer for no apparent reason. They are always honest, for instance, and never harm anyone but then get taken advantage of and do not get what we think they “deserve” or get something bad that we think they did not deserve. And we question what the purpose was then to their goodness and good actions? If a parent loved a child and sacrificed for them etc but the children grow up to hurt the parents, we feel: what was the point of all these good actions of the parents? They have gone to waste. The result does not match the effort. This is an example of a specific instance of “purposelessness” we see in someone’s life in the world. Maybe even our own. Another occasion that makes us ask about purpose is the bigger picture: what is the purpose of this kind of existence in general – an existence where so many hopes are thwarted, people are born, work hard, experience some good and some bad and then die. So much going on and changing and passing continuously. What is all this? We may not have something specific in mind but we may just wonder what all this is really about. Why is it there? And if someone has made this or is making it, why do all this? Why do I exist? Why was it necessary for the maker to make me? And others? In both cases (specific and general), we are using our existing lens to look at the matter. We see purposelessness – some lack of overall purpose and many many lacks of purpose in specific instances and events that seem to not accomplish much even when they accomplish something. We see this all around us, people’s lives painted in the color of purposelessness, people either declaring ‘there is no real purpose’ with their tongues or else living this statement without saying it in words. We see this so much and we see it in our lives too and we are moved to ask and wonder about purpose. What is the purpose? Where is the purpose? Is there any purpose at all? It is this last question that we need to address first. Is there any purpose at all? How can I know? How can I be sure, even to some small degree. Now, there are many many ways to get at this question. Here I am going to share one really important one that I learn from the Quran. And it begins and ends with “bismillah”. Let me try to explain what I mean. have a look at the picture below.
A——————X B [the larger picture]
A——–B, A——X B, A…….X B, A…X B [the smaller picture]
The first one is, lets say, one life or the existence of the whole universe. The second is a person’s life where there are multiple small tasks and actions, each starting at A and either reaching its goal or purpose, represented by ‘B’ or falling short of reaching it and terminating at some point X. In the big picture too, the question of purposelessness is represented by the termination of a life or the world at X. The expected end or goal or purpose was not attained from my perspective. This is ‘X’. Standing at X, I rightly say, “B was not reached.” I dont know what B is. I don’t have to just yet. I can ask and I find myself asking: ‘what is the purpose?” I am asking: ‘Is there a B at all?”
Now think about yourself, a life, a living person, moving from A (the start of your life) and reaching ‘X’ which represents that point at which you stand and notice a failure or lack of purpose from your perspective. Think of the larger picture first. Now here is where bismillah comes in. How? Lets consider the scenario without bismillah (not in God’s name) and then bismillah (in God’s name). Bismillah represents the perspective of a person who, in that moment of considering the matter, takes guidance from revelation for his perspective.
Without Bismillah: I am the one who is asking ‘what is the purpose’? I just happen to ask this. It is a natural question. I am the one who naturally expects A to end in B but often it ends in X and it seems, naturally, purposeless to me. There is no purpose! I don’t see a purpose.
With Bismillah: The fact that I am asking ‘what is the purpose’ when I stand at X indicates that the one who is making me able to ask the question is the one who is making me notice a lack! He is taking me to ‘X’ and then making me notice a lack. Why? So that I can become aware and be sure, by looking at my own self, that my question about purpose at X can only be in relation to some ‘B’. If I was not already aware of ‘B’, I would have just taken X to be the purpose. The fact that X is shown as a lack to me (i.e. the fact that X is not B from my perspective) shows that the One who makes me ask the question is showing me that there is a purpose! A purpose exists! My sense of lack of purpose is not mine. Rather, in the name of the One who knows the purpose and has created everything with purpose, is making himself known to me as a purposeful creator and asking me to see, by looking at my own self, that there is a purpose. If there was nothing in me that had a sense of the “existence of ‘B’/purpose, I would not be able to, on my own, ask the question ‘is there a purpose?’ My answer to ‘is there a purpose’ is in the question itself once I see the question indicating not just ‘my’ natural question but a question put in me by the one who knows the purpose, the one who has determined a purpose and the one who wants me to be aware that there is a purpose.
My question about ‘is there a purpose’ comes from a perception of a lack of that purpose. I cannot say, for instance, this got to only 2% of the purpose without some notion of the 100, of which this I deem only 2. If I did not have any sense of the 100, 2 would not make me ask ‘is there a purpose’. It is because my soul knows that there should be a 100 (but I need to discover this by not taking my question as natural but as something put there to reveal something about the one who is putting it there).
So then, ‘is there any purpose at all that exist’? Yes. The fact that I can ask ‘what is the purpose’ indicates I can notice a lack. This lack is in relation to something ‘more’. This ‘more’, whatever it is, exists. If it did not exist, how could I have said about X that it is not the purpose or the real or final purpose? The choice is to either take my question to be just a random question that ‘I’ just happen to have or to take the question as a messenger and sign indicating the existence of a purpose and the existence of a purposeful creator – a creator who creates things with purpose and has made everything with and for a purpose. The existence of purpose can be witnessed in this way by looking at oneself under the light of Bismillah.
Now, if i understand this much, I should not doubt that purpose exists. It does. The question then can be: so what is it? I am sure there is one. What is it? And how can I find it? That is a discussion for other posts.
p.s. the conclusion about the “existence” of purpose is consistent with a large majority of our everyday experiences and actions (from drinking water when we are thirsty, resting when we are tired, speaking to someone when we want to tell them something etc etc) that are all purposeful. It is the dissonance caused by the simultaneous existence of so much purposefulness along with what appears to me to be so much purposelessness or lack of purpose that gives rise to my question. Once I can be comfortable with the existence of purpose where I see purposelessness or lack of purpose now, I can then begin to explore what that purpose is. But now I have some ground to stand on. Without choosing to look at my question and need for purpose as a sign and messenger from my maker, I cannot be sure of the existence of a purpose.
BTW, this is also how I confirm the verse that says that God taught Adam all the names. It is because I have been taught, in my soul, Purpose, that I can notice its lack in the world. If I didn’t know it (and I did not teach it to myself and was surely taught by whoever made me) I would not have perception or worry or question about purpose or its lack. I know Purpose and I Know the One with Purpose, the source of Purpose. I have been taught. I witness it in myself. anyways..thats also a different verse and a different discussion perhaps.