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Understanding the purpose of human life: Shebaba by Renuka Narayanan

As we start a new year, let’s remember that our true purpose is to show loving kindness to all.

columns Updated: Jan 06, 2018 19:47 IST
Renuka Narayanan

Best wishes for 2018, dear HT readers. With a fresh lease of time ahead, it’s only natural to wonder yet again what life is all about. You may like a story I heard recently that offers an answer.

Many years ago, a young researcher reportedly showed up in Kanchipuram with this very question. He asked it of Kanchi seer Shri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati (1894-1994), before a large gathering of the sage’s regular devotees. The devotees wondered how their guru would reply, since there were so many books on the subject in the sampradayam or tradition – the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, the two great epics, innumerable stotras, bhakti verses, philosophical views, and bhashya or commentaries by great acharyas in the past.

The sage asked the devotees for their opinion. They politely declined to answer. They were delighted that the visitor had voiced their own deep doubts and existential queries so crisply and wanted to know what the sage had to say. They felt an overwhelming interest in the answer.

The sage then asked one of his helpers to fetch a copy of the Srimad Bhagavatam or Bhagavata Purana, revered as the biography of Krishna. Out in Ishaan or North-East India, the Bhagavatam or God’s Story even takes the place of the idol in some temples, as the Torah occupies the altar in a synagogue and the Guru Granth Sahib in a gurdwara.

The sage’s choice of the Bhagavatam flummoxed his devotees. It was an enormous book of 16,000 to 18,000 verses, depending on the edition. Its tenth section, with nearly 4,000 verses, was the best known and most studied. The Bhagavatam was also the first Purana to have been translated into a European language, from its Tamil version to French, in 1788. What was the sage going to choose from it?

When the book arrived, the sage told his helper to turn to the seventh skandam (section), sixth adhyay (chapter), slokas (verses) 23 and 24. He asked for the verses to be read aloud and for the learned in the audience to translate them for all to hear.

These verses were said in the Bhagavatam by the young asura or titan prince Prahlad to his schoolmates: “Tasmaat sarvesu bhootesu dayaam kuruta sauhrdam bhavam asuram unmuchya yayaa tushyaty adhokshajah”, meaning, “Therefore, my dear young asura friends, act in such a way that Almighty God, who is immeasurably beyond any form we know, will be satisfied. Give up the demonic side of your nature and behave to all without enmity or otherness. Be kind and merciful to other living beings and become their well-wishers by showing them, through your deeds of devoted service, that God is love.”

In the deep silence that followed, the sage said, “The courtesy, compassion and love that we show others in God’s creation reach God. The Upanishads give it the watchword ‘datta’. Give; be nice. This love is most pleasing to God. So the purpose of human lives is to show loving-kindness to all.”

The story goes that the young researcher blinked back his tears, satisfied by the answer, and that very few eyes remained dry.

The views expressed are personal.