The Purpose of Life
If a life does not have any purpose, merely in existence is meaningless.
This life is very short, but the afterlife is infinitely long. Taking advantage of this few decades of time that we exist in, we can make seeking for an eternal life as our “life purpose”.
If we want to seek for an eternal life, we need to study Buddhism. The purpose of studying Buddhism is to leave the cycle of repeated rebirth in this life, to attain Buddhahood, and to deliver sentient beings.
The greatest matter in the world is reincarnation in the cycle of rebirth. My goal of studying Buddhism is to solve the matter of reincarnation in the cycle of rebirth. Apart from this great matter, there is no other matter greater than that.
What do people survive for? For what do they continue to live? What are the reasons that they must keep on living? What is purpose of our life? Can we just eat, sleep and work and do it every single day? Are you satisfied if you live till our life ends? Have you considered these questions?
If you have not deeply think of these questions, you do not deserve to be a human being, and you lose the value of being a human.
What is life? What happens after we die? What is the purpose of life? Human being is said to be the Spirit of All Things, but have you thought of these three questions seriously? If you haven’t thought of these three question in your life, you do not deserve to be a human being though you are born to be.
As a human being, we must die. Who can avoid not to die? We are fools if we are always occupied with the trivial matters, but do not plan for future life. Though some people may think of it seriously, they cannot get the correct answer if they do not encounter a true and good teacher.
Our life and universe are impermanent, suffering, empty and no-self (interdependent). Our mind is full of afflictions due to greed, hatred, delusion and arrogance, which the source of all evil offenses. It pushes us to commit offenses of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying through our body and by words. It leads us to reincarnate endlessly within the Three Domains and the Six Realms. It causes us to suffer in body and mind through the four kinds of birth – womb, egg, moisture and manifestation.
After we understand the concept of the reality of life and universe, we must strive for searching the teaching of liberation from the reincarnation of rebirths, the teaching of attaining real, eternal, purely kind and purely happy life.
If a person really knows the existence of good and evil retributions, reincarnation within the Six Realms, the punishments in hells and the unceasing sufferings that can’t be described in words, he will certainly be cautiously alert from the bottom of his heart. He will also try his best to do good deeds and refrain from any evil deeds. Moreover, he will seek for a good advisor and find out the way to liberate himself in this present life, without further delay until future lives.
Enjoying high position and great wealth for the whole life, but not knowing the highest and ultimate goal of life, will such a person be happy? No, unless he understands the goal of life, the true and absolute destination of life, and also masters the means to reach the goal, otherwise he will not have the mood to enjoy his wealth and rank.
Even though a person does not have high position and great wealth, and just sleeps underneath the flyover, he will still be contented if he has found the true goal of life and mastered the means to reach the goal. So, in terms of meaning of life, the “goal and means” are very important.
A person who is not certain about afterlife will unavoidably have latent anxiety and worry in the bottom of his mind, even though he is long in life, rich, and happy. If indescribable anxiety, distress, solitude, and loneliness exist in mind, a person will not have any companion of his spirit, although he may have one of his fleshy body. He may have a companion for now, but not in the future.
Thus, there is no real companion, no real relatives in our life. Our life is to be born alone and die alone; to come alone and go alone. It is solitary and lonely at the beginning and at the end. There is an ancient saying: It is stupid to work biasedly on matters of the present life, and not to deliberate on the afterlife.
Afterlife is a great matter in our life. Afterlife means life after death. Those who carry the Five Precepts into practice will become human beings, and those who perform the Ten Virtuous Deeds will become heavenly beings. If you are lack of those precepts and virtues, you will certainly fall into hells. The purpose of life is to resolve this great matter of afterlife—to prevent from falling into hells.
In the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha describes the difficulty about having a human body, and says, “To acquire a body in human form is like a pile of soil on my palms, but to lose the human body is like the soil on earth.” So, we know the chance is very little. Within a hundred years, the 6 billion people on Earth will eventually all die, and will certainly be reincarnated after death, but most of them are quite likely to fall into the Three Wretched Realms.
Hence, the goal of life that shared among a great many people in the past and present is emancipation from the reincarnation of birth and death, so as to avoid the great “jeopardy” of falling into the Three Wretched Realms.
The external five desires are not the standards on which the value of Buddhism is based, but the internal awareness of the great matter of birth and death, and of the knowing of the matter of Amitabha’s deliverance are.
If we cannot be liberated from the Six Realms, we will certainly fall [into the Three Wretched Realms]. Living in this world, we can make compromise on anything, except the great matter of birth-and-death.
During the late Ming dynasty, there was a great monk named Master Zibao who said, “Apart from the really great matter of birth-and-death, all other matters can be discussed and negotiated.” In other words, we must take the great matter of liberation from birth-and-death to the top priority in the study of Buddhism, and all other matters can be handled later on. If these other matters hinder our liberation, we should cast them aside at once. If these matters facilitate our liberation from birth-and-death, we should study and practice them.
In the mundane world, most people feel not lived in vain if they are successful in their career with fame and wealth, highly educated and knowledgeable, or graduated with diploma from famous institutions. The value of life is entirely measured in terms of extrinsic wealth, knowledge, and power associated with status.
Viewing from the perspective of Buddhism, it is very different. What the Buddhist teaching sees are mostly different—and fundamentally different—from ordinary people. For instance, what the ordinary people regarded as permanence, happiness, self and purity are sharply different from the Buddhist teaching that views them as impermanence, suffering, no self, and impurity.
With reference to the standard of Buddhist teachings, if a person understands this great matter of birth-and-death, and simultaneously realizes the easy path that enables us to be reborn in the Land of Bliss comfortably – aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss and exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, he is regarded as a person with great wisdom.
On the other hand, if a person does not understand the great matter of birth-and-death, and not know about aspiration for rebirth in the Pure Land, so as to resolve the issue of reincarnations and to pursue the eternal and authentic life, he is regarded as a stupid and pitiful person from the perspective of Buddhism, although he may be very knowledgeable, high in societal position, and wealthy in the world.
If a person does not know there is a great matter of birth-and-death that he has to solve, his fate is almost identical to a dog or a cat—born alike, die alike, and reincarnate alike. Conversely, if he is born as a human being and comes across the Buddhist teaching, understanding the retribution of good and evil deeds, the causes and effects in the three periods of time, the reincarnation within the Six Realms, and knowing that he should leave the samsara of reincarnation and realize the realm of nirvana, he will not have a waste trip in this life.
If he, however, does not take on the Pure Land path that leads to rebirth in the Land of Bliss, he simply makes a karmic relationship with ［Amitabha］Buddha, and he has to wait in the next life [for rebirth]. It is almost impossible for a person, using his own effort within one short life-period, to cut off all afflictions, pay back all the debts accumulated in numerous past lives, and leave the reincarnation in the Three Domains and the Six Realms.
Nevertheless, if he relies on Amiatbha Buddha, he will not only leave safely the reincarnation within the Six Realms, he can also achieve Buddhahood through rebirth [in the Land of Bliss]. In this respect, the highest goal of life for all is to achieve Buddhahood through rebirth. Isn’t it?
How can we be comfortable and safe enjoying a happy life without aging, illness, death, suffering and afflictions forever? The only solution of this matter is the teaching of Amitabha-recitation. Why? It is because Amitabha-recitation will assure you of rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Once reborn there, we will leave the cycle of birth-and-death in the Three Domains and the Six Realms, so that we no longer have aging, illness and death, no sufferings and afflictions. In the discourse of the Amitabha Sutra, it says, “No various sufferings, but enjoy various kinds of bliss.” It means no more worry and suffering physically and mentally, but enjoy the immeasurable pure joy and bliss only.
With respect to our present body and mind, body is a vessel for suffering – feeling hungry, thirsty, cold and hot, suffering from aging and illness; mind is also suffered from greed, hatred and delusion, dispute in right or wrong, and gain or loss. All these are phenomena in the Saha land.
We have body and mind in the Land of Bliss, however, there has no aging, no illness, no death, no worry, no suffering, as life is permanent in existence. Moreover, we have paranormal vow powers to deliver sentient beings. It is the highest goal of life that we want to achieve, isn’t it?
Needless to say, anything about the goal of life and the method to reach the goal is important. Being born as a human being, what is the main goal of our life? What is the method to reach this goal?
For a plane carrying passengers flying up to the sky, the crew members are kind and caring. They serve the passengers with many good food and entertainment. Passengers are very happy and fortunate that they can take this plane.
However, what happens when they know the plane has no destination for landing, and it almost runs out of fuel? Let me ask you a question. Do you think the passengers will feel happy and blessed because of good service, good food and entertainment? Definitely not! It tells us how important the goal [of our life] is.
Marriage and child-rearing are major life-events, so do building a successful career and acquisition of fame and high status. But, think about this: in comparison with the event of falling to the Three Wretched Realms, these are pretty trivial.
If we don’t know about this major life-event, it can say that we don’t really know the purpose of life. A person who knows the real purpose of life should know the urgency of this major life-event—liberation from reincarnation of birth-and-death, and get the issue resolved as soon as possible. In order to attain liberation from reincarnation of birth-and-death, we must study and practice Buddhism.
What is the purpose of life? Probably, most people have not seriously reflected on and asked themselves these questions: Why was I born here? Why do I live here?
Life is full of sorrow. For instance, the recent economic climate of Taiwan is in depression, and some individuals have committed suicide due to the unbearable sufferings in lives. Some others endure no matter how severe the conditions are; but for what should they endure? Where should the life go and what path should follow?
If people can think about this aspect of life, they will develop wisdom, and enter into the arena of faith. Thereafter, once they find the answer, they will become stable, relaxed, and comfortable in the rest of their life.
With respect to the purpose of studying Buddhism, why do we study Buddhism? With respect to the purpose of life, what is the purpose of being born to be human beings? There is only one answer, which is same for all human races and all the times—that is to liberate ourselves and others from reincarnation of birth and death, and to realize the original “self”—that is the innate Buddha-nature. Due to this Buddha-nature, all sentient beings are able to become Buddhas.
In other words, rediscovering and retrieving our original Buddha-nature is the purpose of life, and also the purpose of studying Buddhism.
Reincarnations within the Three Domains and the Six Realms are in essence purely sufferings. So, sentient beings of the Three Domains should earnestly consider their being in the cycle of reincarnations as the sole and upmost important issue in life.
Among the Six Realms, only the human realm provides the karmic conditions for solving this grave issue. Since we have already been born as a human being, and should we not solve this grave issue of birth and death as soon as possible, we shall leave this realm empty-handed, and lose the meaning and value of being a human.
Conversely, having had the human body and come across the method of liberation, we shall reach the goal of liberation, and thus naturally be honoured with the meaning and value of being a human in this lifetime.
Life has three periods of time—past, present and future. However, the present life is very short, the future life is immeasurable. It is extremely difficult to become a human again in the immeasurable future, because most of us will fall into the Three Wretched Realms.
In the Three Wretched Realms, the time span is long and the sufferings are heavy. So, whether we can be liberated from all sufferings in the future is to be determined in the present life. So, we have to complete the works in this lifetime, in order to liberate ourselves in future. It is the Great Matter for everybody. To solve this great matter is the purpose of our life.
The purpose of studying and practice Buddhism is to liberate ourselves from reincarnation of birth and death, not to study because of studying, not to go deep in Buddhist sutras because wishing to go deep in Buddhist sutras, not to practice because of practicing. The purpose of studying Buddhism to end the cycle of birth and death, i.e. reincarnation.
Re the Short Teachings about Amitabha-recitation by Master Genshin, we know it is precious and delightful to be born as a human being. Master Genshin says, “To be born in the human realm, we should be greatly delighted. Not just delighted, but greatly delighted.
If we cannot be delighted, it means that we do not understand how precious and rare to become a human being.
A wise man comes to learn Buddhism. The first point he prefers to consider is which Dharma school can provide him the solution for the great matter of reincarnation in the cycle of birth and death, helping him to make his mind at ease in regard of this, the greatest worry and fear in his life.
If a person is wise enough, he should seek this teaching [of Pure Land Buddhism]. Among the 84,000 dharma teachings, Amitabha-recitation is the only teaching that can “turn all fears into great peace”, as said in the Infinite Life Sutra.
There are various kinds of affliction and fear in our life; and all these afflictions and fears stem from one causal root. If this root vanishes, all of such afflictions and fears will disappear. If the root exists, new afflictions and fears will keep popping up even the other afflictions and fears are extinguished.
What is this causal root? It is samsara—reincarnation of birth and death. Reincarnation of birth and death is the greatest fear in life and also the source of all kinds of fear. Given this situation, Amitabha Buddha says, “Let me be responsible for your reincarnation of birth and death; I will let your mind feel absolutely relieved with great satisfaction.
So, all the benefits [of Amitabha-recitation] are subsidiary, except one—to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, the only benefit that is ultimate, and also unique.
Buddhism is the teaching that renders us happiness and relieves us from sufferings. Amitabha’s teaching of deliverance is exactly the Dharma that enables all sentient beings thoroughly to secure happiness and end sufferings in this lifetime. As you have been delivered, living in the embrace of Amitabha, the dark and hell-like suffering is transformed into a bright and happy life. What else are you still suffering from?
We should delight ourselves with knowing in this lifetime the great matter of human life and having reached the goal of life; we should not live as if intoxicated or dreaming like other people and worry about short-term hardship.
Whoever studies Buddhism eventually has to exclusively believe Amitabha Buddha and exclusively invoke Amitabha Buddha. Only Amitabha Buddha can enable each individual to have great peace of mind and great satisfaction in this life, and after death, to be reborn in the Pure Land and to achieve Buddhahood.
My assertion above may unavoidably give people an impression of being arbitrary and peremptory. As a matter of fact, the teaching of Amitabha-recitation is plain and unexceptional that no other teaching can match; but, on the other hand, it is also profound and advanced that no other can match too. It is because the teaching of Amitabha-recitation is the crystallization of all dharmas, the conclusion of all Buddhist teachings, and the original intent of Shakyamuni Buddha’s descent into this world. It is also the goal of our study of Buddhism.
The purpose of life, put it in a simple way, is “to aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land”. This is also the purpose of studying Buddhism, or, generally speaking, looking for answers of these questions: From where does a human being come? To where does he go after death? Which direction should our life head towards and follow? The answers are simple: to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.
According to Amitabha Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha urges us the sentient beings in the Saha World to aspire to be reborn in the Land of Bliss by all means. He urges us one time after the other. That means he has repeatedly urged us in infinite times. He is always urging us, hoping that we can be reborn in the Land of Bliss.
Aspiration to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, hence, is the original intent of Shakyamuni Buddha’s descent to the world, and also the Fundamental Vow of Amitabha Buddha. It is our purpose of life and our highest desire too.
Rebirth in the Land of Bliss doesn’t mean liberation from reincarnation within the Six Realms only, it also means enjoyment of the same infinite lifespan and infinite light of Amitabha Buddha, and full possession of merits and virtues of the 48 vows. So, rebirth in the Land of Bliss is our purpose of life, and the highest goal among the 84,000 Buddhist teachings.
It can be said to be the crystallization of the Buddhist teachings and the final and ultimate practice of all schools. Yet the method of rebirth is also simple and easy – merely recite ‘Namo Amituofo’.
The goal is so highly noble, and the retributive reward is so splendid, but the method is so plain and ordinary, not peculiar and difficult. It is always slighted by mundane people, but why? It is because they do not understand the background of Amitabha-recitation in the Pure Land school of Buddhism – the vow and practice of Amitabha Buddha.
To conclude, our goal of life and the purpose of studying Buddhism is clearly laid down, just like the flag hoisted up in the sky. All people in different directions can see. It is the goal – rebirth in the Land of Bliss, and it is the method – exclusive recitation of Amitabha’s name.
Don’t worry about you cannot attain Buddhahood; don’t worry about you cannot deliver sentient beings; do worry about you cannot be reborn in the Land of Bliss. Once reborn in the Land of Bliss, you must become a Buddha, and must be able to deliver sentient beings. So, the goal of our life is to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.
Some people study Buddhism as a kind of philosophy or knowledge, and do not tie it up with the matter of our birth-and-death. That means, they don’t consider about liberation from the cycle of reincarnations. To us, however, the goal is very clear and determined: the goal of our life, the goal of studying Buddhism, and the goal of practice is rebirth in the Land of Bliss.
An ancient saying discloses, “The only great matter in the world is birth and death, so if we don’t invoke Amitabha, whom should we invoke?” The purpose of life is reciting Amitabha’s name with faith. The sutra says, “That is the one and only one real fact; no the second or third one.”
Buddhist learners, whether taking the Sacred Path or the Pure Land Path in their cultivation, eventually want to subdue ignorance, and then to cut it off. However, if we look back the course of our learning of Buddhism in the past, we can see that as we advance deeper into the Buddhist teachings, we discover more that we are absolutely ordinary beings in a barren land.
All of us are ordinary beings. Although I was ordained, I am still an ordinary being. All in this room, of course, are ordinary beings too. What are the essences of an ordinary being? Full of greed, hatred and delusion, without cessation of false and miscellaneous thoughts. As long as there are false and miscellaneous thoughts, greed, hatred and delusion, we are attached to and vexed by the Five Desires. If a person has or withholds this kind of thoughts, he is an ordinary being.
What does it mean to be an ordinary being of the barren land? We are aware that our afflictions generated by greed, hatred and delusion flourish more vigorously than any other people, and our false and miscellaneous thoughts are much more and messy than any others. Although we learn Buddhism, we cannot, through our own power, cultivate and keep the precepts, meditation, and wisdom as the dharma tells, and are not capable to subdue greed, hatred and delusion.
What can we do, then, to deal with our foreseeable fate of reincarnations within the Six Realms? So, we want to be reborn in the Land of Bliss. Rebirth in the Land of Bliss is the only way that can enable us—ordinary beings of the barren land—to learn Buddhism, achieve the Buddhist Way, and escape from the cycle of reincarnations in this lifetime.
The complete solution for the great matter of afterlife can only be found here: “Believe and accept Amitabha’s deliverance, exclusively recite Amitabha’s name, and aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Pure Land”. Hence, “rebirth through Amitabha-recitation” is the sole purpose of our living in this life.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings