The Goal of a Spiritual Life

“Samsara,” says the Advaita Vedantic classic known as the Ashtavakra Gita, “is the compulsion to act” (kartavya, “something to be done”). This is a very interesting understanding of the nature of our suffering. It’s the feeling that we always have to do something to fix, improve, or escape our present situation. We are driven by the “if only” syndrome: “if only” things were different or better, then we’d be happy.

But it is precisely the “if only” syndrome that keeps us from the happiness we’re looking for. Contentment is not an attainment or acquisition; it is merely the cessation or stopping (nirodha) of discontentment: wanting what we don’t have, and not wanting what we do have.

This is very good news, I think. It’s way easier to imagine reaching the goal if it’s just a matter of stopping something we’re doing than thinking about it as something we have construct, build, reach, achieve, or obtain. And it is important to have realistic goals, for only they are realizable.

The goal of a spiritual life is complete peace of mind, deep-seated happiness or bliss, an understanding of and acceptance of reality as it is, and a heart that is wide open in love for others because the endless desires of the egoistic self have been put to rest.

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With this state of mind we continue to encounter the vicissitudes of life – the waves that arise and that we encounter in life on a moment-to-moment basis. The goal is not to attempt to control those waves, nor is it to be able to predict each and every one, like you can do at a water park that has a wave machine.

The goal is to learn how to surf the waves – skillfully, contentedly, wisely, and compassionately – no matter what unexpected shape and size they take.

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