Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year Musing – What is the Purpose of Life...?


Reflections on a Snippet from War and Peace
(From First Epilogue: Chapter IV)

If you ask me which is my favourite novel  I will unhesitatingly say that my favourite novel is: WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is a most astonishing work of fiction which seamlessly incorporates history and philosophy in the story.

I am sure you have read this classic work of literature by Leo Tolstoy.

But if you haven’t yet read this masterpiece  I urge you to read War and Peace at the earliest opportunity.

Here is a small snippet from this book  a piece from First Epilogue Chapter IV  suitably paraphrased  for you to reflect and ruminate on.


A bee settling on a flower has stung a child.

The child is afraid of bees  so the child says that: 

the purpose of the bee is to sting people

A poet admires the bee sipping honey from the cup of the flower  so the poet says that: 

the purpose of the bee is to sip the nectar of the flower

A beekeeper observes that the bee collects pollen from flowers and brings it to the beehive  so the beekeeper says that: 

the purpose of the bee is to gather honey

An expert bee-researcher who has studied the life of the bee more closely  says  that the bee gathers pollen dust to feed the young bees and rear a queen  so he says that: 

the purpose of the bee is the perpetuation of its species

A botanist notices that the bee flying with the pollen of a male flower to a pistil fertilizes the latter, so the botanist says that: 

the purpose of the bee is to facilitate proliferation of flora

Another expert botanist observing the cross-fertilization of plants  notices that the bee helps in this work  so he says that: 

the purpose of the bee is the hybridization of plants

But – the ultimate purpose of the bee is not exhausted by the first  the second  or any of the processes the human mind can discern.

The higher the human intellect rises in the discovery of these purposes  the more obvious it becomes that: 

the ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension

As it is in the case of the bee  it is the same in the case of humans too.

Remember  when you live your life in a certain way  or – you indulge in certain actions  you and different observers of your actions may derive certain perceptions about your immediate purpose  but – your ultimate purpose of life is beyond your or anyone else’s comprehension. 

Maybe  towards the end of your life  comprehension may dawn on you as to what was the ultimate purpose of your life.

The Moral of the Story is encapsulated in Chapter 2 Verse 47 of The Bhagavad Gita:

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।

मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते संगोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥

karmany evadhikarass te maphalesu kadachana ma karma-phala-hetur bur ma te sango stv akarmani

(Seek to perform your duty; but lay not claim to its fruits. You have a right to perform your prescribed action, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results your activities, but neither should you avoid doing your duty).

So that is the essence of a philosophical approach to life:

Always do your best without expecting results  and you will be happy

Think about it  reflect  ruminate  and have a nice New Year 2017 ahead.

Yes – there is lot to learn about Philosophy from Literature. 

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