What is the purpose of human birth?

ਗੁਰ ਚਰਣ ਲਾਗਿ ਹਮ ਬਿਨਵਤਾ ਪੂਛਤ ਕਹ ਜੀਉ ਪਾਇਆ ॥
ਕਵਨ ਕਾਜਿ ਜਗੁ ਉਪਜੈ ਬਿਨਸੈ ਕਹਹੁ ਮੋਹਿ ਸਮਝਾਇਆ ॥੧॥
“Falling at the Feet of the Guru, I pray, and ask Him, “Why was man created? Pray teach me; Why does man go through cycles of birth and death?” ||1||”
(Ang 475)

Bhagat Kabir Ji asks these profound questions from the Guru and then prays:

ਦੇਵ ਕਰਹੁ ਦਇਆ ਮੋਹਿ ਮਾਰਗਿ ਲਾਵਹੁ ਜਿਤੁ ਭੈ ਬੰਧਨ ਤੂਟੈ ॥
ਜਨਮ ਮਰਨ ਦੁਖ ਫੇੜ ਕਰਮ ਸੁਖ ਜੀਅ ਜਨਮ ਤੇ ਛੂਟੈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
“O Divine Guru, please show compassion, and put me on the path that frees me of ‘bondage’ with the ‘terrifying world ocean’; Suffering due to past deeds is forgiven, and I am released from cycles of reincarnation. ||1||Pause||”
(Ang 475)

This prayer answers the questions thus: Man ties himself in bondage due to evil thoughts and deeds, thus going through cycles of birth and death. By following the Guru’s teachings he can break this cycle and attain release from it. Let us try and understand the import of these statements.

The soul came from, and is a part of, God, the Supreme soul. At the time of birth of the body, the soul is told that he has a role to play and after it completes the allotted tasks he will be accepted back to merge with the Supreme soul. A fixed time is allotted for this and death scheduled in advance. However, distractions like looking viciously at another’s wealth or beauty, greed, anger, attachment to transitory pleasures, slander, back-biting, and conflict with others, wean the soul away from faithfully carrying out its tasks. This is the ‘bondage’ mentioned above. It becomes a wall or obstacle between the soul and Supreme Soul.

But the soul yearns to get back to the source. On death of the body he attempts but is unable to cross the obstacle created by the above evils. Since these evils affect one whose mind is in turbulence, overcoming the obstacle is like crossing an ocean in turbulence, the ‘terrifying world ocean’ mentioned above. If the soul fails in crossing the world ocean, he cannot obviously merge with God and has to take birth in another body (reincarnate) in a life form that is determined by God based on his conduct in the life just ended. Reincarnation is chastisement as also opportunity. In every birth the soul is given a chance to act such that he is granted human birth again which provides the opportunity to merge with the Supreme soul. If he does not succeed he continues in the cycles of death and rebirth, thus:

ਪਰ ਧਨ ਪਰ ਤਨ ਪਰ ਤੀ ਨਿੰਦਾ ਪਰ ਅਪਬਾਦੁ ਨ ਛੂਟੈ ॥
ਆਵਾ ਗਵਨੁ ਹੋਤੁ ਹੈ ਫੁਨਿ ਫੁਨਿ ਇਹੁ ਪਰਸੰਗੁ ਨ ਤੂਟੈ ॥੨॥
“One who does not give up the pursuits of others’ wealth, others’ bodies, others’ wives, others’ slander and remains in conflicts – for the sake of these one continues in the cycles of reincarnation and this story never ends. ||2||”
(Ang 971)

There are no places or regions known as heaven and hell. Reincarnation is temporary hell, and success in merging with God is heaven. No one is permanently put in hell because God is compassionate and merciful.

Let us now study the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji on how release from the cycles of reincarnation may be achieved. All references are from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

In Jap Ji, Guru Nanak Sahib Ji asks a question and answers it thus:

Question: ਕਿਵ ਸਚਿਆਰਾ ਹੋਈਐ ਕਿਵ ਕੂੜੈ ਤੁਟੈ ਪਾਲਿ ॥ (Ang 1)
“How can the soul break the wall of falsehood (obstacle) and get to God?”

Answer: ਹੁਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ ॥੧॥ (Ang 1)
“Carry out the commands preordained.”

So the obstacle can be broken if one carries out the commands that are preordained, i.e. carry out the allotted tasks. This can only be achieved in human birth:

ਭਈ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਦੇਹੁਰੀਆ ॥
ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਮਿਲਣ ਕੀ ਇਹ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਰੀਆ ॥
“You have been granted human birth; this is your chance to meet the Master.”
(Ang 12)

Let us see what type of commands could have been given to the soul. First and foremost he was told that the family into which he is being born, was predestined. These relatives are based on association in previous birth but cannot help when the end comes; attachment to them must therefore be avoided.

ਮਾਈ ਬਾਪ ਪੁਤ੍ਰ ਸਭਿ ਹਰਿ ਕੇ ਕੀਏ ॥
ਸਭਨਾ ਕਉ ਸਨਬੰਧੁ ਹਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਦੀਏ ॥੧॥
“Mother, father and sons are all made by the Lord; the relationships of all are established by the Lord. ||1||
(Ang 494)

ਜਿਉ ਜਨਨੀ ਸੁਤੁ ਜਣਿ ਪਾਲਤੀ ਰਾਖੈ ਨਦਰਿ ਮਝਾਰਿ ॥
ਅੰਤਰਿ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਮੁਖਿ ਦੇ ਗਿਰਾਸੁ ਖਿਨੁ ਖਿਨੁ ਪੋਚਾਰਿ ॥
“Just as the mother, having given birth to, feeds and keeps her supervises her child – indoors and outdoors, she puts food in the child’s mouth; each and every moment, she nurtures him.”
(Ang 168)

ਕਾਹੇ ਪੂਤ ਝਗਰਤ ਹਉ ਸੰਗਿ ਬਾਪ ॥
ਜਿਨ ਕੇ ਜਣੇ ਬਡੀਰੇ ਤੁਮ ਹਉ ਤਿਨ ਸਿਉ ਝਗਰਤ ਪਾਪ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਜਿਸੁ ਧਨ ਕਾ ਤੁਮ ਗਰਬੁ ਕਰਤ ਹਉ ਸੋ ਧਨੁ ਕਿਸਹਿ ਨ ਆਪ ॥
ਖਿਨ ਮਹਿ ਛੋਡਿ ਜਾਇ ਬਿਖਿਆ ਰਸੁ ਤਉ ਲਾਗੈ ਪਛੁਤਾਪ ॥੧॥
“O child, why do you argue with your father? It is a sin to argue with your parents who who give birth and raised you. ||1||Pause|| That wealth, which you are so proud of – that wealth does not belong to anyone. In an instant, you shall have to leave behind all your corrupt pleasures; you shall be left to regret and repent. ||1||”
(Ang 1200)

ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਬਨਿਤਾ ਸੁਤ ਬੰਧਪ ਇਸਟ ਮੀਤ ਅਰੁ ਭਾਈ ॥
ਪੂਰਬ ਜਨਮ ਕੇ ਮਿਲੇ ਸੰਜੋਗੀ ਅੰਤਹਿ ਕੋ ਨ ਸਹਾਈ ॥੧॥
“Mother, father, spouse, children, relatives, lovers, friends and siblings meet, based on association in previous lives; but none of them will be your companion and support in the end. ||1||”
(Ang 700)

The profession or the job is also preordained and one must carry that out well:

ਸਭੁ ਜੀਉ ਪਿੰਡੁ ਦੀਆ ਤੁਧੁ ਆਪੇ ਤੁਧੁ ਆਪੇ ਕਾਰੈ ਲਾਇਆ ॥
ਜੇਹਾ ਤੂੰ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਕਰਹਿ ਤੇਹੇ ਕੋ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਵੈ ਜੇਹਾ ਤੁਧੁ ਧੁਰਿ ਲਿਖਿ ਪਾਇਆ ॥੨॥
“You Yourself bless us with soul, body and everything. You Yourself cause us to act. As You issue Your Commands, so everyone carries out the tasks pre-ordained. ||2||”
(Ang 736)

ਜੈਸਾ ਸੰਗੁ ਬਿਸੀਅਰ ਸਿਉ ਹੈ ਰੇ ਤੈਸੋ ਹੀ ਇਹੁ ਪਰ ਗ੍ਰਿਹੁ ॥੨॥
“Being with someone other than the spouse is like company of a poisonous snake. (Adultery is taboo). ||2||”
(Ang 403)

ਨਿਤਪ੍ਰਤਿ ਹਿਰਹਿ ਪਰ ਦਰਬੁ ਛਿਦ੍ਰ ਕਤ ਢਾਕੀਅਹਿ ॥
“Laying hands on another’s wealth cannot be concealed.”
(Ang 1362)

ਨਿੰਦਾ ਭਲੀ ਕਿਸੈ ਕੀ ਨਾਹੀ ਮਨਮੁਖ ਮੁਗਧ ਕਰੰਨਿ ॥
ਮੁਹ ਕਾਲੇ ਤਿਨ ਨਿੰਦਕਾ ਨਰਕੇ ਘੋਰਿ ਪਵੰਨਿ ॥੬॥
“It is not right to slander any one but the foolish, self-willed manmukhs still do it. The slanderers are put to shame and go through hell.”
(Ang 755)

ਪੂਰਬਿ ਲਿਖੇ ਡੇਹ ਸਿ ਆਏ ਮਾਇਆ ॥
ਚਲਣੁ ਅਜੁ ਕਿ ਕਲ੍ਹ੍ਹਿ ਧੁਰਹੁ ਫੁਰਮਾਇਆ ॥੨॥
“O my mother my days are predetermined; I have to leave on the day preordained. One must depart, today or tomorrow, according to the Lord’s Primal Order. ||2||”
(Ang 369)

This may be summarized thus:

ਜੇਹਾ ਚੀਰੀ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਤੇਹਾ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਕਮਾਹਿ ॥
ਘਲੇ ਆਵਹਿ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਸਦੇ ਉਠੀ ਜਾਹਿ ॥੧॥
“As His Decree is issued, so is His Command obeyed. O Nanak! One is born when sent by God to this world, acts as per God’s writ and dies when called back. ||1||”
(Ang 1239)

God created the universe and looks after it lovingly. He therefore appears to have decided to enjoy and further develop it. God Himself is not a physical entity; He exists in spirit. He puts a part of this spirit as soul in every body and sends them to the earth to enjoy. Thus God sends man to enjoy the nature He has created. Man is expected to enjoy nature and participate in its further development on behalf of God. For this he is enjoined to perform duties earmarked for him. Human birth enjoys many benedictions like intellect and a sense of discrimination with which he can understand what is expected of him. The duties that man should perform are covered by the word Dharam. This word is of Indian origin but is now universally used as Dharma. It encompasses all duties in all fields of life. These include but are not limited to the code of conduct laid down by his religion; responsibilities to the elders, other members of the family and society; loyalty to his country; responsibilities of the job; interpersonal dealings; conforming to the laws of the land and above all leading a truthful life.

Man is not expected to perform these duties mechanically as a robot without emotions or need for personal aspirations and enjoyment. He therefore also works for his economic well-being and satisfaction of desires. While man works he creates resources for himself and the society thus contributing to development. This quality is called Arth or economic well being. Some of these resources he uses for fulfilment of his aspirations and desires. This is called kaam.

Dharam, Arth and kaam are very attractive and are likely to wean man away from his duties i.e. forget God’s commands. But man is not asked to keep away from them because that will take him away from practical life. Instead he should not get attached to them. This is analogous to a lotus flower surviving with the help of water and mud but remaining untouched by them. Or like the duck that floats in water but does not let its wings get wet. Both these metaphors are frequently used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Guru Nanak Sahib Ji was asked by the Yogis how to get across the terrifying world ocean i.e. achieve salvation mokh or mukti, which is the other name for merger of the soul with God and consequent release from the cycles of reincarnation. He replied:

ਜੈਸੇ ਜਲ ਮਹਿ ਕਮਲੁ ਨਿਰਾਲਮੁ ਮੁਰਗਾਈ ਨੈ ਸਾਣੇ ॥
ਸੁਰਤਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਭਵ ਸਾਗਰੁ ਤਰੀਐ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਵਖਾਣੇ ॥
“The way the lotus flower and the duck remain untouched by water. O Nanak! (Remaining unattached from the worldly activities), and letting the mind be guided by the Shabad and chanting the Naam one gets across the terrifying world ocean.”
(Ang 938)

‘Chanting the Naam’ means to repeat the Divine-Name given by the Guru as well as remembering God and His commands and to carry them out.

Dharam, Arth, Kaam and Mokh are together called the four cardinal blessings. Achievement of all of them signifies a successful and productive life that ends in salvation. While the other three are clearly understood as blessings it is necessary to understand why duty is a blessing. Duty here means to do what is right and having the freedom to do so. A look at the items given above while describing duties will indicate that it is not the freedom to anything what likes but what is right. This is aided by always being in God- consciousness which means performing one’s duties at work and home, never forgetting that one is carrying out God’s commands. This is a blessing in itself.

The purpose of human birth thus is to achieve Dharam, Arth, Kaam and Mokh i.e. being dutiful, contributing to development, meeting personal aspirations and finally merging the soul with God.

This translates into a disciplined, enjoyable and fruitful life.

Source: Bhai Rawel Singh

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