There are a few questions one might ask oneself that stand apart, not unlike the Sphinx or the Great Pyramid, they are too large and too mysterious to submit to any quick response. These are likely the questions that Socrates was referring to when he said that an unexamined life is not worth living. One of the greatest of these questions is what are people for?
 
For almost everyone there are two possible responses. One response is simply to ignore the question. The second response is to adopt the viewpoint of a preexisting system of knowledge, whether science, religion or secular humanism. Like buying a coat off the rack from the department store, a person can try on one or the other and see which one best fits one’s preconceptions and values. Just like the person that ignores the question, it is all concluded, and one can move on, content with one’s adopted response to the question.
 
For a few of us it is unfortunately not so simple. Perhaps you, dear reader, are one of those people. Our makeup requires that we try to search for a response that is uniquely ours. For myself, my response is that humans are here for two reasons. The first is to fulfill a role, the second is to serve a purpose. 
 
The role of a human being is to live rightly as a part of the web of organic life. It is to embrace all that it means to be a human; being born, growing to maturity, growing old. I celebrate my humanity by not only accepting my roles, but by welcoming them. It is a joyful response to the fact of my incarnation in this body. My response to the question has for the last few years also included the Buddhist idea of ahimsa, the principal of doing no harm. It is a principal I try to embrace in my dealings with others, although I have so often failed to do so. It springs from the feeling of compassion that arises for others and I believe it forms a large part of what it means to properly fulfill a role as a human being.
 
But, more and more, as my thoughts turn to the ecological catastrophe that human beings  have brought about, it seems that my idea of doing no harm to future generations and to the other life forms on this planet is so utterly out of correspondence with the reality of our culpability that I doubt my right to even utter the word ahimsa. For homo sapiens, now numbering nearly eight billion, the predatory species at the top of the food chain on every continent, are creating a disaster that may some day approach the scale of an asteroid striking the earth. For this a feeling of remorse arises, for how could it not. To feel within the heart the destruction I and my fellow humans have brought and will continue to bring is so sad. And I think that one of the proper responses of a human being in these times includes remorse for the results of the actions of our species. 
 
So, from remorse one inevitably then arrives at a place of humility, for humility is the right attitude for a life that contains both great joy and great remorse. Only the state of humility has enough room to hold both of these conflicting emotions at the same time. It places me where I am, not higher up, but simply one of many beings, both living and dead, as well as those yet to arise. I think these three, joy, remorse and humility, are needed in equal measure to fulfill our role as human beings. What, then, of our purpose? 
 
The purpose of a human being is to act as an intermediary between heaven and earth.
 
Religions were originally for this purpose, each religion created by some remarkable individual with a capacity to do just that, act as an intermediary between heaven and earth. And these remarkable individuals took it upon themselves to teach others. From that, a religion came to be. But, over time, religions have mostly abdicated their original purpose. Concerns about codes of morality, conversion of unbelievers, allegiance to edicts and status in society are now the primary focus. It is true that for a small but not insignificant number of devoted followers of a religion this is not the case, but for every Mt. Athos dedicated to seeking some relationship with a higher world there are ten thousand individual churches dedicated to insuring their importance in this one. And while their leaders might claim otherwise, by their fruits you shall know them. 
 
So, how to begin. If heaven and earth are to meet, a meeting place is needed. This place is not on a Mount Sinai in the desert or under a Bodhi tree in the forest, the place is within oneself. The meeting place is within the body of a person. From this has often followed the idea of the body as a temple, which is a useful analogy. But what invariably then occurs is the pronouncement that the temple must be purified. It is a grievous error, leading to all sorts of misunderstandings. For our task is not to maintain some arbitrary purity, rather it is to create conditions which might lead us to become more permeable, because we are now too dense to allow something subtler than ourselves to enter. If we want to again use the analogy we could say that the doors and windows of the temple are shut, so there is no possibility of it serving as a meeting place. The spiritual path is a path of opening, not of cleansing. It is not about being righteous, it is about becoming available. 
 
Becoming available is what the different practices such as meditation, prayer and music are for. They are to direct our attention inward. Sustaining an inward attention causes the organism to slowly become more and more available to what it is we seek. All the forms of all the traditions are for this, to bring the attention of the mind inward. It is a slow process, best undertaken without the expectation of result. In this the support of others is so very helpful. More than helpful, it is necessary. And the indications of another that has been where one is now are also necessary. Over time, such indications may be needed less and less, but to think one may then dispense with all guidance is simply egoism.
 
Finally, when all is said and done, when one’s life is saturated with joy and remorse and humility, and when one is on a path towards an ever deepening spiritual work, one comes home to something very simple, one arrives at a place filled with gratitude. Everything has been given to us, it is now our turn to reciprocate with gratitude. The circle is then complete, and one may gratefully say that a life has been well lived.
 
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