What Is Life’s True Purpose?

What is the purpose of human life? You’ll get different answers from different people and frankly, there is no one ‘right’ answer to this question because everyone thinks about their lives differently. 

If we look at the cycle of life, from the beginning when we are born, we live unknowing of our own existence. We can’t seem to remember what it was like being in the mother’s womb for 9-months. This in itself is a real mystery. Why can’t we remember how it was like being in the womb? Wasn’t the brain and senses functioning then? Scientist are still trying to break the code on this. 

But as we grew up, we began to realize our surroundings, our parents, our grand-parents, our teachers, the school we go to, etc. In primary school, we learnt new things, studied many different subjects (some we liked and some we hated) and of course, we made lots of friends. After high school, some ended up working and some of us enrolled in a college or university to further our education.

Suddenly, it’s time to get married. We get a house, a decent car and after a year or two, children are born. The responsibilities have increased and so have the commitments. Next think you know, the kids are all grown up and seem to have their own minds. One fine morning, you wake up, take a look at yourself in the mirror and spot some white hair. Oops! You’re getting old.

Now at 76, age has caught up and you don’t feel the same as you felt before (when you were younger). You can hide the white hair (with black dye), but you can’t hide your habits, character, attitude. Your speech is slurred, your movement- not as swift as before. Your hearing is blurred and your eyesight is weak. Your bones ache, especially at night when its cold. But you’re not ready to depart this world. Nooo…no yet!

So, what is life all about? To be born, to get old and die?

We live our lives based on what our mind says, or what we’ve been told to do (by our parents, teachers, employers, in-laws etc). Animals are never like this. They know exactly what they are supposed to do. Have you ever seen a fish in doubt? Perhaps swimming in an aquarium, looked up in the air and sees a bird in flying, thinking, “How I wish I could fly like a bird too?!” Never!

Guru Arjan (5th Guru Nanak) says, 

ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਉਤਮ ਕਾਢੀਅਹਿ ਵਿਰਲੇ ਕੇਈ ਕੇਇ ॥੧॥
Jag Meh Utam Kadieh, Virley Keayee Keay. (SGGS:517)

Know them as the most highly exalted beings. Who? Those who contemplate and practice the teachings of the Guru in their lives. They are rare indeed.

According to Guru Nanak’s philosophy (Gurmat), our true purpose of life is to become enlightened beings with Godly virtues in thought and action. Once we are enlightened ourselves, only then are we able to enlighten others.

This concept of enlightenment is described in Jap bani by Guru Nanak…

ਕਿਵ ਸਚਿਆਰਾ ਹੋਈਐ ਕਿਵ ਕੂੜੈ ਤੁਟੈ ਪਾਲਿ ॥
ਹੁਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ ॥੧॥
Kiv Sachiara Hoieey, Kiv Koorey Tutey Paal ||
Hukam Rajaaii Chalna, Nanak Likhia Naal ||1|| (SGGS:1)

How can one become a Sachiara (enlightened being with Godly virtues) and how can one get rid of ignorance and falsehood? Guru Nanak says, “By understanding and accepting Gods law (hukam, law of nature, cosmic law). Guru Nanak says, this law has been enshrined and programmed within everything.

Meaning, we as humans are supposed to realize this divine law (hukam) within. From the teachings of this shabad, we now understand that life’s true purpose (according to Guru Nanak) is to become a Sachiara (enlightened being). This is life’s purpose. While carrying out and fulfilling our roles and responsibilities as a householder, we need to become a Sachiara. 

How does one become a Sachiara?

  • Is it by reciting Nitnem everyday?
  • By paying the Gianis to do Akhand Paaths?
  • By giving alms (donations) to charities?
  • By taking Amrit and keeping the 5 ‘ks’? 

The answer is none of the above.

One becomes a Sachiara by knowing, understanding, accepting and living the principles of God in our everyday life. (with the help of Guru’s teachings as described within Gurbani)  

This is applicable to all of mankind, irrelevant of ones status, gender, race or creed. One who recognizes and applies the teachings of their religion, is able to attune their minds towards discarding bad thoughts, bad actions, and slowly are able to incorporate goodness, kindness, empathy and have Godly virtues engrained in them. Finally, the one who has conquered his/her mind and lives the life of Godly virtues, is considered a Sachiara. 

Shabad means Hukam, Sach, God, Waheguru, Naam, Simran, Dhian etc. 

When Guru Nanak Dev Ji visited Sumer Parbat (Sumer mountains), the pandits and yogis were astonished as to how Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana had managed to travel such great distances and climbed up the mountain. During an intense discourse between Guru Nanak and Gorakh Nath, the leader of the pandits, he asked Guru Nanak….

…ਤੇਰਾ ਕਵਣੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਜਿਸ ਕਾ ਤੂ ਚੇਲਾ ॥ਕਵਣ ਕਥਾ ਲੇ ਰਹਹੁ ਨਿਰਾਲੇ ॥ਬੋਲੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਸੁਣਹੁ ਤੁਮ ਬਾਲੇ ॥ਏਸੁ ਕਥਾ ਕਾ ਦੇਇ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ਭਵਜਲੁ ਸਬਦਿ ਲੰਘਾਵਣਹਾਰੁ ॥੪੩॥ਪਵਨ ਅਰੰਭੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਮਤਿ ਵੇਲਾ ॥ਸਬਦੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਧੁਨਿ ਚੇਲਾ ॥…

…Tera kavan guru, jis ka tu chela || Kavan katha Le Raho Niraley || Bolei Nanak, Suno Tum Baley || Eis Katha Ka Dey Bichaar || Paujal Shabad Langawanhaar ||43||  Pavan Arambh Satgur Mat Vela || Shabd Guru Surat Dhun Chela ||…(SGGS: 942-943)

Who is your guru? Whose disciple are you? What is the way, by which you remain unattached? Oh young Nanak, listen to me. Tell me what is your opinion on what I’ve said. How can Shabad carry one across the terrifying world ocean, to overcome desires and temptations?

Guru Nanak answers….

From air, life was formed. This is the age of the True Guru’s teachings. The Shabad (knowledge, wisdom, principles) is my Guru, upon which my mind is focused. My mind (surat) is the chayla (disciple). 

So, the way to become a Sachiara is to focus ones mind (Surt) towards the Shabad (knowledge, wisdom, principles).

We need to be in harmony with God’s laws (hukam, law of universe). We need to be responsible beings and live our lives truthfully, without cheating ourselves and others. We need to stand on our own feet, work hard and learn how to live within our means and in contentment. We need to learn how to share the fruits of our labor with the needy (upon fulfilling the needs of our own family first). We must show kindness, compassion and empathy towards other human beings, animals and all of God’s creation. 

In Gurbani, you will find other similar terms as Sachiara, eg. “Gurmukh”, “Panch” etc. – they all mean the same thing.

Guru Ram Daas (4th Guru Nanak), says…

ਸਚਿਆਰ ਸਿਖ ਬਹਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪਾਸਿ ਘਾਲਨਿ ਕੂੜਿਆਰ ਨ ਲਭਨੀ ਕਿਤੈ ਥਾਇ ਭਾਲੇ ॥
Sachiar Sikh Bahe Satgur Paas Kaalan, Kooriaar Na Labni Kitey Thaaey Paley || (SGGS: 304-305)

The Sachiar Sikhs (enlightened beings who have acquired the wisdom and knowledge of Truth), live their lives following the teachings of their True Guru, whereas the ones who are Kooriaar (beings of haumai and falsehood) will never find true peace and happiness in life.

Guru Nanak further says…

ਪੰਚ ਪਰਵਾਣ ਪੰਚ ਪਰਧਾਨੁ ॥
ਪੰਚੇ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਦਰਗਹਿ ਮਾਨੁ ॥

Panch Parvaan, Panch Pardhan ||
Panchey Paveh Dargah Maan || (SGGS:3)

The enlightened beings who live their lives according to the teachings of their Guru, attain true happiness, peace and honor from within their minds (dargah). They also receive respect and honor from others around them.

One clarification is required here on the word ਦਰਗਹਿ (dargah). You may have read from translations or heard from some Giani or Parcharak explaining about dargah as a separate place where Sikhs will go to after death and face Dharamraj/ Yuvraj or Jamdoot (scary looking soldiers of Dharamraj). That we will be judged for our deeds (karam).

Please note, this concept of dargah being another place is NOT based on the teachings of Gurmat. It is based on the Hindu scriptures/ Vedas. Hindus believe there is a separate place called hell and heaven and there is a Judge of Deeds (Yuvraj). According to Gurbani, there is NO such separate place where the soul travels to.

Guru Angad Dev (2nd Guru Nanak) puts a stamp on this by saying…

ਕਥਾ ਕਹਾਣੀ ਬੇਦੀ ਆਣੀ ਪਾਪੁ ਪੁੰਨੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ॥
ਦੇ ਦੇ ਲੈਣਾ ਲੈ ਲੈ ਦੇਣਾ ਨਰਕਿ ਸੁਰਗਿ ਅਵਤਾਰ ॥

ਉਤਮ ਮਧਿਮ ਜਾਤੀਂ ਜਿਨਸੀ ਭਰਮਿ ਭਵੈ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ ॥

Katha Kahani Bedi Aani, Paap, Pun Bichaar || 
De De Laina, Lae Lae Dena, Narak, Surag, Avtaar ||
Utam Madham, Jati Jinsi, Bharam Pevay Sansaar || (SGGS:1243)

The idea of sin and virtue are brought forth by stories and legends inscribed within the Vedas. Concepts like hell and heaven, karma and transmigration are nothing but vague concepts written by the authors of the Vedas to instill fear in the society. They believe, one will reap the rewards in their next life for the deeds performed in this life. The ones who satisfy the Gods and Goddess will got to heaven and the ones who dissapointed God and did not do as they were told, will go to hell. Even the concept of inequality and gender segregation are inherited from the Vedas.

Another important aspect we need to reflect is when Guru Ji says, we need to become Gurbani, not just recite and understand. Many people end up getting stuck by only reading Gurbani. But that is not the purpose why Guru’s created and wrote Gurbani in the first place. Guru says…

ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਸਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਬਣੀਐ ॥ 
Satgur Ki Bani Sat Saroop Hai, Gurbani Banieye || (SGGS: 304)

The True Guru’s message or instructions (within Gurbani) are equivalent to God himself (Sat Saroop). We need to aim to become Gurbani, meaning we need to read, understand and apply Guru’s teachings in our lives.  

Now that we know what is life’s true purpose, let’s aim to change our thinking and become a Sachiara, a Gurmukh, a Panch as what Guru’s want us to be. Let’s uplift the state of our minds with the help of Gurbani and become enlightened beings with Godly virtues in us. 


  • Amarjit S. Gulati

    Amarjit says, the Sikhi that is being practiced today & preached by most clergy (Gianis, Parcharaks, Kirtaniyas) is NOT aligned with Guru Nanak's teachings. As a researcher and a student of Nanakian philosophy, he attempts to share his utmost honest opinions and findings based on Gurmat and real-life experiences.

    View all posts

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