Man is a born seeker—a veritable truth-seeking animal. Every human being regards himself as incomplete until he has found that supreme principle by which he can explain his existence in this world and discover the purpose and meaning of his life. Everyone is a seeker. True. But few are finders. Why? Because, where seeking is instinctive, finding is the outcome of one’s own conscious effort.
There have been people who have been truth seekers throughout history; for example, in the pre-Islamic period, there were certain individuals in Arabia, called hunafa who were all truth seekers. Confining themselves to solitary places, they would remember God and say: “O God if we had known how to worship You, we would have worshipped you accordingly.” This was due to their urge to come to grips with reality—an urge such as is found in every human being, the difference between one individual and another being only one of degree: in some, the urge is weak, in others it is strong.
Then, there are some deviations. Some people take certain material objects to be their goal in life and do their utmost to obtain them. But there is an internal evidence that they do so mistakenly. Before obtaining these material objects, they are highly enthusiastic about them. But as soon as they have them in their possession their enthusiasm turns to frustration. For, with experience, they invariably find that what they have struggled for so hard, has failed to give them the desired sense of fulfillment. All these material things in this world are meant to fulfill only our physical needs. They have nothing to do with the purpose of our lives. This purpose can be only spiritual in nature, and not something material.
Man attains distinction only when he leads a purposeful life. A purposeful life is one in which man discovers his higher status. An animal strives to obtain food; a bird flies in search of a better country when the seasons change; a wasp busies itself building its own home from tiny dust particles; a herd of deer protects itself from wild beasts of prey. All these appear to be purposeful actions. But when the phrase “a purposeful life” is applied to man, it does not refer to efforts of this nature. Without doubt man, too, has to arrange for food, clothes and habitation for bare survival. Man’s life, however, becomes purposeful only when it goes beyond common animalism and takes the form of superior humanism.
God’s creations fall into two categories: animate and inanimate. Obviously, animate objects enjoy certain superiority over inanimate objects. The former can be divided into three classes: the vegetable, the animals and the human. Modern scientific research has shown that plants also possess life, nourish themselves, grow and have feelings. But animals and men represent a higher form of life. In what way does man excel animals? Many theories have been advanced over the ages and great minds are still studying it. But modern biologists have come to the conclusion that it is man’s capacity for conceptual thought, which distinguishes him from other life forms. Animals lack this quality, whereas man is conscious of the fact that he is thinking. He consciously forms a plan of action in his mind. Though many animals act like men, their actions are not the result of thought; they all stem from pure instinct. In fact, it is a known fact that animal actions are governed by environmental stresses from without and physical pressures from within.
Man can use his conceptual quality to search for his purpose. It does not result from the pressures of desire or of immediate exigencies. It must emanate from his own urge to find reality or Truth.
When a person works, makes money, builds a house, makes an effort to improve his standard of living, he appears to be engaged in efforts towards some worthy end. But this cannot be called purposeful living, for these activities do not demonstrate man’s unique status. These functions might seem to be the result of deliberation, but are actually born out of the struggle for survival.
When man grows, he realises that there are certain material necessities without which he cannot live. He requires food, clothes, a place to live; he requires a reliable source of income to sustain him throughout his life. Then he sees that those who have material abundance enjoy respect and apparently possess every form of happiness and luxury in this world. Thus he is driven on to do more than just seek a livelihood; he wishes to earn a degree greatly in excess of his actual requirements. In the bustling market, grandiose offices, and opulent buildings, he is not really being guided by deliberate thought. Rather, he is guided by inflated ideas of his own needs, desires, longing and ambition to achieve fame and status. These activities, therefore, cannot be considered as being directed towards the purpose which set man apart from the animal and lends him a higher distinction.
To determine the purpose of life is, in short, the effort to make it meaningful. It must surely, therefore, be one that is in accordance with man’s unique status; it must be one, which leads man on the path of success and progress in terms of his true nature.
This will to search for the truth is implanted in everyone. But it depends upon every individual himself, whether or not he pursues this natural urge. Only through sincere pursuit will he discover the truth and thus make his life meaningful. For any kind of negligence or apathy in this regard, there is no excuse, whatever the circumstances. But the question that comes to mind is where do we begin our search for truth? Throughout history man has turned towards various disciplines in his search for truth – philosophy, science, mysticism and religion.