By Rudra Shivananda
Every year, most of us experience a day of remembrance called the birthday. Yet, as we celebrate surviving another year of life, we wonder if there is any deeper significance beyond the cake, laughter and champagne. It is wonderful to be surrounded by those who care about you. When you are young, birthdays are exciting and something to look forward to. When one becomes old, they not only become tedious but in the West especially, something to be dreaded – a reminder of old age, wrinkles and infirmity. Can we salvage something spiritual from our birthday?
Just as the fear of death can be a great motivator on the spiritual path, gratitude for a human birth can inspire us to pursue an end to the cycle of birth and death. Every birthday reminds us that we are caught in a cycle of birth and death. We cannot remember where and what we were before our current birth. We do not know the purpose of our birth – why are we born in a particular time and place? We do not know when this life will end.What we do know is that the Masters have said that a human birth is a precious opportunity to further our spiritual growth.
Let us examine what we are doing with our lives up to this moment. It is true that some of us are merely existing because we have no choice and are stuck here, reacting to external events as best we can in a sort of survival mode. However, most of us have certain material objectives depending on our age and circumstances. The young look for higher education, a good career, and a loving spouse to grow a family. The poor want to be rich. The rich want to be richer. The richest wish to fill the void in their souls through charities. The old look to a comfortable retirement. What are you living your life for? What do you do when you have achieved your material goals?
Let us remember the lesson from the conqueror Alexander of Macedonia who held the known world in his grasp. The young emperor on his death bed was instructed by his spiritual Master to be laid in state mourning with his open hands showing outside his royal coffin – to signify that we all come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. Pragmatically, we need to take care of our material needs but should leave space for the importance of our spiritual needs.
What are your spiritual objectives in this life? Some would like to live ethically, cultivating the higher virtues and human values. Some would like to help others and make a difference in lifting their society to greater well-being. Yet others perceive a fundamental shift of human consciousness is necessary to lift us from our selfish existence marked by fundamental suffering to an altruistic and wholistic worldview filled with living joy. Ultimately, we all want to know our purpose in this life but are afraid to find out because then we would have to do something about it!!
It is not my intention to tell you what I’ve discovered is the purpose or meaning in one particular life or what generalizations can be made from the teachings of the sages. Ultimately, we each need to strive for our own wisdom and live our own life-equation. I wish only to urge you to think and remember what we normally forget.
On this special day, once a year, we should strive to remember that life is not meaningless. Let us remember that we have choices. Let us remember that we are in a cycle of birth and death. Let us remember the teachings of the Masters. Let us remember the injunctions and practices of one’s own Master. Let us remember the lessons of our spiritual experiences. Let us remember our spiritual goals. Let us remember to seek the blessings and grace of the Divine. Let us remember to offer our gratitude to the Divine. Let us surrender to the Divine will that guides us to our True Self. Let it be so!