At some point in my mid-teens I nutted out the purpose and meaning of life. It was (1) to learn things and (2) to be happy. I am not sure I have changed my mind much since. There was certainly nothing advanced or special about such realisations. I imagine millions of teenagers and youth today are having similar thoughts. And hopefully sharing them on Facebook and Myspace. 🙂
I was delighted when a little older to discover I had unknowingly synched up with the likes of HH the Dalai Lama and the entire Tibetan spiritual tradition. In his Compassion and the Individual, the Dalai Lama writes:
I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.
In our modern world the pursuit of happiness is a right enshrined in the constitutional and legal structures of many secular democracies. This however does not seem to have ensured we are all happy (though the thought of how life was in pre-modern times fairly makes me queasy). A cynical, though I think partly accurate, take on modern happiness is given Todd Solondz’s brilliant dark comedy, appropriately called ‘Happiness’. Only for the adult MOTO reader. 🙂
Recently my Buddhist teacher, the Ven Thupten Lodey in one of his teachings equated enlightenment with happiness. Perfect happiness is only found in perfect enlightenment. Enlightenment can only be found by being perfectly happy. In the Golden Dawn most redactions of the Neophyte Closing have the Mystic Repast and ceremony culminate with these words from the Hierophant:
May what we have partaken maintain us in our search for the Quintessence, the Stone of the Philosophers. True Wisdom, Perfect Happiness, the Summum Bonum.
I’d wager that a significant percentage of modern initiates have not really examined this phrase or the Latin words even; I know many of my initiates haven’t done so without a bit of gentle prodding.
This phrase gives an identical (or nearly so) principle to that of Tibetan Buddhism, where happiness, wisdom and the highest good are linked and equated with the final culmination of the alchemical work. In Tibetan Buddhism it is clear that ultimate happiness and ultimate enlightenment are contingent on all sentient beings also being enlightened. Or to quote yet again that great man pictured to the right, the Rev. Martin Luther King:
I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
In the Golden Dawn, the inclusion of ‘the Highest Good’ is very important and I believe refers to this exact mystery. The authors of the Neophyte Ceremony would have been very aware of the theological and philosophical meanings of summum bonum. The highest good is by its very nature transpersonal and assists all, each and every one, sinner or saint. Thus our personal finding of the Philosophers Stone, the accomplishment of the Great Work is linked with that which helps and assists everyone. This is why I love this phrase so much and why, I think it is at the end of the very first initiation. It links the new initiate’s newly started spiritual journey with the ultimate purpose of all Life. Cool, eh? 🙂