What we mean by the word ‘life’? What do we associate the word ‘life’ with? Life means sentiency. It means activity. When do we say this man is alive? When he. is active. Therefore. life may be defined as a series of actions or as a series of experiences. If there is no action, there is no experience. Then there is no life. Life is a series of actions and this is what we find common to all human beings. It is common to all living beings. Action cannot be avoided by anyone at any time.
This is what the Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita
न हि कश्चित्क्षणमपि जातु तिष्ठत्यकर्मकृत् |
कार्यते ह्यवश: कर्म सर्व: प्रकृतिजैर्गुणै:!! 3-5
Verily, none can ever remain, even for a moment, without performing action. Why is it so ? Everyone is made to act helplessly indeed by the qualities born of Prakrti.
Everybody is made to act, as though helplessly, by some force, by some factor. There is some factor which constantly propels one to act. That is the reason why we find every living being persistently acting. Even if a man physically may not be doing any action, mentally he could be very active. I might think that during meditation I am inactive, but I am not really so. In fact the activity is more intense at such moments. Thus action here means either physical or mental action.
When we want to know what is meant by life, our enquiry is directed to the knowledge of what an action is, how and why it takes place. Since life is a series of actions, if we understand one action we will be able to understand life. If we look within, we find that we are constantly prompted to perform actions by something within called desire. It prompts us to. do one thing or another, to go from one place to another. That is why we see people constantly moving, ‘changing places, situations and conditions. Man constantly acts. He constantly moves. To understand the nature of an action, we have to understand the nature of desire, which prompts man to act.
When a person is at home in the morning, he entertains the desire of going to office. While in the office, the only desire that occupies his, mind is to go home. The moment he reaches his office, on. Monday the desire is – to enjoy a holiday or a Sunday at home. When the, holiday comes, he plans to go out. Man does not seem to be satisfied with what he has. He cannot relaxer sit quietly. Therefore when the holiday or the day of relaxation comes people plan for outings, visits, cinemas etc. In and through every action there is a desire to get something which one does not seem to have at the moment.
That ‘something’ goes by the name of happiness. I want to go to a cinema, so that I can be happy. I want to go to work in order to be happy. What makes a man happy may differ from person to person. What makes me happy, may make you miserable. In the train, in the same compartment, some who are smoking are absolutely in ecstasy. They are in heaven, but some others in the same compartment are miserable. Again, what made me happy in the past may not give me happiness now. So what makes me happy keeps on changing but the fact that I want to be happy is constant. Every human being, every living being wants to be happy. For what does a mosquito sit on my hand? For sucking blood, which gives it happiness. No one wants to be unhappy. The moment the mosquito finds that my hand is going to land on it, it flies away.
Thus, what a man tries to do in and through all actions is to seek happiness and avoid unhappiness. The desire to attain happiness and to avoid unhappiness constantly keeps one engaged, making him do something or the other. If this basic desire were not there, there would have been no action. There would have been no life. Vedanta is bold enough to say that the only reason why life is there in the universe, or the only thing that sustains the universe, is this basic urge in the heart of every living being of seeking happiness and avoiding unhappiness. Is there a third kind of activity? Is there any motive other than these two? Examine every action of yours and see whether it falls under one of these two categories or not. Any action, ancient or modern, whether it is performed by the greatest scientist or by a sweeper, is prompted by one of these two motives. Therefore an endeavor to attain happiness is essentially what we mean by life.
Swami Viditatmanand Saraswati