The Third Great Aim of Life
© 2007 June Johnson

Are you aware of what you want? What you really want? A look at Hinduism may surprise you, both with its parallels to modern Spiritualism and the help it can offer you in clarifying your goals. Expert on world religions, Huston Smith, writes:

“If we were to take Hinduism as a whole—its vast literature, its opulent art, its elaborate rituals, its sprawling folkways—if we were to take this enormous outlook in its entirety. . .” it would say: “You can have what you want.”

  • Hinduism defines four basic wants, or aims, which represent successive levels of progression in the development of awareness: Pleasure, Success, Duty and Liberation.
  • Discovery at each level naturally stimulates movement toward the next more perceptive level.
  • Each level marks an actual change in how we see reality, an actual change in what we see as reality.
  • Hinduism’s Third Great Aim in Life, Duty, provides the foundation for all spiritual work.
  • For the Hindu and the Spiritualist, development into the fully unfolded Spiritual state is the real aim of life.

Regarding aim number one: Hindu philosophy says as long as the basic rules of morality are observed you are free to seek all the pleasure you wish. Rather than suppress the desire for pleasure, fulfill it as richly and esthetically as possible. “Everyone eventually comes to the discovery that pleasure isn’t all one wants,” Smith reports, “because it is wearing and too narrow and trivial and private to satisfy perpetually.”

The second goal, the wealth, fame and power of worldly success, should not be disparaged either, for it brings livelihood with dignity and self-respect. In the end, as before, wealth fame and power are found wanting, as they are “exclusive, therefore competitive and precarious,” for, if you give any away, you end up with less. Smith quotes a Hindu saying: “To try to extinguish the drive for riches with money is like trying to quench a fire by pouring butterfat over it.” Worldly success is an insatiable goal, as it never fills the real want.

The Individual Whose Development Is not Arrested Will Work His Way Through Full Delight in Success and the Senses to the Point Where These Pulls Have Been Largely Outgrown. --Huston Smith on Hindu philosophy

A Spiritualist parallel to this Hindu idea can be found in H. Gordon Burroughs advice: “Heaven is not gained by a single bound. Life is the ladder by which we climb, and experiences are the rungs upon which we ascend.”

We have come to my title subject, “the third great aim of life,” Duty, defined in the Hindu outlook as “the wish to do one’s best and to give service.” We might begin this stage of awareness grudgingly “doing the right thing,” or with a self-righteous sense of superiority, or, more sadly, enabling harmful behavior.

Indian philosophy tells us the rewards—of gratitude from others or self-respect—derived from dutiful conduct do not, of themselves, provide enough joy to completely satisfy the human heart.

Yet in striving to do our best and give service we learn to make the transition from a purely material view of the world to a growing awareness of our connection to others and a growing aspiration to serve with a sense of purpose.

Huston Smith comments: “The critical point in life comes when these things lose their original charm and one finds oneself wishing that life had something more to offer.“ He continues, “True religion begins with the quest for meaning . . . with renunciation of the ego’s claims, and opening to a larger self, a sense of community.”

It is in this sense that giving service lies at the foundation of our Spiritualist philosophy. Let me give some examples: In their book, A Guide to Mediumship and Psychical Unfoldment, Spiritualist workers W. and M. H. Wallis write: “If you are animated by a sincere desire to be of service to others, and not by personal ambition or mercenary motives, you are in the right mood to enter upon the work.” The true purpose of mediumship, in addition to proving the continuity of life, is to be of service to humankind by bringing, as the Wallis’ state: “a quality of knowledge that surpasses the knowledge men obtain alone.” The study of life after death confirms for the Spiritualist our inner hope that conscious knowing and being continues after the death of the physical body, it also teaches us that the one basic, all-important task in the next state is the establishment of brotherhood and fellowship through service to others.

Burroughs writes: ”Rendering greater service to our fellow man is rendering service to Infinite Intelligence, and in such service is found true happiness.”

Hinduism tells us “the problem life puts to man is to cleanse the dross of his being to the point where its infinite center will be fully manifest.” In the words of the Reverend Florence Becker, founding pastor of the Golden Gate Spiritualist Church, “Do not search foreign outer fields for Jewels or Gems of Truth. Search within your Soul, with Prayer and Service as the implements. . . .You will clearly feel the Soul pouring forth the same Light and Wisdom to everyone alike.”

Mrs. Becker named fourteen sets of three inseparable qualities—representing the mental, spiritual and physical aligned in one unified expression—which she called the Faculties of Being. Study of these Faculties helps us to conceive of what true alignment is like. The first is the Faculty of Duty, Gratitude and Tolerance. Long before I came to the language which identifies this Spiritual Faculty, I learned the power of these qualities when applied in concert with one another.

In the late 1960’s, with our two young children, my husband, Carlton, and I were able to buy a brand new house under circumstances that filled me with intense Gratitude. After moving in, I experienced a strong sense of obligation to repay the universe for our good fortune, which far exceeded expectations. I knew within myself it was my Duty to contribute to our community. A friend I admired had become a volunteer with the newly forming anti-poverty program in our town. When she and her husband were called away on business for an extended stay, I stepped in to continue her work, helping to establish a self-help program among people in the low-income Spanish speaking minority who faced significant prejudice.

I’d studied Sociology and Anthropology at UCLA and I’d lived abroad and traveled more than most. I’d not only developed Tolerance for ethnic differences, I delighted in them and wanted to learn more.

Soon after beginning this work, I was elected by members of this low-income minority community to represent them at a county wide meeting to divide the money that would be coming from the Federal Government. The target community in the lower county, primarily African American, had a much larger population, with enough votes to carry a proposal to divide all the money based on population, which would not leave enough funding to staff an office in our town. My local group expressed a sense of futility and fear. I was warned of rumors that some in the urban area would carry guns. None in our group would come with me.

Not yet aware of the source of my inspiration and hope, I drove down the freeway to that evening meeting with a clear simple plan in mind for dividing the funds, a plan soundly supported by the participants in my town and in another smaller community in the far upper county. The plan had come to me whole in the middle of the night the week before.

When I arrived, the Black Elks Hall was filling to capacity. I seemed to be the only Anglo, and one of very few women. When it was time, I stood to recommend that we set up and staff local offices in each of the three areas with a Director, a Secretary, and an Outreach Worker first, then divide the rest of the funds, for Program, by population.

As I spoke, I was amazed to experience an invisible energy powerfully coursing through me. From the strength of the energy flow, I believe those who were gathered were actually amplifying the energy—as if this was, for them, common practice.

This was more than thirty-five years ago, yet I vividly recall what I now recognize to be the energy of spirit carrying my message into the dimly lit room, invisibly connecting me with each person there.

Almost immediately, there followed a unanimous vote to adopt the proposal as presented.

This was my first conscious awareness of collaboration with spirit, the time when, as my beloved American Indian guide now tells me, he first came to me to enlist my cooperation. That’s how I know that duty, undertaken with a heart filled with gratitude and a tolerant open mind leads directly to harmony with Infinite Source.

This first Spiritual Faculty, Duty Gratitude and Tolerance, according to Mrs. Becker’s understanding, enters through the energy center at the throat, and operates on the sense of hearing.

You can imagine that I take her teachings about these Faculties of Being seriously.

The NSAC Manual on the Philosophy of Spiritualism states: "The whole duty of man in his mortal life consists in taking the first steps in the attainment of knowledge and in gradually developing his character and nature to harmonize with the fully unfolded spiritual state."

For the Spiritualist, development is the real aim of life. Development brings an ever increasing ability to appreciate higher truth and its laws, a gradual Liberation from focus on the experiences of the ego in the ever changing created world, and increasing application and awareness of the Faculties of our true Being, flowing out in harmony with the Infinite.

Hinduism teaches: “Our real desires are for those things which lie on a deeper level: Being rather than not being; to know and be aware—for we are insatiably curious; and joy.” And, says Hinduism, “not only are these the things we want, we want each of them in infinite degree; Infinite Being, Infinite Knowledge, and Infinite Joy.”

“It is India’s staggering conclusion,” says Huston Smith, “that what man most wants, he can have. Hinduism teaches that Infinite Being, infinite awareness, and infinite joy are not only within his reach, they are already his.“

Spiritualist H. Gordon Burroughs provides deep insight into this process, telling us: “. . .When That State of Consciousness Is Reached in Which One Can Appreciate in Full What Is Desired, the Desire Is Fulfilled.”

  • Hinduism defines four basic wants, or aims, which represent successive levels of progression in the development of awareness: Pleasure, Success, Duty and Liberation.
  • Discovery at each level naturally stimulates movement toward the next more perceptive level.
  • Each level marks an actual change in how we see reality, an actual change in what we see as reality.
  • Hinduism’s Third Great Aim in Life, Duty, provides the foundation for all spiritual work.
  • For the Hindu and the Spiritualist, development into the fully unfolded Spiritual state, is the real aim of life.

I hope you will be “animated by a sincere desire to be of service to others,” that you may all the sooner build the foundation for your realization that Infinite Being, Infinite awareness and Infinite joy are already yours.

June: Essays