When we no longer ask, "What is life on this Earth for?" in terms of what use it is to man, a very great shock will come. We will then have to look at the Earth in terms of the cosmic purpose that it serves, and many new avenues of understanding will be open to us. We shall ask, "What kind of instrument is this solar system?" and "What part does life on the Earth play in the working of the solar system?"; and we shall be forced to reevaluate our place in it and ask, "What kind of instrument is man?" and "What purposes can man be used for?" Then we shall begin to learn anew many of the old lessons which have been forgotten.
—John Bennett, Deeper Man
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
When my kids were little, people asked them the stock question, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" I did my best to prepare them for the onslaught of gratuitous pigeonholing.
"Remember," I lectured, "there is a difference between what you are and the work you do. If anyone asks you what you're going to be, first of all tell them 'I'm going to be myself.'"
My kids thought that was cool, until they tried it a few times. Then they decided it was weird.
Despite the trite answer, there is a real question. Namely, what is the difference between being and doing, and what, fundamentally, are human beings for?
A famous quote by Lao Tzu is normally translated as "the way to do is to be." I don't think this is a correct translation. Likely it should be "a prerequisite for truly doing and not simply reacting to external stimulation is to have a ground of presence in being." It's not as quotable but it is more precise.
Being is a measure of the capacity for presence in one's instrument or organism. It is inhabiting the media of the inner life such that one's vessel does not fracture into aggression, submission, or withdrawal from experience. With being, one's contents of thoughts, emotions, and sensations are not spilled and dispersed as reactions with every large and small jostle and shock. Sophie Ouspensky was asked about it and said, "being is what you can bear."
Doing is something completely other. To really do means to be in contact with and provide agency for the force of intent prior to any content of thoughts, emotions, or sensations. Real doing is in reaction to nothing. To do is to create, to cause or give birth to something truly new, a manifestation that has never been, and perhaps not even conceived. To do in this sense requires that there be no ego claiming the work or its results.
The Bhagavad Gita describes doing in this full sense as a high path to self-completion: "Therefore, without being attached to the results of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme." This is called Karma Yoga.
Fully inhabited human beings fulfill a purpose in a larger system. As Rodney Collin suggests in his Theory of Celestial Influence, human beings are like the sex cells in the body of the biosphere, with the possibility of spawning new life as souls in a subtler world. While soul-makers are rare exceptions among people, the extraordinary quality of emanations arising from human beings in a more or less collected state makes an important contribution to the cosmic harmony.
There is a fabulous diversity in the unity of whole systems like the biosphere, and every part makes a necessary contribution to the whole. Every part is precious. We may grok that there is nothing extraneous or inessential in the designs of nature, even if we do not perceive or understand the purpose.
Every species of plant and animal is necessary for the wellbeing of the whole. Even human beings who have developed some degree of being have an indispensable role in the ecosystem of reciprocal maintenance. All life is one, and everything that lives is holy.