Generally, we tend to focus on what we do (or how we behave) or what others do (or how they behave) instead of going deeper and asking the why question.
Similarly, people and organizations (religious and non-religious) who want to market their products also tend to highlight or market what everyone should buy from them versus why they should buy!
Recently, I was watching a TED talk by Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action. Simon argues that leaders (e.g. Martin Luther King) or companies (e.g. Apple) that inspired action and became successful beyond imagination are those that focused on the why question, followed by how and then what (Simon calls this the why-how-what Golden Circle), and effectively communicated this to the world. Typically, others do it the opposite way – what, how and why – and they fail or have only limited success.
Simon’s talk was inspiring, but his ideas and the principle that he’s alluding to is not new. In fact, this principle is within us and when we become aware of it and manifest it in the form of a daily practice or make it an integral part of our lives, that’s a recipe for success. This is the principle of form and substance. Asking the why question takes our attention to the substance. And, when we have a clear understanding of the substance, we can experience sustained happiness. Simon cited examples of people and companies who have had material success, but, focusing on the why question is also critical for self-discovery or spiritual success.
We can think of several examples where we focus on the form instead of the substance. Often, people follow certain religious or spiritual practices, but, without proper understanding of the deeper purpose or meaning of why they are doing what they are doing. As a result, such activities are done in a ritualistic or mechanical manner, and sooner or later people lose taste for them and take to materialistic ways of life, or, they simply follow them with fanaticism. Or, if you take the example of modern materialistic science – scientists often talk in great detail or merely speculate about what life is or what the universe is, and how life or the universe might have originated, but, cannot offer a clue about the why question. Laymen are fascinated or even fooled by the scientist’s imagination or his packaging of the form, but, they don’t realize that his notions lack substance at their core.
So, whether you follow a religion or modern science, don’t be just enamored by their forms, but ask the why questions, not just the superficial ones that keep you in the realm of relative truths, but those that will bring you closer to the Absolute Truth. Indeed, this search for the Absolute Truth is the purpose of human life.
Aravind Mohanram (a.k.a Advaita Chandra das) is a disciple of Romapada Swami and Co-Founder, Yoga 24x7 (www.yoga24x7.org), a contemporary presentation of Bhagavad-Gita’s teachings. He lives in Northboro, MA, USA, with his wife and son.