Question: What is life? What is one’s duty & does it vary according one’s profession, situation, circumstances & atmosphere?
Thank you for your question. When we speak of life in the very general sense, it refers to the chit-shakti, or the quality of consciousness. Each and every living entity possesses this chit-shakti, and this is what distinguishes the living from the non-living.
What is this consciousness? It is the awareness of our existence. In the conditioned state, that awareness is focussed on our external body, which in reality is not our true self. On the spiritual platform pure awareness is focussed on our eternal identity as a spirit soul (atma). In the liberated state the awareness of our existence is on three aspects, namely eternality (sat), knowledge (cit) and bliss (ananda).
One’s duty is directly related to one’s consciousness, or one’s awareness of life. According to one’s perceived designation one will have a specific duty to perform. Thus one’s duty will vary according to one’s identification of the self. If someone identifies himself with the body, his duties will be in connection with his body. If I think I am American, then my duty will be to serve my country. If I identify myself as a human, then my duty is to serve humanity. The problem with such duties is that they are based on false identification, for factually we are not our bodies. Thus the results of performing such duties are nothing more than the cultivation of continued ignorance.
If one identifies himself as a spirit soul, part and parcel of God, then one’s natural duty will be to serve God. Since this duty is based on the true identification of the self as an eternal spiritual entity, such service leads us from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge. This duty in relation to the soul is known as sanatana-dharma (eternal duty) because our true identity as a spirit soul is eternal.
On the absolute platform the spiritual duty is the only duty we actually possess. All other duties have been created in our mind by false identification with matter. True duty is absolute and non-changing. This is the actual meaning of dharma, “that quality which cannot be separated from an object”. For example, it is not possible to separate liquidity from water, nor can we take heat away from fire. These are the intrinsic qualities of water and fire. That quality which is intrinsic to the soul, which can never be separated from the soul is known as sanatana-dharma.
What is that quality which can never be separated from the soul? That is the quality of servitude. We see practically that everyone in the world is constantly engaged in service to others, either willfully or reluctantly. This service is a reflection of our original eternal duty to serve God. When we purify our service attitude by selflessness and focus it on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that service fulfills our eternal duty. To attain this stage of perfect selfless service to the Supreme Lord is the ultimate goal of life. In that position our consciousness becomes fully aware in three aspects – eternality, knowledge and bliss.
In summary, I will again restate the answers to your questions:
“What is life?”
Life is consciousness, awareness of our existence.
“What is one’s duty?”
One’s ultimate duty is to engage in loving service (bhakti) to the Supreme Lord.
“Does it vary according one’s profession, situation, circumstances & atmosphere?”
All of these external designations are material, and thus temporary. Our true eternal duty has no connection with such external designations. Since in our conditioned state service to God is done through our external body, we must harmonize our temporary bodily duties with our eternal spiritual duties, knowing the proper value of each.