The fastest way to achieve our goals

There is much talk of productivity and efficiency – developing techniques to achieve the most possible in the shortest amount of time. Amid all this desire to move quickly, we often lose sight of what we are really trying to achieve. It would be foolish to walk all the way to San Fransisco only to remember that we were supposed to go to New York…yet people constantly expend huge amounts of energy achieving goals that are simply not important. This is particularly true when we attempt to increase our happiness by improving our circumstances instead of changing our activities (see Increasing happiness: activities and circumstances). The following story illustrates this nicely.

There was a small village in the middle of India that was said to suffer from a strange disease called laziness. An American heard of this rare disease and set off to find this village and cure them of their ailment. After several days of travel, he entered the village, and soon came across a middle-aged man lying in a hammock. The man was sipping a drink with a contented smile on his face. Delighted to find a specimen of laziness so quickly, the American waved his hand in front of the man’s face and asked him what we was doing.

“I am lying in a hammock,” replied the man.

“Yes, but what do you do for a living?” asked the American.

“I fish,” came the reply.

“Have you caught any fish today?”

“Yes, I caught two big ones this morning.”

“Then why don’t you go and fish more?” inquired the American.

“What for?” asked the man.

“Well, because then you could sell your surplus fish at the market and buy a fishing boat, which would enable you to catch even more fish.”

“What for?” asked the man again.

“Well, with the profits from that, you would be able to afford a trawler, and then you could catch so many fish that you would be able to sell to the neighbouring villages as well.”

“What for?” repeated the man.

“Well, with the profits from that, you could build a bigger house, a gazebo and a swimming pool, and you could buy an expensive car to travel whenever and wherever you please.”

“What for?” repeated the man.

“Well, to be happy, of course!” snapped the American, losing his patience.

“I am happy already,” the man responded. “Why go to all that effort for something I have in abundance?”

We spend so much of our lives busily trying to achieve this goal or that. Usually, the goal we aim for is merely a stepping stone to another goal, which is in turn a stepping stone to something else again. If we were to stop and think about our final goal, we would often realize that there is a much more direct way to achieve it. The speed at which we move does not guarantee that we will progress the fastest. The direction is of the most importance.

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The importance of questioning

Spiritual inquiry, by its very nature, implies the absence of authority. We must be willing to doubt every religious figure and text, and we must release preconceived notions and established ideas. To truly inquire, we must be open to anything, recognizing that firm belief only arises when we realize the truth for ourselves. Although people and books can provide guidance and food for thought, it is our own ability to reason that lights our way.

Unfortunately, many of us are afraid to question. We crave security, and challenging our beliefs threatens this security. In same cases, our religion may discourage such challenges (see Can we be open-minded in organized religion?). However, unless we do question, we will never find the security we seek, because if we are not fully prepared to question then we can never fully believe. If we refuse to question something then it is not a belief but a hope – it is something that we are afraid to investigate lest it turns out to be false. When we flee from reality in this way, we are no different from an ostrich burying its head in the sand…wanting to escape from a predator that may or may not be there.

The adage says that ignorance is bliss. However, ignorance is not bliss, and unquestioning faith is not a virtue. We must lift our heads out of the sand and discover for ourselves what is true. Spiritual inquiry will not threaten this truth, because the truth will withstand any test. Spiritual inquiry is only an attack on that which is false. If we claim that we already know the truth, we are fools. Our beliefs will always have error, and inquiry must never stop. Answers will not come from a book or doctrine, at least not without the additional requisite of questioning. Even if we were to have complete faith in another’s words, our understanding would always be imperfect. We need questioning as the litmus to separate true from false. If we seek the Truth, we must question forever.

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