by Dan Millman
I once believed that our most fundament human desire is happiness. And that all our searches, high and low, whether for
spiritual illumination or material possessions, are ultimately directed toward that sense of fulfillment, satisfaction --happiness. I no longer believe this to be true. After all, is the end-point of human evolution, and all our quests, represented by walking
around with goofy grins on our faces? No, I think what we seek, most fundamentally, is meaning, purpose, direction, and
connection. As George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "Never mind likes or dislikes; just do what needs to be done. This may not
be happiness, but it is greatness." Five of my books, in particular, address the topic of purpose, each in its own unique way.
"Way of the Peaceful Warrior" conveys life's larger picture and promise.
"Everyday Enlightenment" presents the twelve gateways to human potential.
"The Laws of Spirit" provides the keys to these gateways.
"The Life You Were Born to Live" reveals a specific method for clarifying our life purpose--the unique challenges and strengths
related to our own unique life path.
"Living on Purpose" offers twenty-five "House Rules" for living a purposeful life, and illustrates how to apply them with
real-world questions and answers.
Here are some excerpts from "Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Life's Tough
Years ago, I met a peaceful
warrior in an all-night gas station. His name was
Socrates, and he once told me, "I’ve noticed
three kinds of people in this world: those who make
things happen, those who watch what happens, and those
who wonder what happened." Back then I was a
skilled athlete, making things happen. But outside the
gym—when I faced real-world dilemmas and decisions—
I mostly watched and wondered. And I was not alone.
Many of us live our lives by
accident—stumbling into relationships, wandering into
careers, searching for meaning, hoping and praying that
we’ll get lucky in love, find our fortune, and stay
healthy. I spent years like this, living at random,
until I learned to live on purpose. My education began
the first time I asked Socrates a question. He shrugged
his shoulders and said, "It’s the House
Rules." The "House" is Life, the Tao, the
Universe, Reality; the "Rules" are universal
laws or guiding principles. The House Rules presented in
this book—distilled lessons from the school of life—provide
reliable strategies for living wisely and well.
Purposeful living embraces both
reason and faith. Reason provides clear goals, while
faith and intuition teach us to trust the process of our
lives. The Taoist sages remind us that flexibility
overcomes rigidity—and just as a rushing stream flows
around obstacles, so must our purposes adapt to the
changing tides of life. Therefore, the House Rules are
not rote formulas, but flexible reminders. In living on
purpose and acting on principle we become like bamboo—strong
yet supple—yielding to the forces we encounter, then
snapping back on track.
My responses seem to come not
so much from me, but through me. I do not,
however, channel any discarnate warrior-sages from the
fifth dimension, chat with God, or transcribe the
dictations of astral guides. I claim only a gift of
expression, an intuitive ability to apply the House
Rules, and an open heart. As the proverb goes,
"There are no secrets where there’s love."
Test these House Rules in your
own experience; tailor them to fit your particular
circumstance. You will find that they point the way to
greater productivity, creativity, and fun, and show us
how to live a more spiritual life in the material realm.
God helps those who help themselves—and this is a self-help
book. For the better we become, the better we serve our
world. By living on purpose and improving the quality of
our lives, we become a source of light to others.
I can’t give you any wisdom
you don’t already have inside you, but I can highlight
your hidden strengths. If this book stimulates
self-reflection and insight — if you find yourself
reaching within to find your own truths — then Living
on Purpose will have served its purpose. Keep faith
in the higher truth that despite the dilemmas and
difficulties of this world, our lives are a great
Mystery, unfolding perfectly, in accord with universal
laws, in the service of our awakening.
there a larger purpose for living?
is a school and daily life is our classroom.
We are here to
by expanding our
about the world
helps us to
helps us to
in the arenas of
health, and finances
are all part of
teaches us all we need to know
for the next
step on our journey.
Each and every
we find new
lessons to learn.
We are involved
in a mystery
and our highest
business is daily life.
Your daily life
is your school,
Each day shapes
as running water
shapes a stone.
We grow up, attend school, earn
a living, maybe get married and raise a family, go on
vacations, provide a service, and live until we die. Isn’t
this enough? Why all this interest in spirituality? What’s
Most of us agree that life is a
school in the sense that we learn many lessons. But what
is the purpose if it all, you ask, if we return to zero
when we die? If death is the end, what is the purpose of
living in the first place? Questions about death may
lead us to wonder about life. Are we a random experiment
or part of a much bigger picture? One question leads to
the next and all questions end in Mystery. Some of us
turn to belief and faith; others simply wonder. And in
this field of wonder grow the seeds of spirituality.
At some point in each of our
lives, we catch a glimpse—maybe just a glimmer—of
one of the fundamental truths in the school of life: Our
awareness resides, moment to moment, in one of two
separate realities, each with its own truths. The first
is conventional reality, which you describe in your
question. The second is a transcendent reality—the
bigger picture, the energetic and spiritual dimension.
Most of the time, conventional
reality monopolizes our attention with the stuff of
everyday life—the challenges of education, earning a
living, relationships, family, and health—everyday
experience. Our dramas, played out in the theater of
gain and loss, desire and satisfaction, seem entirely
real and important. Conventional life involves the
natural pursuit of satisfaction and fulfillment, which
depends upon events unfolding in line with our desires,
hopes, and expectations. In trying to make things work
out, we suffer the pangs of attachment, craving, and
Then one day—maybe through a
trauma, a death in the family, an injury or other
adversity, we notice that conventional reality, even at
its best, leads to dissatisfaction—when we don’t
get what we want, when we get what we don’t want, and
even when we get exactly what we want, because in
a world of change, we will lose even this.
Adversity and psychological
suffering stimulate a yearning to transcend the
conditional world, to wake up and find the higher wisdom
that uplifts our soul even as we live in the
conventional world. Life’s challenging lessons
generate a willingness to make a leap of faith, to
relinquish familiar truths that no longer serve, and to
venture into the unknown. Anaïs Nin wrote, "And
finally the time came when the risk to remain tight in a
bud was more painful than the risk it took to
blossom." In the school of daily life, spirituality
is not separate from this world; it allows us to live an
ordinary life while remembering the transcendent truths
that set us free.
I’m on a vision quest—searching
for more in life than news, weather, and sports. I take
yoga classes and meditate; last year I completed a
four-hundred-mile bike trip in the hopes of triggering a
spiritually elevated state. The trip gave me a temporary
high and a sore butt. Still, when I push my body to the
limit things happen. Am I going in the right direction
Extreme physical feats,
depriving the body of food and water, and other ordeals
can generate altered states and temporary highs, but to
what end? Years ago, I traveled to the East and pursued
many paths, until the search consumed itself and I came
to rest. Today, numerous shamans, gurus, and guides are
only too happy to take you on a tour of their chosen
path. But all such paths are only classes in the School
of Daily Life—part of a great adventure that teaches
us all we need to know, never revealing what the next
day will bring. This brings to mind the following story:
Near the end of World War II as
American forces occupied Germany, two young men were
captured and shipped to a U. S. POW camp. Interrogation
failed—they would not or could not speak to American
authorities and remained silent even among their fellow
German prisoners, who insisted that they knew nothing
about the pair. An expert in Asiatic languages soon
determined that they were Tibetans. Overjoyed that
someone was finally able to understand them, they told
In summer of 1941 the two
friends, wishing to explore the world outside their tiny
village, crossed Tibet’s northern frontier and
wandered happily in Soviet territory for several weeks,
until Russian authorities picked them up, put them on a
train with hundreds of other young men, and shipped them
west. At an army camp they were issued uniforms and
rifles, given rudimentary military training, and loaded,
with other soldiers, into trucks heading to the Russian
front. Raised in a nonviolent Buddhist tradition, they
were horrified to see men killing each other with
artillery, rifles, even hand-to-hand fighting. Fleeing,
they were captured by the Germans and again loaded onto
a train—to Germany. Then, after the Normandy invasion—as
American forces neared the German border—the hapless
pair were forced into auxiliary service in the German
army, given guns and told to fight. Again they fled from
the carnage, until they were captured by the Americans
and their wartime adventure ended.
The adventures of these two
wanderers reflect our own travels through the school of
life. Consider the twists and turns in your own journey.
Daily life is our vision quest and school, teaching what
it means to be human. This life, this moment, is our
hero’s journey, our moment of truth, our near-death
experience. Relationships, family, work, health, and
finances are God’s Challenge Course. If you seek
adventure, pay attention to each moment and find the
miraculous within the mundane. Choose your courses from
the Catalog. Find creative ways to serve family and
community. In doing so, you discover the greatest vision
quest of all.
can I find the right teacher for me?
teachers appear in many forms.
are found not
or in ashrams of
Our teachers may
take the form
of friends and
animals, wind, and water.
moment, our teachers
reveal all we
need to know.
The question is,
are we paying
When the student
they are the
every wrench at
that makes the
tears flow is your teacher.
Pay attention to
for they are the
to reveal to you
this world has a hidden meaning. . . .
trees, stars, they are all hieroglyphics. . . .
When we see
them, we do not understand them;
we think they
are really only people, animals, trees, stars.
It is only years
later. . . that some of us understand.
I have read many books and
attended more workshops than I can count. But I need a
personal teacher to guide me. Don’t people need a
teacher, guru, or guide to complete the journey?
Practicing in isolation may
breed illusions. We come to know ourselves best in
relationship to others. While we can learn much from
books, a personal teacher can tailor guidance to our
individual temperament and needs. So Buddhism and other
traditions recommend the trinity of a teacher, a
teaching, and a community of practitioners as the ideal
learning environment. But it’s a minefield out there:
Even genuine teachers are sometimes corrupted by the
adulation of their devotees. So be wary and wise; keep
your eyes as wide open as your heart. Teachers need to
earn their students’ trust over time. Avoid any who
demand complete devotion from the beginning. Pay
attention to what teachers do, not just what they say.
And notice: Do their students
live a life to which you aspire? Are they kind,
compassionate, balanced, healthy, honest, open,
respectful? Do they show a sense of humor? If not, look
Our approach to teachers often
corresponds to three stages of life: childhood,
adolescence, or adulthood. Children seek a parent to
guide and protect them, and make good followers (and
some teachers are happy to play parent). Adolescents
reject authority and have a skeptical view of most
teachers. Adults apply intelligent discernment and learn
what they can, where they can, whether teachings appear
in the form of fools or sages, friends or adversaries,
animals, infants, or elders. We also learn through
experience and circumstance, hardship and insight.
Consider this story:
Zembu, a young samurai, had an
affair with the wife of his superior. When discovered,
he slew the nobleman in self-defense, then fled to a
distant province. Unable to find employment, he became a
thief, until one morning, in a flash of understanding,
Zembu saw what he had made of his life. To atone for the
harm he had done, he resolved to accomplish some good
deed as a sincere act of repentance. Soon after, while
walking upon a dangerous road over a cliff that had
caused the death of many persons, he decided to cut a
tunnel through the mountain. Begging food to sustain
himself during the day, Zembu dug each night. Thirty
years later, when the tunnel was two-thousand feet long
and within a few months of completion, Zembu was
confronted by Katsuo, a young samurai who had come to
kill him to avenge the death of his father, the nobleman
whom Zembu had slain years before.
Facing Katsuo’s sword, Zembu
said, "I will gladly give you my life if you will
only allow me to complete my work." So Katsuo
awaited impatiently as several months passed and Zembu
kept digging. Seeing that Zembu was nearing the end, and
tired of doing nothing, Katsuo began to help Zembu dig.
As they worked side by side, Katsuo came to admire the
older man’s strong will and character. Finally the
tunnel was finished; travelers could now pass safely.
Zembu turned to the young
swordsman. "My work is done. You may cut off my
head," he said. Tears flowed from Katsuo’s eyes
as he asked, "How can I cut off my own teacher’s
According to an ancient
proverb,"We have no friends; we have no enemies; we
only have teachers." Find wisdom in whatever form
I’m twenty-two years old and
seeking meaning in life. I was thinking of going to
India in a year or two, for a few months. But I have a
two-year-old son. I’m struggling to decide what is
right and honorable. I want to learn all I can, but my
son needs me. After leaving your family years ago—what
would you advise now?
Whether we travel on a
pilgrimage or on vacation, exotic travel can be
broadening and stimulating. But in today’s global
village, the East holds no monopoly on wisdom. My
travels revealed that there’s no place like home—because
universal truths reveal themselves everywhere in daily
I view parenthood as a sacred
responsibility and supreme teaching. Raising your child
will demand and develop more capacities than sitting in
a cave meditating, or stretching and breathing at an
ashram. (I know because I’ve done them all.) The
spiritual secrets are available here, in our own
country, state, town, home, and heart. You are likely to
find that the journeys you take through childhood with
your son are as enriching as any you might make by boat
And as you open the doors of
perception, you will find your teachers not only in
human form, but in the world of nature, in children and
in strangers, and in unexpected circumstance. For
example, retired physician A. J. Cronin moved to a small
farming community in Scotland to write his first novel.
For many months he filled tablets of handwritten text,
finally sending it to a typist in London. When the typed
manuscript was returned, he gave it a fresh read and was
shocked at his mediocre writing. Disgusted with his
work, he walked out into a drizzling rain, abandoned his
manuscript, throwing it into an ash pile, and wandered
into the heath. There he met an old farmer, digging a
drainage ditch in a boggy field. The farmer inquired
about Cronin’s writing, and learned of the manuscript’s
fate. The farmer paused a few moments, then said,
"My father dug drainage ditches in this bog all his
days but never made a pasture. I’ve done the same and
not succeeded yet. But pasture or not, I know what my
father knew— that if you only dig long enough, a
pasture can be made." Cronin walked back to the
house, picked the manuscript out of the ashes, and dried
it out in the oven. Then he want back to work, rewriting
until it satisfied him. His book, Hatter’s Castle,
was the first in a string of successful novels—all
because of a teacher he found in a bog.
Our children, worth far more
than any manuscript, grow so quickly. And the world will
still be waiting when your son is old enough to travel
with you, or to follow his own path as you pursue yours.
So ask yourself what you want to look back on in the
years to come—that you left home to find yourself or
that you put your child first for the few years he was
given into your care? You will find no higher calling,
greater blessing, finer teacher, or more spiritual
journey than the process of raising your child.
From the book Living On Purpose. © Copyright "2000 by Dan Millman. Reprinted with permission of New
World Library, Novato, CA. 800/972-6657 ext. 52 or www.newworldlibrary.com.
Dan Millman is a former world trampoline champion, Stanford gymnastics coach, and Oberlin college professor. His eleven
books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Everyday Enlightenment, The Life You Were Born to Live, The Laws of Spirit,
and Living on Purpose have inspired millions of readers in 20 languages worldwide.
His website: www.danmillman.com
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