Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions

Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions

by Dan Millman


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Written by a former world-champion athlete, coach, and educator, Dan Millman's books present practical ways to transform daily challenges into vehicles of spiritual growth. In Living on Purpose, Millman tackles some of the toughest questions, and in the process, refines and expands on the teachings of his other books. Millman applies timeless principles to questions about metaphysics, destiny and free will, control and surrender, goal-making, marriage, child-rearing, money and work, sexuality, priority setting, and simplifying life. He combines hard-won personal wisdom with common sense to shed light on real-world problems.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781577311324
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 08/29/2000
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 796,930
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Living on Purpose

Straight Answers to Life's Tough Questions

By Dan Millman

New World Library

Copyright © 2000 Dan Millman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57731-159-1


Earth is a school and daily life is our classroom.

We are here to learn
by expanding our awareness
about the world
and about ourselves.
Learning about the world
helps us to succeed.
Learning about ourselves
helps us to evolve.
Our challenges in the arenas of
relationship, health, and finances
are all part of the curriculum.
Daily life teaches us all we need to know
for the next step on our journey.
Each and every day,
we find new lessons to learn.

Q: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 the point?

A: Most of us agree that life is a school in the sense that we learn many lessons. But if death is the end, what is the purpose of living in the first place? Questions about death may lead us to wonder about our lives. 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 we may glimpse one of the fundamental lessons 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 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 anxiety.

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. We feel frustrated 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 this world of mortality, we will lose all that we love.

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. As Anaïs Nin wrote, "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.

Q: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?

A: 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 their story.

In the 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 puzzling wartime ordeal 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 — how daily life is your vision quest and school, revealing what it means to be human. This life, this moment, is your hero's journey, your moment of truth, your 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.

Personal Applications

* * *

Your course work in the School of Life gradually reveals your unique purpose here. You will discover smaller, more immediate purposes, such as making breakfast, doing the laundry, driving to work. You will also find larger, long-range purposes, such as improving your body or your relationship, and making a contribution to your family, friends, and world. As we all learn life's lessons and pursue our purposes, large and small, we acquire wisdom in the process.

• List three immediate purposes you wish to accomplish today.

• List, in order of priority, three larger purposes, goals, or dreams you would like to accomplish this year, this decade, or this lifetime.


Our Teachers appear in many forms.

Master teachers
are found not only
on lonely mountaintops
or in ashrams of the East.
Our teachers may take the form
of friends and adversaries —
of clouds, animals, wind, and water.
Moment to moment, our teachers
reveal all we need to know.
The question is,
are we paying attention?
When the student is ready,
the teacher appears

Q: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?

A: Practicing in isolation can breed illusions; we come to know ourselves best in relationship with others. And while we can learn much from books, a personal teacher can tailor guidance to our individual temperament and needs. 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 less to what teachers say than to what they do. 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 elsewhere.

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 from 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 on 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 head?"

According to an ancient proverb, "We have no friends; we have no enemies; we only have teachers." Find wisdom in whatever form it appears.

Q: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. What would you advise?

A: 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 life.

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 or plane.

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 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.

Personal Applications

* * *

Many of us believe that when we graduate from high school, college, or graduate school, our education is finished. But our true schooling has only begun as we shift from word lessons to world lessons. Throughout our lives, we meet (but don't always recognize) an array of teachers, if we have the eyes to see, and the ears to listen.

In the Buddhist tradition, practitioners remind themselves that the Buddha is everywhere, and in everyone; they treat all beings with respect. Similarly, many Christians see Jesus, or a divine spark of God, shining within all beings; the same is true for many religions. Remembering this, we can find wise teachers where we once found only the ordinary. And, we can find a Buddha, a Jesus, a source of infinite wisdom inside ourselves as well. We have only to ask, and listen, and trust.

• List three or more people, situations, or experiences that have served as teachers for you.

• Next to each one, jot down in a few words what you learned.


We learn best through direct experience.

We acquire deeper wisdom through world lessons
than we do through word lessons.
Word lessons teach through concepts;
World lessons teach through experience.
Concepts may provide a map;
Experience involves the journey.
No experience is ever wasted
because every experience
contains a lesson.
The lessons of experience
are always positive,
even if the experience is not.

Q:Your views on meditation are somewhat unorthodox — some might say irreverent. Could you explain those views and how you came to them?

A: Sitting meditation, as practiced in numerous venerable traditions, has benefits on many levels. I have practiced meditation during periods of my life, and honor this tradition. Such practice may enhance wellness and creativity, as well as provide insight into the nature of mind. But life isn't lived in a sitting position — we still have to stand up and get on with the practice of everyday life.


Excerpted from Living on Purpose by Dan Millman. Copyright © 2000 Dan Millman. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface: Answers to Life's Questions,
The House Rules:,
• Earth is a school and daily life is our classroom,
• Our teachers appear in many forms,
• We learn best through direct experience,
• Failures are the steppingstones to success,
• Lessons reappear until we learn them,
• If we don't learn easy lessons, they get harder,
• Consequences teach better than concepts,
• Only action brings ideas to life,
• We can control efforts, not outcomes,
• Timing is everything,
• What goes around comes around,
• Little things can make a big difference,
• Play to your strengths,
• To transform your life, change your expectations,
• Judge with compassion,
• Simplicity has power,
• Life develops what it demands,
• Every choice leads to wisdom,
• God helps those who help themselves,
• We each have inner guidance,
• Balancing the body is the first spiritual practice,
• Life moves in cycles; all things change,
• Life is a series of moments,
• Be gentle with yourself; trust the process of your life,
• Kindness completes our lives; we are in this together,
Final Words,
About the Author,

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