In reply to your question, I would like to quote from my spiritual teacher, Sai Baba (for an introduction to his life and teachings see my article Love in Action). The reason I have chosen this quote is because it was read out at our wedding and for me answers the question: what is the purpose of life?
"Foster the tiny seed of Love that clings to 'me' and 'mine.' Let it sprout into Love for the group around you and grow into Love for all Mankind; and spread out its branches over animals, birds and all that creep and crawl, and let Love enfold all things and beings in all worlds."
So what does this mean in practical terms? It means that our first duty is to heal ourselves of all our nefarious tendencies like anxiety, worry, stress, depression, sadness, grief, anger, bitterness, greed, impatience, etc. We take these activities of the mind, that creates these negative tendencies, to be the "me" and "mine" in the quote. This is the point in our lives where we are trying, because our self-esteem is low, to prove ourselves worthy through ambitious career goals, or attention seeking through excessive attachment to image consciousness or other desires. These negative tendencies are healed by refusing to blame other people or life's circumstances for our condition and instead look within ourselves, so that we may become aware of how we create these tendencies, and through that awareness heal our lives. Therefore:
Step 1 - is to heal ourselves by not blaming anyone or anything including ourselves, by learning to look within instead and in doing so become aware of how we create our own problems through our desires, when they result in attachment to things outside ourselves.
Step 1 starts us on the healing path and introduces us to the spiritual life - a journey into union with God. As we proceed with step 1 we will grow in strength emotionally, physically, psychologically, financially and spiritually. By becoming strong in all theses areas we become increasingly self reliant. Our ego, which was discordant and in conflict at the start of step 1 because it was filled with these negative tendencies, gradually becomes concordant and harmonious, as we heal and integrate our body, mind and spirit.
As our ego integrates, our desires for the things of this world fall away and our desire for union with God grows. We discover inner peace and reach out to express to others what we have found. As we heal we quite naturally want to share this good news. What initially was a journey to heal ourselves, evolves into a journey to share what we have leaned by expressing love toward others. As we make this transition from ego (the "me" and "mine" in the quote) to others (the group around you) we come to:
Step 2 - Reaching out to express love toward those around us from a place of increasing self-reliance and inner strength.
It is best if we express this love using our God-given natural gifts and talents. If we have a practical bent, we can express love in practical ways. For example in Ireland there are a group of tradesmen who head off to South Africa every year to build houses free of charge for the people in poor townships who are living in tin sheds. If we enjoy conversation and relationships we may train as a counselor. If we have the gift of healing we may train in one or more of the healing arts, etc. The transition to step 2 heralds the awakening of compassion in our hearts for those that suffer and our connection to our higher mind, and the inner guidance that comes from there, when seeking the way forward and making decisions.
The important thing about step 2 is that we do public service work for others without expecting to gain materially for ourselves, because then our public service will be an expression of pure love. Providing such service helps us to grow spiritually. Our selfish desires and our attachment to our senses and the things of this world reduce still further, as we experience the joy and peace that we find through participation in our public service activities. As we engage with others and increase the volume, capacity, quality and range of our public service activities, we begin to transcend "me and "mine." What was me becomes us. What was mine becomes ours. We are starting to awaken to universal awareness - transcendental consciousness. As in Sai Baba's quote, our love is growing to embrace "all Mankind." This brings us to:
Step 3 - The awakening to our God Self.
This step happens in an instant - an instant of Self Realization. As we reduce our desires for the things of this world and increase our yearning for God, our mind becomes like a ripened fruit until one day, quite by surprise, our mind ripens and breaks free from the shackles of attachment to the world of desire represented by the cravings of the senses and the body. When this happens our actions are not a response to our desires but are always intuitive. The world and our Self come alive when we flip into transcendental awareness. The mind is now the servant of the higher mind which is intimately connected with, and reflects the light of the Soul. It is now the higher mind that guides all our actions.
We have reached enlightenment and once established in this state find that life on earth has no more to teach us. This qualifies us to escape the wheel of death followed by rebirth in the physical body. Instead we have, while still alive, lost our attachment to the things of the world and transcended into spiritual union and merger with the God-Head. Death no longer holds any fear or anxiety. We have fulfilled the purpose of our life - to merge in the divine - to become one with God. Then, as in Sai Baba's quote, Love has fulfilled itself by "spreading out its branches over animals, birds and all that creep and crawl," and has enfolded "all things and beings in all worlds."
Further Help and Resources
If you would like guidance on steps 1, 2 and 3, I recommend you order my book, Unfold Your Wings and Watch Life Take Off. It will guide you on each of these steps and in so doing, transform your life.
An interesting paper, Who's Afraid of Life After Death? (PDF download) is about the near-death experience (NDE). The evidence from the NDE, for example, suggests that God is not vengeful, does not judge us or condemn us, and is not angry at us for our "sins"; there is judgment, to be sure, but the reports appear to be in agreement that all judgment comes from within the individual, not from the Being of Light. It seems, in fact, that all God is capable of giving us is unconditional love. But the concept of an all-loving, nonjudgmental God contradicts and undermines the teachings of many religions, and thus it is no wonder that religious fundamentalists are uncomfortable with the near-death experience.
Research on the NDE has yielded the following unambiguous conclusion: the purpose of life is knowledge and love. Studies on the transformative effect of the NDE show that the cultural values of wealth, status, material possessions and so on become much less important, and the perennial religious values of love, caring for others, and acquiring knowledge about the divine ascend to greater importance. Those who have experienced the afterlife and returned, not only verbally profess the values of love and knowledge, but they tend to operate in accordance with these values, if not entirely, then at least more so than before their NDE.
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