The Bhagavad-gita (13.12) states that the purpose of philosophy is to understand the true nature of reality (tattva-jnanartha darshanam). Etymologically, philosophy means “love of wisdom” (philo means loving; sophia means wisdom). Wisdom culminates in understanding and harmonizing with reality.
However, people approach philosophy for different purposes. Some people speak it to exhibit their own cleverness. Others speak it to justify whatever they want to do. Still others such as academic philosophers speak it as a profession. In such cases, philosophy is frequently reduced to a tool for pursuing a worldly purpose, not for discovering life’s ultimate purpose.
Consider the philosophical concept of destiny. It can be used to rationalize not doing the right thing or to persevere in doing the right thing, even if difficult. This can be seen through the contrasting examples of Dhritarashtra and Arjuna.
Before the Kurukshetra war, Dhritarashtra argued: “If the war were destined to happen, what could he, a tiny mortal, do in the face of almighty destiny?” Thus, he tried to justify his complicity in his son Duryodhana’s nefarious activities.
In contrast, before the war, Krishna showed Arjuna through a mystical vision how all the Kauravas were destined to die (11.34). After beholding that vision, Arjuna didn’t argue, “When destiny has already ordained their death, why should I do the painful duty of fighting against them? Destiny will anyway do what it intends.” Instead, he did Krishna’s will (18.73), becoming a divine instrument for establishing dharma.
What applies to the philosophical concept of destiny applies also to all of philosophy: it can be used to solidify one’s dedication to dharma or to justify one’s abdication of dharma.
When we approach philosophy to understand our place and purpose in the overall scheme of things, philosophy opens for us the door to a meaningful and fulfilling life.