They met during a technical course at their local college. They sat near the back. When they were put into the same group for a project, they discovered that they had philosophies in common. Their main difference, it seemed, was that one of them felt motivated to study the technical aspects of medicine, even chemistry, while the other felt relatively unmoved.
"Are you not here to meet your goal of healing others?" said the motivated one.
"I am not so attached to that." The other shrugged. He fidgeted with his pen. "And didn't you say that you had let go of your worldly attachments? Why do you hang on to this one?"
"My worldly life is many years gone but I deliberately reached out to find a transcendent goal." He smiled and stretched out his left arm as if to encompass the room.
"That is an attachment."
"It is." He dropped his hand, his expression serious. "I was aware that I was re-attaching myself as I did it. But consider your own life. You have no goals, neither small ones nor large ones. Why is it that you do anything at all?"
"Mostly, I act because I am forced." The younger fellow sighed. He closed his eyes for a moment. "To avoid starvation, I eat. To make a place to live, I work for money. On my job, I follow orders because it is that kind of a job."
"Listen to your answer." The older one leaned forward slightly. "You say that you do things because you are forced."
"My answer remains." He shook his head. "That is why I act."
"Does that make you happy?"
"Not really, no."
The motivated man stood up. He paced around his chair. A few other students in the classroom glanced over but they turned away soon, occupied by their own projects. The professor looked up from writing out an chemical equation at the front of the room. He nodded and smiled as he noticed the passionate conversation at the back.
"When I come to this class, I am happy," said the fellow. "When I learn, I learn with zeal. When I help others, I feel joy. All of the things we do here are in aid of my goal. I pick up my books with care. I tie my shoes each day with a great affection for the little bit of progress they represent. Do you do these little things with love?"
"Tie my shoes with love? I don't think so."
The older, larger fellow sat back down. For a moment, he scribbled on their chemical equation project.
"This speaks to why I chose to re-attach to my life with a transcendent goal," he said when he finished another line of chemistry. "Until you find such a goal as helping others, as healing them, as feeding them, as any other worthy goal, then you will never do things that you want to do. You will only do things that others want or that your body wants."
"There is no shame in it," said the other, defensively. "Many people live this way."
"Yes. It's not shameful. It's only being less than you can be."
The motivated fellow returned to his work. He'd been intrigued to learn of the younger man's similarities to him but their differences still seemed vast. He found his studies vital to his life, not because he enjoyed chemistry but because he felt that learning it brought him closer to understanding how to help others. To an unmotivated student, it was a meaningless exercise. To him, there was a connection to other, greater works to come.
"Aha," he said. He set down his pen. "I think that this combination of water, carbon dioxide, and these nutrients gives us the chemistry of breath."
"The respiration equation. So you finished it."
"It is a fundamental thing."
"But it is a mistake to get so involved with it. People would be happier if they let go of their desires."
The project finished, they were free to sit back.
"Some people place themselves in the worst of both situations, I suppose," said the older fellow. "They retain their worldly desires. And they have no goal beyond them. They are forced to do things for what seems to them to be no particular reason."
"Yes, that it how it seems to me."
"But you can let go of your worldly attachments and yet still be in the world. You can work toward enriching those around you, as ephemeral as we all are, and you will find yourself always reminded that every action is your own, every decision you make a moral one, vital to the trajectory of your life and the others you affect."
The other fellow shook his head. He picked up his pen and dutifully began to copy the equation.
"Here, take my copy," said the motivated one. He pushed the page across the desk between them. "I'll make another."
"I'm sorry that you have no greater goal."
"And I'm glad that I do not." He tucked the finished equation sheet into his notebook.
"Without a goal, I think people are reduced to reacting to circumstances, always working for other people's desires, always doing things because they must and not because they love to do them." He took a fresh sheet of paper from his notebook. "Every act can be done with love, even the smallest."