The Dual Purposes of Life

If you had a sense that you came here in order to accomplish one overarching purpose, you are only half right. Yoga describes the purpose of human life as being two-fold. There are two things that you are here to accomplish. The first is to have experiences, a full range of experiences. This means that life is not merely about happiness and ease. The experiences of life include sadness and challenge. You are meant to be as present for grief and loneliness as for the times of celebration and community. Allow yourself to experience it all — fully.

The second purpose of life is Self-Realization. Whether you have embraced this as a goal or not, working on this is what makes the other purpose worth it. If you don’t look at your own potential for Self-Realization, simply having experiences doesn’t work out for you. This is because, when you don’t know of your Own Inner Essence, the outer things become the most important things in life. Your first purpose, to have experiences, becomes your only purpose.

Thus, if things are going badly today — you are having a bad day, or (worse) you are a bad person. If things are going well — you are a good person, having a good day. When you don’t look at your own inner essence, your whole sense of self is created by where you are, what you are doing and how it is going, not to mention what other people think or say about you.

A yogi does not label anyone or anything as being good or bad — everything and everyone is a form of Shiva, the one Divine Essence manifest in all forms. A yogi does not shrink from anything. As a yogi, you can (and must) choose where you are going to spend your time and with whom, but without having to shut yourself down or tune out your experiences.

This means you can watch the evening news without being upset by it. You can have an experience of knowing and seeing the pain and injustice in the world, without going into pain yourself. And, even if it does bring up the feeling of personal pain, you can embrace it. It is only temporary — all experiences are temporary. They all change with time. Just keep tuned in. The show is ever changing.

When something in your life becomes so overwhelming that you get lost in it, then the problem is not the thing that overwhelmed you — the problem is that you lost your Self. Your own inner source of resiliency, joy and love is lost. This is the very source that will make you able to handle all the things that life brings, but you lost track of it. This loss of Self is the biggest catastrophe of life — and you see it everywhere you look, in the media, the movies and TV shows, and in everyone you know. As a yogi, you need and want something more. You must!

In yoga, you work on the two purposes of life simultaneously. If you tried to leave your life to work on Self-Realization, then you would have lost track of one of the purposes. The archetype of the yogi, sitting in a cave meditating by himself is an archetype — not reality. Yogis in India live in community, sharing the process and working together toward that ultimate aim. Along the way, they have many experiences — of relationship, of a shared goal and the work that needs to be done, of celebrations of joy and love for one another, etc.

In other words, yogis have a life. So do you. You must work on both purposes of life simultaneously. You can begin by fully embracing your life. Step into it as though you chose to be alive. Participate fully, while you are living from the inner depths of your essence, or looking for it — inside.

Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati leads Downingtown Yoga & Meditation Center and Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram in Downingtown PA. An American yogi, she is an inspiring teacher with a loving manner and a great sense of humor. Before becoming a swami (yoga monk), as Rama Berch, she served the yoga community as the founding president of Yoga Alliance. Traveling and teaching nationally and internationally, she is authorized to initiate people into deep meditation through Shaktipat, as did Swami Muktananda, her own Guru. The Ashram website features extensive Freebies, including articles and audio recordings on the principles of consciousness as taught by the sages of India, as well as how to apply them in your life today.