The Aim of Yoga and Life

From On the Wings of the Swan, Volume VIII, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Different people have different aims in life. Some have said that God-realization is their aim, some have said self-realization, some samadhi and some freedom. In this way, each person, each philosopher, each master, each yogi has given an indication as to the purpose of life. These purposes have changed from time to time, as you have to remember that no answer is an eternal answer. Questions are created due to changing circumstances, and solutions have to be given according to the circumstances.

In the past, when people said self-realization was the goal of life, it was true, and circumstances were able to lead one to experiencing realization. However, self-realization is not an appropriate aim for the present situation, circumstances, or even inclination of people today. Our association, our relationship with the environment, with nature and the world has to be defined first before we find out how to experience the higher realities of life.

After all, we cannot ignore the world in which we are living, just as you cannot ignore the house in which you live. You prepare your own house so that it is pleasant and comfortable for yourself. In the same manner, you can consider the whole world to be a club of which we are all life members. So while we are associated with this club, what is expected of us and what do we expect from ourselves? Let’s start with that.

First get a grip on yourself

What is expected from us is that we should excel in whatever we do – professionally, socially, physically and psychologically. People should have a grip on situations, circumstances and events, and when people have a grip on life, their direction is clear and they can move forward without any questions or confusion. On the other hand, when the grip on situations and circumstances is not there, distress sets in, and distress becomes the cause of confusion and disharmony in life.

Globally, what does every society, every nation, every civilization aspire to? To prosper socially, to experience peace personally, to utilize wisdom for the homogeneous and integrated development of life as a whole. Everything that is done is geared towards achieving or experiencing this excellence. Why do people work? For prosperity. What is everyone looking for in life? Balance and peace. What can be done to enhance the quality of life? Cultivate wisdom. This is the need of today, not samadhi. If you wanted self-realization you should have taken birth about five hundred years ago; since you have taken birth now it is the search for excellence in life that has to become the aim. The journey in yoga and in life begins with this purpose.

Then tune in to spiritual life

Spirituality is an integral part of human experience; that cannot be denied. External success indicates one’s achievement, mastery and command over a situation, an event, people or circumstances. In the same manner, one’s spiritual drive indicates the development and the awakening of the inner personality. The inner personality and outer intellectual personality then merge to become one awakened personality. That is the aim of yoga: the merger or conversion of the gross material mind into a positive spiritual mind.

Even Sage Patanjali, in his statement on yoga, says that yoga is control over the dissipated nature of mind, chitta vritti nirodhah. Therefore, one must manage the dissipations, one must work to reorganize and restructure one’s life from an external routine to an internal discipline through restraint, control and governance. It is fine-tuning the human nature and personality that, according to Sage Patanjali and other yoga exponents, becomes the path one has to walk in order to perfect yoga. This is the aim of yoga in the modern context; maintaining spiritual qualities in life is the practical aim of yoga.

—18 August 2008