The Purpose of Yoga

From Yogadrishti Series: Development of Satyananda Yoga, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The purpose of yoga is just one: to show humanity how to worship life. Everybody knows how to worship God, but how do you worship life? In reality, yoga is not a practice or subject of study, but the worship of life.

When we speak about yoga, what do we mean? What does the word 'yoga' really mean? Philosophers and intellectuals say that yoga is the union between the individual consciousness and the higher consciousness. In the Sivananda and Satyananda traditions, we say that yoga means integrating the faculties of head, heart and hands. Many other definitions of yoga have been given, but are these definitions given by the seers who originally developed the system of yoga? Did the seers say that yoga is a way by which one can come closer to the higher consciousness? Was it the seers who said that yoga is a spiritual science? What was the original view of the yogis and seers when they defined and developed the system of yoga?

The beauty of yoga is that it is nothing but contemplation and worship of human life. After exploring your nature and personality, and enhancing the faculties and qualities inherent within, you are ready to appreciate the beauty that life holds for you. The seers who developed yoga said clearly that yoga is a sadhana. It is a practice through which you rediscover yourself, your nature. It is not a philosophy containing abstract ideas that sound pleasing and interesting to an individual. It is not a religion; it does not involve any dogma. It is a collection of practical systems that you can incorporate in your life experience. As you do so, these practices elevate your perception and appreciation of yourself. They lead you to the experience of poornata, wholeness, completeness.

Experiencing wholeness

The shanti mantra of the Ishavasya Upanishad states:

Om poornamadah poornamidam poornaat poornamudachyate
poornasya poornamaadaaya poornamevavashishyate.

Everything is full. If you add full to the full, full remains. If you subtract full from the full, full remains. If you multiply full by the full, full remains. If you divide full by the full, full remains.

Not everyone understands this kind of mathematics. From the perspective of this statement, everything is whole, everything is complete; even you are whole, you are complete. You do not realize that you are complete, that you are poorna. The purpose of yoga as an integrated system is to develop the experience of wholeness and completeness.

The experience of wholeness incorporates and integrates the gross manifested body, the subtle, invisible yet experienceable mind, and the transcendental spirit that is within you. When these three are brought together, the experience of poornata, wholeness, takes place. This experience of poornata is the purpose and the aim of life. Self-realization or God-realization is the result of having attained wholeness in life, without which that realization would not be possible. Why think of God when God is not your priority, rather achieving wholeness is? In actuality, you cannot think about a transcendental God anyway, as your mind, which is not transcendental, is not capable of doing so.

Setting priorities

Somebody once asked Sri Swamiji, "Is it possible to attain self-realization in this lifetime?" He answered that some people believe it is possible and make an attempt and effort towards that goal. He, however, does not believe that God-realization is possible. The questioner asked him, "Why do you say that, when everybody says the purpose of life is God-realization or self-realization?" Sri Swamiji answered that to begin with, God is a transcendental state of being and existence. Your senses, brain and mind, with which you are trying to grasp that transcendental state, are limited and confined. The brain of a three-month- old child cannot comprehend the subject of physics or atomic science. Similarly, with your non-transcendental mind, it is not possible for you to experience the transcendental quality of God. Sri Swamiji was further asked, "Does this mean that everything we do in life with the aspiration of achieving God-realization is useless?" Sri Swamiji said, "No, it is very worthwhile. One should continuously make the effort, but with a different understanding, with a different perspective. First, you have to understand that God-realization or self-realization is not your priority. What is your priority? It is to change the quality of your mind so that it becomes capable of receiving and grasping the transcendental experience. If you cannot change the quality of the mind, it will not be capable of going beyond its own idiosyncrasies. It will not be capable of going beyond its own samskaras and natural limitations." In this way, Sri Swamiji focused people's attention on discovering what their priority in life is.

A blind person may say that he wants to see the sun, but what is his priority: to see the sun or to acquire vision? If he can acquire vision by dealing with the cause of blindness then he can see not only the sun, but the entire creation in glorious multicolour. However, without vision, not even the big rock right in front of his step can be seen. Therefore, forget about seeing the golden sun and focus on acquiring vision.