Knowing the purpose for our life is essential to living joyfully and meaningfully. Purpose is what drives us to make the choices that we make. We always have some purpose that motivates us to choose this over that, but are not always consciously aware of what it is.
If we do not take the time to carefully consider what our purpose is, most likely we will end up simply following the constantly changing directives of our mind and senses – being pulled this way and that. We would be like sailors adrift on a vast and tumultuous sea with no navigation system to guide us. Haphazardly wandering through life results in misery, disappointment, frustration.
However, if we are clear on what our purpose is, we can steer through rough seas. We can consciously align our activities with our purpose and thus find the happiness and fulfillment that we seek.
So how do we discover what our purpose is?
There are so many methods, metaphysical sciences, personality questionnaires, books and websites that put forward a formula for determining what our purpose is. However, if we look at what they are basing their methods on, we will see that these formulas are based upon the material mind and body.
This would be fine if we were the material mind and body. But we are not.
According to the ancient yoga scriptures and other bona-fide scriptures of the world, we are eternal spiritual beings that are temporarily wearing the material mind and body. The gross physical body can be compared to outer clothes and the mind or subtle energy body can be compared to under clothes. Just as we are not the clothes we are wearing, we are not the material bodies we are wearing either.
If we were to consider the purpose of our life only based upon the temporary material “clothes” that we are wearing, then we may experience some temporary, superficial brand of material happiness and material success, but this kind of happiness never actually satisfies us. Rather, it leaves us still feeling emptiness in the core of our being and thus always hungry for something more. Material happiness and success may stimulate the mind and body, but it does not actually touch us – the non-material self within the body.
This is why we see countless people with great material success and material opulence – fame, wealth, beauty, power, intelligence, renunciation – who are so depressed, lonely, anxious, and empty inside that they turn to drugs and even suicide to try to escape their suffering condition. Material success simply does not fulfill us. It does not bring us the deep level of meaningful connection and lasting happiness that we need and long for. For this, we need to be engaged in ways that satisfy our eternal nature – and so we need to be aware of what our eternal purpose is.
Our eternal purpose is an inseparable aspect of who we are. It does not change from lifetime to lifetime, body to body. Our external details change, but our eternal details do not. They simply become covered.
In order to know our purpose – the purpose that is eternally inseparable from us – we must realize who we are beneath the material “clothes.” We must know our nature as eternal spiritual beings. When who we are becomes completely clear to us, what to do is obvious. Our purpose becomes naturally evident in our understanding of our eternal identity. To fully know ourselves as we are, we must engage in a process of purification which can reveal this to us.
The issue of climate change is a perplexing one, whether one is a diehard fearer of the doom it portends or a stubborn skeptic. There is a lot of debate about whether the climate will change catastrophically (some say it is already the cause of increased natural disaster) or if other natural factors will intervene to make the phenomena a whole lot milder. However, there is no doubt that measures can be made to minimize humanity’s effect on the climate and environment.
All of these factors influencing climate change and environmental degradation can be directly linked to the problem of endless consumerism. The problem is that no matter how much we have, we always want more. As Mahatma Gandhi famously wrote, “Earth produces enough for everyone’s needs but not enough for our greed.” Whether it is the industrialist billionaire looking for his next billion or the hipster upgrading to the latest smart phone as soon as it gets released, all of us are guilty of taking more than we need. In fact, we are almost pressured by our society into earning as much as we can throughout our working life and collecting as many “goodies” as we can before we die.
There is often a great sense of fear among those who focus perpetually on the problem: the doomsayers, the protesters, the motivators, researchers, and ‘greenies’. In spite of this great fear in a certain sector of society, there is a greater sense of nonchalance among the wider public who would rather sit on the fence, not be bothered and go about their business, ignoring the foretelling of impending doom. But I’ve noticed that even those in the first group are not always ‘doing their bit’ personally, to make changes to how they live. Instead, many tend to rely on lobbying governments to make changes. I know a whole bunch of folk who ride to work, refuse imported goods where possible, vote ‘green’ but are afraid to give up the one thing that could be causing the greatest damage – eating animal meat. (some of the statistics on this are outlined below) They, like so many others who ‘do nothing’ (apart from worry), are not prepared to give up something they ‘enjoy’ for the sake of future generations and for maintaining the status quo. And the reason is deep-seated. The attachment of the senses to the things they enjoy is so strong that one’s ‘better judgment’ (even coupled with the fear of doomsday) is not enough to turn the tables and change habits and put a stop to the endless consumption that is driving the changes in our climate.
So whether one’s attachment is to eating meat, driving a gas guzzling, outrageously polluting V8 (its mind boggling how many Hummers have been produced and sold since the news of impending catastrophe due to global warming became apparent) or to the profits of the mining and other ‘industrial age’ companies, there is no doubt that it is hard to change our ways.
Perhaps this is what the PM of India, Narendra Modi, was suggesting when he made a recommendation that people embrace yoga as a means to tackle global warming. “What?!” I hear you say (or at least I’ve heard the critics scoff): “He reckons a couple of yoga poses are going to stop global warming!?” Indeed THAT is an absurd suggestion. But the president of India’s understanding of yoga is a little deeper than the average Joe’s.
“We can achieve the same level of development, prosperity and well-being without necessarily going down the path of reckless consumption. It doesn’t mean that economies will suffer; it will mean that our economies will take on a different character. For us in India, respect for nature is an integral part of spiritualism. We treat nature’s bounties as sacred. Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”
Narendra Modi is obviously not suggesting we just start doing a few random yoga poses and hope for the best. He is suggesting a change in consciousness and lifestyle (the two go hand in hand, each inspiring – or degrading – the other). By changing our consciousness and therefore our lifestyle, this situation of environmental degradation that is essentially caused by excess consumption would be helped. The practices of yoga, including introspection, meditation, and a vegetarian diet will help a person’s consciousness change to one that is less needy, no longer hankering for the things that ‘cost the earth’ but rather, a yogi will be satisfied within himself.
The yoga poses or asanas are not actually necessary for the change to occur but they do help. It is said that yoga asanas and pranayama (breath-work) bring a person more into the mode of goodness (and out of the modes of ignorance and passion). In the mode of goodness one feels less need for acquiring many things or dependence on material things to bring inner satisfaction and feels more compassion towards others, including animals. This cultivation of the mode of goodness would certainly reduce the levels of energy and meat consumption that currently add to the energy and climate crisis. Also the asanas, pranayama (breathing) and mindfulness of yoga help a person to know they are not their body or their mind, but rather, they are the spirit soul within the body who witnesses and deals with the world through the agency of the senses and mind. Once a person identifies themselves as spirit not matter, he is naturally able to give up the things that are unnecessary, feeling satisfied within.
And so Narendra Modi suggests we adopt an international day of yoga. This would raise awareness of the possibilities that yoga has to offer, and inspire more and more ‘average Joes’ to take up its practice, regardless of one’s cultural background or spiritual persuasion. He also points out that economies do not need to suffer. Sustainable economies based on peoples’ needs and not on greed do exist on this planet and many people are already moving more into what have been labeled LOHAS industries – lifestyles of health and sustainability.
So how does would such a lifestyle really affect the climate?
The official handbook for Live Earth, the anti–climate change concerts that Al Gore helped organize says that eating your veggies and plant-based proteins instead of animal-based proteins is about the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon foot print/climate change impact. It may be a surprise to know that livestock produce 18% of total emissions.
And the gases produced by the cow’s digestive process (methane from flatulence and nitrous oxide from manure) are worse for greenhouse warming than CO2. Added to that are the emissions from the clearing of forests to grow pasture, fertilizers for growing feed crops and energy to power meat processing plants. A 2006 UN report states that the livestock sector is the 2nd or 3rd biggest contributor to warming, and if we all gradually weaned ourselves from meat there would be a just as significant cooling effect.
In 2012, there were roughly 70bn animals raised as livestock for 7.1bn people. And a study published in July by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that livestock production is among the most destructive forces driving climate change: it degrades air quality, pollutes waterways, and is the single-largest use of land.
Here are some more astounding statistics:
On average, only a third of a person’s protein requirement is taken from meat, yet it uses a third of the planet’s land and power to produce.
1kg of meat requires 10 to 20 times as much energy to produce as 1kg of vegetable protein such as tofu or tempeh.
32,900 calories are used to produce the 940 calories of one porterhouse steak.
So it’s clear, changing to or even leaning towards a vegetarian or vegan diet would make a difference. As we discussed earlier, despite the information being there and being so clear, it still seems monumentally difficult or even impossible for people to give it up, and so we suggest little by little, and with the addition of some of the deeply satisfying practices of yoga, like yoga asanas to help the body feel light and free from energy blocks and meditation upon transcendental sound which provides a higher taste, a deeper sense of fulfillment, than that which we get from anything else.
No matter how hard we try to be good or perfect at what we we are doing, it is inevitable that we will make mistakes. Completely avoiding them altogether is not an option, but we can cultivate a state of consciousness that enables us to experience the mistakes that we make as helpful to our mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.
When we make a mistake, having a positive or negative experience is determined by who we know ourselves to be.
If we believe we are the image of ourselves that we hold in our minds as good, right, intelligent, savvy, respectable, faultless, etc. then we will experience fear. This is because we have invested our sense of self-worth, happiness, and safety in this image. When we feel our source of happiness and safety is being threatened, then we will experience anxiety.
We live in a world that is a veritable buffet of sensory delights. There are so many ways we can stimulate our mind and senses. If we like, we can keep ourselves busy our entire lives just experiencing all the different types of sensory stimulation. Filling our tongues, eyes, ears, mind, etc. with colorful sensations, thoughts, feelings – hi-tech, lo-tech, natural, artificial, and everything in between. Certainly there are more methods of material sense pleasure than any one person can experience in an entire lifetime.
If satisfying the senses were the key to a truly joyful and fulfilling life, we would all be ecstatically happy and fulfilled. But we are not. Why not?
Because all these activities that stimulate some kind of pleasure sensation in the mind and physical senses do not actually touch us, the non-material self within the material body.
According to the ancient yoga scriptures and other bonafide scriptures of the world, we are not the material body or the mind – we are eternal spiritual beings temporarily wearing the material mind and body. The gross physical body can be compared to outer clothes and the mind or subtle energy body can be compared to under clothes. Just as we are not the clothes we are wearing, we are not the material bodies we are wearing either.
When we feed our body and mind with a desirable taste, smell, sound, touch, sight or thought, whatever pleasure we experience stays on the level of the mind and body. It does not reach deep enough to nourish us, the spiritual self within the material mind and body. This is why we can experience so much sense gratification and still feel so empty deep inside. This is why when we stop filling our minds and bodies with material stimulation, we notice the emptiness more. It is not because we are actually missing the material stimulation – it is because we are noticing what is there beneath the coverings.
Only that which is of the same energy that we are – spiritual energy – can touch us and satisfy our longing for meaningful connection and happiness
In the ancient yoga system, the recommended method for consciously linking up with our spiritual source and cultivating the spiritual love and happiness that will completely fulfill & satisfy us is mantra meditation.
A true mantra is not something anyone makes up. It is the Absolute Truth in sound vibration. This spiritual sound vibration descends from the spiritual platform to the material world without losing any of its potency via bona fide spiritual teachers. In mantra meditation, a person hears and chants or sings this spiritual sound and thus is directly linking up with the Supreme.