Sunday, June 27, 2010


Life is a journey, and as in any journey at least three elements are involved: the driver, the destination and the vehicle. We, the drivers, often neither know ourselves well, nor do we take enough care to keep ourselves fit to drive. If we ask a young person what his goal in life is, the typical answer is in terms of what he would like to become: a doctor, an engineer, a teacher, a manager, etc. Many young people, however, frankly declare that their goal is to make money: as much of it and as quickly as possible, any-which-how. If it is legitimate to view the goal of life in terms of worldly ambitions, all those who are able to realize their ambitions should be happy and feel fulfilled. Why then the realization of ambitions does not guarantee happiness? The flaw lies in mistaking the vehicle for the destination. So many lives combine an unfit driver with total ignorance of the rules of the road, the map and the destination. No wonder, even the best of vehicles get smashed.

No matter what the driver chooses as the goal of life, the first requirement is that he should be fit. For this, some of the basic requirements are the right type of food in the right quantity, moderate physical activity, adequate sleep, and keeping away from harmful substances such as tobacco and alcohol. The body and the mind being closely connected, a person cannot be truly healthy unless the mind is also at peace. Yoga is a time-tested system for improving the fitness of the driver.

Now that we have a driver who is physically fit, emotionally stable and intellectually agile, let us have a look at the vehicle. On the journey of life, our vehicle consists of the conditions and circumstances of life. The work that we do constitutes one part of the vehicle; the other part is made up of the people in our lives – in the family and at the workplace. Theoretically, any vehicle is good enough provided we know which way to go. However, there are good and bad vehicles in life. Generally speaking, noble professions such as teaching and health care professions are among the best vehicles. But a deeper understanding of life justifies neither the prevailing intense preoccupation with the vehicle nor the common criteria for judging the vehicles.

Finally we turn to the road map, the rules of the road, and the destination. Life is uncharted territory, and nobody can give us a roadmap in advance. Countless people and events that fill our days form the road map. Part of it may be pre-destined, but we also have a freewill that can alter the map. We can use the freewill to follow the rules, or to break the rules of life. Depending upon that, the road map changes, and the route that will take us towards the destination may get simpler or more winding and tortuous. The spiritual philosophy underlying yoga tells us our destination and also how to construct freeways to our destination. In that sense, yoga is a driving school. The crux of what yoga tells us is about making the right choices in life. We may make choices at the level of the body (to keep it strong), at the emotional level (pursuing what feels good), or at the level of the intellect (doing what is logical). Man is a complex being, whose different parts are at war with one another. The body needs exercise, but we may remain sedentary because that feels better; the body needs sleep and sleeping also feels good, but we may choose to work late because hard work may win us a promotion at the workplace. Conflicts between the emotions and the intellect are the most troublesome. Logic often tells us that what feels good may not be good in the long run, may be at the cost of a long-term important goal, or may not be ethically sound. In such conflicts, we do not always pay heed to logic; instead, the emotions exploit the intellect and we end up inventing reasons to justify what feels good. However, there is a part of the being, deep within, which is the best guide to making choices. It is variously called the inner voice, or the voice of the soul; Sri Aurobindo calls it the voice of the psychic being. Choices made at the level of the psychic being are characterized by loving, giving, caring and sharing. These choices may lead to a material loss, but they still give us intense joy. On the other hand, neglecting the faint whisper of the psychic being invariably leads to a sense of uneasiness. Let us examine how some vehicles are better than others in letting us make choices based on the voice of the psychic being, and how having a good vehicle is not enough for making the right choices. A doctor or nurse have in their patients, and a teacher has in her students, a steady stream of strangers on whom they can shower their love as a part of their job. The vehicle available to a manager in the corporate sector is generally not so good – if he decides to act always on the voice of the psychic being, he may lose his job. Whenever he neglects that voice, he feels uneasy, and because he is often compelled to neglect the voice, the cumulative uneasiness gives him mental stress. However, a doctor may prescribe unnecessary surgery to make money, or a teacher may not teach well to encourage students to go in for special coaching (tuition) for which she gets paid extra. Apparently such choices lead to material gain, but in the process the doctor and the teacher have misused the excellent vehicles they got. What do these choices have to do with the goal of life? The goal of life is spiritual growth, or growth of consciousness. Every choice at the level of the psychic being takes us one step towards the goal; every other choice takes us away from the goal. In short, a life full of love takes us towards our goal. Conditions that give us an opportunity to love are a good vehicle to have in the journey of life. But unless we know which way to go, even the best vehicle can be smashed. On the other hand, if the driver knows which way to go, a bad vehicle can be a challenge rather than a problem. For example, if an employee in the corporate sector can walk on the razor’s edge and make the right choices, he can move towards the goal pretty fast – certainly much faster than a bad doctor or teacher. In the journey of life, moving towards the goal is enough, reaching the goal is not. Life is a journey which can be enjoyed, provided we know the goal, and make sincere efforts to move towards the goal. We should all have an aim in life because, as the Mother has said, “An aimless life is always a miserable life”. She goes on to say, “… on the quality of your aim will depend the quality of your life. Your aim should be high and wide, generous and disinterested; this will make your life precious to yourself and to others”.

(From a work in progress: Timeless Wisdom in Small Doses)