Finding Our Life”s True Purpose

Someone asked the Dalai Lama, “how can we best educate our children?”

The question invited a long and complicated answer. Yet his answer was simple.

“Teach them to care for insects.”

The Dalai Lama explained, “If you teach children to care for beings that are weaker than themselves and ugly, you will help them understand their purpose in life.”

flickr-kris-krugLearning to love small creatures neutralizes the thought: “I am all-powerful.” And, “I can’t love creatures that are ugly. I can only be happy when I follow my likes and dislikes.”

If we train our children to be compassionate, we will give them a handhold on qualities that will serve them extremely well, such as kindness and empathy.

A disciple of Sri Ramakrishna was working in the kitchen when a cat came along and got in his way. The disciple became irritated and struck the cat.

Later, when he met Sri Ramakrishna, he saw that the guru had welts on his back where he had struck the cat.

The disciple exclaimed, “Sir, who did this to you?!”

Ramakrishna said, “You did.”

He explained, “when you struck the cat, the welts appeared on my back, so unified is my consciousness with all beings.”

The disciple learned that it’s extremely important to see all beings as part of your own Self – as, in fact, they are.

Jesus said, “When I was imprisoned, you freed me. When I was cold and lonely, you comforted me.” And the disciples said, “when did we do this, Lord? We never saw you in those conditions. And Jesus answered, “if you do this unto the least of God’s creatures, you do it unto me.”

People occasionally express fear at the thought of reincarnation. They imagine how depressing it would be to be reborn as a cow. What if we’re born as a king in one life and a frog in the next?

Swamiji explained that the divine law isn’t whimsical. It encourages us to expand our consciousness gradually until we become infinite. Any backward steps we take are temporary and don’t define us.

When beings first emerge from Spirit, they instinctively begin to explore the potential of their consciousness. As their consciousness gradually expands, they inhabit vehicles that are exactly right for what they’re able to experience – the body of a cockroach, for example.

Even though the cockroach’s consciousness is limited, it’s the nature of consciousness to want to expand, because expanding our awareness gives us joy.

All creatures are trying to progress toward infinite consciousness, to the limit of their ability. In some deep part of ourselves, we instinctively know that our happiness grows when we become more aware.

We explore as much as we can in a cockroach-body, and when we can’t squeeze anything more from being a cockroach we move on.

It may take many lives in a cockroach body to explore the possibilities of that form. There are many forces that can end the lives of cockroaches, so there may be lives where we experience little more than death.

Finally, we get the full cockroach experience, and our consciousness grows too big to be a cockroach. So we get to be a lizard, which has more options for exploring consciousness.

Swamiji explained that when our consciousness gets too big for its present form, that form must go away. We need a form that’s suitable for the consciousness we now have.

In time, we reach a point where we’ve used up our potential for expanding consciousness in an animal’s body, and we get to enter a human body.

The masters tell us that at this point the game changes. The human body has unique centers in the brain and spine that allow us to expand our consciousness inwardly to embrace Infinity.

A master such as Christ, Yogananda, Krishna, or Buddha can live in a human body without ever losing his consciousness of Infinity.

Now, at that point we’re no longer talking about the average person’s brain and nervous system. It takes a very long time to develop the ability to expand our consciousness to that extent. And as we slowly figure out how we’re supposed to live in a human body, we inhabit many bodies.

When people first move up from the animal level, they basically use their human bodies as animals do. They live close to the earth, as animals do, and there may be a strong sense of intuition and connectedness. There isn’t a well-developed ego, which only comes as awareness grows. It’s an innocent life that’s possible only until we develop a strong sense of our individuality and separateness, and a hunger to find out what we’re here for.

Eventually we reach a point where we’ve expanded our consciousness sufficiently to live among people who’ve been inhabiting human bodies for a long time.

Our culture tries to help us understand how to use our bodies, but it doesn’t teach the highest way. We’re encouraged to develop our intellect so that we can make money and be comfortable.

We’re told that if we want power and security, we must seek it outwardly. But outward attainment isn’t what this human body was intended for. And so in time we realize that outward fulfillments always let us down, and that this body is a thin veneer over something far more wonderful and fulfilling.

In traditional religion, we’re taught that Christ was the son of God, and that he died for our sins. But it isn’t explained that Christ was using his body as a vehicle for his infinite consciousness.

Christ had the right relationship with the body, and he came to set an example of how we, too, should live.

“Take up your cross and follow me” he said. “Walk where I have walked.”

It’s a radical teaching, not intended for those who cling to the belief that they’ll find comfort in this world.

When I read Master’s commentary on the Bible for the first time, I realized that no one had ever told me the truth about the purpose of life.

My teachers at school had given me lots of facts, but until I came to Swami Kriyananda, I hadn’t met anyone who knew why we are here.

When I was seven, I remember sitting in the window of my parents’ house and watching the neighbors go about their lives – watering the lawn, picking up the newspaper, and driving back and forth to the store. Even at seven, I had the pressing thought that there had to be something more.

For years, I thought that the big people were keeping the secret from me, and that someday they would take me aside and explain it. And the distressing realization gradually grew that they didn’t know. They were committed to living in their physical bodies and accepting the most obvious, conventional answers, and then dying.

Adi Shankara (Shankaracharya). Photo: By Hvadga (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
Adi Shankara (Shankaracharya). Photo: By Hvadga (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.


Swami Shankaracharya said, “Children are interested in play. Youth is interested in sex. The householder is absorbed in his responsibilities. The end of life is filled with aches and pains. Hardly anybody ever thinks of God.”

Yogananda’s elder brother Ananta admonished him, “The time to search for God is when you’re old and have nothing better to do.”

The unexpressed thought is, “Let’s use this body to take our pleasure.”

But it’s a cruel joke, because the world never delivers on its promises. And when we choose the outward path, we’re forced to discover this truth over and over, in countless painful ways.

Last night, some of us drove to Berkeley to see a performance of Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet. It was exquisite. The story of Romeo and Juliet is the epitome of human tragedy – two young people from feuding families fall in love, and then Juliet dies and Romeo can’t go on living, so he dies as well.

It’s a gorgeous story – it’s cathartic, saturated with the beauty of tragedy, and it was acted exquisitely. You could feel the richness of life in it.

But then the masters come along and tell us, “Why bother?”

A friend told me how her life wasn’t working well, and how distressed she was. She said, “i know you can understand. If you lost these things I know you’d feel bad, too.”

I thought, “Of course I’d feel bad.” But my next thought was: “I’m a yogi.”

Perhaps it was an affirmation. It’s easy to stand aside and imagine how we’ll behave in a situation. But what does it mean to be a yogi? A yogi is born for a different reason than to follow the outward path. A yogi is someone who follows a scientific method for realizing his oneness with God, inwardly.

Many people are born with a strong idea of how their life will turn out. Little girls go to a wedding and imagine that on their wedding day they’ll do the same things, and how lovely it will be. The young man thinks, “I’ll be a professional, and I’ll be a good provider and have a nice house.”

You can spend entire lifetimes working with your consciousness until you’re able to acquire the outward things you imagine will make you happy. But that’s not why a yogi comes.

A yogi may, in fact, do many of the same things. In fact, Yogananda said that if you can lead a normal life, fulfilling your duties without ego involvement, it’s a higher path than renouncing the world.

But why do we come to live on this earth? We’re given a human body, and what is it good for? Is it given merely so that we can play a part in furthering this earthly scene? Or are we intended to use our time in the body to achieve infinite consciousness?

Swami Kriyananda said, “Only the masters have the right to call themselves fully human.”

Let us be yogis. Let us be like Christ. Let us be like those who come into the body and understand what it’s for.

The masters have given us the sacred keys of awakening. Those keys are: devotion, discipleship, and Kriya Yoga.

Master said, “one round of Kriya Yoga is like a full year of living.” It’s the equivalent, in spiritual development, of living perfectly for one year – living in such a way that you don’t acquire any negative karma.

The human body is designed to support us in interiorizing our consciousness and focusing our energy so that we can clear our spinal chakras of past karma and free ourselves to find perfect fulfillment in God.

We may have a destiny to resolve our karma by performing our duty to our family and employer, and experiencing all of the joys and disappointments of that life. But in the midst of it, let us remember that the key to happiness and freedom is to be a yogi.

Be a child of God. Remember: “I know why I was given this body. It was not given to me so that I can dedicate myself to the things people cling to in vain. My purpose is to live in a way that will give me inner freedom, whatever might come outwardly.”

The masters don’t care to help us tidy up this little mud puddle of human life. At times, they’ll drop bombs into our lives to make them more challenging.

When they see that we’re using our bodies to hunker down and be comfortable, they take a knife and slash it to bits. And then people imagine that something has gone horribly wrong. But, in truth, nothing has gone wrong.

The masters see this little life of ours as a tiny bubble in eternity. Master said, “if they made a movie of your life, it would last about two hours.”

When you think you can’t stand it anymore, remember that the fulfillments of this life last hardly an hour.

Someone was helping Swamiji fill out a medical form. The first question was, “How is your overall health?” And Swami said, “Excellent!”

Swamiji’s health was always poor. He had two hip replacements, an artificial valve in his heart, a hearing aid, diabetes, and on and on.

I once asked him, “how are you feeling, Sir?” He said, “compared to eternity, I feel great!”

That’s using the human body as it was intended. Even if it’s sick, even if it disappoints us, from our essence we can say in truth, “I feel great!”

This is what we came to be. We came to be great in Spirit. We came to be yogis. When we live that way, we begin to feel something so unimaginably wonderful that everything else is as nothing.

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