The Four Aims of Yoga

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

“Don’t move the way fear makes you move, move the way love makes you move. Move the way joy makes you move”.

The yoga tradition offers a short blueprint outlining four important aims in a person's life. I believe all of them are necessary for a human being to actualize naturally. The first three are very common aims in our western culture, aims which every parent and educator would hope to encourage in children from a fairly early age. The fourth aim is not well understood and is likely a cause of some of the spiritual problems we have in contemporary life such as; spiritual apathy, avarice, excessive materialism, need for meaningful purpose, addictions, boredom, confusion, depression or deep unanswered longing.

The first aim is Dharma. Dharma is a Sanskrit word which represents the cosmic law underlying character development and correct action needed to support the natural social order of things ie: duty, ethics, responsibilities, development of inborn talents. It may also be one’s dharma to bring about change in the social order, but as ethically and responsibly as possible. In other words it may be one’s dharma to march in a peaceful protest, but not to angrily smash the windows of a nearby store. The Yamas and Niyamas, universal guidelines which program the mental/emotional self for ethical and moral living, are a foundational part of the yoga path.

The second aim is Artha, the Sanskrit word meaning prosperity and wealth. I have often heard the saying “there is enough for everyone”, meaning food, shelter, water, air, sunlight, resources and money enough to fulfill desires and to realize one’s dreams. Moderation is an important concept to be applied here and each person would have their own understanding of what that means. Wealth is not just measured in monetary terms, it also means health, family, friendships, community, opportunities to grow and serve, etc.

Our world is filled with imbalance and inequality, making artha seem unattainable for so many people around the globe, but every person and every creature on earth deserves a healthy measure of Artha.

The third aim is Kama, the Sanskrit word meaning pleasure and sensual gratification. Our spirit/soul is here and has created our physical body to enjoy life through the the five senses; to enjoy nature, music, food, fun, travel, healthy entertainments, healthy sex etc. all pleasures in moderation. However, where people deeply short change themselves, is making Kama their main aim, without recognizing that pleasure is also a stepping stone in life. Pleasure is great, but all pleasure is transient. It does not fully satisfy the deeper need to know who we are, or what our true purpose is for being here.

The fourth aim is Moksha, liberation. Young people, in general, should work mostly within the first three aims. (there are of course some exceptions to this). For those who seek more depth, the journey toward moksha generally begins seriously a little later in life, after the first three aims have been well explored. Avoidance of the first three aims may disempower a person to one degree or another. At the same time, it's important to develop a meditation practice to assist in connecting with spirit (which is already liberated) and in learning to understand and manage the powerful ego/mind. Mismanagement of the ego/mind creates hardship for everyone because we are all interconnected.

We all have a hunger to merge with the spiritual dimension (whether conscious or not), but this needs to be actively cultivated. If we don't cultivate a connection to spirit, we can become trapped in some of the issues I mentioned earlier in this commentary.

At some point in time, pursuing desire and pleasure may become somewhat redundant. It happens naturally, so there is no need to rush it. This is when the desire for pleasure can be elevated into the pursuit of inner ecstasy. One of the first practices that assists in this "upgrading of our inner software" is the practice of gratitude. Many aspects of our outer life may continue on, while our perception of it changes.

We can all receive inspiration by developing some knowledge and understanding of Moksha (liberation). Liberation from what? From the time/space dimension, the realm of the ego/mind. A healthy ego enables us to function and enjoy the world, but at the same time, it paradoxically entangles our spirit. Ego traps us in fear, desire and attachment to worldly life. The path of Moksha gradually frees our consciousness from believing “this body and mind are me” and “this is all there is”. It moves past "mind" and offers us direct experiential knowing of our true divinity, our liberated soul self, the Inner Being which is forever free, in a state of bliss and present in the here and now.

One eventually discovers through spiritual practices, like meditation, devotion and service, that spiritual frequencies of bliss and ecstasy are very real and are of the soul realms.

Relaxing and letting go into those more permanent mystical dimensions is both an art and a science and involves years and some say lifetimes of preparation. But we all have to begin somewhere, sometime. It's our spiritual destiny. Baby steps are necessary and give us a deeper purpose. You will need experienced teachers, mentors, spiritual community and sometimes the help of a genuine Guru and you will always be accompanied by Divine Grace. All spiritual transgressions will be wiped away .

Many of us will walk between two worlds, for a long, long time, seeking a balance between the inner and the outer, but we will gradually become familiar with the higher/deeper frequencies of our limitless soul.

By bowing down to a body, one will achieve samsara (worldly life); and by bowing down to Soul, one will attain moksha (ultimate liberation).”

Dada Bhagwan, Simple & Effective Science for Self Realization

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