In this 3rd installment of this series on “Raja Yoga Now,” Swami Karunananda encourages our readers to explore what they are truly searching for in life. And, to consider how the teachings of Raja Yoga can support one’s inner exploration and spiritual journey.
What do we really want out of life?
If you ask any parent what they want for their children, they invariably reply: “I want them to be happy.” The basic want behind all the other wants seems to be happiness. Our lives are spent seeking that happiness, usually through possessions, positions, relationships, and attainments. Even our addictions are a misguided search for happiness.
What do we find? We get some temporary happiness mixed with problems and pain. Often, there is anxiety that we won’t get what we want. We get angry if something obstructs our efforts; depressed if we fail. After we get it, comes the fear of losing it. Sometimes there’s disappointment, because it doesn’t meet our expectations. So much effort and energy are expended in the process.
We may work hard to save money to purchase a new car. Finally, the long-awaited day arrives. We go to the car dealership to pick up our new vehicle. The moment we drive it off the lot, the value of the car depreciates considerably. Already, it is worth less than we paid for it.
A little analysis will show that if we seek permanent happiness in external ways, we are destined for frustration and failure—because everything in the world is subject to change. Winter gives way to spring, day to night. The garden is in bloom and goes to seed. Consider all the changes in your own life in the past ten years. Are you living in the same place or with the same people? Do you have the same car? Are you working at the same job? Has your bank balance fluctuated? Is your body the same—your health, weight, or even your hairstyle? How many friends have you seen come and go? In everyone’s life, the pendulum swings between pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, success and failure.
Yet through it all, something propels us onward in this quest for happiness. That is because the source of all happiness is within us as our own true Self. What we seek is who we are. Our innermost Self calls to us to return and discover the peace and joy, beauty and fulfillment, within. We are like the fabled musk deer that roams the universe looking for the source of a beautiful fragrance that is emanating from a spot above his forehead. Or like someone who is looking for their glasses, when all the while they are comfortably perched on top of their head.
It seems like a paradox: If that’s who we are, then why don’t we experience it? Swami Satchidananda gave an explanation in the form of an analogy. To see our face, we need a mirror. In like manner, to experience our true Self, we need an inner mirror. We have a mirror within—the mind. If the mirror of the mind is clean and steady, we see an accurate reflection and experience the perfection of our true nature. However, if the mirror is colored, curved, or twisted, we see a distorted reflection.
Even though we are still perfectly fine, we identify with the reflection and think that is who we are. If there’s a sad reflection, for example, we say, “I am depressed.” Then, to remedy the situation, we usually look for external things to make us feel better, which only perpetuates the problem.
First, as was already stated, we can never find lasting happiness that way because everything external is subject to change. And secondly, every time the mind goes outward to experience objects, it takes their form and gets colored by them. Thus, the mental mirror is continually distorting, so we don’t see the true reflection.
The very act of seeking happiness outside prevents us from experiencing the true happiness within. Instead, if we restrained the mind from going outward and let it rest calmly within, we would experience the happiness we are seeking. That is the essential teaching of Raja Yoga. When we forget our true nature and seek happiness outside ourselves, that is the basic ignorance, and the root of all suffering.
The secret of happiness lies not in getting things, but in gaining mastery over the mind. Raja Yoga is a practical and comprehensive guide for attaining this goal. It is a handbook to enlightenment: to transformation, illumination, and liberation from all suffering.
About the Author:
Swami Karunananda is a senior disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda. In 1975, she was ordained as a monk into the Holy Order of Sannyas. She has had almost 50 years experience teaching all aspects of Yoga and specializes now in workshops, retreats, and teacher training programs that focus on the science of meditation, the philosophy of Yoga, personal transformation, and Yoga breathing techniques for better health and well-being. She developed, and for 30 years has taught, the Integral Yoga Teacher Training programs in Raja Yoga and in Meditation.
Swami Karunananda served as president of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville in Virginia and in California, as well as director of the Integral Yoga Institutes in San Francisco and in Santa Barbara. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees, and as the chairperson of the Spiritual Life Board at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, Virginia. She is a contributing editor for The Breath of Life: Integral Yoga Pranayama, as well as a senior writer for the Integral Yoga Magazine. In her book, Awakening: Aspiration to Realization Through Integral Yoga, she describes the spiritual path and provides guidance for the journey. This article is an excerpt from her forthcoming book: Raja Yoga Now.