The Big 3 Questions: Why Yogis Felt It So Important To Answer Them
The big three questions! What are they? Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? I first read these questions in one of BKS Iyengars books. He posed these questions to his reader, saying that all who practice yoga should be seeking the answers to these questions regularly. The questions are interesting enough on their own, but what struck me was the fact that we have to keep asking and answering them over and over again because we keep getting different answers. What would happen if we reached a point where the answers didn't change? Are there definitive answers to these questions that once and for all solve some of life's big mysteries? Apparently, yes!
Who Am I?
If I ask myself this question I may come up with answers like this. I'm a father to three kids. I'm a husband to my wife. I am a man in his late 30's. I am an entrepreneur. I'm a yoga teacher. I'm an older brother. etc. etc. etc...
There's nothing "wrong" about these answers but from the perspective of the yogis these answers are superficial. They do not convey the true core of who you are. In fact they miss the core entirely. I have a spiritual teacher who once said to a class I was in. "You are a soul, everything else you have!" Wow. Take that in for a moment. If you think about it. It makes perfect sense. Everything that you say you are in your life is temporary. I have been other things besides a yoga teacher. I've not been a husband. I've not been a father. Those things became titles that I have, not who I am. So then, according to this teacher, and so many of the classical texts of yoga, I am in fact a soul.
What Am I Doing?
One sanskrit word used to describe the soul by classical yoga is Purusa. You are a Purusa, soul, or eternal spark of God. This soul moves from lifetime to lifetime taking on different bodies and different titles created by, supported by and destroyed by the ego. This is the process of reincarnation. On a very high level this is what you (purusa) are doing. Moving through a massive variety of physical life situations and scenarios. You are not your body, but rather the soul uses your body as a vehicle for experiencing the physical world. B. Ravikanth likens the situation to a chair when he explains in his book, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, "A chair does not exist to sit upon itself, it exists to be sat on." In this same way the body does not exist to experience itself, but to be experienced by the soul.
That is the high level "What Am I Doing," but what about the day-to-day? Iyengar was calling us to pay attention. "Wisdom with out action and action without wisdom, do little to help man," he said. What am I doing is a call to start paying closer attention. It's a call for us to be more mindful in our moment-to-moment actions. We can do this on our yoga mats in an asana or meditation practice, but we should also learn to do it in the many more moments off of them.
The first yoga sutra reads, athayoganusasanam. Meaning, "now begins the dissertation on yoga." Some have interpreted this to mean that yoga is now. Yoga is being consciously and fully aware of your present moment free of expectations and judgements.
Why Am I Doing It?
Classical yoga says you are a Purusa (soul) moving through different lifetimes (reincarnation). Ok, why? Why must the soul go on such a long journey? Why must it take a body? The answer is in some ways quite simple. If you have never learned the concept of "up" then you could not know the concept of "down." The same would hold true for hot and cold, in and out, left and right. The world exists as a balance of opposites. From the perspective of the yogi, you cannot know you are a soul if you are unable to contrast it against everything that is not the soul. The yogis called this prakrti.
Ravikanth says the soul begins in a juvenile and undifferentiated space. Similar to the fact that a newborn baby does not yet understand its own ego, the soul does not at first understand its own divinity. It is through the process of being born into form that the soul is able to use the body to eventually realize that it is a soul and it has a body, mind, ego etc. This takes lifetimes to achieve. When it is achieved, the soul no longer has use for the body and form so it will no longer incarnate. In metaphysical studies there is still much more for the soul to do, however that is not for the subject of this blog. for more on that you can take a class at the Spiritual Arts Institute.
I joke with our yoga teacher training classes that I am going to answer this one big question for them. What is the meaning of life? Most people laugh but the truth is, the yogis answered it. In their own way it is quite simple. The meaning of life is for the soul to use form to mature and eventually realize its true nature so that it can continue its journey back towards the source of all things, love.
For more about yoga philosophy, anatomy, history and more, check out Deepening Your Practice: An Essential Guide for Yoga Students and Teachers