higher purpose

A Dharmic Life of Higher Purpose

To live with a higher purpose requires the continual practice of discriminative wisdom.

We naturally yearn to live in the highest way, meet life’s challenges and grow stronger through them, find unshakable inner peace and enduring happiness, and make a positive contribution to life. But how do we avoid getting pulled down or off course by disruption and difficulty?

Disruption and difficulty are unavoidable. Have you experienced trouble as an invitation to rise and find a better way to live? Most of us have, but usually in hindsight. What can we do to skillfully navigate life’s challenges with more clarity in the present time?

We have the key. Having a vision and a commitment to live with a higher purpose keeps our hearts strong and our minds aloft, ever receptive to divine grace and the supportive influences of nature. Keeping it at the forefront of our awareness, living with a higher purpose prevents us from getting derailed by problems.

What Does it Mean to Live with Higher Purpose?

To live with a higher purpose, we develop the skill of seeing beyond the horizon of material existence, the ability to discriminate between what changes and what remains constant. In Sanskrit, this skill is called viveka, “an awareness by which one can tell the true from the false, the eternal from the impermanent. It is an understanding that the world is impermanent and perishable and that the Self is permanent.” [1]

Awareness of life’s ephemeral, changing nature does not devalue our life experiences; it simply provides a different perspective. Instead of holding on “for dear life” to that which will inevitably change, we discover another, more reliable source of security. That reliable security is found within the eternal spiritual Self. As we live with a higher purpose, our principal focus is fostering Self-realization and Self-actualization. Viveka offers us another way to measure success and chart our course.

A story in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad illustrates this teaching. The aging sage Yajnavalkya informed his wife Maitreyi that he was ready to retire to the forest to focus on spiritual realization. He would leave his wealth behind to provide for her well-being. With viveka dawning, she asks him, “Would all the wealth in the world bring me immortality or enlightenment?” “No,” he responds. “It would only allow you to live like the wealthy live. It could not bring immortality.” She presses on, saying, “What good will it do me then?” “You must tell me that which you know is the way of realization.”  He proceeds to tell her about the unseen Reality that is our true love, that which is the source and substance of all that we see. Some of the most beautiful lines in the Upanishads are in this teaching:

It is not for the sake of the husband that the husband is dear, but for the sake of the Self. It is not for the sake of the wife that the wife is dear, but for the sake of the Self. It is not for the sake of the children that the children are dear, but for the sake of the Self…It is not for the sake of wealth, my beloved, that wealth is dear, but for the sake of the Self…It is not for the sake of itself that anything whatever is esteemed but for the sake of the Self…That Self is to be known. Hear about it, reflect upon it, meditate upon it. By knowing the Self, my beloved, through hearing, reflection, and meditation, one comes to know all things.

A Simple Formula for Living with Higher Purpose

I have found that living with spiritual vision requires me to return my awareness to divine Reality many times throughout my day. If I get too caught in circumstances, dragged down by difficulties, and focused only on outer appearances, I lose track of my higher purpose. To live with a higher purpose requires the continual practice of discriminative wisdom. We must relate to circumstances as changeable, malleable, and not permanent. We must see outer appearances as just that, appearances. When we do that, we can inwardly remain anchored in the supportive awareness of the presence of God and know that deep down, all things are in divine order. Divine grace is ever at hand. We can be steadfast in our inner realization, regardless of what we initially see outwardly. This is seeing through appearances.

As we affirm, know, and realize divine order within our consciousness, it will begin to manifest, to outwardly appear. It may take time for present conditions to change. They were based on past causes. Our transformed consciousness brings forth new experiences and opportunities. No appearance is ever the “last word.” The last word is always truth—the spiritual truth that infinite resourcefulness and lasting security rests in the divine Self.

Here is a simple three-part formula for living with a higher purpose and staying on track:

  1. Decide to live intentionally. Stay tuned to your priorities and arrange conditions to live in the highest way. Avoid wasting time or energy. Consider your higher purpose and see each day as an opportunity to live it.
  2. See through appearances. Remember that every situation is temporary, subject to change. Do not be distracted by conditions or focused on problems. Learn to see through it all and rely on the Source beyond the appearance.
  3. Remember you have spiritual resources. Draw upon your inner strength, wisdom, and compassion and contribute to life.

As Paramahansa Yogananda put it: Why not live in the highest way?


[1] John Grimes, A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy, (New York: SUNY, 1996), p. 353



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