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What is My Purpose?

There was this book I used to read my daughter when she was little called "Are You My Mother?" It's about a baby bird who goes searching for their mother. Along the way they encounter many different animals and asks them all "Are you my mother?" I related to this so much in my adult life as I was always asking Are you my guru? (Surprisingly, I wasn't the only one asking and Wendy Shanker wrote a book asking this very question.)

Source: Eastman, P. D. (1960, June 12). Mother 5 [Illustration].

Sitting alongside the guru question was also Who Am I? and What is My Purpose? I know that I am not alone with the purpose question as there is an entire "New Age" industry revolved around helping people answer that question. While I felt many times in my life like I knew or understood what my purpose was, it would rubberband back to the question like when one enters the absorption state of mediation and quickly finds themselves jolted back to the struggle of sitting.

As I dove deeper into my yoga practice, I began to understand that this search for purpose was related to one's dharma. Dharma is the first word used in the Bhagavad Gita.


Here King Dhritarashtra asks about what has happened once his sons and Pandu's sons arrive on the battlefield. We begin to associate dharma with duty. In Chapter four, Krishna tells Arjuna about the yogic path, Karma Yoga, the yoga of action. We begin here to learn not only about what dharma is, but it's relationship to Karma. Where karma is how you walk through the world day to day, dharma is your lifelong commitment. Karma can turn into your dharma as dharma is right action. Karma yoga invites the practitioner to practice action without expectation. This can become a practice where your life is of service to others (and therefore the divine).

"The Upanishads" describe the self many times as Brahman (the ultimate cosmic "being") as being manifest in the self. (Uddalaka's teaching to Svetaketu in the "Chandogya Upanishad" is one such example.) Serving your fellow human, butterfly, or tree is serving Brahman. Where many of us fall short is we don't serve all and we serve conditionally. (You can see how this also ties into Patanjali's Yamas and Niyamas, particularly ahimsa.) To live in one's dharma means that you serve everyone without cause for expectation. Your very joy is the joy in helping others.

Krishna says in "The Bhagavad Gita,"

"Whoever does things without personal desire for the results is called wise by the sages. That person's actions are pure and he knows the truth." (Slokah 4.19)

So, while I ponder in my middle age whether or not I should pursue a graduate degree and profession in anthropology, ethnobotany, or bring yoga into my professional life, (or whether or not it matters where I work for a living as long as I volunteer), I am reminded that my whole life is living (or not living) my dharma. Kind of reminds me of the Japanese concept of Ikigai. In that belief, whether you are a shoemaker or a salt maker, you have a purpose and you bring your entire self to your personal and professional life until it is one, you see the joy in it, you are serving others through your life, and you are present in each moment. Funny how we all have different names for the same. But they all come back to joy and serving others.

For more interesting reading on Karma and Dharma, visit


Journal writing exercise. Explore the following inquiries.

1) What has your inquiry and relationship with dharma?

2) How do you, or how can you, make small steps using Karma Yoga as a bridge to living your dharma?

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