The highest ideals of humanity can be looked at from the point of view of human capability or from the view of a divine purpose to the manifestation. The difference in viewpoint leads to different focus and result. From the human viewpoint, we would look at how to improve, perfect and optimize the capacities of our mind, life-energy and physical bodies. For the physical body, we see a strong emphasis on achieving new feats of physical fitness and performance, increasing the strength and resiliency of the body, and reaching new heights of human accomplishment. Then there is the development of a caring and compassionate approach to life, building better interactions and relationships, emotional maturity and sensibility to beauty, art and cultural achievements. At the mental level, there is the development of a finely honed instrument of logic and reasoning, abstract conceptualization and careful observation and categorization in order to bring a better and deeper understanding of Nature and our ability to interact with Nature into life.
Yet all of these advances and developments leave out any deeper significance or purpose to life. In the end, it amounts to making life more comfortable or more enjoyable, but why? This is where spiritual development can come into play. At some point, people begin to reflect on why they are alive, what life is all about, and what they should be doing to fulfill their purpose. Sometimes this comes through an extraordinary experience; sometimes through a tragedy they undergo. Sometimes they have a naturally open heart and mind and seek to understand behind the surface of things. In whatever way they come to this point, they begin the process of the spiritual journey to find out how and why they exist and they enter into the path of the divine life.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “Apart from external things there are two possible inner ideals which a man can follow. The first is the highest ideal of ordinary human life and the other the divine ideal of yoga…. The ideal of human life is to establish over the whole being the control of a clear, strong and rational mind and a right and rational will, to master the emotional, vital and physical being, create a harmony of the whole and develop the capacities whatever they are and fulfil them in life…. The object of the divine life, on the other hand, is to realise one’s highest self or to realise God and to put the whole being into harmony with the truth of the highest self or the law of the divine nature, to find one’s own divine capacities great or small and fulfil them in life as a sacrifice to the highest or as a true instrument of the divine Shakti.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Integral Yoga and the Ordinary Life, pg. 14