For most people, their lives are focused on their external relationships, their own individual self-satisfaction and their ability to manipulate their social and environmental reality to achieve objectives set by their ego-personality. Many do not have any meaningful relationship to any inner being or inner existence, and, if they are not solely occupied with survival, they spend considerable time and focus on entertainment and satisfying desires. Thinkers, writers, sages, and artists throughout history have reflected on this superficial existence and the limitations of it. They describe an emptiness of such an existence, the lack of significance or meaning, and try to find a way forward through the emptiness to something that will give their lives a real value.
Even people who take up religion find that the focus is oftentimes on following a religious teaching in order to have greater success in this world, or in some future heaven or existence beyond the grave. Scientists try to find a meaning by examining the outer world in ever more subtle ways.
Eventually, whether through dissatisfaction with the shallow outer life, or through some setback in that life, or through an insight that the outward religious activity or scientific review will not provide any final answers, some individuals turn their quest inwards and seek to learn how to connect themselves with the Divine, to become one with the creator and the creation and to live a life in fulfillment of that inner connection. These individuals, under one name or another, take up the practice of yoga, the applied psychology of human consciousness and the deeper forces at work in the individual, in the world and in the universal creation. They take up the spiritual life and undertake the ultimate “adventure of consciousness” that awaits mankind when we finally turn away from our fixation on the outer life and its desires, pleasures and external rewards.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The piercing of the veil between the outer consciousness and the inner being is one of the crucial movements in yoga. For yoga means union with the Divine, but it also means awakening first to your inner self and then to your higher self, — a movement inward and a movement upward. It is, in fact, only through the awakening and coming to the front of the inner being that you can get into union with the Divine. The outer physical man is only an instrumental personality and by himself he cannot arrive at this union, — he can only get occasional touches, religious feelings, imperfect intimations. And even those come not from the outer consciousness but from what is within us.”
“There are two mutually complementary movements; in one the inner being comes to the front and impresses its own normal motions on the outer consciousness to which they are unusual and abnormal; the other is to draw back from the outer consciousness, to go inside into the inner planes, enter the world of your inner self and wake in the hidden parts of your being. When that plunge has once been taken, you are marked for the yogic, the spiritual life and nothing can efface the seal that has been put upon you.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, The Inward Movement, pp. 174-179