What Is Real Success?

~Insights by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda

We typically think that one who is recognized for his talents or worldly achievements is a “successful” person. Increasingly, people equate driving a Mercedes Benz, owning a large apartment, or wearing fashionable designer-label clothes with “success.” But from the point of view of yoga self-realization, it is a mistake to think that material wealth is real success.

A newspaper article recently described a person who was portrayed to the reader as very successful: “Hua lives on the eighth floor of an expensive apartment block in Beijing. Her apartment is decorated in the most expensive furniture: a library packed with new, unread books; electronic gadgetry; pools of giant goldfish; vast gold mirrors; imperial-sized beds and sofas deep enough to drown in. The dining-room table is permanently laid for eight. The massive sunken bath and Jacuzzi look in danger of falling through into the floor below. A whole room is devoted to shoes, racked from floor to ceiling. Hua drives a Maserati and wears Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton. Everything about her life screams success.”

The writer concluded, “Everything about her life screams success,” but the only evidence provided to support that conclusion was how many pairs of shoes the woman owned, how ornate was her apartment, and how huge her beds and bathtubs were. Nowhere in the article did the writer even mention Hua’s inner qualities—or indeed, whether or not she was even truly happy.

From the yoga point of view, the things of this world are transitory, and, furthermore, because we, the atma, are spiritual in essence, material things cannot bring us the deep spiritual happiness we need. The happiness we experience from such things is shallow and fleeting. So it is a mistake to gauge our successfulness in life on achieving such things.

What is real success?

From the viewpoint of yoga scripture and self-realized souls, one is considered a true success in life when he has realized his true spiritual essence and is immersed in the ocean of spiritual love. Such a successful person always lives a life guided by wisdom and motivated by spiritual love. Such a person may be rich or poor, famous or unknown, healthy or unhealthy, etc.—it doesn’t matter; they are a success.

There is a nice story in the yoga scriptures that demonstrates the real meaning of success. Once long ago, there was a young boy named Dhruva who, through his experience, realized what it really means to be successful in life.

Dhruva’s father was a great king who had two wives. The king’s first and favorite wife bore him a son who was destined in line to be the next king. Dhruva was the son of the king’s second wife. As soon as he was able to walk and talk he sought out his father’s company. But the king showed favoritism to his other son.

When Dhruva was five years old, he was chased away from his father’s lap and ridiculed in front of the assembly. Dhurva’s tender feelings were hurt and in anger he ran away into the forest. He was determined that he would become the king’s favorite. Despite his youth, he lived in the forest alone and performed rigorous austerities to gain powers to defeat his step brother.

One day a sage came to the forest and instructed Dhruva in yoga meditation. He followed the sage’s instructions and after some time, Dhruva began to understand his true spiritual identity and where real success lay in life. He no longer wanted to gain his father’s kingdom out of revenge or power over his step brother. Dhruva had instead discovered a peacefulness of heart and spiritual love that satisfied him.

Dhruva was successful in his cultivation of wisdom and spiritual love and realized what real success was. His desire for revenge, or for his father’s kingdom, or to have power over his step-brother—all of these desires disappeared. Dhruva’s heart became fully satisfied, peaceful, and full of spiritual love. He then returned to his father’s palace, not to demand the throne, but instead to speak of the yoga wisdom and spiritual love that he had realized. The king recognized the beauty and truth of Dhruva’s words and listened eagerly. Later when his father retired from his duties, Dhruva was installed as king and ruled wisely and with care for the people. Dhruva attained success in his life not because he was a king, but because he had attained wisdom and spiritual love.

What’s wonderful is that the opportunity to cultivate wisdom and spiritual love is equally available to all of us. Whether we are materially rich or poor, famous or nameless, materially learned or illiterate; a street sweeper or an executive, a healthy athlete or in a wheelchair, each and every one of us can cultivate wisdom and spiritual love.