Human life is a gift, Swami Rama often said, and we should not squander it…. The yoga worldview explain[s] the connections between desire, fulfillment, and freedom. By examining ourselves on every level—body, breath, mind, and consciousness—we can begin to understand, and gradually refine, our desires and motivations. As this process unfolds, and we move deeper within, our lives become more joyful, richer, and more meaningful.
Thousands of years old, the timeless path of yoga remains relevant today because the fundamental human desire—to experience fulfillment—is unchanging…. [Yoga introduces] us to our self and our desires at the most essential level, the path of yoga shows us how to be fulfilled and free.
--Ishan Tigunait, executive director of the Himalayan Institute,
student of Swami Rama, and son of my yoga teacher, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait.
What does fulfillment mean in today’s world?
I used to think, as most people do, that fame and fortune and service to others would make me totally fulfilled. I wanted others to consider me important and significant in this world. I wanted others to recognize me as an outstanding Theology professor at a highly valued and recognized University. I desired many things that would lead me to fame and fortune and recognition in today’s world. However, the fame, fortune and recognition (when it did come) was not enough because there was always that continued desire for these. I could not get rid of those desires!
It started early in my life. I remember, while studying for the priesthood in St. Francis seminary, desiring to be a saint. I entered the seminary originally to honor the expectations of my local priest and my eighth grade teacher, and then my mother. I would spend my grade school recesses at St Charles School in Burlington in the church, praying, because I desired to be a good person in the eyes of the Racine Dominican Sisters, who were my teachers.
I desired to do the right things all the time, even going out of my way to serve those in need. Why? Because it made me feel good and I believed that I was doing God’s will. However, I also wanted recognition for all the good that I was doing. I could see myself making a lot of money and giving it away—not only for the joy that I would feel inside, but mostly for the praise from the community or for legacy of my name on the building. I began to think of my legacy, just like my father thought of his.
Even on his death-bed, he talked about his plans to make things right in the farming world with his work with the Farm Bureau and AMPI Milk Cooperative and in creating a large Community Center in Burlington from the bricks of an old factory. He wanted that to be his legacy. Only when I told him that he had done great things just by raising his five children and all their kids, only when I mentioned that they were his legacy, did he relax into his movement to the other side. He no longer had to fight for recognition and fame, but rested into death peacefully the next day.
Like my father, not only did I want to be happy because of all my accomplishments, but I wanted the world to “canonize” me. I wanted the fame that came with being able to share my fortunes (even though monetary fortunes never came to me).
“Why not?” I thought. I wanted the fame that comes with doing great things in the world. Even though I did some great things—like co-founding a religious lay community that transformed people’s lives, or like supporting black students at Marian College/University even though deep down I was trained to be racist, or like providing organic food for my family and friends through the Grain of Wheat Foods and the Farm2Table Co-op & Café, or like founding the Fond du Lac Center for Spirituality and Healing, or like making the institutional Catholic Church more responsive to the “poor and vulnerable”—I did not feel fulfilled.
I wanted all these to be my legacy for the world to see because deep down I wanted to be famous and appreciated for my life on earth, just like my dad.
However, the fulfillment, joy and happiness of my desire to do all those things has not come from accomplishment or recognition. It has come during the brief moments that I was working hard at accomplishing each of those “goods.” I realize now that I was happiest and most fulfilled when I just acted without expectation of success, without expectation of recognition. I now know that fulfillment comes from my spiritual journey with yoga and my pursuit of union with God/the Divine Mother/Christ.
I experience that deep joy and fulfillment of union with the Divine, whenever I do whatever I am doing because of my deep desire to support others, serve people, eat healthy food, meditate on the Divine Mother/Christ, practice yoga, etc. I do not need the fame, fortune and recognition from the outside world.
My desires are starting to move in an inward direction through my spiritual study and practice of meditation, and with the support and spiritual guidance of the physical Divine Mother in my life—Mary, my Beloved.
The inner awareness of releasing myself from my desires for fame (artha), fortune (kama), and accomplishment of great service (dharma) has also brought me freedom (moksha), which is true fulfillment.