“Spiritual vs. Material Fulfillment: Who Says You Can't Have Both? (Part II)” was written by Rod and originally posted on the Huffington Post website in December 2011.
Part I of this article looked at the two different kinds of fulfillment: material and spiritual. In this part, we look at the importance of resolving all conflict between the two and fully celebrating both.
The very first time I did yoga, I discovered a greater sense of peace than I had ever known. Each subsequent time I did it, I can honestly say it led me to feel more inspired, more capable and clearer about myself and the world. But, when I first started studying the teachings of yoga, I couldn't help noticing a contradiction between the way yoga practice made me feel and what I understood at the time about its teachings, which seemed rather unforgiving when it came to desire — even the most basic emotional and biological ones. Unless you practiced celibacy, for instance, it seemed you would wind up just another lost soul. I inferred that I could also toss my creative impulses and worldly ambitions into the same heap with everything else in my life that was in conflict with yoga's aim to transcend the highs and lows of living in the material world.
It was confusing to feel drawn to the promise of physical, mental and spiritual enrichment that my experiences in yoga were providing me with, while knowing that I desired a family, a vital creative life, a way to express my talents and capacities and of course have the money to take care of myself and my future family. I am quite certain that my conflicted sense of yoga contributed to why, for nearly two years, I practiced it so intensely but sporadically. In those early years, my basic questions about yoga remained unanswered. If I were to go into it deeply, enough to achieve real spiritual fulfillment, would I first have to forego all worldly desires, goals and pleasures? To pursue and attain worldly fulfillment, would I need to abandon yoga?
The answer to both questions, I would later discover, was no. But based on the little I had read and the common assumptions that I held, I didn't know that yoga could embrace both material and worldly fulfillment.
About the time I concluded that the yoga tradition held little promise in helping me achieve the life I truly aspired to, I met my first teacher, Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger. Mani made it clear that renunciation, complete denial of our senses, our individuality and desire was all but impossible — mostly a theoretical concept that could be applied by only the rarest of human beings. The Kula Narava Tantra, a 13th-century yogic scripture, makes this very clear: “The path of thirst for life will continue until the return is reached and outgoing energy is exhausted. Until such time we must remain on the path of desire. One cannot renounce until one has enjoyed.” Furthermore, according to yogic wisdom, the path of renunciation is not an appropriate path for those with obligations like family, work still to do in this world or enduring desires yet to be fulfilled.
There is, it turns out, another vision of yoga that is suited to those of us who have desires and goals in the material world as well as spiritual. This path (called pravrtti), which plays as significant a part of the yoga tradition as the path of renunciation, is the path of expansion, moving outward and toward accomplishment. Instead of transcending all desires, this path uses the fuel of desire to lead us to happiness. Similar to the path of renunciation, it embraces the idea that your “source” is limitless and eternal — a wellspring of boundless vitality, wisdom and love — but instead of seeing this “essence” as altogether separate from this world, it perceives its grace as a seamless expression of it.
This path teaches that the objects of the world are outward expressions of the Divine. Desire, instead of being an obstacle to an inspired and fulfilled life, is the very thing that propels you toward it. “Desire is the essence of all action,” says the Mahabharata, the world's longest epic poem. Striving and activity are part of life, so pravrittiteaches you to see the world — with all its challenges, ups and downs and apparent flaws — as the ideal place to fully realize your spiritual potential as well as to enjoy all that life has to offer.
To live in the world in a way that can yield the treasure of deep and lasting fulfillment does not require you to deny or suppress desire. Instead, the tradition instructs, you need to learn to temper your desires with discretion to ensure that they are a vibrant expression of your best self and will therefore lead you to real and lasting satisfaction. “Desire is not to be let loose without a bridle,” the Maha Nirvana Tantra, another revered 13th-century text, tells us. The teachings are very clear: This bridle is not denial or renunciation. It is the guidance of your “source” or soul, the ever-present source of wisdom and compassion that all of us can learn to tap into. In fact, experiencing this limitless reservoir and learning to make it an ever more significant part of our life is the true purpose of yoga practice.
Renunciation (nirvritti) and pravritti are the two paths that the ancient tradition prescribes for reaching life's ultimate goal. What primarily sets these two paths apart is how they relate to desire. One path requires suppression or elimination of all worldly desires. The other focuses on learning how to most adeptly express desire or heavenly inspiration, spirit or essence in the world.
The point is that despite what many of us might believe or assume, most Eastern spiritual traditions — and certainly the yoga tradition — teach that these two paths need not be separate. They teach that learning to know your highest self can coexist with an embrace of the world, family, friends, creativity, the beauty of nature, the warmth and pleasures of love — and even the occasional hot fudge sundae. The place where the best of these two paths converge is the destination that my book, The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom is dedicated to helping you reach. The truth is that learning to balance spiritual and worldly prosperity is the essential thread in the tapestry of living an extraordinary life.
Excerpt adapted from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker. Copyright © 2011 by Rod Stryker. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.