By Paul Dallaghan
The Sanskrit for contentment. Everyone is familiar with it but it needs further probing to really get it. In fact, probing the meaning of ‘contentment’ could be a means itself to finding contentment, arising from a greater understanding of it.
Santosha appears as one of the niyamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It also comes up in a number of the Yoga Upanishads and the hatha text Vashishta Samhita. “It consists in remaining contented with what is in one’s possession, i.e. not hankering and ever exerting for getting more and more.” (Yoga Kosa, Kaivlayadham)
One of the texts also discusses its opposite, asantosha, discontentment. It is said to be a result of raga or attachment. Vyasa, who has given the primary commentary on the Yoga Sutras, uses the words trsna (thirst) and lobha (greed) as synonyms for this attachment. It is desire which goes on increasing as it is being satisfied.
What we can take from all of this is that when we are filled up with desire and greed it increases our dependence on mundane objects and sensory activity. No matter how beneficial or not the outcome is materially the result ultimately leads to a level of discontentment. The true santosha seems to arise out of an inner freedom from attachment to the wants and desires of this world. Vashishta would offer that it is the attitude of mind to be contented with whatever is gained spontaneously. The Darshanopanishad will go so far as to say that the supreme contentment consists in detachment for everything till one realizes the Brahman (ultimate reality).
Santosha is the root of happiness. Happiness seems to be the most sought after “commodity” in this world today, usually going on on a subconscious level. To be satisfied within yourself without a dependence on the objects gained through the senses and the mind. Life offers the greatest test for this. At one stage things are going well and at another they are not. How does our inner state change? It is human to respond to the change. But does this change in outer circumstances pull you down with it? Your own litmus test for santosha is how you respond to the change in all the circumstances of life.
Patanjali was the psychologist extraordinaire. He knew deeply how this human vehicle works. To make progress on this inner growth, spiritual path, requires a level of contentment within. This is essentially a decreased dependence to everything of this world and a greater attitude of acceptance within. The more natural we are and better we take care of ourself the more this would arise. This is shaucha, the previous niyama, which santosha almost arises out of. In order to make any progress in practices, self study and a surrendered and humble mindset (tapas-svadhyaya-isvara pranidhana) santosha or contentment would need to be present. If not engaging in yoga practices and living a simple life would be mere torture. So the senses would need to be under some control coupled with acceptance.
The difficulty arises when people try to adopt the attitude of contentment. Often it is used as an excuse, “I did my best”, “I’m happy with this”. There is a big difference between contentment and consolation where an element of resentment can also subside. Consolation is a state of mind whereby one accepts the outcome without having put up their best effort. It’s easy to say “that’s my karma” or “it’s not my destiny”. Yet the Bhagavad Gita quite clearly offers the teaching that our duty is to give our fullest and best effort to what is in front of us. In essence this is yoga. It goes on to say that it is best to do our work, though maybe not materially successful, than to do the work of another quite well.
Behind this self-consolatory attitude is a lack of effort and a deep hidden disappointment that could even lead to resentment and surface as anger much later on. So it becomes clear that contentment arises out of full effort, engaged and devoted work, with an attitude to accept whatever may come from it. Without the effort there is a void energetically and the result is misdirected prana which will cause doubt, uncertainty, fear and, as already mentioned, disappointment and resentment.
Yoga is skill in action. It is a beautiful balance between the effort you put up and how much you allow or surrender. This is directly inlaid within santosha. We don’t have to wait for more growth or a higher experience of yoga. Then it will never come. Understand it now. Whatever it is give it your best. That may be a tricky asana, a difficulty at work, a challenge in your relationship. Do not fix what the outcome should be. You might have something in mind but don’t be stuck to it. We have all experienced at some stage in life that when we make a real good effort at things we are not disappointed. It comes from a natural place.
Let this effort of your’s be free from desired outcome. Then santosha is the natural result. Happiness becomes your’s and not dependent on the weather, lover, job or success. It is very much within reach. Take this approach today and such a state starts to grow immediately. Take help from the yoga practices and guidance given. They will fully support this endeavour.
Two promises to give yourself:
- what ever task comes to me, like it or not, doesn’t matter, I will now give it full attention and my best effort
- whatever the outcome is, I won’t complain, I will accept. It may be as desired. Or it may need further evaluation to see how better I can do and thus grow from this. Either way, I am satisfied but the work goes on.
This is helpful for all worldly duties, even if our boss is breathing down our neck. But it is essential for spiritual growth. We can always give it more with an attitude of freedom. That is ultimately a balance within the whole nervous system.
Finally, may all beings experience this, a great sense of happiness. Our effort goes to that ultimately. Chant “Lokaha Samastaha Sukhino Bhavantu”.