An endangered emotive state: Santosha

As featured in Yoga Life (August 2023) edition celebrating the 80th birthday of Ammaji, I wrote a piece on Contentment, which you will see below. You will find the full edition here: Yoga Life Online Edition

In the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjalii (around 500 BCE) Santosha is the second of the five Niyamas. The Yamas and Niyamas were created as guides to ethical living. Santosha is Sanskrit for contentment.

Are you content? How often do you hear or read that someone is content?

Contentment is a very rare quality in today’s age of unparalleled consumerism and materialism, more than ever before in the history of mankind. Almost everyone wants more, and desires more, whatever the circumstances. It is as if the contented person is becoming extinct!

In the latter year of his life, my father’s mantra was ‘don’t worry about me, I am content…’ and in spite of the difficulties in his life, it was great to hear; but few understood it.

So, what does contentment mean?

To me, contentment is opening up to what is now; accepting it and simply ‘being’.

Contentment is not endlessly chasing after desires, but a satisfaction in doing our best in any given situation. Contentment is not comparing oneself or what one has with others; but being grateful for what we have. Contentment is not to constantly push, pull, force and strain your way through life, but to live each moment and go with the flow.

Contentment does not moan, grown and criticise, but is satisfied with all circumstances. On the subtle level, the ultimate contentment is to transcend the pairs of opposites. To rise above. To be.

In the Bible, Paul says, ‘I have learned to be content in whichever circumstances I am.’

John Owen furthers this thought on the Christian understanding of contentment: ‘Contentment Is a gracious form or disposition of mind; quiet and composed, without complaining, without envy, without fears or anxieties about tomorrow, without desire.’

According to the Dalai Lama, ‘happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion; and elimination of ignorance, selfishness and greed.’

To be content is go towards happiness. Ibn Taymiygah talks of Islam’s approach to contentment, ‘contentment is the greatest door that one enters to Allah.’ Greed is a circular path, which much like the ouroboros snake devours itself on each revolution.

Contentment is cultivated by constantly pulling at the weeds of greed. Greed is a disease, an addiction if you like, it is insatiable, unstoppable, unquenchable and can never be fulfilled. Just look at the millionaires, billionaires and squillionaires who insist they make more; more profit, more margin, more market share – when is enough, enough?

Greed becomes an addictive hobby. In the balance of things, to have excess, means that many will not have enough… of anything. The Buddha said contentment is the greatest wealth.

Lao Tzu advises, ‘be content with what you have: rejoice in the way things are when you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’

An old Chinese proverb translates as ‘to be content, is to be king!’ Today this has been turned on it’s head. As the famous Bill Gates claims in his 1996 essay, ‘CONTENT is king.’

Well… what do you expect? We are living in the kali yuga after all!