Posts Tagged ‘philosophy Patanjali Yoga Sutra santosha contentment’

From contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness.
— Sutra II.42, BKS Iyengar: Light on the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

In times of uncertainty and insecurity, how can we achieve lasting happiness? How do we find contentment in our discontent? It is interesting to note that Patanjali lists santosha (contentment) as one of the five niyamas, implying that it is not just a state of mind, but something to be practiced and cultivated.

Reflect on those times in your day when you’ve been content. How long does your contentment last? What are the circumstances in which it arose? Are the circumstances in which contentment arises always the same?

As we ask ourselves these questions, we can see that there are different kinds of happiness that can arise in our lives. One form of happiness is that which arises when the senses experience something pleasurable (Sutra II. 7). This kind of happiness is transient and fleeting. Pleasure of the senses ignites desire, craving, and attachment, and so inevitably brings sorrow.

Another kind of happiness can come from success. When we accomplish something, the ego is gratified. This kind of happiness is also fleeting. The ego that is attached to “gain and fame” becomes fearful of losing these things and angry when presented with inevitable disappointments.

A third kind of happiness comes from serving others. The happiness that comes from doing work that benefits others is more sattvic than sensory pleasure or gratification of the ego. When done with a devoted heart and the absence of ego, it gives us a glimpse of what true contentment can be.

True contentment is achieved when the mind is free of rajas and tamas (Sutra II. 41). The sattvic mind is a mind that is firmly seated in Self, and able to discriminate between temporary happiness and abiding joy. With worldly sources of happiness, there is always the threat of it going away, but true contentment cannot be diminished. When our practice of asana and pranayama finds just the right balance of effort and non-attachment, it helps us to make the mind steady and benevolent. Perhaps you’ve experienced this after a good practice and a deep savasana. Instead of hankering after things you don’t have, or wanting things to be different than they are, you are able to surrender and accept things as they are. You are able to see from the deepest part of yourself, which remains unshaken and undisturbed by external changes.

When we cultivate acceptance, the mind remains equal and calm in all situations. This means accepting whatever comes as a gift from God, not comparing ourselves to others, and wanting nothing that we don’t already have. As Nisargadatta Maharaj observed, “You always want what you don’t have, and don’t want what you have.” True contentment comes from accepting everything that comes unsought, and not seeking anything that does not come unsought.


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