DAAJI continues his series on refining habits, in the light of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and current scientific and yogic principles and practices. Last month, he explored the first Niyama of purity, shaucha. This month he shares his insights on that pivotal human quality – contentment, which is known in Yoga as santosh.
Our quest for happiness
Contentment, happiness, well-being … these have been considered hallmarks of a good life for people from all cultures since time immemorial. Yet, in today’s uncertain world, they seem to elude us more than ever before. When I remember my grandparents, who were simple village folk from Gujarat in India, they had very little in the way of material possessions, and they lived through tough times at the end of the British rule and India’s independence, but they had a higher level of contentment than most wealthy people living luxurious lives today. In my memories I still see their simple life, their smiles, their way of being with family members, and the fundamental principles that defined their lifestyle. These principles brought them a lot of stability, and they are the lifestyle habits that we are discussing in this series.
I hear the same stories from my Western friends, who tell me about their grandparents and parents living through the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War, who also seemed to have a higher level of contentment than many people today. They made do with very little when resources were scarce, they appreciated so many of the very ordinary things in daily life, like wartime rations, a beautiful sunrise, a homemade Christmas present, and letters from loved ones at home or on the battlefield. They made something of their lives despite the hardships they endured. An amazing and inspiring example is the 1997 film, Life is Beautiful, about a Jewish-Italian bookstore owner whose family was captured by the Nazis and interned, and who managed to shield his young son from the horrors of concentration camp living with humor and hope.
Contentment arises when
we are in contact with the soul.
It is vital to understand this point:
contentment does not come
from the body or the mind.
It emanates from the soul,
as the layers of conditioning dissolve.
A striking modern-day example happened at a Heartfulness Youth Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2018. Those who attended were all graduates of the CAP Youth Empowerment initiative for disadvantaged youth, and many did not know where their next meal was coming from or when they would find employment. Their stories were difficult by most people’s standards, yet they exuded such life and joy that our team was brought to tears. Their openness and heartfelt participation were appreciated by all who attended.
So we can easily see that a person’s level of contentment is not necessarily related to their circumstances. Instead, it is directly related to their inner state – their level of acceptance, or alternatively, their level of expectation and desire. Also, contentment arises when we are in contact with the soul. It is vital to understand this point: contentment does not come from the body or the mind. It emanates from the soul, as the layers of conditioning dissolve.
In this article, we will explore some of the practices that help us to experience that connection. But first, let’s explore the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient patriarch of Yoga. These Sutras were written thousands of years ago and are still so relevant today. What does he say about this second Niyama of contentment?
Purity → Contentment → Happiness
First, Patanjali says that contentment arises out of purity, the first Niyama. He defines four qualities that arise out of purity, and the first is contentment. How does this happen? When we remove all the impurities, complexities and heaviness in our system that form coverings around the soul, we purify our field of consciousness, allowing us to focus inward and connect with the soul. It is here that we experience true inner contentment.
Second, Patanjali says that extraordinary happiness results from quiet contentment. So purity leads to contentment, which in turn leads to happiness. This extraordinary happiness is an inner state – it has nothing to do with the pleasures and pains of worldly existence, which are fickle, coming and going like the weather.
If you ask yourself, “What brings me happiness and contentment?”, it may be your relationships with loved ones, your career, or a comfortable lifestyle. But even if you have all of these things, will you truly be happy without inner peace and calm? If you also ask yourself, “How will I feel if my circumstances change?”, you may discover that your happiness is dependent on external events and circumstances. When situations change for the worse, like has happened to many with the Covid pandemic, will you still feel so happy?
A truly happy person is happy under all circumstances – external things and people may bring temporary happiness, which is important in day-to-day life, but they do not ensure lasting happiness, because when they are gone happiness also disappears. So, how do we create something more enduring? How do we train ourselves to be happy no matter what is going on in our lives? That is the promise of Yoga – to find the source of lasting contentment by diving to the Center of our being. Osho explains it like this: “Contentment is the discipline of the yogi. Nothing can take us away from the Center.”
A truly happy person is happy
under all circumstances – external things
and people may bring temporary happiness,
which is important in day-to-day life,
but they do not ensure lasting happiness,
because when they are gone happiness also disappears.
I have often shared the German philosopher Schopenhauer’s reflections about happiness, starting with his rhetorical question, “How can we determine whether a man is happy or unhappy?” He answers it by saying that true happiness is the complete satisfaction of all desires.
Mathematically it would look something like this:
In other words, our happiness is inversely related to the number of desires we have multiplied by the intensity of each of them. Considering the number: if we have ten desires and five are fulfilled, then we have fifty per cent happiness; if ten are fulfilled, we have 100 per cent happiness. The more desires we have, the harder it will be to fulfill them all, so the less happy we will be. Considering the intensity: we may have only a few desires but if they are very intense we won’t rest until they are fulfilled.
What happens when we have no desires at all? The denominator becomes zero. Anything divided by zero is indeterminate, so happiness is limitless. Without desires, we don’t expect anything. When we don’t expect anything, we are not disappointed. Otherwise, disappointment leads to anger; anger leads to loss of equilibrium; loss of equilibrium leads to fear, and eventually we lose our humanity.
Without desires, we don’t expect anything.
When we don’t expect anything,
we are not disappointed. Otherwise,
disappointment leads to anger;
anger leads to loss of equilibrium;
loss of equilibrium leads to fear,
and eventually we lose our humanity.
Practices that bring contentment and happiness
How can we remove our attachment to desires so that we can create this inner acceptance and contentment? In Heartfulness it happens naturally as the result of a set of complementary practices:
Meditation: With practice, we learn to ignore the pull of thoughts during Meditation. They no longer distract us. We develop mastery over the thinking process. As we dive deeper into the heart during Meditation, we are also able to ignore the pull of emotions and feelings in the heart. We learn to pause before reacting to life’s ups and downs. We are comfortable in stillness and space. Transmission provides the catalyst for this to happen.
Cleaning: We remove the underlying vibrational impressions (samskaras) that provide the hooks for our desires in our subconscious minds through the daily practice of Cleaning. Our desires often have a subconscious root that we cannot remove at the conscious level. Cleaning removes the subconscious root.
Prayer: At bedtime we open the heart, connect with the Center, and acknowledge the barrier caused by our wishes and desires. We accept help to remove those wishes instead of trying to remove them with our limited ego-consciousness.
Ten Universal Principles: I have written about these principles in a series called “A User’s Guide to Living.” They contain those spiritual secrets that have come from the study of Nature, and are revealed by means of direct perception.
Constant Remembrance: We absorb the inner condition experienced during meditation each morning, and allow it to deepen throughout the day. This naturally leads to remembering our inner connection with the Center. Part of our attention remains focused inward, and part is focused outward in order to complete our daily activities. When this state becomes a constant flow, it is known as constant remembrance, and this prevents the formation of impressions. The state of purity of our consciousness is maintained.
We then feel contented under all circumstances and at peace with ourselves. We have found the ultimate happiness.
We absorb the inner condition experienced
during meditation each morning,
and allow it to deepen throughout the day.
This naturally leads to remembering
our inner connection with the Center.
Emotions and desires
Is it really possible to lead a life without any desires? I don’t believe so. All of us have desires and aspirations. To be interested in life, to excel at whatever we do, is natural and healthy. It is how we associate our emotions with those desires that makes the difference. How do we solve the riddle of living with desires without letting them pull us off course? There is no easy answer, but a state of inner contentment prevails in us when we do the above Heartfulness practices. We develop a level of emotional maturity, and we become interested in higher goals, so that our desires become aspirational instead of focusing on the pulls and pushes of worldly entanglements. We learn to be totally immersed in whatever we are doing, in the present, without ego, pride or arrogance, and this also results in joy and contentment as we do our very best, with interest, with an attitude of continuous improvement, seeing any failures as stepping stones on the path of evolution.
And when we experience the state of absolute balance during meditation, the Samadhi state, and it radiates out into all our other activities as a result of constant remembrance, then true happiness naturally emerges on its own, even when we face worldly disappointments. We remain centered. We invite these states of Samadhi every day and make them permanent. That is the Heartfulness way.
The heart is our reference
The heart is a barometer of how we feel about everything, including ourselves – how we feel about our thoughts, emotions, behavior, and the choices we make. When we are happy and balanced, generally the heart does not say much. When we choose well, the heart is a silent witness to the decisions we make. There is natural contentment. And when we are not happy with ourselves, the heart becomes restless, alerting us that something needs to change. We learn to listen to the heart and let it guide us. We remain contented even when we are uncomfortable with the change it is demanding of us, because we feel integrated, whole, and at peace with ourselves – we are evolving. There is contentment in the struggle to grow.
The Heart Region is the region of the human chakra system that is associated with the dualities of everyday life. There are five chakras in this region, and every one of them has a specific spectrum of emotions. The first chakra is in the lower left part of the chest where the physical heart is found. The spectrum of emotions at this chakra is the duality of desire versus contentment. At first it may seem that contentment is positive and desire is negative. At one level that is useful, because desires for worldly things entangle us and create emotional disturbance. But as this chakra is purified through practice, we lose interest in the pulls and pushes of those desires that take us away from our purpose, and realize that the energy of desire can be aspirational; both ends of the spectrum have an evolutionary purpose. Desire in its purest form is the craving for the highest state, and it keeps our focus on that goal. Contentment brings peace and unwavering stability in spiritual practice, as well as poise and patience in worldly life.
With Cleaning, we remove the emotional attachments associated with our worldly desires that keep us entangled in the matrix. How can we understand the way we hold onto these entanglements? Here is an analogy. Recently, I read an article about primate mothers who continue to carry and groom their babies after they die. Research from the University College London has shown that baboon mothers carry their dead babies for up to ten days, while chimpanzee and Japanese macaque mothers have been observed carrying their dead infants for even longer – sometimes up to a month. They let go of them only when they are decomposing. Even the fathers protect and groom the dead infants.
Similarly, when we hold onto our desires and expectations, they are all played out in the hope for a better future. This hoping things will happen makes us carry our expectations around like primates carry their dead babies. The expectations remain hooked to our minds, and we don’t let them go. In fact, the primates are probably wiser than us, as they eventually do let go.
Desire in its purest form is the craving for the highest state,
and it keeps our focus on that goal.
Contentment brings peace
and unwavering stability in spiritual practice,
as well as poise and patience in worldly life.
When we learn to live in the present, we are living in reality, the essence of the Divine. That is why, in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, “Kālo ’smi, ” meaning “I am time.” He’s not talking of the past or the future. When we dwell in the emotions of the past, or the hope for the future, we are living a life of unreality. We are moving away from Godliness, Paramatma. And where will we find contentment if we are not centered in our essence?
With Prayer, Meditation and introspection, we go deeper into the feelings and consciousness of the heart, so that our emotions become less reactive, subtler. Eventually, we master the spectrum of desire and contentment associated with the first chakra, and we thus integrate both craving for the goal and contentment – movement and stillness go together.
Contentment brings neutrality
Contentment is how we feel when there is complete and natural acceptance of whatever is happening. The present moment is exactly as it is. This does not mean that we don’t want things to change. Contentment is the first step – it gives us the neutral starting point of acceptance from which to move forward, which may include initiating change if required. In that moment, however, we are simply present. Eternity is encapsulated in that instant in time, and we are centered in the Infinite. The past cannot return. Only the impressions and memory remain in our subtle body, programmed in the subconscious, and when we are able to let go of those impressions and be in the moment, established in presence, awareness, consciousness and desirelessness, we are in a state of total acceptance without expectation.
This level of contentment is the natural state of a yogi. The more contented the yogi, the more peace and happiness they will radiate to others. Contentment is infectious, just as misery is infectious, and it radiates from the inner state, creating an atmosphere. As more and more of us radiate inner contentment, the atmosphere we will create will transform humanity.
Self-awareness leads to awareness of others;
self-compassion leads to compassion for others;
self-acceptance leads to acceptance of others;
inner enlightenment provides the light for others;
and true Self-love is universal love.
Contentment gets us to first base
The first chakra of the Heart is the starting point of our inner journey, and mastery over this chakra leads to the first stage of contentment. To attain this, we practice. Some people consider meditative practices to be self-centered, but without them, how would we develop ourselves so that we can become effective enough to serve others? Self-awareness leads to awareness of others; self-compassion leads to compassion for others; self-acceptance leads to acceptance of others; inner enlightenment provides the light for others; and true Self-love is universal love.
And all this arises out of purity – when we remove the filters that distort our awareness and perception, we see the reality of things. It is such a simple approach, and it this simplicity that takes us to the Center of our being. At the Center we find true contentment, as well as oneness with all creation, and the real purpose of human existence.
Kamlesh Patel is the Heartfulness Guide, and he is the fourth Guide in a tradition of Raja Yoga that is around 120 years old. He oversees Heartfulness centers and ashrams in over 130 countries, and guides the 14,000 thousand of certified Heartfulness trainers under his care. Known to many as Daaji, he is an innovator... Read more