12 Pillars of Dharma - Contentment

One day, a villager approached a sadhu and said to him, 'Sir, Lord Bhagavan came to my dream last night. He told me that you will give me a stone that will wipe away my poverty. With that stone, I will become a very rich man.' 

The sadhu said, 'I do not have any stone to give to you. But if you insist, let me go through the only bag I have.'

The sadhu went through his bag and found a huge colourless crystal – a giant diamond. The sadhu gladly gave it to the villager and said, 'Maybe this is the stone that Bhagavan wanted to give to you. It is of no use to me. You can keep it.'

Monk wearing Paramahamsa Vishwananda shirt happy in a field

Written by: Ruchita

The villager was astonished. He took the diamond and went home. He was very happy. But he could not sleep that night. The next morning, he went to seek the sadhu again, but he was not where he had met him the previous day. So he trekked into the jungle and saw the sadhu walking away. The villager ran up to the sadhu and prostrated at the feet of the holy man.

'What do you want from me now,' asked the sadhu

The villager replied, 'I want that wealth from you which makes you so rich that you do not mind giving away a diamond to me!'

The sadhu replied, 'That wealth is called contentment.'

Contentment (or shanti or santosha) is one of the 12 pillars of dharma according to the Padma Purana. It is also the second niyama of the Patanjali-yoga-sutras, where niyama is about self-regulation, how we interact with ourselves and with our inner world.

Santosha is the combination of two Sanskrit words: ‘sam’ meaning completely and ‘tush’’ meaning contentment. It denotes absolute contentment.

By contentment, you gain unsurpassed happiness.

Patanjali-yoga-sutras, 2.42

Having said that, what does contentment really mean? Today's society teaches us that satisfying our desires is a necessary prerequisite for our happiness. The more we possess, the more we are happy. Because of that, an aspect of attaining contentment is by understanding the nature of desire. It is part of the very nature of desire never to be fulfilled. Unfulfilled desires are what keep us from experiencing contentment.

When one deliberates upon sense-objects, attachment to them arises; from attachment comes desire, from desire arises anger. From anger arises delusion; from delusion, there is loss of memory; from loss of memory the destruction of discrimination occurs; and with the destruction of discrimination, one is lost.

Bhagavad Gita, 2.62-63

Discontentment always comes from a place of lack; a sense that whatever we have, it’s not enough. While santosha means contentment and lack of desire for a thing that one does not have. It denotes the satisfaction with things that one already has. The practice of contentment makes us desire-free. We do not aspire to new things. We are satisfied with what we already have. 

One of the greatest practices to help cultivate contentment is gratitude. Gratitude is focusing on finding happiness in what we currently have, rather than focusing on what we lack and anticipating happiness through acquiring something more. We are grateful for the people that are close to us, our family and friends, grateful for the job we now have, the home we live in, for our health, for our belongings and grateful for the wisdom and practices of our spirituality. We are content with the life we are living.

We have all heard phrases that stick in our memory forever, often because of their simplicity in expressing a profound truth. I still remember when, many years ago, during a satsang about contentment, Guruji gave us a 'magic formula' to use every day. He said, 'when you want something, always ask yourself the question: do I really need it?'

And then He added, 'In life, you will receive what is meant for you, and nobody can take away from you what is meant for you.' Happiness lies with things we already have. Being content with what we have, however, does not mean we cannot seek to progress in life. It does not mean that we should not use our willpower and fulfil our plans. Rather, it means we should not become upset while we are striving towards our goals if we do not get what we want.

Just as different rivers flow into the sea which remains full, steady and immovable, so too do desires flow into an enlightened person. It is he who attains peace and not the one who seeks to fulfil desires.

Bhagavad Gita, 2.70