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Niyama #2: Santosha (Contentment)

Santosha (संतोष) is the second of the five niyamas given in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The word santosha is derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘tush’ which means "to be satisfied, pleased, or delighted,” as well as “become quiet or calm.” We can find the meaning of tush â€œin any pleasurable situation – pleasure, joy, gladness, satisfaction, friendly disposition, kindness, favor, grace, amity, affection, love."

Santosha is defined as the elimination and absence of craving, being satisfied with whatever comes one’s way. When the guna sattva is dominant, a person becomes desireless (nish-kama) and contented.

Practicing Santosha

Santosha simply means that we remain ever contented with the situation we are in at any given time in our life. We are born with certain pre-determined traits and tendencies that are hard or sometimes impossible to change. For example, our physical appearance – height, body structure, looks, skin color etc are things that cannot be changed. However, many people, not contented with their appearance, go to any length to ‘look’ different. Any effort to change our natural appearance is actually cause for further discontentment, and sometimes can cause permanent damage to the body. There are examples of women who wear high heals so they can look taller and in the process damage their feet, legs and knees. We are all familiar with the example where Michael Jackson, the famous singer, got facial plastic surgery done to change his looks. The damage that he did to not only his face but to his life is all well known.

It is not just physical appearance, but many people are discontented with many of their personal faults and shortcomings. Things like social status, financial situation, rank in a company, salary etc can all be reasons for discontentment and stress. Examples of discontentment abound in all spheres of our lives. This discontentment at all levels is the main cause why most of us feel unhappy most of the time.

Being contented does not mean that we sit on our haunches and do nothing to improve our lot. In fact, when a person is genuinely contented, he would display a natural zest and enthusiasm for life. The concept of santosha is very nicely reflected in the famous  serenity prayer:

"May God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

This prayer implies that acceptance does not mean ‘resignation’ but to have the willpower and determination to make appropriate changes in our lives to improve our lot.

In Bhagavad Gita, there is an oft-quoted pair of shlokas which implore us to do our duty but not dwell on the possible outcome of our actions:

"Your human right is for action only, never for the resulting fruit of actions. Do not consider yourself the creator of the fruits of your activities; neither allow yourself attachment to inactivity. Remaining immersed in union, perform all actions, forsaking attachment to their fruits, being indifferent to success and failure. This mental evenness is termed ‘Yoga.’" [Bhagavad Gita V.47-48]

What causes discontentment?

As with all other afflictions in life, lack of contentment is also a result of our ego which hides our true identity and makes us wear a mask all the time. We become so attached to this mask that we no longer can recognize who we truly are. This lack of understanding of our true nature is the main cause of all our suffering, the so-called stresses and strains of daily life. The ego leads us to have strong cravings for things that we don’t have and strong dislike or hatred for things that we dislike. In Mahabharata there is a famous shloke which refers to this craving:

या दुस्त्यजा दुर्मतिभिर या न जीर्यति जीर्यतः

     यॊ ऽसौ पराणान्तिकॊ रॊगस तां तृष्णां तयजतः सुखम

 yā dustyajā durmatibhir yā na jÄ«ryati jÄ«ryataḥ

     yo ‘sau prāṇāntiko rogas tāṃ tṛṣṇāṃ tyajataḥ sukham

"Craving is something that is hard to give up for those of corrupted thoughts, even as they decay into old age. A wise man who abandons such craving is filled with pleasure from all sides."

The main message in all our scriptures is that in order to attain happiness in life, we need to learn to be contented with our present situation and not hanker after objects in order to satisfy our ever-growing material needs.

Being established in Santosha

Patanjali, in yoga sutra 2.42, tells us the supreme benefit of being fully established in the value of Santosha:

संतोषादनुत्तमसुखलाभः॥४२॥

 saMtoshaadanuttamasukhalaabhaH

"As the result of contentment, one gains supreme happiness." (Yoga Sutra 2.42)

This sutra clearly states that in order to attain happiness in all situations in life, one needs to follow the niyama of Santosha and become fully established in it. This level of unalloyed, object-less pleasure may be termed ‘spiritual pleasure’ as it finally brings us close to our true nature.

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