Niyama 2 - Santosha, Contentment

Bodhinatha speaks on santosha, contentment. This niyama is about being content and happy on the inside of ourselves no matter what happens on the outside. Unfulfilled desires keep us from experiencing contentment in life. Don't allow disagreements in our life. Gurudeva said the home needs to be a sanctuary for all members of the family, never a place where we let off steam. If you get stressed and burdened, take a walk, exercise, visit a park or a garden. Get out of the house. The temple is also a great place to uplift our minds and get things off our chest. Be grateful for the things we DO have, and don't dwell on what you don't have. Live in the now.

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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to mastercourse@hindu.org.

Unedited Transcript:

Continuing today on our yamas and niyamas.

Today's lesson on 'Good Conduct' is on the second niyama of Santosha, which is to nurture contentment, seeking joy and serenity in life. Be happy, smile and uplift others. Live in constant gratitude for your health, your friends and your belongings. Don't complain about what you don't possess. Identify with the eternal you rather than mind, body or emotions. Keep the mountain-top view that life is an opportunity for spiritual progress. Live in the eternal now.

Let us look at some examples illustrating the practice of this niyama.

First example - A man is passed over at work for a promotion that he thought was a certainty. His first reaction is to feel discouraged and sad. But after a few days, he pulls himself out of his mood by the decision to accept his current employment circumstances and be happy within them but also to continue to strive for the desired promotion.

Second example - A wife feels the apartment they live in is too small, complains to her husband about this and expresses her discontent. The husband responds in a kindly and supportive way to her suggestion. His response changes the wife's mood to one of being grateful for having such a kind husband and her mood of discontent is replaced by one of contentment.

Third example - An attorney spends his day doing difficult research on a technical legal issue. He finds his intellect is over-stimulated, as a result and he is feeling somewhat disturbed. On the way home, he stops at a park, takes a walk and observes the natural beauty of the place. This quiets his intellect down and he is at peace within himself again.

Fourth example - A teenage boy tells a lie about where he went this afternoon to his mother. Afterwards, he finds his mind is agitated as a result. He then tells his mother the truth and as a result, soon finds himself peaceful again on the inside.

All of the niyamas focus on expressing the refined soul qualities within each of us. In the case of Santosha, Contentment, the divine quality we are expressing is to be joyful and serene on the inside, no matter what events are happening in life on the outside.

Here is a story to further illustrate Santosha. If you have ever visited India, you may have noticed this too. When traveling in the countryside, in the villages in India you come across a family traveling together in a bullock cart with only a few belongings. They are obviously quite poor, however that are also quite happy, smiling and joking obviously experiencing contentment. Their beliefs are such that the fact that they are poor is not preventing them from being content.

The Tirukural in Chapter 37, 'Eradication of Desire' touches on this subject of contentment. In verse 370 it states, "It is the nature of desire never to be fulfilled. But he who utterly gives it up is eternally fulfilled at that very moment."

This verse points out that it is unfulfilled desires that keep us from experiencing contentment.

Let us look now what we can do to experience the peaceful state of mind of contentment. Certainly the most basic requirement for experiencing contentment is following the yamas. Adharmaic actions such as dishonesty and lying will keep our mind and emotions stirred up and prevent us from being peaceful on the inside. Not allowing ourselves to let disagreements turn into arguments is very important in nurturing contentment. Disagreements are natural, but they need to be handled in an intelligent and harmonious way, always willing to compromise to keep the discussion from turning into an argument.

One of the major causes of argument in the home is that, the home is looked at as the right place to let off steam. The husband is frustrated with his boss, but of course cannot talk to his boss about it. The daughter is upset with her teacher who she thinks unfairly picks on her and embarrasses her to her classmates. Each brings their frustrations home and takes them out on other family members. Of course, this causes frequent arguments in the home and keeps everyone in the family inwardly disturbed.

Gurudeva has a very interesting statement about the home. He says that, "We need to consider the home a sanctuary of the whole family and never look at it as a place where we can let off steam, vent our frustrations." He continues that, "We need the home to have an even higher standard of professional behavior than school or the workplace. In such a home, parents interrelate in a cultured and religious way, free from disharmony and arguments. Children are respectful and all are inwardly in peace."

If we cannot let off steam at home, where then can we? If we are at work or school, then before going home you can take a walk through a beautiful place such as a park, botanical garden or the beach and let the beauty quiet your mind. Another method is to stop at an exercise facility and swim, run and bicycle away the stress. If we are at home all day, such as a housewife raising a young child, we can also become stressful. The same remedy also applies. Leave the home for a while and visit a beautiful place or an exercise facility. Getting out of the house on a regular basis for stress-reducing activity is very important.

Gurudeva also suggests that certain kinds of stress can best be handled at the temple. A temple is a place where we can let our emotions pour out to the Deity. Whatever we feel, we can express it to God and Gods and relieve ourselves of that burden without burdening others with it. This may result in our crying a lot but that is an acceptable behavior at a temple.

Another aspect of attaining contentment is by understanding the nature of desire. In our modern world, we are constantly encountering advertisements, many of which promise that we will be happier if we spend money and acquire what is being sold. Fancy new cars, faster computers, attractive clothes - all promise the illusive state of mind of happiness. Of course, new possessions do make us happy but that happiness is short-lived and we eventually end up in the same discontented state of mind we were in, before we acquired the new possession.

The key is to rise above this cycle of unhappy-acquiring possessions-happy-then unhappy again. Instead, hold the perspective that "I am grateful for and content with what I currently have. I am acquiring something more not because it will make me happier but because my family will benefit in a meaningful way by having it."

These two perspectives are illustrated in this statement, "Do you live to eat or eat to live?" Do you live to eat or eat to live?

Being content with what you have, however, does not mean you cannot seek to progress in life. It does not mean that you should not use your willpower and fulfill your plans. Rather, it means you should not become upset while you are striving towards your goals, frustrated or unhappy if you do not get what you want.

Another aspect of Santosha is captured in Gurudeva's statement, "Life is meant to be lived joyously." This attitude toward life is important in that, it helps us not fall into the perspective that because we are serious about making spiritual progress and being regular in our sadhanas, we need to have a somber attitude toward life.

We can be strict with ourselves but joyous at the same time. Of course, if we are struggling with major difficulties in our life, this perspective may be temporarily lost. However, this statement reminds us of the need to work with ourselves to regain a joyful perspective.

Gratitude is an important aspect of santosha. 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 comprise our family and friends, grateful for the job or school we now have, the home we live in, grateful for the wisdom and practices of our religion. We are content with our surroundings, meager or lavish. Content with our income, small or large. It is striving to make a beautiful life within what what one already has in life.

There is a metaphysical tool that Gurudeva gives to us in 'Merging with Siva' that is also helpful in experiencing content, which is living in the eternity of the moment. It produces the feeling that one has nothing to do, no future to work toward and no past to rely on. This excellent spiritual practice can be performed now and again during the day by anyone.

Gurudeva discovered this technique when he was 7 years old and describes the experience in detail in 'Merging with Siva'. He was on his way home in a snow storm from nearby Lake Tahoe and found himself worried that he would miss his favorite radio program, 'Captain Midnight'. He saw his mind go off in the future and brought it back by telling himself, "I am all right, right now."

Gurudeva suggests we practice it by asking ourself the question, "Am I not all right, right now? Right this instant?" And answer, "I am all right, right now." Keep asking and answering until you strongly feel positive, self-assured and fine.

In conclusion, nurture contentment, seeking joy and serenity in life. Be happy, smile and uplift others. Live in constant gratitude for your health, your friends and your belongings. Don't complain about what you don't possess. Identify with the eternal you, rather than body, mind or emotions. Keep the mountain-top view that life is an opportunity for spiritual progress. Live in the eternal now.

Aum Namah Sivaya.