By Life Positive March 1999 The yogic principle of santosh (contentment) marks the first step towards wisdom and peace of mind The yogic principle of santosh (contentment) marks the first step towards wisdom and peace of mind When I was a child, my mother would often admonish me to seek contentment. As I grew older, the word ‘contentment’ became repulsive, conjuring images of fat cows lazily ruminating in a sun-drenched field, with nothing to do and nothing to think about. My mind equated the word ‘contented’ with ‘fat’ and ‘lazy’. I couldn’t understand why my mother should wish me to be any of these things. I felt a burning desire to see and do everything and learn as much as I could. Even when I started practicing yoga seriously at the age of 21, I saw it as an energetic means to know the world and all that is beyond it. For me, the goal was to reach that state of satchidananda (existence, knowledge, absolute bliss). At that time, it seemed like a distant goal that I had to exert hard to achieve. Then I embarked on a diligent study of Raja Yoga. To my surprise, I found the contentment that my mother had been telling me about right there-in the form of santosh under niyamas, the second of the eight limbs of yoga. How was I to reconcile this with my ideal of constant and energetic striving? After much deliberation, the real meaning of santosh became clear. I came to understand that my mind was always restless because of greed: greed for new experiences, new tastes in food, new acquisitions that I didn’t really need. I could feel myself being burned by an internal fire that was consuming my prana. Although I had been diligently practicing yoga, I frequently found myself exhausted without knowing why. Often, I put out more energy into obtaining things than I received in return. Santosh was a powerful antidote for this poison of greed. It felt as if I had plunged into the cool waters of Ganga after a long, hard walk in the scorching sun. Then I read in a book by Swami Sivananda that ‘there are four sentinels who guard the domain of moksha (liberation): shanti(peace), santosh, satsang (company of the wise) and vichar (right inquiry)’. By encouraging myself to befriend one of the guards, I found myself in the company of his colleagues. My life and sadhana took an upward turn. The wonder is that although we know contentment is a virtue that gives peace of mind, few try to develop it. It seems that the increasing pace of modern life has led to a loss in our powers of discrimination. Our understanding gets clouded, intellect gets perverted, and memory gets confused by greed and passion. As a yoga teacher, I have found that many people actually fear contentment, as I did. They worry that it will make them lethargic and lazy. But contentment can never make anyone idle. It is a sattvic virtue that calms the mind and opens the inner eye of intuition. The contented person works energetically and peacefully, with a one-pointed mind. All the dissipated rays of the mind are collected and made available for use. Santosh means never looking back, being content in the present and striving to improve the future. As I began to develop this virtue, I realized how much time and energy I had wasted in reprimanding myself for mistakes that I had made last year, last week or yesterday. And, instead of learning from my mistakes and moving on, I was letting them devour me. A lot of my energy would be consumed by the thought that I shouldn’t have done something, or I should have done it in a different way. Through my daily meditation and introspection, I began to intuitively understand that past is past; no one can change it. Even a split second after an action has taken place, it cannot be undone. Once something is said, it can never be unsaid. Even the present, that fleeting instant when the future becomes the past, cannot be changed. By the time you realize what is happening, it has happened and is in the past. But I found that this was not a depressing train of thoughts. In fact, the understanding and practice of santosh was a liberating experience. It helped me learn the true meaning of contentment. It showed me a practical method to stop wasting precious energy on what I could not change. It enabled me to focus on positive improvements in my life; how I could best use my energies. I began to realize that my present effort could change the future and I could give that effort with increased vigor because my energy was not being drained. This is, of course, an understanding and acceptance of the law of karma. The knowledge that I am the author and creator of my own situation taught me how to guide my future. It gave me solace, peace and strength. It helped me solve my own difficulties and problems in life. I began to understand that santosh is bliss, the divine nectar that brings peace and happiness in life. The New York-born Swami Saradananda is a disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda and has been coordinating various Sivananda Yoga Vedanta centers worldwide.
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