Santóṣa (pronounced as sun-tho-sha) is the second Niyama listed in the Sādhana Pāda of Patańjali’s Yoga Sūtra.
Have you seen an infant after her feeding and diaper change? Her facial expression, in fact the whole body appears to be at peace. She is full, clean and loved. A precious moment of satisfaction where nothing more is needed. Of course, we know this is temporary.
The yogic ethic, Santóṣa, true contentment, cannot be understood emotionally, logically or intellectually. Satisfaction is fleeting and the word ‘enough’ – especially for what one wants -appears to have vanished from our vocabulary. Raise your hand if you are looking for the amazon prime van as soon as an order was placed. Our wants are at our fingertips. Instant gratification is the norm. Still, yogis say that everyone has the ability to experience true contentment, here, now.
Where do we focus all our energy and time? If we gave this question some thought we will discover that most of our time and energy is spent on the nostalgia of the past or dreams of the future (Christensen). Which means we have squandered the wonderful joys of the present while drifting across the past and future. Contentment cannot exist in the constant sway of memory and possibility, so the wise say.
While attempting to focus my thoughts on this blog in the comfort and safety of ‘my home’, I am thinking of the families suffering in Ukraine, threat on India’s borders, Afghan and other refugees seeking asylum, those refugees who were denied decency and support because of race and color of their skin. Can they even conceive the idea of contentment? How can I be content? How can we all be content?
A few translations of this sūtra.
As a result of Contentment, one gains supreme joy. Svāmi Satchitānanda
The result of developing perfect contentment is superlative happiness. Taimni
When at peace and content with oneself & others, supreme joy is celebrated. Nischala Joy Dévi.
In the sections that follow, the first paragraph under the heading of the author briefly introduces the writer, followed by their commentary on the topic at hand. Their books and others are listed below for further study.
Alice Christensen began her studies under her guru, Rāma, (early 1960’s) who, before his death, advised her to complete her training under Lakshmanjoo in Kashmir, India. She founded the American Yoga Association in 1968.
The common meaning for the word “contentment” is satisfaction with what one has. In yogic ethics, the practice of contentment is not connected with an emotion, but rather with a state of consciousness. It is best described as ability to remain in the present moment.
The state of consciousness referred to in (Kashmir) Shaivism as wonder, delight, and astonishment is a simple description of something wonderful that we have not known before; the joy of the present moment. According to Shaivism, the ethic of contentment can only manifest in the present moment, never in the future or past. If we can pay attention to the present moment in our lives, it can bring great happiness because our attention does not become confused with past experience, nor does it take second place to the hopes for the future.
The state of contentment seems to be most difficult to reach at a time of loss or grief, when it is hard to think about anything else. Almost all of us suffer these feelings at some time in our lives, whether it is the death of a child or other loved one, the grief of a divorce, or grief of illness.
Consider how you feel when someone you love dies. When you are experiencing severe grief, you mind refuses to stay in the moment. It constantly goes either to the past, reliving precious memories, or to the future, dreading life without that person. If you try practicing contentment, bringing your mind to a middle position in the present moment, it will help to ease the feeling of loss. This is because you are opening the channel to your spiritual body, which can give you the support you need at this time. The strength of the spiritual body will help you replace the loss.
Contentment is not the same as endurance of life’s various conditions. Many of us are subject to unpleasant and demanding factors in our lives, and most of us learn to live with that awareness. Sometimes we even forget that they are not what we would have chosen and simply take them in stride. This cannot be confused with Contentment as it is described in Shaivite literature. Contentment gives you the ability to be comfortable and happy wherever you are, in all circumstances. Past and future are stilled, and you can have full enjoyment in the moment.
Reverend Jagannath Carrera is the founder and spiritual head of the Yoga Life Society and a student of Svāmi Satchitānanda of Integral Ashram, Yogaville, VA.
The mind has the a tendency to relive the past, to dwell in a land of regrets and missed opportunities, or worry about future needs and wants. Contentment is the ability to live in the present moment, outside the continuous passage of time. The moment is precious because it reflects the infinite possibilities that exist outside the confines of time. Every moment holds the information, guidance and support we need to succeed and grow spiritually. It has been said that God is either “now, here,” or “nowhere.” When our thoughts and actions are rooted in the moment, we come closer to the experience of the Absolute.
Most of us begin on the mat.
Visualize yourself on the mat. You enjoy moving your body into certain postures and derive some satisfaction from the way you feel on the mat. When the instructor tells you to empty your thoughts, it seems impossible. Why not reframe your thoughts and see where the practice takes you?
Ask, “In the silence of my practice how loud are my thoughts? Are these thoughts affecting the way I experience each pose?” Most likely the answer is yes.
By not being present hampers the way you experience each pose. It takes away the ability to sense contentment at the moment of the full expression of a pose. Santóṣa – in that moment. Making daily introspection a habit can help you transform old patterned thinking and habits and be ready to receive the present moment each time you step on the mat.
The following questions (and more) that were set during my initial Rāja Yoga training continue to be at the forefront in the practice of Santóṣa.
- Am I constantly worried about the past?
- Am I busy fulfilling dreams of the future?
- Will I be satisfied if I hold back giving an opinion?
- Do I understand the true meaning of ‘enough’?
- How do I react to delayed gratification?
- Am I willing to practice small deprivations and still feel “content”?
- Am I able to differentiate between worldly and spiritual contentment?
Tough questions, but, we have to start somewhere.
We can start by observing our thoughts and emotions daily. When we notice that we are not lacking anything, we can teach ourselves to pause. At that moment we can nurture the feeling satisfaction by quietly repeating, I don’t need anything now. I’m satisfied. I have enough. It is an agreement of faith we make with the Divine, instead of continuing to rely on material world of alluring objects.
Gradually, this affirmation will become a natural part of our being as we begin to understand the transitoriness of objects and people. We begin to take the little upsets of the day with a stride and learn to adapt. We start to notice that we are not letting resentment fester and ruin the whole day or week or longer. And, most importantly, we recognize that we have the choice to retain the equipoise.
“At some point you got to let go, and sit still, and allow contentment to come to you.” Elizabeth Gilbert.
Taimni points out that absence of unhappiness does not necessarily mean the presence of happiness or positive state of mind; “There is a definite reason why superlative happiness abides in a perfectly calm and contented mind. A calm mind is able to reflect within itself the bliss which is inherent in our real Divine nature. This subtle and constant joy which is called sukha and which comes from within is independent of external circumstances and is really a reflection of Ānanda, one of the three fundamental aspects of the Self.” (Sat-Truth, Chit – Consciousness, Ānanda– Bliss)
As a result of Contentment, one gains supreme joy; Svāmi Satchitānanda says it is important to understand the difference between contentment and satisfaction; “Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for happiness. If something comes, we let it come. If not, it doesn’t matter. Contentment means neither to like nor dislike.”
As tough as it is to retain mental and emotional balance and dwell in the present moment, it has been an amazing journey. I have come to treasure the moments when I am actually calm and content – just before pandemonium breaks. Sadly, the triggers are many. Fortunately, I have discovered the presence of contentment each time immense gratitude washes over me. This is one of those moments.
I leave you with, “Irina plays a final Chopin melody on her piano in her destroyed hometown of Bila Tserkva just before fleeing Ukraine”. The world knows her and her beautiful music. Her present moment is in chaos. How can she and her family (and million others) who are suffering in their present moment find contentment? What is their silver lining?
“When the world pushes you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray.” Rumi
It is extremely difficult to remember that one’s present situation is not the final destination; the best is yet to come.
Let’s join together in prayer and send out healing vibrations – every day. Our world needs us.
।। लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु ।। Lókaḥ Samstha Suhino Bhavanthu.
May the entire universe be filled with peace and joy, love and light.
Christensen, Alice. 1998. Yoga of the Heart: Ten Ethical Principles for Gaining Limitless Growth, Confidence, and Achievement. American Yoga Association, Rodale Books, NY, NY.
Taimni. I.K. 1961. The Science of Yoga: Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali. The Theosophical Publishing House, Chennai, India and Wheaton IL.
Carrera, Jaganāth, Rev. 2006. Inside the Yoga Sūtras. Integral Yoga Publications, Satchitānanda Āśram-Yogāville, Buckingham VA.
Bell, Charlotte. 2007. Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice. Rodmell Press, Berkley, CA.
Venkateśānanda, Svāmi. 2011. First Edn 1988. The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali. Motilal Banarasidas, New Delhi, India.
Iyengar, B.K.S. 2002. First Edtion 1993. Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali. Harper Collins, London, UK.
Aranya Hariharananda, Svāmi; Mukerji, P.N. 1963. Yoga Philosophy of Patañjali. Reprint 1981 by State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.
Mishra, Rammurti. M.D. 1973. Yoga Sūtras – A Textbook of Yoga Psychology. Doubleday Anchor Press, Garden City, New York.
Prabhavananda, Svāmi; Isherwood, Christopher. Patañjali Yoga Sutras.Rāmakrishna Mission Press, Mylapore, India.
Feuerstein, Georg. 1979. The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali – A New translation and Commentary. Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vermont.
Sarasvati Satyānanda, Svāmi. 1976. Four Chapters on Freedom – Commentary on Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Yoga Publications Trust, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, India.
Iyengar, B.K.S. 2013. Core of Yoga Sūtras – The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga. Harper-Collins, India.
Satchitananda, Svami. 1978. The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. Integral Yoga Publications, Buckingham VA.
Yogānanda, Paramahamsa; Kriyananda, Svāmi. 2013. Demystifying Patañjali – The Yoga Sūtras. Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City, CA
Govindan, Marshall. 2000. Kriya Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali and the Siddhas – Translation, Commentary and Practice. Kris Yoga Publications, Quebec, Canada