Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LXXX

Santosha (Contentment)

Continued from Part LXXIX

In this materialistic world, everyone talks about the happiness as the penultimate goal of life and people chase power, money, possessions, partner, love, travel, and what not, to achieve this goal. They perceive and seek happiness in incessantly indulging and experiencing in activities for pleasurable experiences through their sense organs. This quest of human beings is best reflected in umpteen social media quotes and exchange of messages on a routine basis these days which people share and exchange day in day out with their friends, relatives and acquaintances to explore ways of happiness. But only few people know or realize that constantly craving for the happiness of the aforesaid kind is like chasing a mirage in a desert land. More they indulge in and experience it, more is craving transforming in a sort of never ending thirst. Instead, if they simply look for a simple and contented life, they would seldom experience any disappointment; instead, be blessed with a lasting satisfaction for all time.

In the aforesaid context, Shree Krishna’s quotes to the disillusioned and confused Prince Arjuna thousands of years back in the battle field of Kurushetra at the onset of the Mahabharata War are so apt and still relevant:

Adveshta sarva-bhutanam maitrah karuna eva cha;
Nirmamo nirahankarah sama-duhkha-sukhah kshami.

Santushtah satatam yogi yatatma dridha-nishchayah;
Mayy arpita-mano-buddhir yo mad-bhaktah sa me priyah.

(He who is free from malice toward all living beings, who is friendly and compassionate, free from attachment to possessions and egotism, equipoise in joy and sorrow, and ever-forgiving by nature. The Yogi (practitioner) who is ever-content, steadily united with Me; who has subdued his mind, senses and body, has a firm resolve, and dedicated to Me in mind and intellect, is endearing to Me.) (BG: Chapter 12, Verses 13-14)

What is Santosha or Contentment? 

Santosha aka Samtosha is a Sanskrit word from Sam (= completely or entirely) and Tosha (= contentment or satisfaction); thus the combined word conveys a meaning of “completely content with” or “entirely satisfied with”. In a nutshell, it could be explained as an attribute that is synonymized with accepting and appreciating what we have and what we are up to, and moving forwards from there. This does not be taken as if contentment is like idly sitting without  any further requirement of doing things; instead, it means that a person should do his (or her) best and accept the outcome as it comes as a result of his efforts. By different wise people, it has been variously explained as an attribute or attitude of being satisfied, understanding and accepting oneself and one’s ecology as it exists, or even a spiritual state with optimism and sustained efforts to achieve the inner peace.

Santosha is part of the eight limbs of yoga in Rishi Patanjali’s Yogasutras wherein it is described as one of the niyamas. The yamas and niyamas are said to take a deep dive into our attitudes about life and how we feel and groom ourselves. Santosha is the second niyama (virtue) in the Yoga Sutras, which literally aligns with ‘contentment’ that comes through a regular practice of avoiding the cravings for what we do not possess as also by remaining non-covetous of the possessions of others. It has been the tradition of Hinduism since Vedic age with our rishis and scholars advising to live perfectly content with all that we receive in life. Also every person must make peace with his achievements and try to experience true joy and happiness in his belongings itself. It is a misconception that only the worldly possession of money and goods brings happiness and prosperity with many people getting easily misled under this illusion. But the reality is that the happiness gained through the material possessions in life is only transient and ephemeral while Santosha brings the real and lasting content, bliss and peace.

Contentment in Hindu Scriptures and Texts

Apart from the Patanjali’s Yogasutras, Santosha (contentment) finds a mention at dozens of places in Hindu scriptures and texts as one of the core attributes necessary for the human beings. According to some Hindu texts, Santosha combines and closely works with the virtues like Aparigraha (non-covetousness or non-possessiveness), Asteya (non-stealing), Daya (compassion) and Kshama (forgiveness) to achieve inner peace and tranquility. Even outwardly, contentment is a measure of the reflection of the serenity of mind, full satisfaction with the current status and almost being desireless except for the fundamental necessities of life. According to Hindu philosophy, the contented person may have the following characteristics as the normal feature:

  • Whatever comes in the normal course, let it be accepted; what’s not, shall be overlooked.
  • The practitioner must remain cool and calm through the success and failure.
  • He (or she) shouldn’t waste time and energy on things or thoughts of liking and disliking.
  • He (or she) should endeavour to lead life in a careful and deliberate manner.
  • The person should choose to question self on the need of any new or more lavish possessions for a contended life.

According to an orthodox estimate, the attribute of contentment is discussed in nearly three dozen ancient and medieval era texts pertaining to the Sanatana Dharma, an overwhelming majority of these texts are in the Sanskrit language. Some of these references include verses from the Bhagavad Gita, Garuda Purana, Kurma Purana, Shandilya Yoga Shastra, Yoga Yajnavalkya, Vasishtha Samhita, Prapancha Sara, Paramananda, Vivekachudamani and Mahabharata, and so on, wherein Santosha (contentment) has been described as an important virtue and ethical attribute of the human beings. For the sake of brevity, only a few illustrations are given here from different Hindu text in the context of this virtue.

In Yoga Vashistha (Book 1), the contentment is explained as one of the four sentinels who guard and pave the path to Moksha (liberation). These include forbearance or self restraint for the peace of mind, Self (soul) inquiry, contentment and association with the Wise. The text further suggests that if a person is successful in making even one of these attributes as companion, it becomes easier to for him to be close to the other three in that the one you became friend with will suo moto introduce you to the other three.

The Hindu text Yoga Darshana including the commentary of Rishi Vyasa on Yogasutras relate contentment as the inner state whereby "a joyful and satisfied mind exists regardless of one's environment, whether one meets with pleasure or pain, profit or loss, fame or contempt, success or failure, sympathy or hatred".

Adi Shankaracharya is well known for his philosophy of the Advaita Vedanta and scholarly commentary on many Hindu texts including the Srimad Bhagavad Gita. In the text Vivekachudamani (verses 521-528), he has described contentment as an essential virtue capable of ensuring liberation of the human beings from the evils and compulsions of all bondages and fears so as to ensure his rest of the journey as joyful according to his (or her) wish. A person having achieved Santosha can pursue what he feels is right and follow his own calling however, whenever and wherever he desires. In such case, he reaches an inner state where the mundane favourable occurrences neither unduly elate him nor unfavourable ones distress him; he is neither attached nor repulsed with them. Being contended, he is able to realize Self, he is free from all bondage, adjusts self with all situations and is able to live in absolute bliss.

In India and world’s greatest Epic Mahabharata, the glory of Santosha has been discussed at many places. For instance, In Shanti Parva (Chapter 21), contentment is illustrated in somewhat the following manner. Santosha (contentment) is the highest heaven, Santosha is the highest bliss. There is no higher experience than Santosha. When one draws away all his craving desires like a tortoise drawing in all it limbs, then the natural resplendence of his soul soon manifests itself. When one does not fear any creature, nor any creature is frightened by him, when one conquers one's cravings and aversion, then is one said to behold one's soul. When one, indeed, in word and thought, seeks to injure nobody and cherishes no desire, one is said to attain Brahman (consciousness-bliss).

During the medieval period, Tulsidas, a great poet, devout devotee of Sri Ram and author of Sri Ramcharit Manas (the most popular religious Hindu text) had described contentment as under in one of his Doha verse:

Go-dhan, Gaj-dhan, baji-dhan, aur ratan dhan-khan;
Jab ave santosh-dhan, sab dhan dhuri samaan.

(People have valued possession of the plenty wealth in the form of the cattle (cows), elephants and horses; besides, there are umpteen mines of different kinds of prized jewels too. However, when the person is blessed with the wealth of the Santosha (contentment), all other worldly possessions are rendered useless i.e. akin to the dust, for him.)

Vishnu Parana has explained contentment through an interesting mythical narrative. In Part One, Chapter Seven of this important Hindu text, various attributes and emotions have been described in a myth narrated in a hierarchical pedigree personifying them. In this account, the Santosha (contentment) is shown as the progeny of Tushti and Dharma. Incidentally, there are no exact or accurate corresponding terms for the two in English; while Tushti could be related to the satisfaction, sufficiency or inner comfort; Dharma is akin to the righteous duty and action. In this mythical account, Dharma (an important attribute of the four components of Purushartha) is described as male compatriot while many daughters of Prajapati Daksha (one is Tushti) as his female counterparts (spouses). In this story, Dharma and Tushti together produced Santosha while other daughters of Daksha produced offspring symbolized as various other virtues. According to the same myth, Dharma and Shraddha (devotion) had a son Kama (desire), who had a baby Hersha (Joy or Happiness) from his wife Nandi.

Happiness vis-à-vis Contentment

Contentment and happiness are virtues or positive emotional states: of these, contentment represents  the permanent satisfaction and inner peace of mind while happiness represents a relative and rather temporary material comfort with a thirst remaining for more of it in terms of the degree and variety. Colloquially speaking, contentment could also be explained as a state of having accepted own situation in a rather milder and stable form of happiness. Since time immemorial, the pursuit of contentment, knowingly or unknowingly, have been a central object or goal across the various cultures, religions and philosophies, the fundamental difference remaining that while the most other world civilizations have largely sought this through material possessions and achievements, the Sanatana Hindu civilization ideally explored this through a balance approach towards the materialism and spirituality throughout their human history.

The ordinary folk do not understand or even try to learn the finer nuances of the two attributes or virtues. For an overwhelming majority at all ages in all nationalities, the happiness remains the penultimate goal in life and many even try to overlap and swap the two virtues considering both as one and the same thing. Consequently, people continue to chase money, power (position), possessions, love, travel and other mundane objects of comforts as the scale of happiness lifelong and endeavour to achieve it all. The author often gets disappointed, and sometimes even feels aversion, with the friends and colleagues of own age brazenly arguing for the material happiness obtained through sense organs as achievement, and thus resorting to cheap publicity and grotesque display of their routine experiences as so called achievements. Many of them take it as the real object of life and these possessions or achievement as the source of eternal happiness.

On the contrary, the contentment is a stable state of mind which is practically reached by being truly happy or satisfied with what all a person has in the present position, without cribbing or nurturing to achieve in larger proportions, and so often with unrealistic, ambitions. While many ancient rishis and scholars learnt and professed this all time as evident from their writings in Hindu scriptures and texts, even some western philosophers like Socrates had somewhat similar views. For instance, Socrates reportedly said the following in the context of being content, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have." Srimad Bhagavad Gita so aptly and rightly has illustrated that the joy and sorrow go hand in hand, and that they are not only inescapable but also generated from within. Hence vying only for the material happiness in this world is crudely inane and pointless; instead, pursuing contentment might pave way for the eternal and everlasting joy and bliss.

Srimad Bhagavad Gita on Contentment

The Bhagavat Gita truly addresses and explains various facets of the purposeful life in presenting analogy as well as concordance with the equipoise mind or the inner peace of mind with the contentment  or true happiness. In other words, contentment and true happiness are synonyms or complimentary to each other. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the two virtues viz., happiness and peace go side by side and, therefore, a quest for the true happiness is in reality a quest for the peace. Attaining the peace of mind would tantamount to suo moto end of miseries and agitations that otherwise a human mind experiences. According to Shree Krishna, if a mind is not at peace, it would neither be able to wisely apply to mundane day to day challenges in life nor will be successful in steering various life situations with enough confidence and control. Therefore, attaining peace is the only penultimate way to end miseries and attain permanent joy. It’s so because a peaceful mind paves way for an absolutely clear thinking which naturally leads to prudence and right discretion. The aforesaid averment is vindicated from the following verses.

Prasaade sarvaduhkhaanaam haanir asyopajaayate; 
Prasannachetaso hyaashu buddhih paryavatishthate.

Naasti buddhir ayuktasya na chaayuktasya bhaavanaa; 
Na chaabhaavayatah shaantir ashaantasya kutah sukham.

{With the attainment of peace (of mind), all sorrows come to an end; for the intellect of the tranquil-minded soon becomes steady (with God’s grace). One who has no control over his mind, can have no reason; nor such unsteady can have meditation. The unthinking person can have no peace; and how can he attain happiness lacking the peace of mind?} (BG: Chapter 2, Verses 65-66)

In Sanskrit literary piece ‘Sukti Sudhakar’, the same has been related through a Bee’s story. A bee engaged with a lotus flower continues enjoying nectar while the sun began setting for the day. She refuse to fly away and remains engrossed enjoying with her senses assuming more time is still left for the petals to close. It becomes dark, the lotus is closed and bee trapped inside. She still consoles herself that she is in company of her beloved flower and she will be free in the morning with petals opening again. In the mean time, an elephant comes, destroys the lotus plant and swallows the flower with bee inside. In the same way, the majority of human beings remain engrossed in gratification of sensory organs in the material world even during their fag end on various pretexts and justifications. Shree Krishna says that people who remain entangled with Maya constantly refusing or avoiding discipline to their senses, can never achieve true happiness.

The Bhagavad Gita creates an analogy between a streaming water body and the man; as the former has its final destination in ocean, likewise the human soul seeks eternal bliss in merging with the Supreme Soul (Brahman). The water streams adds to its volume with numerous impurities as it flows through its course, similarly human beings  begin with a small bunch of desires and aspirations which keep on growing in this material world as he gets more and more entangled with Maya. Shree Krishna cautions us to guard against the cravings of the senses to stay tranquil and serene.

Aapooryamaanam achalapratishtham, samudram aapah pravishanti yadwat; 
Tadwat kaamaa yam pravishanti sarve, sa shaantim aapnoti na kaamakaami.

(Just as the ocean remains undisturbed by the incessant flow of waters from rivers merging into it from all sides, likewise he who is undisturbed despite the flow of desirable objects all around him attains peace, and not the person who hankers to satisfy desires.) (BG: Chapter 2 Verse 70)

At one stage, Shree Krishna made a reference to the ‘Wheel’ comparing it to the Circle of life. Narrating the ecology and food chain, he stated that all living organisms in this universe, sans human beings, necessarily follow a well defined cosmic plan. For instance, Natural objects like sun, air, water play their role to sustain life; the plants manufacture and grow on organic and inorganic elements thus present, they are in turn taken as food by the herbivorous animals; then smaller animals serve as food for larger animals, and so on. In the nature’s cycle, only man has option to do or not do and choose according to his own desire. Shree Krishna emphasized that the man too has a purpose of life and in fulfillment he must work for the larger welfare and good of the world. Those who understand and selflessly contribute to the cause of world, they naturally develop deeper calm and serenity leading to the inner peace and contentment.

Evam pravartitam chakram naanuvartayateeha yah; 
Aghaayur indriyaaraamo mogham paartha sa jeevati.

(O Parth! He who does not follow the wheel of creation thus set revolving in this world i.e. does nor perform his duties; one who is sinful and only rejoicing over the senses, he lives in vain.) (BG: Chapter 3, Verse 16)

While delivering the yoga of knowledge, Shree Krishna told Prince Arjuna that to attain permanent happiness aka peace, every soul must inculcate the virtues of Shraddha (faith), Tatparah (devotion) and Samtendriyah (subdue senses). Of this, the faith is not merely having knowledge about it actually practicing it in life; the devotion is contemplation of the God; and subduing senses means actually controlling and curtailing the desire for the sensory enjoyment. According to Shree Krishna, a person with aforesaid virtues practicing successfully attains the supreme peace.

Shraddhaavaan labhate jnaanam tatparah samyatendriyah; 
Jnaanam labdhvaa paraam shaantim achirenaadhigacchati.

(He who has subdued his senses, is exclusively devoted to his practice, who is full of faith and devoted to it, obtains knowledge (Jnan about Supreme Truth); he at once attains the supreme peace.) (BG: Chapter 4, Verse 39)

As his discourse continued, Shree Krishna reminded Prince Arjuna at one place that the mind of the man is so often not stable and plays trick them to nurture desires and chase the objects of material pleasure in succession. Consequently, he is never satisfied and experiences discontent and pain because every worldly possession is of transient nature only. In such case, a wise and more down to earth approach is to seek the eternal joy which lasts for life and this is by seeking the Divine Self and realigning Self to the Divine. 

Baahyasparsheshwasaktaatmaa vindatyaatmani yat sukham; 
Sa brahma yoga yuktaatmaa sukham akshayam ashnute

Ye hi samsparshajaa bhogaa duhkhayonaya eva te; 
Aadyantavantah kaunteya na teshu ramate budhah.

(Those who are not attached to external sensory pleasures realize divine bliss in the Self; Having been united with God through yoga, they experience eternal bliss. The pleasures that arise from contact with the sensory objects, though appear enjoyable to worldly-minded people, but are verily a source of misery. O Son of Kunti, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, so the wise do not delight in them.) (BG: Chapter 5, Verses 21-22)

That is not all and there are many more verses in the Bhagavad Gita highlighting various other facets of life considered as significant for achieving the true happiness or contentment. While educating the disillusioned Prince Arjun in the battle field, Shree Krishna repeatedly focused on achieving an equipoise mind and contentment as the most significant requirements and state for the self-realization as also the ways and means to achieve this through the Karmayoga as normal practice, a rather difficult Jnanyoga (knowledge) or by just resorting to an easy Bhaktiyoga. In the next many verses, Shree Krishna explained the necessity to learn the nature of Self (soul) to overcome sorrow; to curb impulses of the negative attributes like desire, greed and anger; to concentrate on the present instead of constantly hankering about the past and future; and to adapt sattva guna for a healthy, purposeful and contented life.

How to Live a Contented Life

Ever since birth, the human beings are educated or groomed in a manner that makes the majority of them to believe that the real happiness is linked with their material achievements. This is the reason why they start seeking happiness as the graded milestones achieved in terms of money, position, power, possessions, love, and so on, at various stages of life. The fact remains that one such achievement triggers the urge for the person to set yet another and higher goal or milestone and this never ending saga or race thus continues rendering the practitioner seldom truly happy or contented. It’s simply so because any happiness gained through the competitive success and/or merely based on material gains is only temporary and ephemeral. It’s like the usual and so common feeling of many people that the grass is greener on the other side. Consequently, even the people who have it all with maximum material possessions still feel as if something is amiss in their life. As a result, they bid for more things often unseen and unexplored that keeps them perennially unhappy and discontented.

In fact, the true happiness or contentment is a deep sense of accepting who, what and where person is at any given moment. In day to day routine, many people are so trapped or engrossed in their material lives with the haunting demons from the past and unseen fears of the future which not only infringes upon the present but also spoils their normal routine of life. The fact is that contentment is linked with the present and could be realized when we are most aware of this very moment, and through the contentment comes the real happiness; the two could be taken as synonyms or two facets of the same coin. A significant point needs to be remembered that the scriptures refer to the faith, devotion and knowledge (Jnan) as essentials ingredients for contentment, but they do not prohibit material pleasure and comfort which are also the essential components of the life, say the Grihastha phase, albeit with certain discipline. Both the materialism and spiritualism play their essential roles in balancing the Hindu way of life and, accordingly, some practical ways are briefly suggested in the following lines to live a contented life.

  • People should live in the present.  It’s so because contentment is also achieved with simply living the life with gratitude, acceptance and appreciation for the way things take shape right now in the present time. Yoga and meditation being so useful could always stay and practiced along with the material life.
  • Without any ego or arrogance, people must appreciate even the mundane things such as the food that nourishes, home that one lives in, the water which itself is synonymized with life, the air that one breathes in, the sunshine that brightens the days, and so on so forth.
  • It’s very important that we stop comparing ourselves with the other people because different people are brought up in different social and economic environment under the complex operating factors and, accordingly, everyone may have a different perspective of life. One would always experience people with better health, wealth, position, name, fame, and so on. Hence such comparison may so often frustrate one’s own life rather than helping it in a positive way.
  • People must realize that money cannot achieve or amend everything in a favourable way like what a good wrapping do with the actual gift inside. There is always plenty of everything with possessions like house, car, clothes, and other luxury items but one would need only a certain optimum of these things to meet essential requirements. When one acquires or accumulates much more than warranted, it only adds to many problems, worries and uncertainties rather than the happiness or peace of mind.
  • Many people remain discontented simply because they are so engaged with the routine that they don’t even find time to sit back and reflect on their purpose, achievement and possessions in life. On the contrary, cultivation of the habit of reflecting allow them to rationally think and review, evaluate and readjust everything for self rather than just passionately, and blindly, chasing things in the material world.
  • Some of the virtues are not so difficult to acquire such as have a feeling of compassion for others, help people in need to the extent possible, and try mingling with people who are relatively contented in their life but, in turn, it bring tremendous satisfaction and peace to the practitioner’s life.
  • Lastly, and most significantly, one must try to live in a way without venturing too much in areas that make life complex and bothersome. To put it in plain words, he should endeavour to lead a simple life. If one pays attention, he (or she) can easily find that people with a life having not many things to worry about are happier and contented. Besides, if one finds a worthwhile purpose to live, it’s a guarantee (say ‘icing on the cake’) to lead his mundane life with content or everlasting happiness.


If one looks around he will find umpteen people engrossed in the activities of constant sensory pleasure but, at the same time, cribbing and complaining about so many inadequacies and worries. This author finds friends, acquaintances and common people in their sixties and seventies with the cravings of sensual pleasure now trying to have as much as feasible knowing well that not much time is left now. About the virtuous life described in scriptures or Wisemen, they are often found arguing and justifying “it’s easier said than done”. This is indeed true because the negative virtues or attributes such as ego, arrogance, greediness, deceit, falsehood, anger, fear, and so on, are suo moto acquired without much effort as personality traits among people craving for the sensory pleasure. As against this, one has to work hard with sattvic guna in life to acquire the virtues like truth, contentment, joy, courage, love, kindness, wisdom, forgiveness, humility, peace, perseverance, non-violence, etc. 

Hence ultimately it is the choice and preference of the practitioner what kind of life he opts for i.e. a recurring turbulent, sorrowful and complex one OR a stable, contented and simple life. An Indian Saint-poet Kabirdas of the medieval period had written the following verse (Doha) for the former category which is so relevant and apt for such people even in the present context:

Raat ganwai soy ke, diwas ganwaya khay;
Hira janam amol tha, kaurhi badle jaay.

{They are wasting their night in sleep as also wasting the day in eating (just indulging in sensory pleasure); this human birth (life) was like a priceless jewel which is gone waste like the kaurhis (an erstwhile cheap and of little worth currency.)

Continued to Next Page


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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