“Unparalleled happiness”… Think about it for a moment; a happiness so great that it surpasses all the happiness you have ever felt. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Could such a thing ever be experienced within the realms of human life?
Mostly when we feel happy about something, we know the feeling won’t last forever. However content or happy we feel about something in the moment, it eventually wears off and we start to look for new things to enjoy. This constant seeking of pleasure and shying away from discomfort is what most spiritual traditions agree to be the main cause for human suffering. A ‘normal’ happiness caused by external circumstances or by sensory gratifications, can never last because the very thing that caused it is by nature temporary. So how can we find true lasting happiness?
Patanjali gives us the practice of santosha as the second niyama mentioned in sutra 2.32. The Sanskrit word ‘santosha’ means something like ‘real contentment’ in English: The prefix ‘sam’ means completely or entirely and ‘tosha’ (from the root ‘tus’) means contentment, satisfaction and acceptance. Niyamas are virtues, or recommended habits, for living a healthy wholesome life, leading to a more positive relationship with ourselves. Or like Sharon Gannon says, “The Dos” in relation to “The Dont’s” of the yamas. The point of a habit is that it occurs on a regular basis. So to really gain the benefits of the niyamas, it is important to incorporate them into our lives as part of our normal daily routine.
One way of understanding the concept of santosha can be found in a story from Hindu mythology where santosha is personified as the son of the god Dharma and the goddess Tushti. ‘Dharma’, from the Sanskrit root dhr- means ‘that which holds together’ and is defined as duty, law and living according to the way of wisdom. Tushti means contentment. From this, we understand that santosha is an experience of contentment that is based in wisdom and duty, and not just feeling good about things on a superficial level. Dharma is the basic principle of cosmic existence and wisdom is by nature stable, so santosha is a stable happiness, not subject to the everlasting change of nature.
According to the scripture ‘Yoga Vāsiṣtha’, contentment is one of four soldiers who guard the gates to liberation – moksha (the others are patience, self-inquiry and association with the wise). Therefore, to reach liberation, you must first befriend contentment. The state of liberation is often described as ‘the oneness of being’ and what is experienced there, is identification with the true Self, which is different from identification with the small, ego self. Our teachers’ guru, Shri Brahmananda Saraswati, once said that yoga is “the state where you are missing nothing, total and complete, feeling OK, the ocean of nectarine”.
When we practice something consistently over time, we become more and more established in the practice, and that’s when we finally start to gain the results. According to sutra 2.42, the result of a consistent santosha practice, is supreme, or unparalleled, happiness; ‘anuttamaḥ sukha’. How do we practice contentment? By continuously cultivating a mind free from cravings and desire and instead focus on finding inner peace. By accepting the world as it is and being grateful for what you already have. By letting go of always wanting more or something else than what we already have. This is closely connected to another yogic practice, called ‘vairagya’, mentioned in sutra 1.12 (“abhyāsa-vairāgyabhyāṁ tannirodaḥ”) and one of the main topics of Bhagavad Gita. According to this idea, the key to calming a restless mind lies in non-attachment or a dis-interest in worldly objects. Slowly we start to realize that the source of happiness lies within us, so there’s nothing to grasp from the outside. Contentment is developed from the inside out. Edwin Bryant says in his book ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’: “Whatever happiness there may be in enjoyment in this world, and whatever greater happiness there may be in the celestial world, they do not amount to one sixteenth of the happiness attained from the cessation of desire”.
The magic ten and beyond