Ideals and Values/Contentment (Santosha)

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia


What is Contentment?

Contentment means be happy with the few things that are obtained with one’s own efforts, to be free of greed, to avoid accumulating goods and to not desire anything that belongs to others. We have already seen the harmful effects of hoarding and greed. Santośa is that mental quality which helps to fight greed and also stops us from hoarding.

Most people think that they will be happy if they have 3 cars instead of 1, a mansion instead of a small home, a huge ward-robe instead of a modest collection of clothes and so on. But modern scientific research also shows that once our modest needs are met then any additional gain in our income and possessions does not really increase our level of happiness. These scientific findings therefore confirm the following truths of the Hindu scriptures:

The happiness obtained by him who is contended and who seeks joy within himself is many times more than the happiness of that person who, under the influence of desires and greed, runs in all the four directions and obtains a lot of wealth.[1]
He who desires happiness should practice contentment and self-control because contentment indeed is the cause of happiness, and discontentment is the cause of unhappiness.[2]

Story: More precious than the diamond One day, a villager approached a Sadhu and said to him, “Sir, Lord Śiva came to my dream last night. He told me that you will give me a stone that will wipe away my poverty. With that stone, I will become a very rich man.” The Sadhu said, “I do not have any stone to give to you. But if you insist, let me go through the only bag I have.”

The Sadhu went through his bag and found a huge colorless crystal – a giant diamond. The Sadhu gladly gave it to the villager and said, “May be, this is the stone that Bhagavān Śiva wanted to give to you. It is of no use to me. You can keep it. What will I do with a diamond.” The villager was astonished. He took the diamonds and went home. He was very happy. But he could not sleep that night. Next morning, he went to seek the Sadhu again, but he was not at that spot where he had met me the previous day. So he trekked into the jungle, and saw the Sadhu walking away towards the next jungle. The villager ran up to the Sadhu and prostrated at the feet of the holy man.

“What do you want from me now,” asked the Sadhu. The villager replied, “I want that wealth from you which makes you so rich that you do not mind giving away a diamond to me!” The Sadhu replied, “That wealth is called contentment.”

Contentment versus Ambition and Excellence

Does contentment mean that we should not be ambitious, that we should not work hard to earn money or that we should not aim to get into the best colleges and get the best jobs? The answer is ‘no.’ Any capable person should not waste his skills but instead he should use them for the benefit of himself as well as others. In fact, Hindu scriptures ask us to try to be successful in our life – educationally, professionally and financially which is clear from the following scripture quotes:

May I be the pinnacle of all of wealth. May I be the leader of all the equals.[3]
He who has the strength and capability to do things but who did not act, that person has cut off his fingers and feet (so to speak). But he who has done good deeds for his sake and for the sake of others that person indeed is like a blazing sun.[4]

But what Hindu Dharma teaches us is that our aim for excellence should not be guided by greed or selfishness. Instead, we should use our success to do good to others. For example, if I get into the best medical college, then I should spend a big chunk of my skills for treating poor patients for free or at reduced medical charge. If I get a high paying job, I should use a considerable portion of my income to give away in charity rather than buy a bigger mansion or drive more expensive cars.

The Vedas put this ideal in a beautiful way:

Gather with a hundred hands in a harmonious way and distribute with a thousand hands. May your past as well as future actions become manifold i.e. may your activities be successful and may they result in you doing greater and greater deeds in the future.[5]

Notes & References

  1. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 7.15.16
  2. Manusmṛti 4.12
  3. Atharvaveda 16.3.1
  4. Atharvaveda 4.18.6
  5. Atharvaveda 3.24.5