santoṣād anuttamaḥ sukha-lābhaḥ
Due to the realization of santosha, contentment, there is the attainment of unparalleled happiness.PYS 2.42
Have you ever wondered where unparalleled happiness comes from and how you can claim some for yourself?
Derived from the Sanskrit prefix sam, meaning ‘completely’, and the root tuṣ, meaning to ‘be satisfied’, santosha speaks to the power of full and complete acceptance of what is.
If you think it sounds profound, that’s because it is! So let’s get into the following:
- Santosha meaning
- Why is santosha important?
- Santosha in everyday life
- Santosha yoga practices
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to youLao Tzu
Santosha is a state of peace and contentment that comes from within, born out of a dedication to accepting life exactly as it is.
In Hindu mythology, santosha is personified as the son of the goddess Tushti, meaning contentment, and the god Dharma, meaning duty.
By letting go of wanting what we don’t yet have, and knowing what we already have is enough, we come to realize that the source of true happiness lies not outside of us, but within us.
Ultimately, santosha is a deep-seated satisfaction that arises from inner wisdom and knowing, rather than being dependent on external factors, like life circumstances going in our favor.It is the anchor that grounds you in security, stability, and fulfillment, whether the waters are uneven or tranquil.
This practice prepares the mind for samadhi, the final limb, meaning complete meditative absorption.
Why is santosha important?
You may have heard the concept of the hungry ghost, often spoke about in Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religion. It’s a metaphor for many of us who are filled with cravings that can never be satiated, walking down the path of incorrect desire.
We live most of our lives in an endless cycle of desire, achievement, and temporary satisfaction that soon slips away into another desire, leaving us totally unfulfilled, all the while craving more and feeling worse for it.
This is all because we are seeking the wrong things, seeking external satisfaction for a remedy that has always been inside of ourselves.
In modern society, there may be a fear that santosha can lead to us being complacent, lazy, or unambitious, used as an excuse to rest on our laurels and not move forward.
Many of us are taught from a young age to try better and work harder. And so, doesn’t santosha feel like it’s going against our instincts, to just be happy with what we’ve got and not strive for more?
In fact, this is not the case at all. Santosha doesn’t prevent us from setting or achieving goals, whether spiritual objectives, career objectives, or otherwise.
What it does do, however, is stop us from being attached to the outcome of these goals, knowing that true happiness will not come from achieving these goals because we do not need to be dependent on anything in the external world to fulfill us.
We’re not achieving goals with the hope that they will complete us, make us happier, or bring us more peace.
Instead, our unparalleled happiness comes from being present and grateful for what already is, abiding in the nature of the true Self.
Then, practicing santosha is not settling for less or the end of personal growth, it’s knowing your situation does not equate to your self-worth (good or bad). Win, fail, or anything in between, you are content.
This constant striving or reaching, with the belief that ‘we’ll be happier when…’, is how the majority of spiritual traditions explain human suffering. This desire functions as a catalyst, trapping us in the cyclic existence of samsara, to use a Hindu term.
We are always striving for more. What would happen if we dropped the ‘I’ll be successful/happy/at peace/relaxed when…’?.
Granted, it seems easier said than done. But ponder this:
A lesson from traditional Tantra
What non-dual, traditional Tantra teaches, and a lesson I learned from Hareesh Wallis, is that our desires are really the desire to experience more of that all-pervading Consciousness that makes up our experience on earth.
Perhaps better in his words, ‘all desire boils down to the fundamental desire for the fullness of being‘.
What we are actually craving when we break it down, instead of external things, is the fullness of the human experience. To experience the totality of ourselves, the wholeness of divine Consciousness.
We have a deep inner-knowing, an intuitive sense that we are fuller, more expansive beings. We know there is more. Yet, this does not match our experience in life so far.
Perhaps we feel separate, the work of Maya fooling us into believing that there is duality & we are separate from the Whole.
And so, in search of this fullness, we ignorantly look to things outside of us.
However, this experience of wholeness is something that we don’t need to collect external things for in order to know. We are already full, exactly as we are, existing both within and as the infinite ocean of the Divine.
This isn’t to say that these desires are wrong (in the Tantric perspective at least) and we don’t necessarily need to get rid of them, we just need to release our misconceptions about these desires.
Once we come to know our True Nature, this ever-present and intense aliveness, we have an undeniable sense of self-assuredness in knowing that do not need anything external to complete us.
Tantra helps us to do exactly this – truly comprehend the boundless nature of our being, that is, Divine, Infinite Awareness.
You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a dropRumi
Santosha in everyday life
Gratitude is one of the best things you can do to cultivate santosha.
Unfortunately for us, the human brain is hardwired to be more influenced by negative experiences and emotions than positive ones. Our brains are trained to look out for potential threats everywhere we go, regularly fixating on the bad and fine-tuning us into pessimists.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s been an important feature of our survival thus far, but it means that if we aren’t actively seeking out things to be grateful for, we can slip into a rut of negativity.
See if you can flip your perspective of things, looking for the silver lining.
This doesn’t mean you need to look for the good in every situation. Some things just really suck and there is no silver lining to be found – and sometimes that’s okay – it’s what it means to embody the full experience of Consciousness.
However, there are probably situations in life where we get trapped in a negative thought pattern and gratitude could be a practice that can dig us out of that hole.
In asana, for example, instead of being frustrated that you can’t do a handstand yet, rejoice in the fact you have a whole learning process ahead of you.
Where attention goes, energy flows; the more we become grateful for the things we already have in our life, the more things we have to become grateful for!
2. Spread joy
Joy, gratitude, and positivity are contagious, so why not make the effort to share it with as many people as possible?
Whether that’s making a commitment to smiling at more people, ‘paying it forward‘, or, my favorite, telling people how you feel about them! This could be telling a stranger you like their outfit, your colleagues how good they are at their job, or your close friends how great they are.
When you think about it, how often do you really tell your friends or loved ones how much they mean to you and how much you appreciate them being in your life? Probably not enough if you’re anything like me!
Though this one clearly has a positive impact on the people around us, I also find this practice extremely beneficial for myself.
For me, connection with others is crucial in fostering a state of santosha, reminding me what an honor it is to be having a human experience on this planet.
3. Release expectations & perfectionism
Allow yourself to make mistakes and fall short of goals, because expectations of ourselves or others are often a self-created trap that leaves us feeling frustrated if these standards aren’t met.
This is a practice of remaining content and grounded in success or failure.
Try and approach things with more of a child-like mind fuelled by curiosity and fascination (or perhaps a dog on a long car journey with the window down) – just happy to be along for the ride!
4. Acknowledge suffering
What santosha definitely isn’t, is a culture of toxic positivity pretending everything is great all of the time; that ‘no bad days’ kind of attitude.
If we use this practice to side-step the challenges that we face in our everyday lives, things can get a bit messy. This is a process called spiritual bypassing, in which we use a spiritual practice (i.e. yoga) to avoid or dismiss how we’re feeling.
Unlike santosha, this is an avoidance of reality.
In contrast, a practice of santosha is knowing that you are suffering in a particular situation, life experience, or environment, and trying to be okay with that anyway. It’s not a false pretense that everything is fine.
santosha yoga practices
Contentment is never the outcome of fulfillment, of achievement, or of possession of things; it is not born of action or inaction.
It comes with the fullness of what is, not in the alteration of it.Jiddu Krishnamurti
You may have heard the mantra ‘Om Shanti Shanti Shanti‘ before, I personally like to close my classes with it. This is actually the mantra that’s associated with santosha, a declaration of a wish for universal peace.
This invocation of peace is a beautiful way to invite the manifestation of the mantra into your life, unveiling the equanimity of the true, pure Self which is untainted by the material realm.
You may also want to use the Lakshmi Beej Mantra, Om Shring Shriye Namah.
As the goddess of prosperity, good fortune, and beauty, she may help you to see the grace that already exists in your life.
Here are some asanas that you can incorporate into your practice to help you cultivate more joy, gratitude, and overall contentment in life:
You could even try a guided meditation specifically about santosha, like this one.
Santosha is a reflection of our true Being, everything that we already are.
It’s a practice of living with an open heart, counting the blessings as much as we count the challenges, and, most of all, being in reverence to all that is continuously rising and falling away.
Bhakti and Karma Yoga are great paths to get you thinking more about the second niyama. You can read about them below: