There’s not a lot of the old Santosh sloshing around these days: the practice of contentment is so far off the radar that most of us don’t even see it, and even those of us who practise are liable to forget it just at the crucial moment. Though it stands at our elbow and nudges, we push it away. Only let me have this, we say, then I’ll be content. I just need this one thing to be happy. But Santosh is a wily old bird, and she knows better. ‘You come along-a me,’ she says, ‘and then you’ll have everything you need.’ You know she’s right but you resist, you delay; because you’re afraid that following santosh will mean accepting that you can never have the Thing. And you really really want The Thing. The Thing is what your whole life has been pointing at, and you can’t give up The Thing.
Give me the Thing!
Santosh is one of the practices of Hinduism and hence of yoga. What with Eastern traditions being non-dualistic they don’t have Cardinal Virtues and Deadly Sins: even though the concept is roughly the same (as you’ll see in a minute) the approach is much more gentle. Rather than choosing between heaven and hell, you arrive at different levels (as it were) and are reincarnated accordingly. I don’t believe in actual reincarnation but the principle makes a lot more sense to me than an arbitrary ‘on-off’ switch where you’re going down a chute and God flips the switch to send you up to heaven or down to hell. There are ten of these ‘practices’; five things to do and five to avoid.
Here are the niyamas, or things to practice:
Saucha, or cleanliness,
Tapas, or discipline (primarily self-discipline)
Svadhyaya, study of self and of texts
Ishvara-pranidhana, acceptance of a higher power (a bit like the practice in Alcoholics Anonymous, and susceptible of many interpretations).
But before you get to these there are five yamas, or things to avoid:
Ahimsa, non-violence (the corner-stone of Gandhi’s philosophy)
Satya, truth-telling (Gandhi also spoke of satyagraha, or ‘truth-power’)
Brahmacharya, either celibacy or the right direction of sexual energy (this does not necessarily imply homophobia but a focussing on sexual energy to foster relationships rather than on personal gratification.)
The thing about these is they all work together; and it occurred to me this morning that santosh and aparigraha, or the avoidance of greed, are very much in tandem. If you are satisfied with what you have you do not crave more (this does not apply to those whose basic needs are not met) so it could be said that the constant striving after achievement is a kind of greed. That sounds a little harsh, I know, but in an age where being driven is seen as some sort of virtue, it might help to see it in that way.