Samtosha means contentment. Being satisfied, content, is a very important part of life. If can be difficult to be content when you are constantly exposed to stressful events, to problems and difficulties. If you can achieve a state of contentment, your mind will bequiet and you can deal with life easily. If you cannot be content than your mind will be filled with thoughts running wildly through your head that distract you, upset you and make it almost impossible for you to function.
Samtosha has a strong connection to Aparigraha – non-hoarding. As we discussed in the article on Aparigraha, focusing on material possessions leads us to constant worry and stress because possessions are easily lost. Finding contentment when your life revolves around objects that you are constantly losing or afraid that you will lose them is impossible. Releasing yourself from the bondage of these material objects and focusing your life on what can never be lost – your own spiritual improvement and putting positive energy into the world – can remove great amounts of stress in your life and allow you to feel peace and contentment no matter what is happening around you.
Samtosha does not mean that you do not care about anything, that would be taking a very tamasic, passive, attitude toward contentment. You should always be striving for a life that is in balance. One of the biggest problems with being content in life is that often no matter how good we are, bad things seem to still happen to us. How can you be content when things go wrong in our life?
Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
“Why do bad things happen to good people” is one of the most profound questions that the greatest philosophers and religions have been trying to answer for millennium. Let us look at the question from a slightly different perspective – “Why should good things happen to good people?”
If you believe that bad things should not happen to good people, it is only logical to presume that you also believe that good things should happen to good people. There is a very powerful assumption hidden in this thinking. The assumption is that each individual is owed a good life and only if they do bad things should this privilege of a good life be taken away. Why should you be owed a good life? Are you only supposed to be good so you don’t get punished or so you are rewarded here or in the afterlife? Believing that the consequences of your actions should have a direct result on the quality of your life is a very self centered view of life. In this self centered view of life, life seems to have no real purpose, we simply exist and if we do good we are rewarded with a good life. There seems to be something missing from this view of life.
Let us say that everything has a life force - an energy, and that we are never really an isolated individual in the world. Even when we sit alone in our homes, we can pick up a phone and call someone. If the person you call answers, their life will take one path that now includes talking to you, while if you do not call, their life will take another. Every action you take that connects to another person influences their lives, and every time someone takes an action that connects with you, your life is influenced. Our lives are not just influenced by people. We stop to look at a beautiful bird or a waterfall or some other scene in nature and the path of our life is very slightly deviated. We trip over a chair, our car does not start, all these things effect us. Our life path is navigated through a million interactions with people, objects and animals around us that can exert an influence on our lives. What our life is at this precise moment is determined by our interaction with everything around us. We are never alone and disconnected from the universe.
What does this have to do with bad things happening to good people, you ask? Well, what if our life is not actually about us, about our happiness and our comfort, but what if our life is actually about how we affect the universe and others? What if our lives are really about creating positive effects in the universe?
I know someone who was very healthy and athletic. He became very ill and lost his health, his material possession, his career, everything. Eventually, he retrained himself and changed his career. This led to him writing a book that created an important positive change in the world. The illness also led him through a spiritual journey, a reevaluation of himself and what is important in life. Using this knowledge, he helped many other people. He deals with pain and other problems on a daily basis, and as an individual has lost a great deal, but the illness has led him down a path that has has allowed him to make great contributions to society and other people. He has no regrets about his life because he knows that the illness has led him down a path where he has made positive changes in the world, and that these contributions have filled his life with great joy despite his physical problems. He realized that life is not about himself, but instead, it is about what he contributes to the world. No mater what happened to him, he knows that being a good person, helping others, making positive changes is something that can never be taken away from him. It is something he will always have to give, and as long as he can do this, his life is good. He has put together the ideas of Aparigraha and Samtosha -focusing on the things that cannot be lost, and an absolute belief that his life has purpose, i.e. the purpose to make positive change - to be content in a life that has many difficulties.
The Importance of Intention
One of the interesting things about viewing our lives from the perspective of how we influence the world is that we never know for sure exactly how our actions affects the universe. We could be walking down the street and bump into someone, which delays them by a few seconds, which prevents them from walking into the street and being hit by a car. Because this person is not in an accident, they than go on to make some medical discovery. OK, perhaps this is a silly movie plot, but it could happen. The truth is, it seems that you really never know how your actions affect the universe.
Of course, one could argue the reverse scenario is also possible, that by delaying the person for a few seconds it could result in them having the accident and the discovery not being made. While we cannot guarantee that an action does not have some negative consequence that we could not predict, we can minimize the possibility of negative consequences happening by acting from good intentions and love.
Every action we make has a ripple effect that passes through the many people we come into contact with directly and indirectly. The important thing in life is that the overall effect each of our lives is to create an overall positive effect on the universe. If our actions are based on good intentions, than when we balance between the accidental negative consequences of our actions and all of the intentional positive consequences of our actions, the positive will far outweigh the negative. A life lived this way will create a balance of positive energy that will exist long after a person has died. Intentional actions will always have a much greater power than accidental actions, which is why accidental negative actions have little effect and intentional negative actions have such a powerful effect. Many believe, though, that an intentional positive action will always be many times more powerful than an intentional negative action.
When it comes to children, we often make sacrafices without thought for them. We work long hard hours so they can have a good life, we give up many luxaries of life to care for our children, etc. When it comes to dealing with difficulties for our family, it is something we all accept. But, all humans, and all life on this planet, are interconnected and every person is important to you in a similar way as your family is important to you. If we can view the difficult times in our lives as points where we are making sacrafices to help us on our journey, a journey that will allow us to create positive change in the world, than we can be content during these times. Difficulties in life are not always bad, sometimes they teach us a great deal, give us an appreciation for things that we normally do not even think about.
The man I referred to earlier used to run ten miles without any problem. He never thought about it, it was easy. After he became sick he could not even walk two blocks. He went through physical therapy for several years to get back to a point where he can walk about a mile. Every step he takes now has a magnificent beauty, he is aware of the miracle of being healthy enough to walk, to explore the world. The illness gave him an awareness of himself and his actions that he never had before. Often, difficult times in our lives help shape us and lead us to explore ourselves, our lives and what is really important in life. It is up to us to decide how such events mold us.
I am not saying that one should intentionally create suffering in ones life. Following the principle of non-violence we should always strive to reduce pain in our own lives. But, when there is difficulty and suffering in our life that is beyond our control, we should accept that life is not only about ourselves and our well being, but how our lives impact the world. Every event in our life shapes us, defines us and determines what we do in the future. We can look at difficult times and feel sorry for ourselves, demand answers for why such things happened to us, or we can accept that this is part of our life path and that perhaps it will lead us to a road that will allow us to make some important positive contribution to the universe. When a child was murdered, the father created the show to find criminals that led to the capture of hundreds of criminals, preventing the injury of probably thousands of people. A horrific tragedy in this person's life led them to create a powerful change in the world. If we focus on what we are giving to others -to the world - and not on what the world is giving to us, we find that life is much easier to live, especially during the difficult times and it is much easier to find contentment. And when times are difficult, we should try to find something to take from this experience and use it to make the world a better place to live. But, this still does not answer why bad things happen to good people.
Once you understand the interconnection that exists between all people you can begin to understand why sometimes bad things happen to others. Unfortunately, there are many people who are not acting out of love and are not creating actions for others. Their actions are for themselves or are hurtful actions based on negative scripts. These negative actions can have an affect on other people, they create what you can call a group action. When we see negative events such as acts of terrorism, war, famine, etc., that are the result of negative actions hurting other people, it shows us how we are all interconnected. Just as these negative actions can hurt people both directly and indirectly, so can positive actions help people both directly and indirectly. Every action every person takes has an affect on other people and on the universe.
Of course, all of these ideas discussed above are not new, they are very old and can be found in the religious texts of both the Eastern and Western worlds going back thousands of years, as will be discussed below.
Karma and the Effect Our Actions and the Actions of Others Have on Us
When we see terrible suffering in the world, our response is often “G-d, why do you let this happen?” But, maybe we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps the question should be “Why do we let this happen?”
In the Old Testament, in Genesis 1:26 it says:
“Then G-d said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle and over all the wild beasts of the earth, and over every creeping that that creeps upon the earth”
The word dominion means “power or right of governing and controlling; sovereign authority”. Thus, this could be interpreted as meaning that mankind is given power over the earth and all life on it, i.e. we were given the responsibility of governing and caring for the earth and the life in it. G-d has passed the responsibility of governing and controlling the earth from his dominion to ours, to all of mankind, to every living human on the earth. Therefore, it is our responsibility to care for the earth, for all life on earth, and for each other, not G-d’s. The idea that the collective action of humanity is responsible for the world is part of Eastern traditions as well. Let us take a look at the idea of Karma.
Most people associate the word "Karma" with the karma generated by our thoughts, speech and actions. There is actually several different types of Karma - the Karma that is created by our actions is called Adhatmika Karma. The results of the Adhatmika Karma is stored in the mind’s karmic container, called Sanchita Karma. The overall karma stored in this container has a powerful influence over our life. It is through our actions that we can add or remove karma from what is stored in Sanchita Karma. If we do negative actions, the actions will create negative energy, Karma, which will affect our lives and be stored in our Sanchita Karma. Good actions can have a positive affect on our life and reduce the negative karma in Sanchita Karma and create a positive change in our lives. If you believe in the idea of reincarnation, what is stored in Sanchita Karma will be carried over to our next life and affect that life.
An idea similar to Adhatmika and Sanchita Karma is also seen in both the Old and New Testaments:
Job 4:8: "Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same."
Galatians 6:7-8: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."
In addition to our individual karma, there is also the collective karma of others called Adhibhautika Karma. This Adhibhautika Karma can influence all life on the planet. When the Adhibhautika Karma is negative, there is war, famine, death and other terrible things that happen. When the Adhibhautika Karma is good these negative things will stop. Unfortunately, in the history of man, it seems the negative Adhibhautika Karma has been very strong. This is why it is so important that each and everyone us work hard to put positive energy into the universe to help shift the balance of Adhibhautika Karma toward being positive.
Our individual responsibility for doing positive actions to influence Adhibhautika Karma in a positive way is something that is built into nearly all of us. When we see suffering our natural response is to want to help. When a tragedy happens people naturally respond to these situations with a desire to help. The problem is that while most people want to help, only a few actually will take the action of helping others.
You could view the Eastern idea of Adhibhautika Karma as the explanation of the Biblical text in Genesis – We have dominion, control, over the earth through the Karma created by our individual actions. If you act with violence, hatred, selfishness and other negative intentions, you will create negative energy that influences the world and all life in it in a negative way. If you act with love, kindness, understanding, selflessness and other positive intentions, than you put into the world positive energy and influence the world in a positive way.
This is why it is so important that you learn to create positive scripts. Negative scripts that run in your mind have a negative power associated with them and by themselves generate negative energy. In addition, negative scripts lead a person to negative actions and negative words, which have a powerful negative impact on the overall Adhibhautika Karma as well as adding to the negative karma in their own Sanchita karma.
Once you understand that there is both an individual karma and group karma than you realize that what happens in our life is the result of both karmas. So, even someone who only does good may still be affected by negative Adhibhautika Karma and have bad things happen in their life. The bad things are not punishment – they are simply the result of the combined negative Adhibhautika Karma of others. The reverse of course is also true, a person may do negative things but still have positive things happen in their life because of the positive Adhibhautika Karma of others.
Adhibhautika Karma can come into our life in two ways - we can attract it to us or it can be directed towards us from others. When I discussed attracting a future into your life I was really talking about attracting the energy and power from Adhibhautika Karma built up by the actions of yourself and others into your life. A person whose mind is scattered and filled with negative scripts has little power to attract positive energy into their life. A person whose mind is clear and focused and filled with positive scripts can attract the positive energy of Adhibhautika Karma into their life.
Adhibhautika Karma can also be directed towards you. The love and good will of others create positive Adhibhautika Karma that comes into your life and influences the circumstances of your life. Unfortunately, negative Adhibhautika Karma can also be directed at you and can lead to suffering in your life. When the negative waves of Adhibhautika Karma created by the negative actions of others wash over you, the positive Adhyatmika karma you do in your life will create a repulsive force reducing the impact negative Adhibhautika Karma has on your life. It is your ability to have faith, to be content both when life is good and when life is difficult, that will determine if negative Adhibhautika Karma passes through your life and makes you stronger or if it destroys you. Being content with your life, having the belief that actions based in good intentions do have an affect on the universe even if that affect may not be visible in your own life, is what allows you to overcome the negative Adhibhautika Karma directed at you from others.
When bad things happen to you, it should lead you to realize the truth in the fact that we are all connected, that the actions of every individual person affects not only themselves, but other people. Suffering in our lives is our reminder that our actions are important - if the negative actions of others are making us suffer, than we know that our actions also affect others and everything we do, and even think, is important.
If you view your actions as being only for you, for the improvement of your life, than there is no logic in bad things happening to you if you are good. But, if you believe that your good actions add to the positive Adhibhautika Karma, than you know that these actions may create positive change in others, in the overall universe, that you may not see. Sometimes, the negative Adhibhautika Karma can affect your life in a negative way, but as long as you act with good intentions, with love, than the suffering of all people is reduced. Also, by performing positive actions you are making the Adhibhautika Karma more positive, and the more positive Adhibhautika Karma is the less it can have a negative affect on your life.
It is not about your own individual life, it is about the affect your life has on the universe and others
When we see suffering happening to ourselves and others who are innocent and who have done nothing wrong, it is our reminder that our actions contribute to the overall affect of the energy of all mankind. If we chose to focus our lives on ourselves and act in negative ways, we are contributing to the suffering of everyone, but if we chose to act with love and to help others, than we are responsible for reducing the suffering in the world and creating positive change. When we see the suffering created by people's negative actions it teaches us that we truely are all interconnected and that the actions of every individual can add to the affect of the group, and so we must all be responsible and act in a positive way.
I remember a Chasidic Tale that goes something along these lines (I don't have a copy of it at the moment so forgive me that I don't have the exact wording). A great Rabbi asks G-d to tell him who he will be sitting in heaven with. G-d tells him "Moshe the tailor will be seated next to you." The Rabbi is upset, and says to G-d "I follow every one of the laws of Judaism, I go to synagogue at all the appointed times for prayer, observe all the holidays. Moshe is a poor tailor who often does not eveb go to Synagogue, why would he get a place equal to mine? And G-d replied: "Moshe once saw a Jewish person who was being held as a slave on a ship and he bought him his freedom and that is why he gets a place next to you." In another version of this tale, Moshe had cared for his sick parents. But in both cases, performing actions to help others outweigh simply following moral codes without action. It is our actions in the world that create the greatest affect.
Every point in our life where we are happy is the result of everything that came before it, both the good and bad. Earlier, I said that it seems that we can never know how our actions affect the universe. But, if we have faith, if within us we have a deep belief that all of our actions that are done with good intent create a positive change in the universe, even if we cannot see that change,than this faith is what will allow us to be content even in the most difficult times of our lives. It is your belief that acting from love, compassion and good intention is to create positive affect for the universe and not just for your own rewards that can allows you to be content. Focus on the objects in your life, the problems in your life, the suffering in your life, and demand that you get the rewards for your good actions, and you can never be content. The choice is yours, it is within power to decide whether you believe that your actions are for yourself or for the universe.
The Cause of All Suffering
An article on Samtosa is not complete without mentioning what the Yoga philosophy considers to be the root cause of all suffering. And what is the cause of all suffering? It is attachment to things that are not permanent. In the article on Aparigraha, Non-Possessiveness, I talked about how the attachment to material possessions creates unhappiness because material objects can be lost. Even when material objects are not lost, we are constantly fearful of their loss.
There is something even more powerful that you can become attached to than material possessions. In the article on the Purusa I explained that our Purusa, our consciousness, our soul, is permanent and separate from our physical being. You have a physical mind that consists of several components, including the component that gives you your sense of identity, your ego. When you identify yourself with what you do, what you have accomplished, what you own, and who you associate with, you are speaking with your ego. Saying “I am doctor”, “lawyer”, “programmer”, “John’s wife”, “I have written a book”, “I have a PHD”, “I am John’s friend”, etc are all statements of the ego.
The problem with identifying yourself with your ego is that all of the accomplishments of the ego are temporary, they are all non-permanent. Your work and associations can change in a moment. Just like with material possessions, their loss or the fear of their loss, fill your life with tension and unhappiness. Even worse, everything associated with the ego is lost at death. Viewing the world through your ego you see yourself as being separate from the world - you are this individual and all you are is the things that can follow the word “I”. It is this view of yourself that creates the greatest suffering and one of the greatest barriers to contentment. It is the greatest illusion.
If you are not your ego, if you are not the sum of your accomplishments, associations, and possessions, than what are you? Above your physical mind, your ego, is your Purusa, your higher consciousness. As discussed in the article on the Purusa, your Purusa’s ability to function with the physical body can evolve if you devote your life to spiritual growth. It is through the good actions you take, following the eight fold path, that your Purusa evolves and this is permanent. These changes last beyond your life. Performing good actions is not about the rewards we get in any life. You connect to your higher consciousness, your Purusa, and do good actions because you can feel how they create harmony and positive energy for the universe, which in turn, allows your Purusa to evolve. Knowing that even if your good actions do not result in rewards they will always result in the Purusa evolving, in your connection to the universe becoming stronger, allows you to be content no matter what comes into your life.
Giving your Positive Actions to the Universe
The idea of reincarnation can give us another explanation as to why our good actions do not result in good things happening to us - the rewards of these actions will come in another life time. The idea of reincarnation also leads you to not want any rewards for your good actions. Why? We can explain this by an example.
Imagine that you are taken to an Island. The only money you can use to buy things on this island is called karmas. When you arrive you have 50 karmas and you borrow 100 karmas from the bank, so you are arriving 50 karmas in debt. Your food, clothing and lodging are all provided at no cost, but the number of karmas you have determine what you get. If you are in negative karmas you get to sleep in a tent, eat rice, and wear simple clothes. If you are have more than 1 karmas but less than 100 karmas you get to sleep in a hut, get a variety of food and comfortable cotton clothes. If you have between 100 positive karmas and 200 positive karmas than you can sleep in a luxurious house, eat anything you want and have the finest silk clothes. With each additional 100 karmas you have, the more you get. When you do work you can use the karmas you earn to pay off your debt, you can keep your karmas or give them to the island to give to others who need karmas.
There is one more rule to this island that you must learn. You can never leave the island unless you have exactly 0 karmas. While the island is very beautiful and nice, there is a large continent nearby that is even more beautiful than the island. The continent goes on forever, with endless magnificent places to live, but you can only go there when you have exactly 0 karmas.
This story is how karma works. As long as we have any karma, even positive karma, we must come back and live another life to use up the karma we have. Our life is like living on the island, we cannot leave until our karma is all worked out and there is nothing left. We may come into a life with some positive karma and some negative karma, like arriving on the island with 50 karmas and a debt of 100 karmas. In our life our actions determine if we add positive or negative karma to ourselves. Just like on the island the karmas you earn can either go for yourself or to the island, your positive karma created by positive actions can either go to yourself or to the universe. If it goes to yourself, than you will have to get the rewards from the good karma either in this life or in the next. But, if you allow the good karma that is created from your good actions to go to the universe than it does not become part of your own karma, and if you have worked off all of your negative karma, your soul, your Purusha, can reach the final stage of evolution and enlightenment.
Thus, the idea of reincarnation and karma together makes us realize that both good and bad karma keeps us returning. It is when we reach the highest state and are willing to not expect any reward for our actions, when give our good actions to the universe, than we can finally be free by not having to return to reap the rewards of our good actions in this life that were not rewarded in this life. When we realize that the purpose of our life is the liberation of the Purusa, our soul, and not the reaping of rewards, we understand that our good actions are not for rewards but instead for spiritual growth of the Purusa
This is why many people will do good deeds but not want any credit for what they have done. They will make donations secretly or help others in ways that no one knows that they have given the help. They do not want any rewards to come from their actions, they are simply doing what they know is correct, what creates harmony in the universe and positive karma in the universe. When we reach this point in life, when we release our expectations of rewards for our actions, than we can easily find contentment in life.
There is a much more obvious reason to give your actions to the universe - because all knowledge, everything you are, originally comes from the universe. Giving your actions to the universe is the way you acknowledge that everything comes from the Atman, from the universal soul, and not from yourself. Everything you have is a gift to you from the universe, it is your choice to either hoard that gift and hold onto it and claim as yours or to pass it on back to the universe for others.
The Simple Definition of Samtosha
In this article I have approached Samtosha from many different directions. Is there a simple unified theme in all of these ideas? Yes, there is one amazingly simple idea that links all of these ideas together:
Samtosha, contentment, is achieved when all things in your life are in harmony.
Learning not to become attached to the things that are not permanent, learning to not hoard your actions for yourself and to be able to perform actions without expecting any reward, learning not to be attached to your ego, accepting the difficult times in your life and overcoming them, are all important actions that lead you to be in harmony with the world that you are living in.
The entire philosophy of Yoga, the entire eight fold path, can be found to be deeply rooted within the ideas discussed in the article, and the central theme of Yoga is finding harmony. Samtosha is like a doorway that leads into Yoga. When you begin to explore how to find contentment in your life, you will find the answer is simply finding harmony in your life. And once you see that, the door opens up and you see that harmony can be found in the teachings and practicing of Yoga.