We talk a lot about the happiness of love, but it’s not always easily attainable. Therefore, the Vedas also give a lot of information about happiness of contentment. This is a kind of happiness, meant for those whose feeling of love hasn’t yet fully developed. Any development process has its own stages and levels. Happiness is also quite achievable, provided that we don’t associate it only with its supreme stage – happiness of pure selfless love. Otherwise, we may feel quite down in the dumps. One may think: “I’ve just started the path to spiritual development. How can I love the Absolute Truth selflessly? I’m not even sure whether I can experience happiness at all, and what is it, by the way?”
At the beginning of spiritual journey, an individual can barely comprehend the new feelings and emotions that arise on this path. The whole thing is not yet clear and looks quite suspicious. Material impressions still remain fresh and strong. They tempt us to follow an old paradigm. New feelings also come up as we experience new kinds of joy unknown before. This is the joy of spiritual purification, spiritual association and self-realization. It delights and frightens us at the same time. But the main thing is that it’s not quite comprehensible yet. Imagine being served a dish containing unfamiliar items. Yes, it’s interesting, but we may be afraid to try it. Hence, let’s refer to the simple notion of “contentment” and see what we should and shouldn’t be content with in our life.
Wise people say one should feel satisfied with the following three: one’s own wife, or family members in general; food given by providence, and wealth acquired by honest effort. Let’s begin with the first point: being content with your family. We’ve discussed this matter dozens, if not hundreds of times, but it’s being brought up in the instructions of the sages again and again. The skill of family contentment is the essential part of preparation for spiritual happiness.
How can we define family members? These are the ones we have to associate with, as we can’t totally cut off relations with them, even if we try to reject them, go to another country or try to forget. Therefore, kin relationships prepare us for the fact that in our spiritual life we’ll also have eternal relatives. So we must learn to communicate on the basis of understanding eternity at once. All in all, our senior relative is the Absolute Truth Himself. And if we can’t maintain relations even with ordinary individuals, how will we practice yoga and establish relations with our most-hard-to-understand relative?
Yes, kin relationships in the material world extend only to one life. But if we spend it learning to communicate so as not to break off our relationships, it will be quite enough. Spiritual happiness requires our understanding of eternal nature of relationships. If we don’t accept this relationship style in our heart, we’ll never be able to approach the higher levels of happiness. The more we realize we’re eternally connected with each other, the happier we become. If one has understood that he/she must lead family life so that relations never break during this life, one has become mature for the higher stage of love which goes beyond the scope of just one life. It means one is ready for spiritual love.
Contentment with food given by providence is also essential for quick spiritual progress. It means I shouldn’t seek happiness elsewhere but accept what is given by providence. If I’m discontent with food on my plate, it means I’m discontent with my position, and the food on someone else’s plate seems more delicious to me. And this is nothing else than envy and greed which make my mind restless.
One might think, “What’s wrong with the desire to get the food I want?” But in fact, our major problem is rooted in this desire. When we don’t have access to something, we think we were deprived of our rightful share. But why don’t we have it? We simply don’t know how to avail of it. If we demonstrate envy, greed, discontent, we simply don’t see we already have everything to be endlessly happy. Yet instead of getting to know about genuine happiness, we start looking for such forms of happiness that shouldn’t be known. We are looking for sinful happiness. It’s plain, accessible, painful, and always seems not enough. It always seems insufficient. This is a clear sign of sin: we think we were deprived of our due share.
For that very reason, it was always considered proper to eat one’s meals at home, in a family circle. If someone began to eat elsewhere, it was considered as bad sign: one is dissatisfied with something and may soon cut loose from family. But today everyone is dissatisfied and eats in his own room, holding a grudge against all other relatives. Modern family meals more remind of a daily briefing than the exchange of loving emotions in the contented atmosphere.
Finally, we need to say a few words about being content with an honest living. That is pretty much the same thing as what we’ve just discussed. One should be content with the level of wealth earned by honest effort. Satisfaction won’t come as a result of cheating. Hence, I should find such a job where I can be sure that I’m getting honest pay for honest work, without being engaged in thievery or some financial misconduct. For example, in the former USSR labor system was arranged in such a way that folks were either thieving or dodging, or doing both. It all led to the outbreak of discontent which escalated into revolution.
One should bear in mind that satisfaction comes from our willingness to make others happy by fair means. This suggests our readiness for the next level of happiness.
So if you work hard and honestly, but earn a scanty pittance, know that you have already paid for honesty and nobleness, and thus for contentment and your ability to increase happiness.
Now let’s hear what sages say about what one shouldn’t be content with. They specify that one should never feel satisfied with the following three: study, meditation (chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord) and charity. This kind of discontent really shows that a person is geared towards happiness. He is not just cheating himself and others. How can one ever be complacent about the knowledge of the Absolute Truth? The absolute knowledge can’t be fully comprehended by definition. This is what makes it so interesting. And if one starts to think he has understood everything, and feeling complacent, stops studying spiritual philosophy, it can mean two things. Either what he was studying was not the Absolute Truth, or he was setting for himself selfish material goals. In a nutshell, a truly happy person never thinks he has understood everything. He becomes more and more convinced that he knows nothing, and hence makes every effort to learn at least something.
A happy man takes the same view of meditation and any other form of spiritual self-improvement. Spiritual life is about coming closer to the Absolute Truth. We’ve only just begun. Thus, discontent about one’s level of self-realization is the sign of inspiration and desire to walk this path till the end. We may also conclude that a contented benefactor is none other than a degrading deceiver hiding under the guise of service to people.
Why is contentment so important for us? When I’m content, I’m fine with everything. This is possible only on one condition: I must really understand I deserve a lot worse than what I have. It’s most likely that I deserve even the most severe punishment. So every time I run into trouble, I should realize: judging by things I’ve gone and done in this material world, I must have brought upon myself the world of trouble. And yet, unpleasant experiences are somewhat minimized. They go much more smoothly than could be expected. Hence, I must be grateful, forever grateful. In other words, contentment is awareness of the mercy of the Absolute Truth, gratitude for His forgiveness and the fact that He is so understanding, patient, all-merciful, and thus, affectionate… A contented person is the one who understands that he is loved by God, which means he himself is ready to get love for God. The mercy of the Absolute Truth comes upon such a contented person in the form of eternal happiness of selfless love.
Those who are complacent in their meditation are also under the spell of illusion. Meditation is the service we render to the Absolute Truth with our limited consciousness. It is obvious that there’s no limit to perfection in this activity. Therefore, if I’m complacent about meditation, I consider myself equal to the Absolute Truth. And this is a very dangerous, pernicious state of mind.
We can’t afford to be complacent about charity, as well. We can’t help everyone by definition. But if I’m lulled into complacency after I managed to help a small number of living beings, I was not helping them – I was only flattering my vanity. The one, who sincerely does real welfare work, can see the sufferings of other living entities. Such a person understands that the whole world is actually suffering, but he’s incapable of providing neither physical nor philosophical relief. And still, he will exert every effort to help others.