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Discontentment Is Threatening The Very Existence Of Life On Earth

There are numerous factors that make us restless and unsatisfied and chief among them is discontentment and it is threatening the very existence of life on earth.

How much food, clothing, books, how much big house and car and salary does a man need? And now, in today’s trends, how many cars, smart phones, gadgets, designer goods and so on does a man need! Objects change their forms and names but ‘needs’ do not. Having more is what is called ‘progress’, generally speaking.

To think that one can overcome or decimate one’s desires, whatever be their names, forms and shapes, by fulfilling them is like adding fuel to fire with the hope that it will get extinguished. Unbridled enjoyment only adds to our desires. We get caught and entangled in them more and yet more.

There comes a time when we seek to get out of this network of illusion of getting and losing, this endless suffering of being at the mercy of desires. And thus begins our journey of tracing back to ‘where it all started’—the source of our mental distress and turmoil—and we start dissecting our own actions and reactions, emotions and expectations, successes and failures. And lo! There we discover the problem is not out there but in here. It is right in our own mind or personality, its current structure and inclinations, its deep-rooted thought patterns and areas which it considers important and sources of pleasure; it is desire that is at the root of all mischief. And then arises the need for practice of contentment.

Comparison with those who have more than what we have is another malady. This may be due to peer pressure or our own heightened sense of value attached to something. It could be anything—objects that please our senses, physical beauty, better place of living and superior means of transport, talents, speaking or writing skills, enhanced status and position in society or in a hierarchy and so on. The list is so encompassing that it can cover all our activities, plans, accomplishments, whole life itself. So the issue of being or not being content needs to be understood in a larger perspective of life.

Extolling the virtue of contentment a Hindu mystic says, ‘Do not look at the well cooked meals that others eat and become greedy. Instead enjoy eating whatever you can afford, however dry and tasteless it might be.’

It is only when we turn our attention within and discover the source of joy and peace, that Atman, our real Self, can we truly be content.

It is discontentment, again, which is the root-cause of many social, environmental and other issues that are threatening our very existence. Greed, ‘wanting more and more’, is what gives rise to many contemporary challenges. Unchecked pollution, deforestation, increasing mental and social unrest and a host of other problems directly arise from wanting to have more.

Contentment means being established in our own nature.

The Bhagavad Gita says:

When a man completely casts away, O Partha, all the desires of the mind, satisfied in the Self alone by the Self, then is he said to be one of steady wisdom. Gita, 2. 55

With their minds wholly in Me [the Supreme Being], with their senses absorbed in Me, enlightening one another, and always speaking of Me, they are satisfied and delighted. Gita, 10.9

He who hates no creature, and is friendly and compassionate towards all, who is free from the feelings of ‘I and mine’, even-minded in pain and pleasure, forbearing, ever content, steady in meditation, self-controlled, and possessed of firm conviction, with mind and intellect fixed on Me—he who is thus devoted to Me, is dear to Me. Gita, 12.14

To live a life of satisfaction, one must have a sense of discernment. The same old question, ‘How much do we need?’ Well, besides the general dictum of sticking to need-level, our needs vary depending on our station in life, age, health, the work at hand and so on.

Sant Kabir’s wisdom may be recalled in this context, Give so much O God, suffice to envelop my clan; I should not suffer cravings, nor does the visitor go unfed.

This means our level of needs can or should include enough resources to serve others. The idea of service to others in some way or the other is also a part of the ideal of contentment. One should not, in the name of contentment, become self-centred and selfish.

How to live in the world then? Swami Ramakrishnananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, says, If you wish to be happy, if you wish to be wise, if you wish to be strong, never let the world take you. The boat may be in the water, but the water must not be in the boat; so we may be in the world, but the world must not be in us.

One vital aspect of need versus greed is the ability to distinguish between real need and assumed need. A wrist watch, for instance, is a need for most people but a branded wrist-watch, expensive and glittering, is only an assumed need. Many a time we forget the purpose for which we want an object. The irony is that sometimes people wearing commonplace watches may be more punctual than those wearing the branded ones! Punctuality is the point, not the watch.

An understanding of the passing nature of life and objects of senses too helps us overcome discontentment. Ultimately, Self-experience or God-experience or experience of our ever-fulfilled divine nature alone can make us truly content and satisfied.

And such a person, says the Gita: Whose happiness is within, whose relaxation is within, whose light is within—such a man of inner awakening, becoming one with the Infinite spirit, attains pure calm of eternity. (Gita 5.25)

Source – Excerpts from Vedanta Kesari Magazine April 2015 Editorial Page 10 - 11.