Contentment: The Yogi’s Wealth

In reading a collection of songs from the Enlightened Yogi Saint of Tibet, Milarepa, I was struck by the verse, “I rely on the constant wealth of contentment.” It is part of passage in which Milarepa sings about his simple life of wandering, meditating, and subsisting on whatever the wilds provide.

Milarepa_statueIt is not a life that many of us could live. And yet, the idea of contentment as a source of “constant wealth,” is compelling. I recently wrote about unsatisfactoriness as a quality of Dukkha – the first noble truth of Buddhism. No matter how much we have, or how good life is, we always experience a bit of unsatisfactoriness or discontentment.

Unsatisfactoriness is both a symptom and source of our suffering. Contentment, to the contrary, is a quality of awakening. It is a fruit of deep and ongoing meditation practice. Not the mediation practice we here about so much today, which promises peace or health or well-being or some other concrete goal. No! Contentment arises in the process of emptying and opening to the fullness of each arising moment.

It is not surprising that traditional yogis practiced contentment as one of the yoga niyamas. It is a practice which is missing fromm much of popular Hatha Yoga today. However, one does not need to live in a cave or practice heroic feats of asceticism to find contentment.  For those of us with families, jobs, spouses, children, and otherwise full lives, the simplest way to cultivate contentment is through the practice of daily gratitude.

Most of us are very fortunate in the lives that we lead. We have clean safe water to drink, enough food to eat, shelter from the elements, and so much more. Nevertheless, each day we fail to recognize and appreciate our abundance, focusing instead on what we do not have, or what we think we need to be happy.Gratitude turns that thinking on its head, and helps us appreciate the many blessings that fill our lives.

Gratitude and appreciation are the beginnings of contentment. If nothing else, gratitude will remove a bit of the edge from our perpetual discontentment, resulting in more joy in our lives.

Interestingly, in today’s consumer culture, contentment is akin to heresy. Contentment, in the contemporary mindset, is associated with stagnation and death, not a source of joy and well-being. And yet, Milarepa is telling us that contentment is the source of his wealth. Surely, we can also find such wealth in our own lives. It begins simply by stopping, by being still, and recognizing the many little wonders that fill each day, starting, perhaps, with the simple fact of our aliveness.

“All the water and drink you’ve consumed

Through beginningless time until now

Has failed to slake thirst or bring you contentment.

Drink therefore this stream

of enlightenment mind, fortunate ones.”


Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Quotes from Drinking the Mountain Steam: Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Milarepa; translated by Lama Kunga Rinpoche and Brian Cutillo

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4 Responses to “Contentment: The Yogi’s Wealth”

  1. Dr Bob Rich Says:

    You are so right about consumer culture. If we became contented, we would not want to buy. Then we wouldn’t need to earn money. Then how could the multinationals make a profit?


    • Peace Paul Says:

      Aloha Bob,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Contentment definitely has the potential to be a force for change in society. Multinationals are just symptom. They exist because because we all need them to exist and enjoy the benefits of their existence. For example, the computer I am working on right now was created by a multinational corporation. And the solar panels that generate power for my home were built by a multinational corporation.

      Personally I really like the idea Bob Thurman puts out there about a cool revolution. He uses Tibet as a Model. Over a relatively short period of time, Tibetan society was transformed from a warring feudal society to a mostly peaceful Buddhist society.

      For me, this is the goal. We need to transform our collective hearts so that Compassion, Love, Generosity, and Wisdom become the dominant force in our society.

      That is why I do the work that I do to share the Dharma. It is one of the reasons we should be coming together as Buddhist, to Turn the Wheel of the Dharma and begin the cool revolution that leads to more happiness and less suffering for everyone.

      Namo Amida Bu!

      Peace, Paul

  2. melhpine Says:

    Beautiful treatment of Milarepa’s words. I need to read more Milarepa.

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