Posts Tagged ‘Yoga’

Contentment: The Yogi’s Wealth

February 3, 2016

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.”

-Milarepa

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

For the Benefit of All Beings

August 20, 2015

 Over the last few years I have enjoyed getting back into doing Hatha Yoga. In my early 20s, when I was living on a yoga ashram, I was limber enough and strong enough to assume just about any of the yoga asanas. Unfortunately, I was not able to truly appreciate the healing power of asana. I was too young and impatient. Now, having made 50, and lost the elasticity of youth, I find asana both liberating and blissful. I am aware of asana loosening physical knots and dismantling muscle armoring accumulated over the many years of this life.

However, this practice, while wonderful and helpful, is secondary to living the religious life. The religious life is lived for the benefit of all beings. It is not a path that is overly focused on our own bliss or health or well-being, as helpful as these can be. Rather it is focused on striving to create well-being and happiness for the people and beings around us. It is about living a life that is expansive and open to all.  It is willingness to respond to pain and hurt with compassion.

We begin within our own lives, trying to minimize causing suffering and maximizing benefiting others. Thus the religious life is built on three principle disciplines: ethics, study, and contemplation. We practice ethics so that we may be a refuge and not a threat to others. We use our intellect to study the teachings of awakening so that we may deepen our faith and understanding, the foundations of practice. We continually contemplate the Buddha, so that awakening and compassion may be companions in all that we do.

The religious life, is just that – a life. It is not something that we only do on Sundays, or in the Zendo, or on the Yoga mat. It cannot be set aside or turned off. To be authentic and socially transformative, it can be nothing less than a commitment of our whole life, warts and all, moment to moment, birth to death, to benefiting all beings. 

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul