Explore the essence of true contentment and the spiritual journey towards unconditional happiness.
In the intricate dance of life, the quest for true contentment often leads us to profound spiritual revelations and the embrace of unconditional happiness.
What I refer to as unalloyed or unconditional happiness is the experience of contentment grounded in the soul. Unsurpassed, unconditional happiness is free of causation or destruction. Since nothing caused it, it can’t be taken away by circumstances. It can, however, be hidden by a turbulent heart or mind (lost in ordinary states of consciousness).
Contentment requires us to release the ego-based identification of ordinary states of consciousness and live from the awareness of our spiritual nature. It is human nature (and the nature of all beings) to seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. How can we set ourselves up for the highest success? Is it possible to know unalloyed, unconditional happiness? Can it be done in a time like this? Do we even want to?
"One who is established in contentment experiences supreme happiness. From contentment, the highest happiness is attained."
—Patanjali's Yoga Sutras 2.42
To navigate the path to true contentment, it is essential to discern the three basic types of happiness:
Physical Pleasure: Derived from sensory experiences, this form of happiness is fleeting and often leads to a cycle of desire and fulfillment.
Mental-Emotional Joy: Stemming from achievements and altruistic deeds, this form of happiness has a more extended duration.
Soul's Bliss: This is the innate, unconditional joy of the soul, untouched by external circumstances. It is accessed through spiritual practices and a life aligned with higher purpose.
It is worth noting that realization of contentment (leading to supreme happiness) is among the top ten virtues cultivated on the Kriya Yoga spiritual path. It’s right up there with nonviolence and truthfulness and nonstealing. Why should it be so important?
The first, simple answer is that it calms the mind, allowing the soul light to shine through, providing access to higher wisdom or inner guidance.
The second answer is that true contentment requires us to release the ego-based identification of ordinary states of consciousness and instead live from the awareness of our essential spiritual nature.
Why wouldn’t we want contentment and supreme happiness?
While it is easy enough to discern that all beings want to be happy and want to avoid suffering, many, if not most, people want happiness but are committed to suffering. I know it sounds unreasonable, but it is a pervasive tendency. I have seen it in myself and countless others.
The soul, our essence of being, is unconditionally, supremely happy. We are innately inclined to realize that happiness. But we don’t know where it exists or how to look for it. Add to that the existence of what Paramahansa Yogananda called the “pseudo-soul.” It is the false self or ego, the function of the mind, that pretends to own and control experience. Thus, the ego puts itself forth as the owner and controller of the happiness we seek. But ego can’t attain the unconditional happiness of the soul because it is beyond the reach of the ego (which is a mental function). The ego can only perpetually attempt to find happiness. That never-ending search for happiness becomes an ongoing commitment to unhappiness.
Ego is based on the false assertion that we are separate from the Source. That erroneous claim of separate existence can obstruct our knowledge and realization of wholeness. Without the fundamental knowledge and experience of wholeness, something is always missing. That is the prop of ego. There is always something missing, something wrong or not enough, not quite it, or unsatisfactory. If we don’t recognize this tendency as the way of ego, we can spend our life looking for happiness that we will never find with that instrument or from that perspective.
Wholeness is the basis of unconditional happiness. Once we see through the unrelenting pattern of ego’s commitment to suffering, we can decide to be content and discern how to do it. Until then, there are a thousand reasons not to be happy. We can find new ones every day—the world, our suffering, the suffering of others, our families, our bodies, or other people.
We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. How can we set ourselves up for the highest success?
Once we become willing to cultivate contentment and decide to live by the soul’s happiness and not the ego’s endless pursuit of it, we see that it is possible to know the soul’s bliss—the pure, unalloyed joy of Self-knowing—regardless of conditions.
It is possible now, even in this time. Spiritual realization and the contentment it brings do not make us insensitive, uncaring, or self-centered. It opens our minds to see clearly how things are. It frees us from self-concern so that genuine compassion and right action can arise.
Here are three habits to foster contentment and mint the gold of unalloyed happiness.
1. Be willing to be unconditionally content, supremely happy.
2. Cultivate discernment to recognize the three basic types of happiness. Examine your experience to know what they are and what they can offer.
A thing, a circumstance, even a person or a relationship can only give of its inherent nature. That which is temporary can only provide temporary or conditional happiness.
Physical pleasure or happiness result from fulfilling sensory desires. It is of short duration. This type of happiness tends to trigger more desire to experience that pleasure again.
Mental-emotional joy is related to realizing goals or accomplishments. This type of happiness lasts longer. The joy experienced from the altruistic desire of selfless service is even more enduring.
The third type of happiness is without beginning or end. It is the unconditional bliss of the soul. It is not the result of fulfilling any desire; it is innate. We access it through the purification of the mental field—meditation prayer, dharmic living, or living with higher purpose. This brings us to the final habit for happiness which is living with higher purpose.
3. Live with purpose.
Yesterday I read a question someone asked my teacher, Roy Eugene Davis. They wanted to know what to do when they begin to make some spiritual progress then get thrown off balance by unwanted events or unpleasant memories. He explained that it’s normal to be confronted by unwanted events or memories and advised discerning the difference between what we are as spiritual beings and ordinary states of consciousness. Then he wrote: “Rather than try hard to overcome inclinations to be disturbed, concentrate on living with a sense of meaningful purpose. When you are more intentional in accomplishing your purposes, you will be less inclined to be influenced by external events and random thoughts.” 
My teacher’s sage advice to set our sights on a higher purpose to free ourselves from getting pulled down by life’s challenges is beautifully articulated in the following excerpt of a letter written by poet Ranier Maria Rilke on September 11, 1919. He touches on the healing power of contentment which is so relevant for us today.
My dear young friend:
The joy brought by your letter has many sides: let me recount at least a few. First, this is what we welcome now above all, that human beings are making a new start here and there to rebuild life with the strength and the faith of their indestructible hearts. There are others who could try this but who still just stand there, staring and trying to make sense, and for whom sadness and sloth finally become utterly impossible. And this even though based on feeling and reflection, only one thing is urgently needed: to attach oneself with unconditional purpose somewhere to nature, to what is strong, striving and bright, and to move forward without guile, even if that means in the least important, daily matters. Each time we tackle something with joy, each time we open our eyes toward a yet untouched distance we transform not only this and the next moment, but we also rearrange and gradually assimilate the past inside of us. We dissolve the foreign body of pain of which we neither know its actual consistency and make-up nor how many (perhaps) life-affirming stimuli it imparts, once dissolved, to our blood! 
Take these simple steps:
Make a new start now with the strength and the faith of your indestructible heart.
 Roy Eugene Davis, Truth Journal Magazine, CSA Press: Lakemont, Georgia, Dec. 2021 – Jan.2022 issue, p.13.
 The Paris Review. https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/09/06/rainer-maria-rilkes-letters-on-grief/ accessed November 13, 2021
© 2023 Ellen Grace O’Brian