The Gift of our Fiery Discipline, Contentment, and Generosity

Sunset from San Souci beach, Honolulu, O’ahu

Sunset from San Souci beach, Honolulu, O’ahu

It’s the time of year when we engage in gift giving. While most of our focus will be on giving material gifts, as yoga practitioners we can also consider giving these “three wise gifts” — our fiery discipline (tapas), our feelings of contentment (samtosha), and our generosity (dana). Tapas and samtosha are part of the yoga discipline and dana is one of main Buddhist practices. As we cultivate each within ourselves, not only will we benefit from having a mind that is more at peace, but our peace will be felt by others — our own peace is the perfect gift to others.

Tapas is one of the niyamas, or yoga observances. It comes from the root sanksrit verb ‘tap’ which means to burn. This practice involves generating heat in the body – something we need as it gets colder during these winter months – to remove impurities from the body, and the mind. In a sense, according to respected yoga teacher, Judith Lasater, it also means being willing to stay ‘in the heat of action’, being disciplined enough to not run away when things get too hard, but also to know when it is smart to leave a situation. Observing ‘tapas’ we ultimately can let go of that which no longer serves us well. As always, it’s a balance – is it wise to stay in the heat of the action, or smarter to leave. But note: run away too often, and that which you’re trying to get rid of may just continue to linger and hold you trapped. The point is: when we’re less encumbered by what is holding us down, it is a courageous gift to ourselves and others.

Samtosha is another niyama. It’s explained in the Yoga Sutras of PatanjaliFrom an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained (chapter 2, verse 42). Related to this is one of the Buddha’s core teachings: Contentment is the greatest wealth (Dhammapada 204). (Note to yogis and yoginis: the Buddha did not say that standing on your head or being able to touch your toes is the greatest wealth. He might have said, rather, doing what you can do already is plenty enough.) As we approach the year’s end, taking stock of what we possess materially, it’s a good time to pause and remember that we can’t take any of this with us once we’re dead and gone.  What is more lasting, and that which can have profound effects on others, is our own feelings of peace and happiness.  Observing samtosha can lead to both.

Dana, or generosity, is one of the “Perfections” in Buddhism. I’ll never forget hearing the Venerable Ariya Nani, a Buddhist meditation teacher, say: 

If you knew what I know about generosity and the results of giving, you would not let one single day go by without giving something to someone else.

Essentially, when we give, not only do we make someone else’s life a little richer, it also makes our own a bit more too by making us less burdened down by too much stuff and making us keenly aware that have more than enough to begin with.

Taken together, tapas, samtosha, and dana can lead to freeing the mind. A freer mind is a gift to all.

I hope you have a peaceful end to your old year, and a gentle entrance into your new one.

May your mind experience freedom, …
may your mind be at peace, …
may you cultivate and give the ‘Three Wise Gifts,” …
… for the benefit of all beings. 

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni

p.s., sad/funny/pertinent story with a happy ending: I was about 2/3 through my yoga letter working in Squarespace (a website program) when I accidentally hit the ‘”back” button on my browser, and “bam” … in an instant more than half the work I had done to that point was lost. I panicked! I tried to restore the browser to the page I was working on, but alas I couldn’t get to it. So, I did what any yoga teacher would do. I sat “in the fire’ on my meditation block – practicing the true definition of tapas, I believe – and breathed until my mind was quiet enough to start working on my letter again from memory. Now that it’s done, I can look back and laugh a bit, though I certainly wasn’t laughing earlier! Actually, I think it ended up being better than the first iteration. Sometimes life has a way of making one prove that the lesson one is trying to impart to others is actually a lesson one is practicing on one’s self!

p.s.s., at this time of making year-end donations, please consider giving to Keoni Movement Arts so that we can make yoga, dance, and gymnastics accessible to those with little access.