by Jeff Martens
santosâd anuttamaha sukha-lâbhaha
The art of contentment is the art of fulfillment. It is the experience of finding what you are seeking in the present moment and becoming rich in what you thought you were lacking, so rich that you can give what you were formally lacking. The alternative is to always be greedy for the next moment and living in the poverty of constantly lacking what you are seeking. The Yoga Sutra teaches that when we are content with this moment, our entire being radiates with an inexpressible joy.
Alexander’s army was marching toward India when he heard of a Greek man, Diogenese, who was said to have found true contentment living in Corinth without a single possession. ”I would like to meet such a man,” Alexander said, curious as to how such a thing could be possible.
After a little searching Alexander came to a man lying naked in the sun beside a river. ”Are you Diogenese,” Alexander asked. ”Who wants to know,” the man answered without so much as opening his eyes. ”I am Alexander the Great.” The sunbather gave no sign of recognition. ”Do you not know who I am? I have come a long way to see you. Some men would think it an honor.” Diogenese smiled, but said nothing. ”I have heard,” Alexander continued, “that you have found true happiness and yet you do not posses a single thing, no clothes, not even so much as a begging bowl. Is this true? Have you found supreme joy?”
Reclining peacefully, his eyes remaining closed, Diogenese made no effort to answer. Alexander studied Diogenese, waiting for a response, admiring the relaxed calmness in his presence. Indeed, the man seemed to be totally at ease. ”Can you teach me what you have found?” he asked the naked man at his feet.
“Where are you going, Alexander the Great?”
“I am off to India.”
“Such a long way to travel, and for what? What will you do there?”
“I will conquer it.”
And then what shall you do, Alexander?”
“I will move on to conquer the next country.”
“And how long will this campaigne continue,” Diogenese asked.
“Until I have conquered all the countries.”
“And when you are through with that?”
“Then I will celebrate as emperor of the world,” Alexander said. ”Then I should like to rest like you.”
Diogenese laughed, a loud chaotic bray that seemed out of place by the peaceful river. Alexander noted that Diogenese’ eyes were a deep blue and utterly without greed. Instead of being angered by the Greek’s laughter, Alexander found himself intrigued.
“Why do you laugh?” Alexander asked. He had never seen such serene eyes.
“Tell me, is your father alive?” Diogenese asked, closing his eyes again at the emperor’s feet. This time it was Alexander’s turn to remain silent. Diogenese continued: ”Would you recognize his bones from the bones of this beggar?”
Alexander closed his own eyes and thought. He had seen many bones. Countless battles had taught him that all men’s skulls looked the same. ”Why did you laugh?” Alexander asked again.
“Because your bones are on a fruitless journey, the same journey as the bones inside my skin.”
“Being emperor of the world is a fruitless journey?” Alexander asked, incredulous.
“In the end it makes no difference what you and your army have conquered. What you are really seeking is right here and available to you now. So why do all those things before you rest and find contentment? If rest is what you are ultimately looking for, then do what I did and give yourself what you are really seeking now. Let go of this fool’s journey and you can rest right here and now.”
Alexander laughed uneasily. He had never considered stopping his war. For the first time he questioned the nature of his quest and his mind rebelled in protest. To be Emperor of the World was his whole life! How could a man give up such a thing? In contrast to his inner turmoil he could see the bronze skin of Diogenese relaxed and glowing, ribs filing and releasing simple breaths into a cloudless sky.
“Sir, your words do have a faint air of truth about them, but how could I give up my life’s ambition? And yet I know it is strange to say, but your life here now is so beautiful to me. Perhaps instead there is something I could do for you? I am an emperor and you may ask for anything, any riches or title your mind could imagine. Consider for a moment and let me know.”
Diogenese closed his eyes and waved Alexander off. ”Only step aside,” he said. ”You are blocking my light.”
“Nothing more?” Alexander asked.
Alexander turned to walk away. ”Goodbye Diogenese,” Alexander said. ”I am off to finish my journey.”
“No one ever finishes their journey,” Diogenese called out from his resting spot on the warm sand.
“And why is that?” Alexander asked.
“Because everyone dies along the way.”
And so it was that a short time later in the Middle East, while planning to conquer India, Alexander died along the way. His generals pulled his once vast empire apart like wolves tearing at a carcass. Soon Alexander’s Empire went the way of all empires and was gone.
Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga. This story is inspired by an ancient parable. All suggestions are voluntary. Consult a qualified teacher, your heart or your physician before you embark on any practice in which you are unfamiliar.
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