Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zen seem to offer two avenues to contentment and perhaps enlightenment: the path of the monk and the more tenuous journey of the lay person. Taoism does not appear to differentiate as much encouraging all to align with the Tao. For our purposes as practical philosophers, the non-monastic path is likely the only option (presumably persons choosing to be monks would not be consulting this site), and the existence of a lay approach is thus encouraging.

Regarding contentment, none seem to emphasize purpose (remember I argued that completion of social or cosmic purpose was a near-prerequisite to contentment1) though Taoism sees action through inaction and Zen reinforces physical labor and contact with the world. Alternatively if completing a life purpose is not essential to contentment, Eastern traditions are more optimistic vis-a-vis contentment. However there remains an ambiguity on their account as to whether life can be fully meaningful without purpose beyond their practices.

Last, all of these traditions appear to suggest a parallel path for contentment and the experience of ultimate reality or enlightenment, a refreshing hope for any lost souls. In this regard, as we will see later, they are similar to Western religions which often tie supreme contentment to the experience of the divine or ultimate reality.

In conclusion, we can learn much about achieving contentment from Eastern traditions. Withdrawal, renunciation, or non-intervention, recognition and meditation on eternal truths, the reading of scriptures and texts of the great thinkers, and perhaps guidance from a gifted spiritual teacher are excellent guiding principles even for those of us who do not embrace these specific dogmas. It is reassuring to discover that one need not be a monk nor overly concerned about accomplishing some lasting purpose. In any philosophical system we are likely to find the path to contentment is parallel to or intertwined with the path to ultimate reality. Peace it turns out comes not from the direct seeking, but from letting go of worldly concerns and individual desires, and unmasking the truth of reality.

Next time we pick up with thoughts on contentment described in Western antiquity.


1See post on this site titled Contentment and The Meaningful Life – Distinctions dated 3/30/22 and 4/1/2022.

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