The Rejection of Contenment

Myth Theory 18 Comments

Published in Speaking Tree, Sunday, August 21, 2011


Both Ganesha and Kubera are pot-bellied deities with short arms and legs. Both are Yaksha-murtis, and bring in prosperity. Kubera is the treasurer of the gods and a devotee of  Shiva, the hermit-god while Ganesha is the son of  Shiva. Despite many similarities, there is a fundamental difference between the two, which is why Kubera is a Gana while Ganesha is lord of Ganas.

Once, Kubera felt sorry for Shiva’s son, Ganesha who loved to eat. “Let me feed you,” said Kubera, “as clearly your father cannot afford to do so.” Ganesha accepted Kubera’s invitation, went to his house, and ate all that was offered. “I am still hungry,” said the elephant-headed god. Kubera had to procure more food using the money in his treasury. Ganesha ate all that was served and kept asking for more. Finally Kubera fell at his feet and begged him to stop eating. “You are draining me dry,” he cried. Ganesha then said with a smile, “Any attempt to satisfy hunger with food will never be successful. If anything, food will amplify hunger. My father, Shiva, therefore seeks to outgrow the need for food.”

This is the discourse of contentment, rejected by the modern secular world we live in.

The modern secular world today is dominated by two ideologies, both based on wealth and economics, broadly classified as Capitalism and Communism (or the latter’s more acceptable avatar, Socialism). Both seek to create a happy world, and both believe that happiness is a function of wealth.

Capitalism believes that generation of more wealth will create happiness; Communism believes that better distribution of wealth will create happiness. Capitalism celebrates individual entrepreneuship while Communism seeks governmental interventions.India has flirted with both – Communism for the first few decades after independence and now Capitalism. Neither has brought happiness toIndia. And neither seems to offer solutions to the near future. Both these theories are suspicious of the ‘discourse of contentment’.

Capitalists fear that this will destroy the market and prevent the creation of new customers. They float advertisements where people are mocked for being satisfied with their lot in life, and where mothers are advised to tackle scarcity not by celebrating sharing but by wishing for more wealth.

Communists view the ‘discourse of contentment’ with suspicion. They are convinced it is propoganda of the rich to ensure the poor stay poor and do not ask for their rights. Without discontentment, there will be no revolution.

Modern management is obessed with ‘growth’. But everyone refers to material growth alone.

Traditional thought also celebrates growth. That is why symbols of growth like mountains of food, cone shaped sweets, overflowing pots of milk are cosnidered auspicous symbols. But growth in the religious and spiritual framework is not material alone. It is also intellectual and emotional growth. When a man evolves intellectually and grows emotionally, he becomes content with his wealth, and starts to share his wealth. He includes others in his prosperity. Growth then is not at the cost of others; it is for the benefit of all. When this happens, there is no need for socialist revolutions or corporate social responsibility. Wealth flows through the pyramid of society rather spontaneously.

Intellectual and emotional growth are the two arms of spirituality. Unfortunately the latter word, spirituality, is deemed dangerous, impractical or theoretical by both Capitalists and Communists. In rejecting spirituality, these material discourses have willy nilly ignored intellectual and emotional growth. That is why 80% of the world’s wealth today serves only 20% of the world’s population. And this proportion is not going change in a hurry, new regulations, policies and laws nothwitshtanding. For currently there is intellectual or emotional stagnation both at the top and the bottom of the Capitalist and Communist pyramid.

  • Srinivas

    Dear Devdutt,

    Thank You so much for conceiving and publishing this article. You are providing the very needed basic understanding of trade to many people like me all over the world and in a way questioning the very existence in the present and eventually trying to change it to the prosperity of many.

  • I’ve always felt that the dependency on wealth and misconstruing it as a path to contentment or happiness is something we, the human,must stop at some point of time. Nice article as usual.

  • Deepankar Sinha

    Hi Devdutt,

    Agreed. But as you see, Vishnu has Laxmi with him. How do you explain one God is super rich (Vishnu) and the other (Shiva) is a vairagi (renunciate)? Doesn’t external and internal well being compliment each other? Why do we have two different Gods? Or there is something else being said by these two Gods?

    Deepankar Sinha.

    • Gaurav Ahuja

      Both are utmost secure and selfless. To both nothing in this world matters. Therefore Shiva has decided to be completely detached and hence a vairagi whereas for the same reason has Vishnu decided to just enjoy in this world and hence gained a lot of lakshmi…ultimately to both of them lakshmi doesnt matter.

      • Deepankar Sinha

        But then, why two separate dieties? What does Shiva represent that Vishnu doesn’t and what Vishnu represents that Shiva doesn’t?

        • ven

          well vishnu is a family man so he has to sustain…shiva is at retirement stage you see so he spends time by watching tv at home..(meditating)…

        • Parashar

          This is a very common query that I hear about why 2, 3 or 10,000 deities in Hinduism. I usually quote one of our ex presidents & great Indian philosophers (Dr. S R) to address this. As per him in Hinduism, different representations of God do not tell us about what God is in Himself but what He is to us. Vishnu, Siva, Brahma are not three independent centres of consciousness or Gods but are three sides of an extremely complex personality; the being which we experience as God.

  • HI
    thanks for your post

  • Dear DDP,

    Could you please decipher the mean on Trunk of Ganesha?

    Have you already published something on this, if so please share the url.


  • Phani

    I am hearing about “Organizational Health” (the theory from Mckinsey?) a lot these days. Wondering if intellectual and emotional growth automatically leads to a healthy Organization.

  • Phadke S. N.

    Namaste Sir,

    Very well thought article. I am impressed.

    Sincerely I remain,


  • Gayatri

    Dear devdutt :)

    In a reply to a query made by someone on “choice of being a vegetarian/or non vegetarian “, you said – Hinduism is not a prescriptive but a reflective religion.

    Can you pleasee elaborate more on that :))

    Thank you

    • Kartik

      It means that you are empowered to decide ‘right’ for you. YOu have the ability and capability to take right decisions for you, and NO ONE asks you to do any particular task.

      • Gayatri

        Ya, it makes sense. Thank you kartik.



    I have been disturbed for quite sometime with the way my life is going. I am successful in my material world as i am a new entrepreneur.

    But still, everytime i see the news or come out of my house, i feel i have not done anything for this world yet. i am still selfish.

    But i want to get out of this and start a parallel government which is neither communist nor capitalist but “Humanist”.

    Can you please comment ???

  • Freddy N

    Well spoken, Devdutt. Contentment is at the heart of happiness. But modern day misinformed educators mistake it for weakness and lack of ambition.

    Happiness is and will always remain my only ambition.

  • Ankit Suhane

    Dear Devduttji,
    My question is out of the your story context.
    We all know that Ganesha was a Maa Pravati son and latter beheaded by the Lord Shiva. On Behading Maa Parvati cries and get angry and lord Shiva replaces Ganesha head with the head of child elephant. Few questions on it.

    1. Do we got any teaching/learning on Ganesha birth?
    2. Wont Shiv ji killed elephant to soothe his wife?
    3. Gods killed one Mother’s child to console/happy other Mother, is this justice?
    4. Wont Shiv ji should be punish/guilty for his anger/rage on a kid?

  • @devdutt

    It’s an excellent article and I’m glad I was able to read it. Thank you.

    It does seem like some changes beginning slowly to take place now – in the west anyway.

    Most seem to recognise that inherent personal freedom (which also comes with personal responsibility) set within a broadly capitalist, democratic system is the correct foundation.

    We certainly do need to go far beyond wealth for it’s own selfish sake. But what could possibly be wrong with generating wealth to help oneself, one’s loved ones, one’s community and country? And then further out into the wider world too if we have the chance, and the resources.

    Wealth-building and wealth-sharing should go hand in hand. But it should still be the individual’s choice.

    It seems to me the *values* which underpin a society are what need to be maintained. Without good values and ethics, we all end up following the wrong path.

    Kindest wishes to you and yours,