One of the most amazing and completely counter-intuitive “discoveries” of the Buddha is that samvara (typically transl. as “discipline” or “restraint”, lit. “holding together”, “keeping sth shut”) can lead to happiness. One could almost argue that by being so counter-intuitive to the thinking and longing of an ordinary person in the world (puthujjana) that it must therefore truly be counter samsaric as well, LOL. All kidding aside, there is this one axiom in the Buddha’s message – spanning from ethics, via meditation towards wisdom and awakening – which seems to connect them all and is reflected in all of them – and that is, you guessed it, samvara or restraint. This is no co-incidence, IMHO, because if you look closely it is restraint which lies at the heart of the Buddhas path to enlightenment – a principle so fundamental, that his entire teaching could be drawn from it.
A bold idea? Let’s see:
Here is one idea: What else is ethical behavior than a form of restraint in body and language? …. What else is meditation than a practice of mental restraint? … What else is developing wisdom than insight forged on the fire of deepest observation which by definition cannot be allowed to get deluded or distracted in order to be worth calling it “in-sight”. Does all of this need discipline to develop? Yes it does, and a lot.
Cakkhunā saṃvaro sādhu, sādhu sotena saṃvaro;
Ghānena saṃvaro sādhu, sādhu jivhāya saṃvaro.
Kāyena saṃvaro sādhu, sādhu vācāya saṃvaro;
Manasā saṃvaro sādhu, sādhu sabbattha saṃvaro;
Sabbattha saṃvuto bhikkhu, sabbadukkhā pamuccati.
Hatthasaṃyato pādasaṃyato, vācāsaṃyato saṃyatuttamo;
Ajjhattarato samāhito, eko santusito tamāhu bhikkhuṃ.
Good is restraint with the eye, good restraint with the ear;
Good is restraint with the nose, good restraint with the tongue.
Good is restraint in the body, good is restraint in the speech;
Good is restrained in the mind, good is it to be restrained in everything.
The monk who is restrained in all will free himself from all suffering.
Restrained in hand and foot, restrained in speech, utmost restrained
Happy inside, well collected, alone and content, him I call “beggar monk”.
Let’s put it another way: If, at the heart of the samsaric problem, there is a burning raging fire which continues to consummate fuel – or a burning all-consuming flame (tanha, greed/thirst), which causes the suffering or pain (dukkha), then surely the answer must be to put a cheese dome over the fire to prevent the air and firewood (as fuel, Pali: upadana) from sustaining the fire – compared to the insanity of before the fire will grow calmer, gentler more peaceful and eventually extinguish (nibbana).
But that very activity which will eventually lead to the final peace of Nirvana that very beginning of reducing suffering through not-feeding the addiction – if that leads ultimately to perfected peace (let’s say that’s our hypothesis for the moment) – could it be that ANY LITTLE amount of restraint leads as well to at least ALREADY A LITTLE LESS suffering???
That realization in the path to the end of suffering makes the Buddha recommend restraint to everyone he meets. We can observe this in a various discourses and see varying degrees of the Buddhas advice on restraint:
To those who don’t get the depth of his insight, he recommends at least the most basic form of practice in restraint: ethical behavior or sila – a restraint in body and in speech. Sometimes he doesn’t even go that far and just suggests restraint in eating habits (to King Pasenadi). Regarding the silas or ethical principles it is easy to answer the question of how more restraint leads to more happiness and less suffering: how much suffering do I avoid when I adhere to a moral principle which prevents me from acting in a violent, thoughtless and aggressive manner etc. Answer: a lot!
Those who were willing to listen, who practiced successfully some basic form of restraining the “internal” fire and experienced already a lessening of suffering by keeping body and speech in check, the Buddha usually welcomed to the practice of mental restraint – reducing suffering and mental pain even further! Balancing the mind of a thought of loving kindness generates a lot of happiness through a lot of (very refined) mental restraint.
Now finally the Buddha would guide his students on, those still willing to listen humbly and he encouraged a practice of the highest form of restraint:
no, you cannot get weary of all the girls in the world and thus prevent that love would never sting, but you can get weary of form itself, of feeling itself of perception itself … of cognition itself.
‘‘Taṃ kiṃ maññasi, gāmaṇi, atthi te uruvelakappe manussā yesaṃ te vadhena vā bandhena vā jāniyā vā garahāya vā uppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā’’ti? ‘‘Atthi me, bhante, uruvelakappe manussā yesaṃ me vadhena vā bandhena vā jāniyā vā garahāya vā uppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā’’ti. ‘‘Atthi pana te, gāmaṇi, uruvelakappe manussā yesaṃ te vadhena vā bandhena vā jāniyā vā garahāya vā nuppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā’’ti? ‘‘Atthi me, bhante, uruvelakappe manussā yesaṃ me vadhena vā bandhena vā jāniyā vā garahāya vā nuppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā’’ti. ‘‘Ko nu kho, gāmaṇi, hetu, ko paccayo …natthi me tesu chandarāgo’’ti. …
“Chando hi mūlaṃ dukkhassa. Yampi hi kiñci anāgatamaddhānaṃ dukkhaṃ uppajjamānaṃ uppajjissati, sabbaṃ taṃ chandamūlakaṃ chandanidānaṃ. Chando hi mūlaṃ dukkhassā’’’ti.
Are there any people in Uruvelakappa who, if they were murdered or imprisoned or fined or censured, would cause sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, or despair to arise in you?”
“Yes, lord, there are people in Uruvelakappa who, if they were murdered or imprisoned or fined or censured, would cause sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, or despair to arise in me.”
“And are there any people in Uruvelakappa who, if they were murdered or imprisoned or fined or censured, would cause no sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, or despair to arise in you?”
“Yes, lord, there are people in Uruvelakappa who, if they were murdered or imprisoned or fined or censured, would cause no sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, or despair to arise in me.”
“Now what is the cause, what is the reason…? … are those for whom I have no chandarago” [=fill in what you would say. How about “for who I feel no impulse or passion].
…for chanda (impulse/interest/stronger even: will/desire) is the cause of dukkha (pain). And whatever pain, in arising, will arise for me in the future, all of it will has impulse as the root, will have impulse as its cause — for impulse/interest is the cause of pain.'”
Samyutta Nikaya, Salayatanavagga, Bhaddraka-Sutta.
There – the fire’s burning embers are choked, no new air (in form of nandi and rāga or chandarago as in the passage above) comes in, completely shut off from their fuel the grasping fades away. From the fading of delight, the objects become less desirable. Becoming less desirable, delight dwindles, it’s a downward spiral, a stream towards Nibbana.
At some point the flame stops and the release of the grip leads to sublime peace. An experience the mind never forgets. It has a fundamental impact on how the mind will experience the world after that.
A deep realization of this principle can have a deep impact on your practice – how you see the teaching of the Buddha, how you go about searching for happiness in the world.
Could it be, that this principle of restraint vs. indulgence, from the perspective of the Buddha, governs all of samsara?
If more restraint leads closer to Nirvana, does more indulgence or infatuation (esp. with the five sense and here esp. with the five sense pleasures) move us further away from Nirvana? Sure it does! What distinguishes a deva from a human? restraint! Yes, devine beings did not get there because they partied more. According to the Buddha, they gave more, they helped more, they sacrificed more, they restrained themselves more. What they do with that “win” is a whole different story, and alas, a very tragic samsaric one…
What about the difference between human and animal? Same answer: This is the “dharmic” answer, if you will, illustrating the fundamental difference in the pyramid of life forms – “up” or “higher” means more bundled energy through concentration of effort, restraint from random unchecked sensual indulgence – “down” means places and beings which cultivate less restraint in body, speech and mind.
What leads to civilization? Restraint! What leads to barbarism? Over indulgence – giving in to the most “basic”, i.e. animal instincts – the forces accumulated through habits in the past, a staggering mountain of sankharas ev. solidified in perception or even sensation – even in this very human existence in this very 24 hours we can see where each choice would lead us – whether done in the mindset of sensual indulgence or whether done to perfect the bodily behavior, refined speech or mental training. Each skill we gain in our adult life is through various forms of discipline wrested from sensual indulgence (Or, in the words of Freud “culture is sublimation”
“Sublimation of instinct is an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilized life. If one were to yield to a first impression, one would say that sublimation is a vicissitude which has been forced upon the instincts entirely by civilization. But it would be wiser to reflect upon this a little longer. In the third place, finally, and this seems the most important of all, it is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of instinct, how much it presupposes precisely the non-satisfaction (by suppression, repression or some other means?) of powerful instincts. This ‘cultural frustration’ dominates the large field of social relationships between human beings;we know already that it is the cause of the antagonism against which all civilization has to fight.”
Sigmund Freud in “Civilization and its discontents”, p. 85 [link]
What else is school?
“Instilling a respect for delayed gratification and its rewards starts with the parents. We were fortunate enough to have to parents who were living examples of how working diligently and patiently for a long period of time was well worth the time and effort. Our parents firmly believed that rewards achieved over many years were much more satisfying than short-term accomplishments, and their lives always reflected this belief….” (*)
From “Top of the Class – How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers”, p. 37
What else is sport? What else is saving money and living debt free – I think by now you know the answer 😉
Once you see it in this way, it is an amazing revelation: All you got to do, in order to experience more happiness and move upwards in samsara, or in the stream of life, or in the stream of society, or in the stream of civilizations, is practice a little more restraint in body, speech and mind.
What does restraint mean? According to the Buddha, in the widest sense it means not to cause harm. Neither to yourself nor to others – on the contrary, to do as much good as possible:
Do good, Avoid evil, purify your mind. This is the teaching of the Buddhas. Dhp. 183
Restraint in a more advanced way also means the lessening in the indulgence of the five sense pleasures. Especially when it causes harm to oneself and others of course. Meditation is a good example of how the enjoyment of the five sense faculties is replaced by enjoying an inner spring of happiness, bliss. The medical benefits of regular meditations have already been investigated, but beyond that, there are immensely more life-changing benefits.
Less stimulation will lead to a lighter life, a happier one. You don’t believe that until you try. And in fact, all of what is written here does not make any sense if you don’t actually take it as an inspiration for personal reflection and maybe experimentation. Restraint is not natural. It is counter-intuitive. It goes against the pull in the samsaric vortex which always wants more gratification, more sensual indulgence, quicker mindless responses, more drowning of the senses which itch like festering wounds, more hunger for attention.
The amazing thing is that practicing sila, samadhi and paññā in whatever steps you take, beginning with the very first one, in and by itself will result in a happier, less complicated, lighter, more satisfying, more enriching and improved life. This of course is a hypothesis which needs people willing to experiment and replicate. Here is one possible example: Take five minutes tonight and instead of eating, or watching TV sit down quitely in a calm place. Just sit and close your eyes. No reading, no moving around. After those five minutes observe how you feel. Any different? Don’t expect dramatic changes…but look for what will be different.
Give discipline or restraint a try. 😉 . How old-fashioned an idea 😉
==Some Pali Quotes On This Topic===
‘‘Kathañca, bhikkhave, saṃvaro hoti? Santi, bhikkhave, cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā. Tañce bhikkhu nābhinandati nābhivadati nājjhosāya tiṭṭhati, veditabbametaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhunā – ‘na parihāyāmi kusalehi dhammehi’. Aparihānañhetaṃ vuttaṃ bhagavatāti …pe… santi, bhikkhave, jivhāviññeyyā rasā…pe… santi, bhikkhave, manoviññeyyā dhammā iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā. Tañce bhikkhu nābhinandati nābhivadati nājjhosāya tiṭṭhati, veditabbametaṃ bhikkhunā – ‘na parihāyāmi kusalehi dhammehi’. Aparihānañhetaṃ vuttaṃ bhagavatāti. Evaṃ kho, bhikkhave, saṃvaro hotī’’ti. Pañcamaṃ. PTS SN, 4.79
‘‘Kathañca, bhikkhave, saṃvaro hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā piyarūpe rūpe nādhimuccati, appiyarūpe rūpe na byāpajjati, upaṭṭhitakāyassati ca viharati appamāṇacetaso, tañca cetovimuttiṃ paññāvimuttiṃ yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti, yatthassa te uppannā pāpakā akusalā dhammā aparisesā nirujjhanti…pe… jivhā rasaṃ sāyitvā…pe… manasā dhammaṃ viññāya piyarūpe dhamme nādhimuccati, appiyarūpe dhamme na byāpajjati, upaṭṭhitakāyassati ca viharati appamāṇacetaso, tañca cetovimuttiṃ paññāvimuttiṃ yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti, yatthassa te uppannā pāpakā akusalā dhammā aparisesā nirujjhanti. Evaṃ kho, bhikkhave, saṃvaro hoti. SN, PTS 4. 189
Sati kāyagatā upaṭṭhitā, chasu phassāyatanesu saṃvuto [saṃvaro (pī. ka.) passa udā. 25];
Satataṃ bhikkhu samāhito, jaññā [jāneyya (pī. ka.)] nibbānamattano.
Tattha yā ca kāyagatā sati yañca saḷāyatanaṃ yattha sabbañcetaṃ dukkhaṃ. Yā ca kāyagatā sati yo ca sīlasaṃvaro yo ca samādhi yattha yā sati, ayaṃ paññākkhandho. Sabbampi sīlakkhandho samādhikkhandho, ayaṃ maggo. Evaṃvihārinā ñātabbaṃ nibbānaṃ. Ayaṃ nirodho, imāni tīṇi saccāni. Sīle patiṭṭhāya dve dhammā bhāvetabbā samatho ca vipassanā ca. Tattha yaṃ cittasahajātā dhammā, idaṃ dukkhaṃ. Yo ca samatho yā ca vipassanā, ayaṃ maggo. Rāgavirāgā ca cetovimutti, avijjāvirāgā ca paññāvimutti, ayaṃ nirodho. Imāni tīṇi saccāni. Petakopadesa, PTS p.15
Otaraṇoti pañcasu indriyesu dadato puññaṃ pavaḍḍhati, saṃyamato veraṃ na cīyati saṃyamena sīlakkhandho. Otiṇṇo chasu indriyesu saṃvaro, ayaṃ samādhikkhandho, yaṃ kusalo ca jahāti pāpakaṃ, ayaṃ paññākkhandho, rāgadosamohakkhayā sa nibbutoti vimuttikkhandho. Dhātūsu dhammadhātu, āyatanesu manāyatanaṃ. ibid PTS p.240
Pātimokkhaṃ atha vāpi samādhinti. Pātimokkhanti sīlaṃ patiṭṭhā ādi caraṇaṃ saṃyamo saṃvaro mukhaṃ pamukhaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ samāpattiyā. Atha vāpi samādhinti yā cittassa ṭhiti saṇṭhiti avaṭṭhiti avisāhāro avikkhepo avisāhatamānasatā samatho samādhindriyaṃ samādhibalaṃ sammāsamādhīti – pātimokkhaṃ atha vāpi samādhiṃ.
Tenāha so nimmito –
‘‘Akittayī vivaṭacakkhu, sakkhidhammaṃ parissayavinayaṃ;
Paṭipadaṃ vadehi bhaddante, pātimokkhaṃ atha vāpi samādhi’’nti.
Rase ca nānugijjheyya, na ca mamāyetha kiñci lokasmiṃ.
Cakkhūhi neva lolassāti. Kathaṃ cakkhuloloti? Idhekacco cakkhuloliyena samannāgato hoti – ‘‘adiṭṭhaṃ dakkhitabbaṃ, diṭṭhaṃ samatikkamitabba’’nti ārāmena ārāmaṃ uyyānena uyyānaṃ gāmena gāmaṃ nigamena nigamaṃ nagarena nagaraṃ raṭṭhena raṭṭhaṃ janapadena janapadaṃ dīghacārikaṃ anavaṭṭhitacārikaṃ [anavatthitacārikaṃ (sī. syā.)] anuyutto ca hoti rūpassa dassanāya. Evampi cakkhulolo hoti. Atha vā bhikkhu antaragharaṃ paviṭṭho vīthiṃ paṭipanno asaṃvuto gacchati hatthiṃ olokento, assaṃ olokento, rathaṃ olokento, pattiṃ olokento, itthiyo olokento, purise olokento, kumārake olokento, kumārikāyo olokento, antarāpaṇaṃ olokento, gharamukhāni olokento, uddhaṃ olokento, adho olokento, disāvidisaṃ vipekkhamāno gacchati. Evampi cakkhulolo hoti. Atha vā bhikkhu cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā nimittaggāhī hoti anubyañjanaggāhī. Yatvādhikaraṇamenaṃ cakkhundriyaṃ asaṃvutaṃ viharantaṃ abhijjhādomanassā pāpakā akusalā dhammā anvāssaveyyuṃ, tassa saṃvarāya na paṭipajjati, na rakkhati cakkhundriyaṃ, cakkhundriye na saṃvaraṃ āpajjati. Evampi cakkhulolo hoti. Yathā vā paneke bhonto samaṇabrāhmaṇā saddhādeyyāni bhojanāni bhuñjitvā te evarūpaṃ visūkadassanaṃ anuyuttā viharanti, seyyathidaṃ – naccaṃ gītaṃ vāditaṃ pekkhaṃ akkhānaṃ pāṇissaraṃ vetāḷaṃ kumbhathūṇaṃ [kumbhathūnaṃ (sī. syā. ka.)] sobhanakaṃ [sobhanagarakaṃ (sī. syā.)] caṇḍālaṃ vaṃsaṃ dhovanaṃ hatthiyuddhaṃ assayuddhaṃ mahiṃsayuddhaṃ [mahisayuddhaṃ (sī. syā.)] usabhayuddhaṃ ajayuddhaṃ meṇḍayuddhaṃ kukkuṭayuddhaṃ vaṭṭakayuddhaṃ daṇḍayuddhaṃ muṭṭhiyuddhaṃ nibbuddhaṃ uyyodhikaṃ balaggaṃ senābyūhaṃ anīkadassanaṃ iti vā. Evampi cakkhulolo hoti. Kathaṃ na cakkhulolo hoti? Idha bhikkhu antaragharaṃ paviṭṭho vīthiṃ paṭipanno saṃvuto gacchati na hatthiṃ olokento, na assaṃ olokento, na rathaṃ olokento, na pattiṃ olokento, na itthiyo olokento, na purise olokento, na kumārake olokento, na kumārikāyo olokento, na antarāpaṇaṃ olokento, na gharamukhāni olokento, na uddhaṃ olokento, na adho olokento, na disāvidisāvipekkhamāno gacchati. Evampi na cakkhulolo hoti. Atha vā bhikkhu cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā na nimittaggāhī hoti nānubyañjanaggāhī. Yatvādhikaraṇamenaṃ cakkhundriyaṃ asaṃvutaṃ viharantaṃ abhijjhādomanassā pāpakā akusalā dhammā anvāssaveyyuṃ, tassa saṃvarāya paṭipajjati, rakkhati cakkhundriyaṃ, cakkhundriye saṃvaraṃ āpajjati. Evampi na cakkhulolo hoti. Yathā vā paneke bhonto samaṇabrāhmaṇā saddhādeyyāni bhojanāni bhuñjitvā te evarūpaṃ visūkadassanaṃ ananuyuttā viharanti, seyyathidaṃ – naccaṃ gītaṃ vāditaṃ pekkhaṃ akkhānaṃ…pe… anīkadassanaṃ iti vā. Evarūpā visūkadassanā paṭivirato hoti. Evampi na cakkhulolo hoti. Cakkhūhi neva lolassāti. Cakkhuloliyaṃ pajaheyya vinodeyya byantiṃ kareyya anabhāvaṃ gameyya, cakkhuloliyā ārato assa virato paṭivirato nikkhanto nissaṭo vippamutto visaññutto vimariyādikatena cetasā vihareyyāti – cakkhūhi neva lolassa. Mahaniddesa, PTS 4.367
(*) Now you know why Asians are really successful in schools 😉 This might be in part because of centuries of Buddhist philosophy (as outlined above) shaped cultural tenets and ideals.