The truth is that if we’re going around giving in to our temptations all the time, that has a huge tendency to create disharmony and chaos in our lives. If we can separate ourselves from drama, our practice will have a much easier time flourishing. There are consequences to doing whatever you want all the time and also harming other people is not good.

 

By Daniel Scharpenburg

 

“One can arouse wholesomeness by means of self control, by means of transforming one’s thoughts, by means of keeping busy doing good, and by means of wholesomeness.” -Providing the Meaning by Buddhaghosa

I started reading Manual of Insight because I wanted to learn about Insight Meditation and this text really an important source for that.

I was really hoping to shed some light on the difference between Silent Illumination and Vipassana practice. Are formless practices the same or different? That was my question.

This text was written by Mahasi Sayadaw, one of the most accomplished and respected Buddhist scholars and meditation masters of the 20th Century. It’s a huge book—a how-to guide for Insight Meditation practice. I started writing about this because I realized it isn’t the kind of book you just read. I began taking notes and I wondered if we could explore the lessons in this text together.

So, here we are. I’m going to pull from my notes to write a series of articles on what I’m learning from this text. It might be a long exploration.

The text starts with Restraint.

I can imagine a lot of people might be disappointed. “I came here to learn some hardcore meditation practice! Why does it start with this ethics stuff?” This topic actually lasts for a while and I hope people don’t skip ahead.

Why is it so important?

The truth is that if we’re going around giving in to our temptations all the time, that has a huge tendency to create disharmony and chaos in our lives. If we can separate ourselves from drama, our practice will have a much easier time flourishing. There are consequences to doing whatever you want all the time and also harming other people is not good.

Different kinds of restraint, and ways to maintain self-control, are described. The truth is that controlling ourselves is hard. Not only is it hard, but also we don’t really want to. So, different kinds of restraint are required because different things work for different people.

Restraint by Means of Morality

This is for people who like to know the rules and like to follow them. Why be virtuous? Because we’re supposed to. The Buddhist precepts fall into this. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t tell falsehoods, don’t consume intoxicants to produce heedlessness, don’t commit sexual misconduct. Why? Because those are the rules. We can explore why these rules exist and are what they are, but for people that really like following rules, we don’t need to.

Restraint by Means of Mindfulness

This is learning how to control our senses, how to be mindful of what we look at, listen to, touch and consume. When we’re mindful of these things we make different choices. This is easy to think about in terms of food. When we’re mindful, we know when we’re not hungry anymore and we stop eating. When we’re not mindful, we just eat and eat, sometimes until our stomach hurts.

Restraint by Means of Wisdom

This is knowledge that what we’re doing in our practice is good. It represents the insight to understand that delusion is harmful and seeing things clearly is good. When we see things clearly, we see consequences clearly. When we see consequences clearly, we make better choices.

Restraint by Means of Forebearance

Training in patience. I don’t NEED to indulge right now in whatever I desire, so why would I? We can learn to be patient with whatever happens and not need everything right now. In this way we can learn how to cultivate an attitude that is more wholesome.

Restraint by Means of Effort

This is exerting energy to abandon thoughts of giving in to our vices. This includes pursuing a strong and pure livelihood, where we know that the way we’re spending our time is devoted to the good of the world, as much as possible. We want to keep ourselves busy doing good, spending time learning, studying, listening, helping and taking care of our bodies. If we’re occupied with positive things we have less time to cause harm.

Restraint that Comes From Meditation

Our minds aren’t serving us well if they’re not trained in meditation practice. Our minds have a tendency to go all sorts of places without our intention or control. Training in Concentration and Mindfulness is where the other forms of restraint really arise. If we learn how to train our minds, then we can learn how to direct them toward restraint. That’s how meditation helps us to live a more ethical life.

So, those are the types of restraint and I’d say we all need a lot of meditation practice. But beyond that, I think some of us know which areas work the best for us and which ones don’t work well. There should be something for everyone here.

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall

 

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