We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary here at Tricycle—some of you will remember that our first issue was in Fall 1991 and featured a now-classic discussion between Spalding Gray and the Dalai Lama. To commemorate 20 great years of your support, we’ released our 20th anniversary e-book, which is free to Supporting and Sustaining Members of the Tricycle Community. The book includes many of the most popular teachers and writers Tricycle has featured, such as Norman Fischer, Charles Johnson, and Pema Chödrön.
Today we highlight Thai forest monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s contribution, “The Dignity of Restraint“:
It’s always interesting to notice how words disappear from common usage. We have them in our passive vocabulary, we know their meaning, but they tend to disappear from day-to-day conversation—which usually means that they’ve disappeared from the way we shape our lives. Several years back I gave a dhamma talk in which I happened to mention the word dignity. After the talk, a woman in the audience who had emigrated from Russia came up to me and said that she had never heard Americans use the word dignity before. She had learned it when she studied English in Russia, but she had never heard people use it here. And it’s good to think about why. Where and why did it disappear?
I think the reason is related to another word that tends to disappear from common usage, and that’s restraint: foregoing certain pleasures, not because we have to, but because they go against our principles. The opportunity to indulge in those pleasures may be there, but we learn how to say no. This of course is related to another word we tend not to use, and that’s temptation. Even though we don’t have to believe that there’s someone out there actively tempting us, there are things all around us that do, that tempt us to give in to our desires. And an important part of our practice is that we exercise restraint. As the Buddha says, restraint over the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body is good, as is restraint in terms of our actions, our speech, and our thoughts.
What’s good about it? Well, for one thing, if we don’t have any restraint, we don’t have any control over where our lives are going. Anything that comes our way immediately pulls us into its wake. We don’t have any strong sense of priorities, of what’s really worthwhile, of what’s not worthwhile, of the pleasures we’d gain by saying no to other pleasures. How do we rank the pleasures in our lives, the happiness, the sense of well-being that we get in various ways? Actually, there’s a sense of well-being that comes from being totally independent, from not needing other things. If that state of well-being doesn’t have a chance to develop, if we’re constantly giving in to our impulse to do this or take that, we’ll never know what that well-being is.
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