“If you see a greater pleasure that comes from forsaking a lesser pleasure, be willing to forsake that lesser pleasure for the greater one,” writes Thai forest monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu, paraphrasing the Buddha in this issue’s Dharma Talk.

The restraint our teachers speak of seems so simple, and yet how often, after periods of steady practice, do we find ourselves relapsing into a life governed by the pursuit of petty pleasures? After all, if we buy the logic of a greater pleasure won through restraint—freedom from the pull of impulse and, ultimately, from suffering itself—shouldn’t restraint be a breeze?

You’d think so. But as the Bhikkhu points out, it’s easier said than done. When it comes to restraint, for instance, I have only to consider my own case: after months of regular exercise and a healthy diet, I wonder how I ever lived otherwise. Later, though, the answer comes quickly enough in the form of a few extra pounds. What gives, aside from a few buttons and a waistline? Knowing what I know, why should restraint be so difficult?

There are times when my practice can follow the same pattern, but the symptoms are a bit different: pulled from pleasure to momentary pleasure, I lose sight of the greater well-being derived from steady practice. Such was the case the other day when—at a time when my practice wasn’t at its most rigorous—I opened an email from a friend inviting me to a day of zazen. He quoted the evening gatha, or chant, that concludes a day of Zen practice:

Let me respectfully remind you.
Life and Death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken. Take heed.
Do not squander your life.

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