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The Wisdom of Restraint
There is a popular phrase that shows that the modern view of the purpose of life for many is acquisition and a consumer-driven way of life. “Life is a banquet – don’t leave the table hungry.” This phrase is likely an adaptation of a quote from Aristotle who lived approximately 150 years after the Buddha: “It is best to rise from life as from a banquet, neither thirsty nor drunken.”
Notice how the adaptation to Aristotle’s quote dismisses restraint in favor of consumption and continually seeking to satisfy the senses. Rephrasing the modern adaptation to reflect restraint might be “Life is a banquet – take only what is necessary.”
Modern life encourages constant engagement with the world and in many subtle ways discourages restraint. Many today feel overwhelmed by the demands of life and the busyness of their lives. Often what is creating the busyness is a lack of restraint and a “wrong view” of what is realistically skillful and necessary to associate with. Solitude and disengagement are essential aspects of the Dhamma and are easily developed through proper restraint.
It is mindful restraint at the Six-sense base that develops awakening or full human maturity. The Six-sense base is our five physical senses and interpretive thinking. In this way, the teachings on restraint directly relate to Dependent Origination in a very practical way.
Dependent Origination shows that:
• From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications.
• From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness.
• From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form.
• From name-and-form as a requisite condition comes the six sense-bases.
• From the six sense-bases as a requisite condition comes contact.
• From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.
• From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.
• From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging and maintaining.
• From clinging and maintaining as a requisite condition comes becoming.
• From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth.
• From birth as a requisite condition comes aging, sickness, death, sorrow, regret, pain, distress and despair.
As the fifth link in the 12 link chain of dependencies, the six-sense base follows from the initial ignorance of Four Noble Truths. What this means is that the interpretation of contact at the senses is rooted in ignorance and any further assumptions made by contact can only further the confusion and deluded thinking that was initiated by initial fabrications arising from ignorance. In other words, whatever follows from ignorance will be tainted by the fabrications or conditioned thinking initiated from ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
It is imperative to recognize the ongoing process of using sensory stimulus to attempt to continue to establish a permanent self through discursive self-referential thinking. Rather than use sensory stimulus to continue confusion, delusion, and ongoing unsatisfactory experiences, recognizing this process of “I-making” or “Selfing” develops the ability to be mindfully present with what is occurring, rather than interpret life unfolding from a view rooted in initial ignorance.
I will site four suttas that teach restraint. Each sutta teaches restraint with different applications. In the Aparihani Sutta restraint is presented as a guard against losing the Eightfold Path.
The Aparihani Sutta – Not Losing the Way
The Buddha teaches those gathered:
“Having developed four qualities a Dhamma practitioner cannot lose the way and is free of clinging to views. When one has fully integrated the Eightfold Path they are:
• Established in virtue
• They guard the six-sense base
• They know moderation in eating
• They are devoted to mindfulness
“And how does one establish virtue? They are continually mindful of the precepts and the various factors of the Eightfold Path. They understand even the slightest unskillful actions.
“And how does one guard the six-sense base? On seeing form, they do not grasp at fabrication that would further greed and distraction. They practice restraint at the eye.
“On hearing a sound they practice restraint at the ear,
“On smelling, an aroma they practice restraint at the nose,
“On tasting a flavor they practice restraint at the tongue,
“On feeling a tactile sensation they practice restraint at the body,
“On cognizing an idea they practice restraint at the intellect, they do not grasp at fabrications.
“This is how one guards the doors to the six-sense base.
“And how does one establish moderation in eating? They understand nourishment skillfully. They do not eat for entertainment or distraction. They do not eat for intoxication. They do not eat to grow large or for beautification. They eat simply for the survival of the body so that the integrated life can be lived. They abandon craving for food and for mindless eating.
“And how does one establish mindfulness as a quality? Whether resting, sitting or moving about, they cleanse their mind of anything that is a distraction. This is how one establishes mindfulness.
“Having established these four qualities this Dhamma practitioner will not lose the Eightfold Path.
“Established in virtue,
“Restrained with the six-sense base,
“Established in moderate eating,
“Established in mindfulness
“Forthright and inspired,
“The qualities for unbinding develop
“Delighting in refined mindfulness,
“Knowing the danger of mindlessness,
“They stay true to the Eightfold Path,
“And remain free of deluded views.” 
End of Sutta
In this sutta, the Buddha teaches the importance to develop the virtuous factors of the Eightfold Path of Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood to recognize and abandon unskillful thoughts, words, and deeds. The concentration developed through Shamatha-Vipassana meditation supports the refined mindfulness that brings the ability to guard the six-sense base.
In the Bhikkhuvaga discourse, the Buddha continues the theme of restraint and also addresses the Three Defilements of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking. The Bhikkhuvaga is from a section of the Dhammapada which is a collection of short texts from the Khuddaka Nikaya. (Dhp 360 to 382)
The Buddha teaches restraint at creating a Dhamma diminished by rites and ritual. He further teaches restraint at attempting to establish a self in non-physical realms.
Here the Buddha is painting a picture of an awakened, fully mature human being living a life of peace and happiness free of entanglements with the world.
Bhikkhuvaga – To a Monk
“Skillful is restraint at the eye, at the ear, at the nose, and at the tongue.
“Skillful is restraint at the body, skillful is restraint is speech, skillful is restraint in thought. Restraint in all experiences is skillful. One restrained in the world is free from confusion, delusion, and disappointment.
“Those who have full control over their hands, their feet, and their tongue are delighted with their understanding. They are well established in meditative absorption. They are content in solitude, free of entanglements. They are called Dhamma Practitioners.
“Those who have control of their tongue are moderate in speech. Unassuming they explain the Dhamma with integrity and by example – their words are useful and pleasing.
“Those that abide in the Dhamma, who delight in the Dhamma, are mindful of the Dhamma, they do not lose the Dhamma.
“Those free of aversion of what has occurred to them and free of craving for what has occurred to others will be able to attain meditative absorption.
“Those that are calm even when receiving little, pure in livelihood and determined in their Dhamma practice are exalted by the wise.
“Those with no clinging to thoughts or feelings, free of regret from what is not present, they are true Dhamma Practitioners.
“Those who abide with compassion for all beings and devoted to the Dhamma will achieve unbinding (Nibbana) and the bliss of the cessation of all conditioned thinking.
“Empty of all conditioned thoughts, free of craving and aversion, they achieve unbinding.
“Abandon the five lower fetters of self-referential views, of doubt, of belief in rites and rituals, of lust, and of ill-will. Abandon conceit, restlessness, and ignorance and abandon the fetters of craving to establish a self in heavenly realms, or formless realms. Cultivate the skillful faculties of conviction, persistence, refined mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Overcoming the fetters one has crossed to the far shore. (Of lasting peace and happiness)
“Develop concentration through meditation. Do not be heedless and allow your mind to be distracted by sensual pleasure. The world’s bait is like a red-hot ball of iron. Do not swallow it and then cry how painful it is!
“There is no concentration for those that fail to develop insight. (Into impermanence, not-self, and disappointment) There is no insight for those that fail to develop concentration. Those who have developed (through the Eightfold Path) concentration and insight in tandem are close to Nibbana.
“Those who abide in solitude, free of worldly entanglements, with a calm mind, who understand the Dhamma through tranquility and insight, in them arises delight that transcends all human delight!
“Those that see with true insight the rise and fall of all conditioned things and of the Five-Clinging Aggregates, they are full of joy and lasting happiness. This is called the Deathless State as there will be no rebirth of confusion, delusion, and disappointment. The task (of unbinding) has been accomplished.
“Restraint of the senses, contentment in the Dhamma, and restraint of unskillful behavior, these form the foundation of a well-integrated life.
“Associate with those who are engaged in the Noble search, who have passion for the true Dhamma, who are pure in thought, word, and deed, who are pleasant and refined in their behavior. Full of joy, unbinding will occur.
“Just as a jasmine creeper sheds its withered flowers, so should you shed greed, aversion, and deluded thinking!
‘Those well-composed, calm and pleasant in thought, word, and deed, free of worldly entanglements, can be truly known as serene.
“It is by self-understanding that one can scrutinize themselves and restrain themselves. With the Six-sense base well-guarded with refined mindfulness one will always live in peace and happiness.
“Be your own protector. Be your own refuge.What other refuge could there be? Restrain yourself as a rider restrains his horse.
“Full of joy and conviction in the Dhamma the peaceful state is developed and conditioned thinking ends.
“Those that develop the Dhamma illuminate the entire world as a bright moon free of clouds.” 
End of Sutta
The Bhikkhuvaga discourse shows that restraint develops a true understanding of “emptiness” and the effect restraint has on the entire world.
In the Pamadaviharin Sutta, the Buddha shows the value of restraint in abandoning heedlessness and developing the refined mindfulness of the Eightfold Path.
Pamadaviharin Sutta: Dwelling in Heedlessness
“Friends, pay close attention! I will teach you about one who dwells in heedlessness and one who dwells in heedfulness.
“And how does one dwell in heedlessness? When one is unrestrained at the eye the mind is agitated and distracted by mental fabrications. When agitated and distracted there is no joy and no passion for the Dhamma. Lacking passion for the Dhamma there is no serenity. There is only disappointment and distraction. When the mind is distracted there can be no Dhamma. Lacking the Dhamma there is only heedlessness.
“When one dwells unrestrained over the ear, or the nose, or the tongue, or the body, the mind is agitated and distracted. There is no joy and no passion for the Dhamma. Lacking passion for the Dhamma there is no serenity. There is only disappointment and distraction. When the mind is distracted there can be no Dhamma. Lacking the Dhamma there is only heedlessness.
“When one dwells unrestrained of thoughts the mind is agitated and distracted by ideological fabrications. There is no joy and no passion for the Dhamma. Lacking passion for the Dhamma there is no serenity. There is only disappointment and distraction. When the mind is distracted there can be no Dhamma. Lacking the Dhamma there is only heedlessness.
“This is how one dwells in heedlessness.
“And how does one dwell in heedfulness? When a Dhamma Practitioner dwells in restraint with eye, with nose, with the ear, with the tongue, and with the body, the mind is not agitated or distracted by mental fabrications. There is joy and passion for the Dhamma. There being passion for the Dhamma there is serenity. There is contentment. The Dhamma is present moment-by-moment and they dwell in heedfulness.
“When one dwells well restrained of thought’s the mind is not agitated or distracted by ideological fabrications. There is joy and passion for the Dhamma. There being passion for the Dhamma there is serenity. There is contentment. The Dhamma is present moment by moment and they dwell in heedfulness.
“This is how one dwells in heedfulness.” 
End of Sutta
The Kumma Sutta uses metaphor to show how the Dhamma is a protection against the mindlessness that arises from unrestrained desire and the peace and happiness that develops directly through restraint.
Kumma Sutta: The Tortoise
In the Kumma Sutta the Buddha uses metaphor to teach the importance of restraint in thought, word, and deed.
“Once there was a tortoise foraging for food. A jackal was also foraging nearby. The tortoise noticed the Jackal and withdrew into its shell. The jackal also noticed the tortoise and went to the tortoise, hovering around and thinking ‘as soon as the tortoise comes out of its shell I will eat it.’ The tortoise remained in its protective shell and the jackal eventually lost interest and looked elsewhere for a meal.
“Just as a jackal hovers around hoping for a meal, Mara  hovers continuously hoping to create confusion, delusion, and disappointment by contact with the eye, or the ear, or the nose, or the tongue, or the body, or through the intellect.
“On seeing form with the eye, or hearing a sound with the ear, or smelling an aroma with the nose, or tasting a flavor with the tongue, or a tactile sensation with the body, if you have no restraint at these senses unskillful qualities such as geed, aversion, or deluded thinking will arise and suffering will follow. Guard the senses with restraint.
“Do not crave for or cling to any thought, or idea, or mental fabrication without restraint. If you have no restraint with regards to thoughts, ideas, or mental fabrications, unskillful qualities such as geed, aversion, or deluded thinking will arise and suffering will follow. Guard the senses with restraint. Guard your thinking with restraint.
“When you abide with the six-sense base well-guarded, Mara (confusion, delusion, and disappointment) has no opportunity for further distraction and will lose interest just as the jackal lost interest with the tortoise.
“Like a tortoise well-protected in its shell, a wise disciple, restrained, independent, harmless to all, free from ill-will, is totally unbound.
End of Sutta
These four sutta’s show the importance of restraint in the Dhamma. The Four Noble Truths show that all manner of disappointment and suffering arises from craving and clinging. It is mindful restraint that brings the ability to recognize and abandon craving and clinging. It is the refined mindfulness of the Eightfold Path that provides the framework for developing restraint of a self-referential ego-personality and brings a calm and peaceful life.
Bringing to cessation grasping after objects, events, views, and ideas develops a gentleness and lasting peace to life as life occurs, free of the distraction caused by an insatiable self-referential ego-personality.
This Dhamma article is based on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s and Acharya Buddharakkhita’s (Bhikkhuvaga) excellent translations of the Pali linked below. I have made contextual edits for further clarity, to minimize repetition and relevancy to The Four Noble Truths.
 Aparihani Sutta
 Kumma Sutta