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Episode 166 - Restraint

Buddhism for Everyone with JoAnn Fox

Release Date: 04/10/2023

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The practice of restraint is a crucial part of the Buddhist path to enlightenment. It involves abstaining from harmful thoughts, speech, and actions that lead to suffering for oneself and others. In this episode, we look at the practice of restraint to protect and help ourselves. The Buddha speaks so much about the wisdom of guarding the sense doors and practicing restraint. For if we don't practice restraint at all, we have no control over where our life is headed. We are like a wheel spinning out of control.

 Guarding the sense doors: 

  • eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind

Restraint is part of the practice of ethical discipline, one of the three pillars of Buddhist training, along with universal compassion and wisdom. Restraint is essential for cultivating virtue and good karma and developing a calm and focused mind. By restraining from harmful actions, we purify our minds and develop a sense of self-control and discipline.

 In Buddhism, the practice of restraint is guided by the Five Precepts, which are basic ethical guidelines that many lay followers vow to live by. 

 These Five Precepts are:

  1. Refrain from taking the life of any living being

  2. Refrain from taking what is not given

  3. Refrain from engaging in sexual misconduct

  4. Refrain from false speech

  5. Refrain from taking intoxicants that cloud the mind

 In addition to the Five Precepts, there are other guidelines for restraint, such as refraining from harsh speech, divisive speech, and gossip. The practice of restraint is not just about avoiding negative actions, but also about cultivating positive qualities such as kindness, generosity, and compassion, which we will look at in the next episode. 

 The Week's Mindfulness Practice of Restraint 

In your life as it is now, is there Anything you should practice restraint with? Is there Anything you're doing that feeds non-virtue? Are there habits that are harmful to yourself or others?

Examples of guarding the sense doors:

  • The ear: Is there some way you should practice restraint in listening? For example, someone may have a bad effect on you; when you talk at length, it encourages you to be angry at others. 

  • Nose and tongue: restraint regarding food

  • Body: restraint in body, sex, stealing, killing, hurting

  • Mind: restraint of mind, refrain from thinking and dwelling on something that causes delusion

 JoAnn suggests choosing one way to practice restraint in the coming week. Specifically, select the practice of restraint that will bring you the most benefit and peace. You may find that restraint looks like moderation, or it could mean restraining completely from something.

In daily practice, watch for the moment when restraint is called for. Then, with mindfulness, practice restraint as you've planned. But don't be hard on yourself when you slip up! Progress is progress; perfection is enlightenment (and we aren't there yet).

 The Story of Five Monks


“While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verses (360) and (361) of this book, with reference to five bhikkhus [monks].

 Once there were five bhikkhus in Savatthi. Each of them practised restraint of just one out of the five senses and each of them claimed that what he was practising was the most difficult. There were some heated arguments over this and they could not come to an agreement. Finally, they went to the Buddha to ask for his decision. The Buddha said to them, "Each of the senses is just as difficult to control as the other; but all bhikkhus must control all the five senses and not just one. Only those who control all the senses would escape from the round of rebirths."

 Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

 Restraint in the eye is good, good is restraint in the ear; restraint in the nose is good, good is restraint in the tongue. (Verse 360)


 Verse 361: Restraint in body is good, good is restraint in speech; restraint in mind is good, good is restraint in all the senses. A bhikkhu [monk] restrained in all the senses is freed from all ills. (Verse 360) 


 References and Links

 Buddha (1986).The Dhammapada: Verses and Stories. Translated by Daw Mya Tin, M.A. (Website). Edited by Editorial Committee, Burma Tipitaka Association Rangoon. Courtesy of Nibbana.com. For free distribution only, as a gift of dhamma.


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