RESTRAINT OF THE SENSES

Restraint of the Senses

August 5, 1958

Restraint of the senses means making sure they’re in harmony with their objects. In other words:

Cakkhu-saṁvaro: Exercise restraint over the eyes. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than their visual objects, and don’t let the visual objects be bigger than your eyes. An example of small eyes and big objects is when you see something and the heart latches onto it for days on end. This is called not being straightforward in your practice, because you’ve let the visual object get bigger than your eyes. As for big eyes and small objects, that’s when you can’t see enough of an object. When it disappears, you want to see it again and again. You can’t let go of it. This is called eyes bigger than their objects. This is what gives rise to greed. When objects are bigger than your eyes, that also gives rise to greed and delusion. Anyone who doesn’t know how to exercise restraint over the eyes gives rise to the three fires of passion, aversion, and delusion, which burn the eyes and give rise to suffering.

Sota-saṁvaro: Exercise restraint over your ears and their sounds so that they’re the right size for each other. Sometimes your ears are bigger than the sounds they hear, sometimes the sounds are bigger than the ears. For example, someone says something and you take it to think about for many days. That’s a case of the sound being bigger than the ears. This gives rise to liking or disliking. The fires of passion, aversion, and delusion burn the ears of people like this, for they haven’t watched out for evil, and so evil can come flowing into their hearts.

Ghāna-saṁvaro: Exercise restraint over the nose and smells. If a smell smells good, don’t fall for it. If it smells bad and you can’t stand it, get away from it. Don’t hate it. If you contemplate the nose and its smells, you’ll see that sometimes a smell is bigger than the nose, i.e., one whiff and it gets stuck in the heart for many days, months, and years. The smell may have been over and gone for many days, months, and years, but the nose hasn’t gotten over it. Passion and aversion get provoked, and then delusion goes running after the smell. This is called not exercising restraint over the nose.

Jivhā-saṁvaro means restraint over the tongue and flavors. If the food you get is edible, don’t go struggling to look for things to make it more special than it already is. If you like it, eat your fill. If you don’t like it, eat just a little. Choose foods that benefit the body. Otherwise, you’ll suffer. Don’t follow your taste buds. Sometimes the flavors are bigger than the tongue. You sit thinking about eating chicken or duck, pork or fish, and so you go looking for them. When you get them, your tongue shrivels up and you can hardly eat them at all. This is called not having a sense of enough, not exercising restraint. In addition to eating, the tongue plays a role in speaking. Sometimes the tongue grows large: what you say goes way beyond the truth. You speak without stopping and it’s all nonsense. Other times, the topic is big but the tongue grows small: there’s a lot to be explained, but you hem and haw so that no one can understand the truth. This is called not exercising restraint so that the tongue is the same size as its topics, and it’s one way of bringing on suffering.

Kāya-saṁvaro means restraint over the body and tactile sensations. Sometimes they feel comfortable together, sometimes they don’t. In other words, the place where you’re staying may be big, but the body is small. Sometimes the place is small, but the body feels big. They don’t go together. The tactile sensations that touch the body don’t fit. Sometimes the body is small but the sensations are big. For example, you come across a sensation you like. Then, even when it’s vanished for many days, you still miss it. Sometimes the body is big but the sensations are small. For example, you don’t feel comfortable wherever you sit or lie down, for the whole world seems narrow and confining. That’s called not exercising restraint to keep the body and its tactile sensations in line with each other. And that gives rise to suffering.

Mano-saṁvaro: Exercise restraint over the heart to keep it on the right path in line with things as they arise. Sometimes your thoughts are bigger than the mind: you worry and stew about something, going way beyond the truth of the situation. This leads to misunderstandings, making the mind restless and anxious. Sometimes the mind is bigger than your thoughts: you take a minor problem and turn it into four or five big ones. In other words, you don’t exercise restraint over the heart to keep it in line with your situation—what they call “harvesting grass to roof the field.” This leads to useless distraction, which opens the way for greed, anger, and delusion. This is why we’re taught to exercise careful restraint over the heart to bring it to peace and calm. That’s what’s meant by restraint of the senses.