Restraint – the Greatest Friend

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

About 150 miles above the sannyasins’ colony of Rishikesh, in the Himalayan interior, there is an outpost, Chaumali by name. Here they have built a sort of dam or barrier across the flow of the Ganga. One fine day something happened there, and the flow of the water was likely to get out of hand and burst out in an excessive flow. At once, wires began to hum. A telegram was sent to all the lower regions, warning them of a likely flood in the Ganga, and asking everyone to shift to higher up the Ganga bank.

Now the Ganga water is the very life and soul for the people living by the side of the Ganga bank. So what is this strange phenomenon that people are now feeing away from its life-giving waters? So long as its flow was within limits, so long as its volume was restrained to a safe margin, it was most beneficial, and very desirable. When the self-same natural and legitimate function of the dam was exceeded, these same waters became dangerous and terrible. Thus excess rendered a blessing into a menace.

Now, consider a similar state of things in human life. The average person is a slave of the senses. For instance, sleeping is normal for all creatures. Animal and human, sinner and saint alike, all do it. But there is a limit within which it is a desirable and beneficial necessity. Too much sleeping makes you lazy, lethargic, dull and ultimately useless to both society and yourself. For the sadhaka, it is one of the most dangerous habits. Habitual oversleeping increases tamas and nullifies sadhana, retarding your progress.

Eating is recognized as an indispensable necessity so long as the physical sheath lasts. From the lowest vermin to the highest realized saint, all take food. But overdo it, then directly and indirectly it becomes wrong, improper, unethical and positively criminal. It is a wrong and harmful practice from a health and medical point of view. It is improper from the point of social etiquette, which regards gluttony with disapproval. It is unethical, for by overfeeding one becomes gross and sensual; and it is criminal from the economic point of view, for the wanton overfeeding of a section of people transgresses all canons of distribution and deprives the starving masses of their sorely needed food.

Now, it is precisely here that we perceive the vital role of restraint in giving the proper balance, proportion and direction to such functions. It is the presence or absence of self-control and restraint that makes the act of eating praiseworthy in one and blameworthy in another. Restraint provides the guarantee and insurance against overindulgence.

When the quality and nature of the things taken in through the senses is sattwic and does not excite, then this establishes a rhythm in the system. This state of harmony is of immense help in maintaining restraint, for restraint is dependent upon an inner strength; and the greater the sattwa, the greater the development of this inner force. Likewise, habitual adherence to the principle of moderation keeps the body and mind light and free of toxins. In such a state of health and purity all faculties are keen and alert, facilitating the exercise of viveka and vichara, discrimination and enquiry, upon which wise selection and restraint depend.

Thus restraint is the greatest friend. Restraint plays the important part of keeping the processes of consumption and indulgence within bounds. Make full use of this factor and you will reap a harvest of health, well being, progress and spiritual attainment. Restraint makes life worth living. Be restrained and become a Jitendriya Yogishvara, Lord of Yoga by victory over the senses. Restraint makes you really the emperor of the three worlds. Restraint leads to realization of the Self.