Dama* or self-control is a fundamental discipline that ensures your spiritual growth. It is to be practiced at the level of your senses as well as your responses to life.
Your senses—the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin give you the ability to see, hear, smell, taste and touch. You respond to the information brought to you by your senses through your words and actions.
Practising dama in what you take in and put out is a discipline that ensures your spiritual growth.
A calm mind with balanced emotions is the reward of practising this discipline.
Your five senses can be compared to five horses tied to a carriage that you are riding in.
The senses never get tired or enough of these pleasures. However, you do feel drained of your mental and physical energy when you constantly give in to their demands.
Managing your senses is a discipline that ensures your spiritual growth and peace of mind.
Moderating the senses—a discipline that ensures your spiritual growth
Indulging in simple everyday pleasures is harmless if you indulge in moderation.
But when your cravings for something start to disturb your ability to focus on your task at hand, and you are unable to push aside those thoughts, then it’s time to seriously think about doing something about it.
For example, if you are a habitual coffee drinker and have to have it to function in the morning, it’s a habit that needs to be scaled back or dropped—if you value your peace of mind and mastery over yourself, that is.
And so, while moderating your intake makes sense, it’s also important to know your why—your motivation.
If maintaining your body weight or health is your motivation, that’s good and perfectly normal.
If your goal is equanimity of mind, then you will be very sensitive to even the smallest desire to take in even a little more than necessary as it will create a mental disturbance which you cannot tolerate.
Moderation is important for both your physical and spiritual health.
Of the five senses, controlling what you see, hear and eat (and drink), is the hardest to do.
We take in information about the outer world predominantly through the eyes and ears. And satisfying our sense of taste is high on our list of priorities.
These senses need to be thoughtfully managed. Here, moderation is not enough. Directing your senses to the right sensory intakes is just as important. Some careful thinking and personal sacrifice is required.
These days we are bombarded with new information and a multitude of products to indulge in and enjoy.
The world is made up of things that are good and not-so-good. Striving to direct your attention to the things that are good and beneficial is a discipline that ensures your spiritual growth.
The first two lines in a peace invocation often chanted by students of Vedanta says, “By our ears may we hear all that is auspicious; by our eyes may we see all that is auspicious.”
Good, pure and noble thoughts, words and deeds that promote our spiritual growth are auspicious. Auspiciousness creates peace, love and joy in the mind.
A movie or show that depicts violence is inauspicious as the negative images and words agitate the mind. Impressions left behind from harsh words spoken, a passionate or macabre sight, can linger for years, and constantly creep in between other thoughts to disturb the inner peace. This is why we have to apply our discernment and ensure that we see and hear all that is auspicious.
I’d like to share my personal experience of implementing dama in one aspect of my life.
I remember when I made the decision to become a vegetarian over twenty years ago, aside from noticing that my health improved, my decision to say no to non-vegetarian foods also simplified meals. And, I felt stronger inside.
Whenever we ate out at a restaurant, I didn’t have to choose from a long list of dishes as there were fewer vegetarian options on the menu. I was surprised to notice that I was happy to have things made simple for me.
Then, nearly three years ago, I decided I would drop eggs and dairy from my diet and become a vegan. I must say, this hasn’t been easy as I noticed that many everyday products contain eggs and dairy ingredients. But thinking about the suffering of animals has strengthened my resolve and has made staying vegan even more important.
Choosing your words and actions—a discipline that ensures your spiritual growth
Since the practice of dama entails enforcing self-control, it also applies to being watchful of your words and actions.
Unkind words can often be more painful and linger longer in our memory than physical hurt.
What are the three things to consider when we speak? A verse from the Bhagavad Gita gives us the answer:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary or beneficial?
Is it true? —We say many things without knowing for a fact if they are true. We have to be careful to speak only when we can verify what we are saying. And we have to be honest and not say things that twist the truth for our own benefit.
Is it kind? —Being honest doesn’t mean it’s ok to be blunt or speak the truth in a way that hurts another’s feelings. If we have to speak the truth but know that it will cause pain to someone, we should say it in as kind a way as we can.
Is it necessary or beneficial? —Keeping this in mind before speaking will effectively eliminate all gossiping, backbiting and angry retaliatory words. It will also conserve a lot of energy that goes into mindless talk.
It’s easy to see how practising dama in our speech is a powerful spiritual discipline.
Moderating or controlling our negative reactions at the physical level is also practising dama.
Someone who is habitually loud, unruly and unable to control his or her reactions to people and circumstances cannot be said to be spiritually mature.
If you get angry but refrain from speaking loud or angry words, it is practising dama. If you refrain from doing hurtful actions even when you are provoked, it is practising dama.
Fundamental spiritual discipline
While it’s true that complete physical self-control can come only when the mind is fully under our control, until we are able to do that, it is helpful to apply some dama.
Disciplining your senses and responses to life is not always easy. But then, nothing worthwhile is gained without sacrificing some time and effort.
Dama is a fundamental daily discipline that helps to quieten the mind and ensures your spiritual growth.
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