Sanyam – संयम (April 2016)

One of most versatile words in the Indian scriptures is Sanyam (संयम). It has several meanings that fit in myriad of contexts: self-control, restraints, forbearance, abstinence, moderation, sobriety, temperance, chastity and so on. While all of these meanings have deep significance, for this month’s assignment, we will focus on Self-Control.  We will explore the meaning of Sanyam (self-control), benefits of exhibiting Sanyam, and ways to build this important trait in our character.
Let’s start with one of the key meanings of the word Sanyam that is most suitable for kids, students, and anyone on spiritual journey: self-control. Self-control is one of the key qualities of human life. Human species is endowed with a faculty to analyze and contemplate. This is so that we can act – and not just react like other species. However, in the majority of situations, we act completely opposite: rather than acting independently, we instantaneously react – like an automaton. Mostly, during such encounters, we keep our thinking faculty at bay. For instance, when someone praises us, even if we know the person is not sincere, we enjoy the praise. On the other hand, when someone criticizes us, even if we know that the person is genuine, we not only abhor such feedback but also end up showing hostility towards the person.
Self-control is also the fuel that helps convert thoughts into actions. Gaining knowledge that helps us identify right from wrong is relatively easier, but picking right course of actions when wrong ones are plenty, enticing and easily available is an altogether different matter. Without self-control, it is very difficult to not go for a wrong choice, even though we know it is not right for us.
One may ask then: why do we exercise sanyam in life? Why not we simply do what we feel like without control or much of thought? The answer to all those questions is that benefits of sanyam are plenty – avoid them at your own peril. The benefits can be grouped in three categories: physical, mental, and spiritual. Let’s start with the physical. One of the key reasons behind poor health is poor eating habits. It is not that most of us aren’t aware of the benefits of eating healthy, but upon seeing appetizing yet unhealthy items on table, we do not think and go for it. At that time, it is not our mind (sanyam) but one of our senses, tongue for its desire for taste, determines our actions. Similarly, even though everyone knows the benefits of regular exercise, without a strong mental conviction, one ends up going for other choices like watching TV, playing video games, or simply lying on sofa than going for exercise. Once self-control is mastered at gross/physical level, automatically, one starts to see profound improvements in personality/intellect. The person is able to pull him/her out of situations easily. Whenever confronted the difficult situations, such a person is able to think and act – than simply react. External situations cannot easily rouse such a person. The stable and unperturbed demeanor starts to draw praise and commendations from society. Last but not least are spiritual benefits. Anyone seeking peace and God’s blessing must exercise Sanyam in every action. A true seeker knows that bodily senses must be reined to progress on spiritual path. He/she also knows that being able to observe self and own tendencies comes with a constant practice of self-control and self-observation. While living in society, tending to family and social responsibilities, such persons continuously stay connected with Almighty.
All in all, a person practicing self-control not only improves his/her life (with better health, sharp mind, increased decision making capacity, and material and spiritual growth) but also helps others rise along.
Now that we have talked about the virtues of Sanyam, next logical question is how we acquire it in life. There are several simple yet powerful steps to gain sanyam. Rather than detailing them here individually, I would give a few pointers and expect kids to expand on them:
  • Build a thorough understanding of damages that vices cause and advantages that virtues bring
    • read/study/discuss to build a deeper understanding of what we want or not want in life – and why. Without this, one cannot acquire self-control
  • Vrat (resolution)
    • After identifying desirable behavior/qualities, resolve to take baby steps to change oneself – be it leaving undesirable behavior or acquiring better habits
  • Continuous improvement
    • Slowly, yet progressively, continue to improve
  • Patience
    • whenever possible exercise patience
  • Meditation
    • Develop an ability to observe ones thoughts
    • be mindful as much as possible
  • Proper rest
    • kids must take a minimum of 8 hours of sleep
    • proper rest is an absolute must to provide energy required for exercising sanyam
  • Exercise
    • build physical stamina with regular exercise
  • Nutrition
    • eat as much nutritious food
    • avoid binge eating
  • Identify the impacts surroundings and company are exerting on us
    • Company and environment have huge impact on how successful one is in bringing positive changes in oneself – analyze your current situation
  • Judiciously pick/change environment/company
    • If not able to change the environment, focus on changing yourself, so that others change with you.
How will we know that we are on a right path? We’ll know we are exercising sanyam in our lives when we pick right path/choice even when there are no external factors influencing our decisions. For example, consider a person who cannot afford a fancy car (even with loan); for him not buying that car is not sanyam – it’s out of reach. On the other hand, when an affluent person who can easily afford to buy latest fancy objects like phones, toys, gadgets, clothes, shoes, cars etc. and chooses to ignore them – without hesitation or regrets – not because of their cost but because he knows that he doesn’t need extra objects, it’s a case of sanyam. When we are at a stage where our actions are driven more from inside than outside, most likely were exercising sanyam.
Finally, before wrapping it up, one more key point: hopefully, by now, it is evident that sanyam is not all about denying oneself life pleasures (a common misconception) but knowing what to let go to acquire a higher and much worthier goal.
May we all build an intellect that distinguishes right from wrong and have power to proceed on righteous path.
Looking forward to hear kids’ insightful views and opinions.
Harsh Mendiratta