Because of the risks involved in indulging in unrestrained desire and greed we need to cultivate contentment and simplicity. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
This is about the individual, and how individuals interact. At one end, if everyone indulged in unrestrained desires and greed, everything would be a mess.
At the other end, if everyone was content and lived simply, things would be quite nice. However, life isn’t that way. There will be some at each end, but most live in the middle.
This quote is about influencing people to move more towards contentment and simplicity, and away from unrestrained desire and greed. And we can start with ourselves.
We have some influence with others, but the only thing we really control is ourselves. And if we can’t control ourselves, we are in serious trouble.
Why is self restraint important?
Consider the recent troubles of one pop star with the first name of Justin. He got mad, and threw eggs at his neighbors house. Then he got drunk and raced a car. Now he is in legal trouble in two different states for serious infractions, and might be deported. Unrestrained? Yep. Risks? Yep. Worth it? I seriously doubt it.
This quote, like so many others, applies both to ourselves as individuals as well as to the whole of society. We can, and should start with ourselves. We can become the example for others to follow. We can work on restraining our desires and our greed. We can think before we act. We can be the shining light on a hill for others to see.
OK, so that was a bit melodramatic. But the point, I hope, was not lost. We are the only thing in all creation over which we actually have any control. If we cannot influence ourselves, what hope do we have in teaching restraint to others, except as a bad example? Is that how you want to do it?
Life is full of plenty of risks already. Endangering others, infringing on their rights through unrestrained desires or greed, that’s just not right. If we can restrain our desires and our greed, we do ourselves a favor, and a favor to those we would have otherwise injured or deprived. Think about that for a moment.
Where can I apply this in my life?
We all have had times in our lives when we really wanted something. Most of the time, we have been able to restrain ourselves. A few times, at least in my case, not. Take a moment and consider how your life would be different if you had not done something so indulgent, and shown some self restraint.
Now consider what life was like for the people your actions impacted. How was their lives before you did the deed, and how was it afterward? At one extreme might be tearing up a flower bed, which is easily replaced. At the other end would be a life changing injury or even death. That’s harder to fix.
For those who have managed to keep their desires restrained, congratulations. I ask you to take a moment and consider what could have happened if you had not restrained yourself, and how that might have impacted your life, and the lives of others. Not a very pretty picture, is it?
This is a very powerful tool, sometimes called the “Ghost of Christmas Future.” By considering the future implications of your actions, especially the impact on others, you can often restrain your actions. This method also can help you analyze the benefits of alternative actions as well, and find the best one.
Admittedly, this method has flaws. You have to notice you’re going to do something, and have the willingness to stop and think about it. Intense emotional states, and altered states of mind will not lend themselves to this method. It also presupposes that you care what happens to others.
I, as a control freak, rarely am unrestrained. The down side is that when I do snap and go beyond my ability to restrain myself, things get ugly quickly. Those with a more moderate lifestyle probably have a more gradual scale, and more opportunities to restrain themselves. It’s all about knowing yourself, right?
This quote, ultimately, is about cultivating the opposite of unrestrained desire. By pre-restraining yourself, you can avoid even getting to the point where you have to worry about it. If you are already content, your desires will be curbed. By living simply, your greed will not stir when you see a shiny toy.
You will have to determine what path you will take, and how to apply this quote to your individual circumstances. However, by simply being aware of what is going on, I believe you have already taken the first step. The rest will come, if you decide to move forward.