By Neil Amas, Panyaden School Director
We are currently practicing mattannuta (pronounced ma-tan-yoo-ta), or knowing the right amount with our students. Here is some further information on mattannuta that you may find useful.
How do we know the right amount? What is too much and what is too little? Whatever we do, however we spend out life, whatever goals we set ourselves, we need to consider the right amount of material and non-material things that we need, to assess what is enough, not to be over demanding. Essentially, mattannuta is about achieving ‘balance’ in life. It is a virtue that helps us to understand the cravings and aversions created by our mind, and that understanding in turn increases the peaceful moments we experience.
The Buddha taught that the middle path should be followed by both body and mind. It is a path of neither sensory indulgence nor extreme austerity, but rather one of moderation and balance. This does not only refer to specific actions or thoughts in isolation, for example consuming the right amount of food, but also to achieving the right balance between all the different things we do each day and throughout our lives.
To illustrate this point, Phra Bhramagunabhorn refers to the importance of balancing the indriya, or five spiritual faculties: conviction (saddha), perseverance (viriya), mindfulness (sati), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (panya). For example if your conviction or faith is very strong but you do not use your wisdom, you will become gullible, a person that follows without question. Conversely, if you have high intelligence but little faith, you will become skeptical, unable to look inside yourself for the truth. Or if your perseverance is too strong and your concentration is weak, you are likely to become agitated and stressed. Too much concentration and insufficient perseverance, on the other hand, may lead to idleness. Strong mindfulness (sati), however, is needed if we are to find the right balance between these, and to control our actions and thoughts more broadly.
In today’s world, we can see that teaching the new generation how to consume the right amount is very important. Natural resources are stretched and we are experiencing increasing environmental degradation. Understanding mattannuta, therefore, is vital for our students as they grow up and shape the future of our society and our world. As Venerable Ajahn Jayasaro writes in “Twelve ways to become a happy person”, if we think more is better simply in order to make our lives more comfortable, we will see that we end up ust wanting more and more and can never be satisfied. As parents and teachers we need to educate our students to use their wisdom to find the mattannuta point for themselves. Whether eating, sleeping, studying, playing, using the computer or talking, everything has to be the right amount. This does not mean simply dictating the rules to children, but rather helping them see what happens if you sleep too much – you get up and feel grumpy and irritable – or not enough – your brain cannot function properly and you feel drowsy and unable to concentrate. Or what happens when you eat too much – you get stomach ache – and so on. We should ask ourselves and our children how much sleep we think we should have, how much food we should eat.
Ajahn Jayasaro suggests that a family who practices mattannuta is one that is able to make agreement points between parents and children. This means deciding how long we think children should play on the computer, for example, but also respecting our child’s ability to think for him or herself and come to a mutual agreement on the right amount of time. When the time has passed, we can then remind our child of the agreement.
Mattannuta is, therefore, a vitally important wise habit to teach our children, but also to practice ourselves if we are to find true balance in our lives.
The Old Millionaire: a story about Mattannuta
Once upon a time, there was an old Indian millionaire who wished to become a monk but could not figure out what to do with all his riches. He had no children and no close family or relatives to give his wealth to before becoming a monk.
After some thought, he had an idea and he announced it all his friends. “I will travel around the country wearing simple clothing for a year. I will go to every province, every district and every corner of India until I find the poorest man in the country and give all my riches to him.”
After that, he disappeared for one whole year. When he came back he gathered all his friends together to tell them his news. One of the friends asked, “So, did you find the poorest person in India? Who is he? Which province is he from?”
The millionaire replied, “I have made the decision to give all my treasures to the King.”
Another friend cried, “That wasn’t your initial intention! You said you would give all your wealth to the poorest man in India. Why all of a sudden are you going to give it all to the richest man, the King? Why did you change your mind?”
The millionaire responded, ” No, no, no, I did not change my mind. But when I was traveling around the country, some days I met poor farmers who live very small, shabby huts in the middle of rice fields. They invited me to stay overnight with them and gave me the best hospitality they could offer. They had no money but they were kind, helping each other, respecting each other and they had enough to live happily. Therefore, I conclude that these people are definitely not the poor ones.
“My experiences have made me ask myself, how can we determine richness and poorness? I have been reminded time and time again that the poorest man is the man who never appreciates nor is satisfied with what he has. He feels lacking in everything. He wants this, he wants that, he wants more of this and does not have enough of that. So, I have found that those types of people are the poorest ones!
“And this makes me think of one person, and that is the King. He who still collects taxes and increases the rates every year, who declares wars on other countries in order to conquer more land. And that’s why I think the King is the poorest man in India because he does not know the word “Enough!!”