Mattannuta (pronounced ma‐tan‐yoo‐ta) means ‘knowing the right amount.’ When practised, it helps us achieve a healthy balance in life. It is the quality of understanding that, whatever goals we set ourselves, there is an optimum amount of material and non‐material things that we need. It is the ability to assess what is enough, and to know when we are being over‐demanding on ourselves, others or our environment.
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, Phra Prom Kunaporn 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 our conviction or faith is very strong but we do not use wisdom, we have a tendency to become gullible, a person that follows without question. Conversely, high intelligence but little faith leads to scepticism, and an inability to look inside oneself for the truth. If our perseverance is strong but our concentration is weak, we are likely to become agitated and stressed. Too much concentration and insufficient perseverance, on the other hand, leads to excessive daydreaming or idleness. To find the right balance between these, we need strong mindfulness (sati), the self‐awareness to observe and control the impulses that habitually drive our actions and thoughts.
In today’s world of branded ‘must‐haves’ and ubiquitous advertising, 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 mattanuta, therefore, is vital for our students as they grow up and shape the future of our society and our world. Venerable Ajahn Jayasaro, in his book on the 12 Wise Habits, counsels that if we think more is better simply in order to make our lives more comfortable, we will end up just wanting more and more and will never be satisfied. He advises us to encourage children to work out the mattanuta point for themselves. Whether eating, sleeping, studying, playing, using the computer or talking, the ability to find optimal balance through self‐regulation is a skill which will lead to maturity and social responsibility. This means not dictating the rules to children, but rather helping them see the results of too much sleep – irritability and heaviness – or not enough – drowsiness and the inability to concentrate, or over‐eating – stomach ache – and so on. When we ask our children how much sleep they think they need, how much food should they eat, instead of routinely imposing our own limits, they begin to understand mattanuta.
Venerable Jayasaro suggests that a family which practices mattannuta is one where parents and children are able to come to mutually acceptable agreements. This means deciding how long we think children should watch TV or play on the computer, for example, but also respecting our child’s ability to think for himself and come to a sensible agreement on the right amount of time. When the time has passed, we simply remind our child of the agreement. In this age of ever‐increasing ‘screen time,’ as adults we also need to reflect on the amount of time we spend on ‘smart’ phones or laptops in the presence of children, and the message we are giving them about what we consider to be important.
Practising mattanuta helps us to understand the desires and aversions created by our mind, and that understanding in turn increases the peaceful moments we experience. Mattanuta 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.