Indriya-samvara (we use the Thai translation at school which is pronounced insee-sang-won) means ‘using the senses wisely,’ or restraint of the senses. The term is often found in Buddhist texts as indriya samvara sila and as such this wise habit means self-control of the senses in order to live a more virtuous life.
While a total of 22 indriya, or ‘faculties’, are referred to in Buddhist literature, we are concerned here with the six ‘’sense doors’ – the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and the mind – through which we experience the external world. To take care of these six senses, we need to be mindfully aware of them so that when any of them come into contact with an object – whether a vision a sound, a smell, a taste, touch or a thought – we are not overcome with desire or aversion, which leads to the arising of negative thoughts and actions. In other words, we should try to cultivate awareness in our daily lives of what our body is doing, what we are seeing or hearing and how our mind is reacting so that we are able to identify our sense-responses leading to better decisions. Practicing indriya-samvara is to use our powers of observation and evaluation to see the results that come from looking and listening in a mindful way.
Venerable Ajahn Jayasaro notes that we are often able to choice what to expose our senses to. A most obvious example for families would be how we relate to the TV. We should ask, what amount of time and what type of use is wise? What are the benefits and what is detrimental? Do you let your child endlessly play computer games? Of course not. This is taking care of the senses. Once we ask, ’’Does it make sense to expose our children to certain media?” we can bring control to our children’s exposure and relationship to phones, TV, computers and the internet.
In 12 Ways to Happiness, Venerable Jayasaro recommends that parents and teachers encourage children not to fear the arising of feelings but to accept and recognise them. We should ask students again and again, ‘How do you feel? How did you feel when that happened? Did it benefit you?’ This encourages conscious articulation and awareness. Venerable Ajahn Prayutt advises us to steer away from viewing things as only beautiful or ugly, or as something to simply like or dislike as soon as we come into contact with it. Otherwise our children will be always chasing desires and avoiding unpleasantness, thus perpetuating the cycle of tanha (unwholesome desire) and dukkha (dissatisfaction).
Children without a principled understanding of how to consume wisely will be easily led astray, distracted in the classroom and prone to over-excitement. Children who understand and practise restraint, however, in regards to eating, watching and listening, will also know how to react to the outside world, how to watch TV, how to use social networking responsibly and that the true value of food relates to health, not taste. With the ever-increasing targeting of children in marketing and accessibility to new media, the challenge to apply restraint is pressing.
For the most part, however, we are not interested in exercising restraint and so we fall victim to unhealthy sensory pleasures. Our discernment has not yet seen the drawbacks of these things. To let go of anything, you first have to see its drawbacks. Simply telling yourself to let go doesn’t work. You have to see the negative impact of the things you’re holding onto, and then you’ll let go automatically. It is like when you grab hold of a hot coal and realise how hot it is, you will automatically let go and never dare touch it again. This is where the wise habit yoniso manasikara (wise reflection) comes in. If we encourage our children to reflect on the cause and effect of sensory indulgence, they will soon learn for themselves what is good for them and what is not, and indriya-samvara will become a wise habit for life.