Character Building Workbook Series: Abstemious

Character Building Workbook--Expanding Our Virtues

The monastery published the Character Building Workbook in 2015 as "a tool to help children and adults build, transform and improve their character." The workbook guides seekers toward goals of self-restraint, self-reliance, productivity and to have an overall sense of strength in character. To teach virtue is sometimes regarded as impossible, and whether it can be taught or is remembered is a deep philosophical matter in and of itself. Whatever the truth may be, Eastern sages and wisemen of history such as saint Avayar, Tirumular, Tiruvalluvar, and Western philosophers and Stoics such as Socrates, Plato and Epictetus, have all tried their best to, if at all possible, teach what they regarded as virtue in character and action.

A new series on our Monastery blog will be to take the sixty-four character traits and expand on them, one by one, and see if we can get a better understanding of our magnificent and complex virtuous soul nature. We begin with the first trait: Abstemious.

abstemious
adjective
not self-indulgent, especially when eating and drinking

Synonyms: self-denying, temperate, abstinent, moderate, self-disciplined, restrained, self-restrained


Abstemiousness is a quality that spiritual seekers must have. There is no denying that without some form of restriction yogis, swamis and sadhaka of the Hindu faith would not be able to bring eternal truths down to our normal plane of reality. Whether it be with foods that we all know we shouldn't be eating in excess, or activities that bog us down and make our lives miserable--self-denial and restriction often make us much more effective human beings at the same time making us more receptive to the shakti of a temple deity.

In our search through life we end up seeking some sort of wholeness or some completeness that either rebuilds us after losing our way or we simply just get older and more mature--usually that means the age we stop partying and start to realize we have to do something with our lives and actually make something of ourselves. In other words, we become aware that we are consciousness as we get older and living inside an excessive world starts to just feel bad. Our highest potential and soul nature often wants to avoid indulgent behavior, but that doesn't mean it comes naturally. Abstemious does not mean you become perfect, it means you sacrifice that which is easy for that which is hard. Over time we can expect change but this isn't an overnight experience. In the words of my guru Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, we want progress not perfection.


A Word on Not Succeeding

What happens when your attempt at being abstemious doesn't work? Historically great souls do not avoid failures, pitfalls and distractions, what they do is overcome them over time. Anticipating failure can be a powerful tool to keep you from entering despair and frustration as you take a few steps towards your goal, and a few backwards. No boxer has ever entered a ring expecting a perfect match and to never be hit. He trains for the hit, anticipates challenge and is determined to get back up when it happens, not if it happens. Progress not perfection.

Where Does Abstemious Lead?

Using moderation in an effort to clear the subconscious and uphold a higher moral standard means we are on the path of self-denial and sacrifice. We give up those things that are no longer any use to us and to our goals. This takes constant effort, and to retrain the mind and body will often require being attentive to our weaknesses and keeping our guru informed every step of the way. The waking hours isn't enough either; as we know from Gurudeva's teaching, our sleep and dreams must also be a place of purity if want to completely own up to the duty we have as seekers on the path.

Aristotle's teaching on the subject is truly timeless, "For moral virtue or excellence is closely concerned with pleasure and pain. It is pleasure that moves us to do what is base, and pain that moves us to refrain from what is noble. And therefore, as Plato says, man needs to be so trained from his youth up as to find pleasure and pain in the right objects. This is what sound education means."

The Tirukkural's chapter on virtuous conduct is no less relevant,
"Virtuous conduct leads a man to eminent greatness. Therefore, it should be guarded as more precious than life itself."

We end with the Workbook's assignment for the weeks ahead: For the next two weeks, when tempted to eat or drink too much, restrain that desire by using your willpower, eating and drinking a reasonable amount.

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