What makes us human? I believe that it is not just our intellect but our passion that has made us a successful species on this planet. Our passion for things, such has exploration, faith and knowledge, have set us apart and shaped our history. We are who we are because of the various things that invoke our passion. Unlike our other animal counterparts, we humans are passionate about a wide range of things. The depth of our passions and our ability to follow those passions to the ends of the earth, live and die by those passions and even kill for it if we have to.
While passion is great and we are all encouraged to show more of it by our mentors and teachers, what really lifts us to the next level, is our ability to show restraint in that passion. Like girdled horses... we have the ability to check, balance and channelize our passions. Passions that are like fire. It is from the day that we discovered 'fire' that humankind has been on the fast track of evolution. Like fire, which is such a powerful tool when used in a controlled fashion; and a destructive force when left uncontrolled, our passion is our greatest strength ONLY when we are able to show moderation and restraint with it.
A story from the Upanishands, talks about how the Devas (demi-gods), Manushas (common people) and Asuras (demonic warlords), went to the Prajapathi (leader of all beings) and asked him for advice on how they can improve their lives. Prajapathi simply said, "Da Da Da". The Devas heard "Da" as "Dhamyata". Manushas heard "Da" as "Datta" and the Asuras heard "Da" as "Dayatvam". Dhamyata is restraint. Datta is charity. Dayatvam is compassion. Restraint, Charity and Compassion. The essence of this story is that depending on the type of existence that one is in, i.e., demi-god, commoner or warlord, the trait that can emancipate us and improve our lives is slightly different.
Though the references to demi-gods, commoners and demonic warlords may sound mythical, it is only a reference to our existential state. To contemporise the idea, I am going to take some liberties. If we have a decent bank balance, a reliable income stream, no worries about where the next meal is coming from and indiscriminately wave a plastic card around, we are in the demi-god category. We struggle to even perceive the problem that grips our throats - "problem of plenty". If we live the life of a commoner, struggling to make ends meet, our challenge is quite obvious - "survival". If we are warlords who have power to dispense at will (i.e., corporate, political or social), we again struggle to perceive our problem - "corruption". We fall into one or more of these categories of existence.
In today's modern world, especially in the western and urban societies, where there are plenty of resources, comforts and wealth to lead comfortable lives, the majority of us live the lives of demi-gods. Moderation and restraint is the trait that we need to hone in to help us improve our lives. It is pragmatic to say that the problems in the western world are miniscule compared to the problems in the less developed parts of the world. However, it will be a fallacy and a catastrophic mistake to conclude, the western world has nothing to worry about and has reached the height of emancipation.
The problem of plenty is what is gripping the modern world and most people do not even perceive the problem. We live in an age of plenty, which is unprecedented in our recorded history. The richest human beings were still in the 'survival' mode until the late 20th century. Today, we take survival for granted. We are reckless about things that the wealthiest of our ancestors found precious and rare. We use toilet paper, which is of better quality than what our ancestors wrote on and eat out of season fruits all round the year. We have no idea of what it is to not have what we expect to have. The bottom line is money. If you throw money you can get anything. That's the world we know. Each one of the major problems that we face, from our economy and global warming down to burgeoning waistlines and health issues, can be linked to having "plenty" and not being able to shown enough restraint.
As one 'stop smoking' ad puts it - 'Your will power is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets'. If we can all show some restraint, when we shop, when we eat, when we argue, when we form opinions, when we know someone is so obviously wrong, when someone has wronged us, when someone has wronged someone else, when we are hungry, when we are angry, when we are happy, when we are sad.... It can help. Us and everyone else.
Finally, moderation is a counterbalance for passion. It is not the same as inaction, apathy or lack of conviction. In fact taking action, however misguided or self centered it may be, is better than inaction. If we can take action dispassionately, i.e., remove the passion but do the deed just as well, that's when we are able to achieve Damyata. The quality that lifts us from the state of demi gods to true godliness.