How to practice Sense Restraint? (guarding the sense doors)

It seems satipatthana changes avijja - in terms of vipallasa:

view: wise contemplations create right view
citta: mindfulness of movements, feeling, mind, five hindrances, fetters of the senses. [mental feelings are conjoined with avijja].
Perception: Asubha sanna, awareness of arising and passing away, five aggregates, dukkha in the Four Noble Truths. It sets the stage for further immersion and subsequent insight.

@Polarbear ftw again.

Contrasting the domain of sensual stimulation and the domain of the 4 proper anchors for mindfulness. It clarifies for me this idea of not only not getting caught up in the world of the senses but actually turning away from it, as an intermediary step before the practices for rightly establishing mindfulness.

As a side note, the sampaj- practices could also be considered preliminary to proper mindfulness practice. Knowing the disposition of the body and bodily activities. I think it’s interesting to point out that both of those lists for “awareness of the disposition of the body” and “conducting bodily activities knowingly”, definitely all have to do with the body. Thus, paving a way to the 1st satipatthana…

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I think this sums it up;

“Lord, what course should we follow with regard to womenfolk?”
“Not-seeing, Ananda”
“But when there is seeing, lord, what course should be followed?”
“Not-addressing, Ananda.”
“But when we are addressed, what course should be followed?”
“Mindfulness should be established, Ananda.”

Maha-parinibbana Sutta: The Great Discourse on the Total Unbinding

I think it is analogical for all forms of cognition & perception which can be associated with themes of lust, greed, anger etc, etc.

I practice Sense Restraint by keeping my meditation object.For example,when practising anapanasati keep the object or stay with the breath while walking,eating,cleaning,cooking etc.That way the mind is not “going out” or “opening itself” to sensory experiences.It builds equanimity as one won’t be reacting to pleasant or unpleasant sensory stimuli.

How can you stay with your breath while focusing on other activities?!


Just to clarify: the primary description of sense restraint “[not getting] caught up in the features and details” applies to all secondary characteristics in all sense fields, right?

In other words, not just those that would lead to unwholesome states.

(This might have some bearing on the role of the senses in the great jhana debates, but I don’t want to go there…)

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Can you name a secondary characteristic which, when attended to, leads to wholesome states?

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Here is another reference that I find it useful in my daily practice. I use it to measure my progress in Bhavana: how fast I can let go a thought.

“And how, Ānanda, is there the supreme development of the faculties in the training of the noble one? When a mendicant sees a sight with their eyes
…hears a sound with their ears
…smells an odor with their nose
…tastes a flavor with their tongue
…feels a touch with their body
…knows a thought with their mind, liking, disliking, and both liking and disliking come up in them. They understand: ‘Liking, disliking, and both liking and disliking have come up in me. That’s conditioned, coarse, and dependently originated. But this is peaceful and sublime, namely equanimity.’ Then the liking, disliking, and both liking and disliking that came up in them cease, and equanimity becomes stabilized. It’s like how a person with good sight might open their eyes then shut them; or might shut their eyes then open them
…It’s like how a strong person can effortlessly snap their fingers
…t’s like how a drop of water would roll off a gently sloping lotus leaf, and would not stay there
…It’s like how a strong person who’s formed a glob of spit on the tip of their tongue could easily spit it out
… It’s like how a strong person can extend or contract their arm
…It’s like how a strong person could let two or three drops of water fall onto an iron cauldron that had been heated all day. The drops would be slow to fall, but they’d quickly dry up and evaporate. Such is the speed, the swiftness, the ease with which any liking, disliking, and both liking and disliking at all that came up in them cease, and equanimity becomes stabilized. In the training of the noble one this is called the supreme development of the faculties regarding sights known by the eye…nose, tougue, body…mind" MN152 SuttaCentral


The unattractive (or unclean/disgusting) characteristics of the body.

It’s a good question though, Bhante, and I can’t really think of any others off the top of my head.

This passage is interesting for not being a practice which is aimed directly at the senses, but at what happens “further downstream” so to speak. In that sense, it is focused on what lies beyond, what is better, and that fits in with the way the Buddha talks about meditative attainments or the work of liberation in other places (saying something like) “that is well and good, but what is more sublime?”.

Also, for giving a metaphor for the speed at which this reflection changes one’s perception.


I agree!

Now, in your opinion, would attending to the unattractive characteristics of the body count as “sense restraint”?


I see what you’re getting at… and I agree that obviously it would be in line with Dhamma, and leading to an increase in positive spiritual qualities and a decrease in negative worldly ones. However, I wouldn’t personally count it as falling under the practice of sense restraint but under satipatthana or a perception training, I say this because it’s specifically not restraining anything but rather noticing or paying attention to characteristics in order to train perception. I’m not trying to quibble or anything, just trying to clarify the different practices - though the Buddhist path elements tend to reinforce each other.

In a related line of inquiry, however, in thinking about satipatthana and it’s pre-requisites I came to wonder about the relation of the body in sense restraint to the body in satipatthana. In sense restraint one would train not to grasp at the signs and features of kinesthetic touch, then in kayanupassana of satipatthana one does start to look at signs and features in a certain way. I guess it’s just through a Dhammic lense. The unattractive nature of body parts, the elemental constituents, the fate of disintegration. I’m kind of undecided on whether these are really meant to be “felt” or contemplated… anyway, just some questions that came up.

another way from Ajahn Buddhadasa:

*…But in the field of practice, the Paticcasamuppada is, as the Buddha said, just a handful. When there is contact with forms, sounds, odors, flavors, or whatever at one of the sense doors, that contact is called in Pali phassa. This phassa develops into vedana (feeling). Vedana develops into tanha (craving). Tanha develops into upadana (clinging). Upadana develops into bhava (becoming). Bhava develops into jati, which is “birth”, and following on from birth there is the suffering of old age, sickness and death, which are Dukkha.

Please see that as soon as there is contact with a sense object there is phassa, and that the subsequent development of phassa into vedana, tanha and so on is called Paticcasamuppada i.e. the process by which various things, existing in dependence on one thing, condition the arising of another thing, which in turn conditions the development of a further thing, and so on. This process or state is called Paticcasamuppada. It is dependent arising with no self or “me” found, merely dependence followed by arising.


The way of making use of it is not to allow the dependent arising to take place; cutting it off right at the moment of sense-contact, not allowing the development of vedana, not allowing feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction to arise. When there is no production of vedana, then there is no birth of the craving and clinging that is the “I” and “mine”. The “I” and “mine” lie right there at the birth of the craving and clinging; illusion lies right there. If at the moment of sense-contact when there is nothing but phassa, it is stopped just there, there is no way for “I” and “mine” to arise in truth-discerning awareness.

Another method: For the average person, it is extremely difficult to prevent phassa from developing into vedana. As soon as there is sense-contact, the feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction always follow immediately. It doesn’t stop at phassa because there as never been any training in Dhamma. But, when vedana has already developed, when there are already feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, stop it right there. Let feeling remain as merely feeling and let it pass away. Don’t allow the reaction to go on and become tanha, wanting this and that in response to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Because, if there is satisfaction, then there will be desire, craving, indulgence, possessiveness, envy etc. in consequence. Once there is dissatisfaction, then there is the desire to beat to death, to devastate, and kill. If there are these sorts of desires on the mind, it means that vedana has already developed into tanha. If so, then you must suffer the spiritual disease of Dukkha and nobody can help. All the gods together cannot help. The Buddha said that even he could not help. He has no power over the laws of nature, he is merely one who reveals them so that others can practice in accordance with them. If one practices wrongly one must have Dukkha. If one practices correctly, one has no Dukkha. Thus it is said that if vedana has developed into tanha then nobody can help. As soon as any form of craving has arisen then nobody can help and there will inevitably be Dukkha.

In that turbulent wanting that arises in the mind, see how to distinguish the feeling of the desirer “I”, of the self that wants this or wants that, wants to do it like this or like that, or who has acted in this way or that way, or has received the results of those actions. That one who desires is “I”; wanting things, it grasps them as “mine” in one way or another -as “my” status, my property, “my” victory, “my” ideas and opinions - and in all of those feelings the “I” is present.

The feeling of “I” and “mine” is called upadana, and arises from tanha. tanha develops into upadana. If the Paticcasamuppada has progressed as far as tanha and upadana, the germ that enters through the ear, eye, nose, tongue or body has matured to the extent that it can express itself as the symptoms of the disease, because upadana is followed by bhava. Bhava means “having and being”. The having and being of what? The having and being of “I” and “mine”. Kammabhava is the action that conditions the arising of “I” and “mine”. If it is simply “bhava”, it means the condition of “I” and “mine” full-blown, the disease full-blown.*


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I find Buddhadasa’s analysis a little confusing. I don’t get the idea about “not allowing” the development of vedana, since in the suttas vedana, vinnana and sanna are conjoined as aspects of initial experience. Neither do I get the references to vedana as “satisfaction and disatisfaction”, since those sound more like craving and aversion, wanting and not wanting. Those follow vedana. Then later he says to allow feeling to remain as merely feeling, which appears to contradict his earlier statements.

Thinking of the Second Truth, it’s craving which is the problem, not vedana. The Arahant still experiences vedana, it’s craving which has ceased. So I find Buddhadasa’s explanation confusing.


It is possible by gradual and regular practice. Overtime, one does attain a state where one can be aware of one’s breath while walking, and with even more practice, i believe even the other activities wont be a problem! :slight_smile:

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This is very useful! I never thought of using the 8fold path that way. Thank you :slight_smile:

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Welcome to the Forum @gannuman :slightly_smiling_face:
If ever you need assistance with something feel free to P M or tag ‘@ moderators’
Metta :grinning:


I’ve understood anapanasati as a formal sitting meditation described by the Buddha as 16 steps of mindfulness of breathing in order to fulfill the 4 satipatthanas which in turn fulfills the 7 awakening factors and so on. If anapanasati includes stilling the bodily formations, how could one practice anapanasati as the Buddha describes in MN 118 while doing everyday activities?

In my experience, Goenka uses the term anapana in such a way that it’s only paying attention to the breath, not the 16 steps that the Buddha laid out. Is that what you mean by anapanasati?

Therein what is “guarding as to the doors of the controlling faculties”? Herein a certain one seeing a visible (object) with the eye does not take in the general appearance, does not take in the detail.

  • from the Vibhaṅga

I don’t know enough Pali to know if this is significantly different from the “features and details” passages. But from the translation, which seems to be saying “seeing without looking” (in a sense). Could be a bridge between a specifics-oriented sense restraint - to the culminated abstraction of Bāhiya.

IMO, ‘immersion’ is also a good word to use for sense restraint, because we speak of immersion into a computer game or tv show. Immersion makes a TV show or video game feel real, it makes you invested in the characters and the TV world, even though it’s not real.

Like when they have a celebrity cameo in a tv show (looking at you, game of thrones) it breaks your immersion and you become aware that you’re looking at actors acting, it’s all made up.

Right now I think ‘signs and features’ means something like ‘content’. I.e., you don’t get caught up in the content of sights, smells, thoughts, etc. Like, a sight isn’t just features, it has a meaning content which we experience (project into?) above and beyond the mere sight.

A job people can do right now is to be a ‘content creator’ – which is literally about creating ‘signs and features’ for people to engage with. And who knows, maybe click on some ads in the process :nerd_face:

I think this is related to yonisomanasikāra, because that’s all about how the use of attention and mental energy creates good or bad outcomes. If you attend to the feature of harshness, ill-will and anger is born. If you attend to the feature of hotness, lust is born. If you attend to your past virtuous behavior, wholesome happiness is born, etc.

Anyway, rambling a bit here, sorry :cowboy_hat_face:

I think different exposition styles employed in the suttas might make it seem more complicated than it should be, it’s not like sense restraint is totally unknown by most people here.

For example let’s say, if one listens to a really good Dhamma talk on YouTube, and feeling calm, centered and so forth. One is loathe to get sucked out from this skillful state by the puppy videos that YouTube dangles below the Dhamma video, get annoyed at the neighbours loud music etc.
(By loathe I mean hiri, ottappa etc)

(And I think, very profound level of sense restraint in terms of upacara is absolutely necessary to experience even more profound level of sense restraint in terms of Appana)