In evolution, life forms have been empowered incrementally as they progress through stages. Human beings have the power of control, of temperance and restraint, and the ability to think beyond the self. Physiologically, higher centers in the brain have been given the responsibility of inhibition to maintain restrictive control on lower centers of the brain and spine. In spinal injuries, when the lower motor neutrons are disconnected from the higher centers and they fire without control, it leads to reflex movements of the limbs, spasm of the muscles and so on. Though movement occurs, it is involuntary, uncontrolled and purposeless.
The ability to rise above reflex behavior seems to be the summit of the evolutionary pyramid. Olympian Carl Lewis once explained the reason for his spectacular achievement: “I have mastered the art of self-denial”. Behavior that rises above the primitive reflexes forms the essence of culture and sophistication. All religions have a set of behavioral restrictions like fasting, celibacy and observing silence. These restrictions help the individual increase his will power, temperance, self-control and discipline.
Some religions talk about renunciation. But renunciation eliminates choice. So it is probably indulgence in abstinence. The swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction charged with the potential energy to swing back to indulgence. It may also reflect a subconscious fear of lack of self-control. Like the instance of the guru, who was invited for a meal by his disciple? Whilst the other devotees were served on plantain leaves, the guru was served on silverware as a mark of reverence. The guru however was offended and walked off as he was already in process of renunciation. He may as well have eaten in the silverware. If he was no longer in any mundane bondage, there ought to have been no distinction between silver and leaves.
In reproductive behavior, too, human beings have the freedom to choose. Any control is self-imposed. This self-control is the evolutionary upgrade. It is as if the remote control which operates all other animals has been substituted by a sharp discriminatory ability which bestows free will. In other words, we can use our intellect of discrimination. Free will reflects the ability to restrain rather than indulge. If indulgence was the purpose, all actions would have been reflexive, with scarce regard to volition.
Exercising restraint requires a higher form of intelligence. Indulgence required neither skill nor intellect. And renunciation relied more on extremism.
Obesity, alcoholism, hypertension and diabetes, when they are lifestyle-related, point to the diminishing self-regulatory process. Affluence has given man the opportunity to indulge like never before. Austerity is facing extinction. Patience and contentment are no longer virtues but are relegated to mere words. All catastrophes like global warming, nuclear threat and poverty are merely a reflection of our ever-increasing inclination for indulgence.
Be Happy – We must exercise self restraint to eliminate the demerits of our society as soon as possible.