Temperance is control over excess and over-indulgence. As such, it has many applications in Chastity, Humility, Prudence, and other areas that involve restraining impulse. Since Temperance is related to many other virtues, it is considered one of the four cardinal virtues. After all, no virtue can be obtained if one is unable to control oneself. Along with it’s applications and uses in religion, Temperance has been studied by philosophers and psychologists.
Temperance in Confucianism and Taoism
Confucianism and Taoism are grouped together for the purposes of this article because they are ancient Chinese styles of living that originated at roughly the same time. Both are a religion and philosophy of Asia that stress humanities’ relationship with nature.
Confucius, the founder of Confucianism, advocated self-control and modesty for a humane life. The Analects, a collection of ideas and sayings from Confucius, speak of the virtuous as those who choose to live simply, refrain from boasting or extravagance, and value hard work as much as reward.
Another book central to Confucian canon is “The Doctrine of Mean.” The Chinese words for “mean” are chun yung, which means “constantly in the middle”; the avoidance of extremes. The guiding principle is a balanced temperament against overdose and overindulgence; too much of a good thing can be bad. The Doctrine of Mean asserts that pride should not be indulged, nor should the will be gratified to the full, pleasure carried to excess.
Lao-Tzu, the founder of Taoism, also encouraged a temperate life. He believed that those who are arrogant with wealth, sex, and power, sow the seeds for their own misfortune. People who boast of their own achievements harm their own credibility. These people do not grow in wisdom.
The object of Taoism is to align one’s life to Tao, or the way of the universe. The way is the norm and rhythm of life, the driving power in all nature, the ordering principle behind all life. The best way to achieve this is through Wu Wei. Wu Wei is a concept that when literally translated means “do-nothingness”. However, it does not actually mean complete inaction, but rather suggests a vacant attitude of abstention. In other words, it means avoiding extremes in favor of self-restraint and a balanced attitude. This balance is symbolized in yin-yang.
Temperance in Buddhism
What Buddha means in this quote is that Temperance takes time before the benefits become clear. In the early stages, as one attempts to control themselves and their desires, it may bring difficulty. But, in time, Temperance will bear the fruit that brings peace.
One of the points in Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path is the point of Right Conduct. This point is synonymous with the idea of temperance, but it also involves a call to understand one’s behavior before trying to improve it.
The precepts within the point of Right Conduct are do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, do not be unchaste, and do not become intoxicated. The practitioner should reflect on their actions and determine the motives that prompt them. For example, if one was making an effort to drink less, that person should be mindful of what makes them want to drink in the first place.
By following the Eightfold Path, the practitioner is traveling along what Buddha called the Middle Way. The principle of the Middle Way is to avoid the extremes of asceticism on one side, and indulgence on the other. The body should be given what it needs to function optimally, but no more. Refraining from eating and drinking excessively would be an example of self-restraint; however, fasting to the point of near starvation would not. It is important to have balance.
Temperance in Christianity
Temperance in Christianity is closely aligned with self-control. It is applied to all areas of life, and is clearly exemplified among the Amish, and the Old Order Mennonites. Self-control is not only important in our daily lives, but is critical to faith as well. The Apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:5-8:
“Beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
From this passage, we see that temperance is a key part of living a virtuous and faithful life. This is self-evident, for without the ability to control ourselves we are prisoners to our own desires. Without control, we are at the mercy of the temptations that come our way. How can we resist the devil if we cannot even resist ourselves?
The ability to properly control ourselves is not easy, nor is it something that can be achieved overnight. To do so, one must begin by guarding their thoughts and desires. The mind is the source of everything we do and say. Controlling our actions and words must begin with the mind. Those who attempt to change their actions without changing their mindset will likely find themselves slipping back into old habits.
Temperance Across Religions
Like other virtues, Temperance is not limited to one religion or spirituality. Each of the religions described above provide valuable insight on why Temperance is important, and how to work towards better self control.
From Confucianism and Taoism, we learn that part of Temperance is constantly being in the middle: a balance that avoids extremes in both ends. Buddha also advocated for the middle path. He believed that in order to have better self control, we need to understand our thoughts and the motives behind our actions. In Christianity, Temperance is vital because without control, we are left at the mercy of temptation and our sinful nature. As with everything else, our best hope for achieving proper self control is to rely on Christ and his strength.
How to Practice Self-Control
Self-control means using willpower to block ourselves from something we want but don’t need. Without self control we are at the mercy of emotion and desire. Strengthening the will is not easy, and there are no short-cuts, but it is attainable with practice and diligence.
If you are in need of stronger willpower, you are already on the road to acquiring it. Think about areas where you lack control, and set a goal that is achievable. Brainstorm ways to achieve this goal, and get informed by reading books and looking things up online.
It is vital to remember that the best change comes slowly. Start small, and gradually work yourself in the direction you want to go. For example, if you are addicted to cheeseburgers, don’t suddenly swear off cheeseburgers forever. Slowly working them out of your diet gives you the best chance for success, as you will be changing your habits and thoughts.
Another part of improving self-control is learning how to relax. Meditation is a great way to relax and improve willpower. The point of it is to discipline your mind into a state where it remains clear. During meditation, one’s thoughts are not anchored to anything and the mind focuses on nothing. Breathing exercises are also an effective way to calm oneself.
In the end, self-control comes down to reason versus emotion. You have to make yourself choose the right action, and each choice is a battle. If you give in once you will likely give in again, so don’t let yourself stumble, not even a single time! Each successful resistance builds momentum that will help you beat the habits you want to break.