A person without discipline is like a ship without a rudder in the storm of life. He has no control, no way of creating harmony or improving the quality of his life. Discipline is the key to evolution. It is the key to personal and social harmony and progress. It is the key to real culture and civilization. In Sanskrit a very special work is used to refer to all kinds of spiritual disciplines. The word is «Tapas». It has many meanings in English. Some of them are:
1. Any discipline which is performed with the goal of bettering one’s body, mind or character.
2. Any effort whatsoever which might be made with the goal of spiritual evolution.
3. Any sacrifice of pleasure, comfort or negative habits or attitudes which may inhibit one’s growth.
4. The development of will power and detachment. The cultivation of the ability to deny temporary pleasures or rewards for more lasting and real benefits.
5. All attempts towards self mastery in which one learns to master the functioning of the body and mind.
6. Any oath taken which requires some sort of control over the body or mind or way of living.
There are unlimited examples of possible disciplines which may suit various people with various needs. Here is a small list of some possibilities. The time period for which one may choose to employ such disciplines is a personal decision. Some may choose a week, others a year, and others may decide to employ a discipline for the rest of their lives, such as oaths which are taken by priests and monks.
1. Not to eat chocolates or sweets in general.
2. Not to criticize others.
3. Not to buy new clothing.
4. To read from the Bible or other spiritual books daily.
5. To limit sexual activity.
6. To meditate daily.
7. To wake up early.
8. To practice silence some hours a week, or days per year.
9. To keep a daily dairy.
10. To exercise and do breathing techniques daily.
11. To pray daily.
12. To avoid movies or TV.
13. To give a certain percentage of our income to the poor.
14. To visit an orphanage or home for elderly on a regular basis.
15. To eat more properly.
16. To stop smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.
17. To talk less on the telephone.
18. To play a musical instrument daily.
19. To fast one day per week.
I’m sure that you can add many more possibilities to the list. Each person needs to evaluate which forms of discipline are most suitable to him. He can ask, «what is it that I am doing which is preventing me from being more healthy, happy or from growing spiritually?» He can also ask, «what is it that, if I were to do more often, it would benefit myself and others around me?» It is like weeding a garden. We go out into the garden of our soul and see what needs to be removed and which tendencies we want to encourage. Thus we water and cultivate our habits which are moving us towards health and harmony with our selves and our environments, and start to gradually weed out habits and tendencies which have become obstacles to our health and growth.
NOT A MATTER OF GOOD OF BAD
It is important not to fall into the trap of feeling like a «good child» if you succeed or a «bad child» if you fail to immediately make the changes you decide to make. This requires self-acceptance and patience. We are not better persons if we manage to make changes in our living style. It simply would be more useful and more beneficial for us and others. Thus, we want to see what is useful for our evolution and not get caught up in concepts of sin, guilt, or pride that we are better than others who are still caught up in self-destructive habits. We are all moving along a path towards harmony and unity. Just as with any journey, we have to keep moving, which means not getting stuck in one place. The forms of discipline too tend to continually change. Techniques or habits which we may cultivate at one level of our evolution may not suit us at some point in the future.
THE GATE TO REAL FREEDOM
Independent of which of the many forms of discipline we choose, each is an opportunity for becoming more conscious of our true role here on the earth. For example, if we have decided to not eat one day a week, at various times of the day hunger will appear in the body and mind. We will then be faced with a choice, whether to give in to the messages from the body and mind, which will make up a large number of very clever excuses as to why we should not or need not practice this form of discipline. There will be various forms of reactions all the way from pain and weakness to negativity or depression. This is the last attempt of the body and mind to avoid succumbing to the control of the higher intelligence or soul. They have had their fun for so many years controlling our lives. We have been lead by the various desires of the body and mind for all our lives and have not been free to really create the health and harmony which we want and deserve in life. Thus, they will now react in various ways. This will be our opportunity to strengthen our will power over the power of our desires and habits. Each time we exercise our will power in any particular situation, we develop our general self mastery. We start to have greater self control and can direct our lives as we wish. Without self control we gradually loose our self- esteem. We are unable to do what we really want and what is best for our own good. Thus we continue to smoke although we know we are destroying our health and life. We continue to overeat although we know we are undermining our health and harmony. We continue to criticize others although we realize that we are destroying our relationships; our main source of happiness. We are unable to employ a discipline of exercise, breathing techniques, relaxation or meditation although we know that that will bring us health and harmony. We have become robots, slaves of our habits, desires and tendencies. We are not free human beings. We have no free will, because we have no will. The only way to learn to swim is to get into the sea. The only way to develop will is by exercising it in various situations which are appropriate.
CONTACT WITH SPIRITUAL GOAL
Taking again the example of fasting once a week and the feeling of hunger, there is another approach which can be taken. We can offer the pain, hunger or suffering which we feel, to God. We can offer the sacrifice to God, thus intensifying our sense of His presence in our lives. Each moment of hunger, pain or suffering becomes a stimulus to remember God and offer Him these efforts towards self-improvement. In doing this we attract upon ourselves higher energies which far more than replace the small and temporary energy or pleasure which we might receive through eating. Let us remember here that the possible avenues for growth, discussed in the example of fasting, applies to all forms of discipline. The body, mind, desires and habits will protest and we will be faced with a test as to whether to give in to old habits or exercise our will power or to offer up our effort to God, or some combination of these.. Such situations also offer us an opportunity to remember more intensely and deeply why we are doing this spiritual discipline. Thus, our hunger or desire becomes an opportunity to remember our goal of self-mastery, liberation or spiritual evolution, or simply health. This method offers us an opportunity to remember and affirm and experience that we can be happy even if the body does not have what it thinks it needs to have. The higher intelligence is gradually awakening. Disciplines are an excellent way to develop will power, discrimination and closeness to God. These are the three basic requirements for spiritual growth. Simple intellectual knowledge of spiritual truths is useless without them.
THREE TYPES OF DISCIPLINES
There are three types of motives which can motivate someone to perform disciplines.
1. The first category is that of people who do disciplines to punish themselves, to harm their bodies or minds, or without any clear understanding of why they are performing them. They perform them mechanically because they have been told to or because others do.
2. The second category of people perform disciplines in order to gain the attention and respect of others. If they are fasting, they will make sure that everyone knows. They will pray or meditate so that others will think that they are very spiritual. They perform disciplines so as to gain results in this world such as recognition or powers of various sorts. It is true that performance of disciplines can awaken certain spiritual powers. When the apostles were unable to remove the demon from a young man in the temple, Christ came and threw it out saying that this type of demon can be removed only through fasting and prayer. We are discouraged, however, from performing disciplines for the purpose of obtaining spiritual powers, because we may obtain them before we are spiritually mature enough and egoless enough to use them without danger for ourselves and others.
3. The last group of people who perform disciplines are those who practice them in order to purify their bodies and minds so that they may uncover their inner divine nature and realize their unity with God and all beings. They are conscious of their evolutionary process and want to participate consciously in it.
Thus various disciplines offer us valuable opportunities for developing health, harmony and spiritual growth. Every mastery over our desire, nature and habits is another step towards real freedom. Unfortunately people have a very confused idea of what real freedom is. They think that they are free if they can satisfy their desires and impulses. What they do not realize is that they are slaves to them and are not free to not obey them even if they are destroying their health and harmony. Real freedom is freedom from desires, habits, fears, programmings and limiting beliefs. Gradually the heat of discipline burns up the ignorance of our identification with the body and leads to the experience of our real nature. I hope that you will select an appropriate discipline today which will take you even closer towards your Real Beautiful Self.