Discipline is a word which is least understood in the world. What is the purpose of discipline? To be able to guide the expressions of the mind is the purpose of discipline. There is no need to say how our mind functions. We know that it is subject to distractions, it becomes distracted easily. We know that it is subject to likes and dislikes. It has strong emotions, ideas, convictions, and beliefs. We know that it is subject to the gunas: sattwa, rajas and tamas. When influenced by these natures of mind, the mind itself functions in an erratic way. There is no clarity in its behaviour.
The role of discipline is to help manage the mind, to be able to create a conditioning in the mind where it is connected with positivity and creativity. Normally we may wish to become positive, yet the conditions of mind do not allow us to focus on the positive. Normally we may wish to become creative, yet there are too many distractions which hamper our creativity. There is a continuous struggle with oneself.
How do we manage this mind? The thinkers said – through discipline. This discipline has been defined in many ways. The easiest definition of discipline in my understanding is the ability to still the mind, the ability to observe the mind. Initially, to create a conducive environment in our personality and to realize the mind, we have to follow certain imposed ideas to become more observant and to sensitize our perceptions to mental behaviour and expressions.
One example is mouna. Mouna is a simple word - silence - yet it is difficult to do. As long as the mind is not practising mouna and continuing to chatter, we will be forced to chatter ourselves. When the mind becomes still, relaxed and quiet, mouna becomes natural, spontaneous and easy. That is one example of how an external condition can help improve the quality of the mind.
How far we can progress on such paths that is up to us. How we take such disciplines to help us or hamper us, that is up to us. The purpose of every discipline is to make us realize the behaviour, attitudes and natures of the mind. When we are able to direct the mind according to our wishes and choices, then that stage is known as discipline. When we are subject to the influences of the mind, then that is the normal state of behaviour.
Throughout our life we have done as our mind demanded of us; according to our likes, our dislikes, our wisdom, our ignorance, our maturity or immaturity. However, simply following the nature and behaviour of the mind leads to dissipation and distraction. This has been the experience of those who have been able to control and guide the mind. They have said discipline is important to obtain peace, be content and express human creativity and human wisdom.
From this perspective, discipline represents only management of mind. The first sutra of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Atha yogah anushasanam, represents the direction in which yoga moves to provide the faculty of observation and the ability to direct the mind with wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Ultimately, discipline is an expression of our balanced personality, of our balanced, harmonized emotions and attitudes.
To create this condition, we have to start with something external by regulating our lifestyle and the mental behaviours. Trying to understand them and see if the outcome is appropriate or inappropriate for our development and growth, and the environment in which we all live together. We need to understand the concept of discipline as a way to improve the expressions of human nature and behaviour.
4 August 2001, Ganga Darshan, Munger