Discipline, order, control are considered essential in every aspect of life, in every sphere of activity, in order to live at peace and harmony with oneself and with the world around. All are supposed to observe a particular type of discipline, suited to their own work. The politicians of different parties in each country have their party discipline. A soldier has his particular duties: in time of war, he has to defeat the enemy at all costs, and the whole regiment works as a single unit; in time of peace, too, he has his discipline and his duties. Workers in the fields have their own discipline in the cultivation of land; and those in the factories, in tending machinery. Members of a family have to practise the discipline of good habits, regular hours, unity and tolerance, in order to have happy, harmonious, methodical homes. In a bank or in a business firm, the peon as well as the head have their own discipline. This is the ordinary discipline of ordinary people, practised consciously or mechanically in the daily routine, to suit their convenience. It is partial discipline observed without any correct knowledge of the fundamental principles of life-law-evolution.
Divine discipline consists in the observation of certain rules and principles prescribed by all the Great Teachers. One has to quilify oneself with a particular end in view, a particular task—the spiritual upliftment of the human race. Just as students of science or of the arts, of law or of medicine, have to qualify themselves in order to become practitioners in their particular branch of knowledge, so, too, with divine discipline. Daily practice in the control of the body, the senses, the brain, the mind, the feeling nature, the passions and desires, and in the cultivation of the virtues, all have to be undertaken, not for self-benefit, but for one purpose and one only, to become the better able to help and teach others; and this has to be done regularly and deliberately, not spasmodically.
In order to practise the divine discipline, one must be absolutely convinced of the divinity within him and around him, that the source and the root of all beings is the one divine principle of life and light. He must also be thoroughly acquainted with the various aspects of the One Life within himself. Man, though apparently a unit, is sevenfold. Seven different principles, emanations from seven different hierarchies, go to make a man. Different forces, intelligences, lives, higher and lower, exist in him. They have all to work in unison and harmony within him, and only the practice of divine discipline can accomplish that task. Therefore it is essential to acquire the knowledge of man's constitution, and to understand that there is in him the immortal triad of Atma-Buddhi-Manas, working in and through a mortal personality made up of the physical body and its foundation, the astral body, in which flow the currents of Prana and Kama.
It is this personal man who is to be trained and controlled. At present there is a constant conflict between the mortal and the personal on the one hand, and the immortal and the divine on the other. The self-conscious thinker in man has to control and train the personality and not be swayed by it. It has to be in close contact with the Higher Self, the Divine Parent, to receive its light and wisdom and shed it through a refined and purified personality. Divine discipline is to be practised to obtain inner illumination, to develop discrimination and foresight, to unfold compassion. This has to be done if one wishes to qualify oneself for the service of human souls. It is only through divine discipline that all the great Teachers of humanity have reached spiritual enlightenment. It gives one great courage and joy to follow in their footsteps and walk the path they have trodden.
Divine discipline is necessary at this stage of evolution because humanity is an emanation from divinity on its return path thereto. That divine heritage is forgotten by most human beings and they get entangled in the meshes of material existence, taking it to be the real. The Immortal Higher Self is unconditionally divine, but it is the human Soul, a ray of the divine triad, that has to win its immortality by a permanent union with its parent source, and that can only be done through divine discipline in daily life.
Four are the avenues of action where discipline is to be observed: thoughts, feelings, words, deeds. Man, though a thinker, does not think deliberately at the present time; he has made of his mind a playground of the senses, and is always generating thoughts in terms of his sense-inclinations, desires and passions. In the Seventeenth Discourse of the Gita, Krishna explains the threefold mortification of body, speech and mind, which, if practised daily, would, indeed, transform these avenues of action and make one a superior man from the spiritual point of view:
Honouring the gods, the brahmans, the teachers, and the wise, purity, rectitude, chastity, and harmlessness are called mortification of the body. Gentle speech which causes no anxiety, which is truthful and friendly, and diligence in the reading of the Scriptures, are said to be austerities of speech. Serenity of mind, mildness of temper, silence, self-restraint, absolute straightforwardness of conduct, are called mortification of the mind.
Honouring those above us is a sign of humility and grace. it is not only a mental but also a bodily discipline, engendered in true recognition of one's own humble position and out of the respect and gratitude one feels for others. Purity and chastity are essential on all planes, inner and outer. Rectitude, or moral uprightness, and non-violence are also qualities to be cultivated. These are the mortifications of the body, which has become a sickly, weak instrument these days. It has become a proper channel to manifest the divinity within.
Speech is another avenue of human expression which needs to be controlled in our civilization. Not only slander, gossip, criticism and falsehood, but also unnecessary talk, through which a great amount of energy is wasted, are to be avoided. Words are living messengers and they have to be used with care. The right type of speech is truthful, gently and friendly and is the expression of right thinking. It is deliberate and controlled and does not hurt or harm anyone. Diligence in the reading of the Scriptures is named as an austerity of speech. It is this constant reading of devotional books that impresses the mind and the heart with spiritual precepts, and so thoughts and feelings naturally flow in the right direction—towards the Higher Self. This takes one away from the ordinary affairs of the world and worldly things, and for however short a period the thinker in us is one with his divine parent. Thus speech is purified throuth this daily exercise.
Next comes mortification of the mind. Serenity of mind and mildness of temper are essential characteristics for living the spiritual life. If the mind is disturbed, agitated and turbulent, as was the complaint of Arjuna to his teacher Sri Krishna in the Sixth Discourse of the Gita, how can any action be performed rightly? Equal-mindedness is Yoga, and is very necessary if one desires to achieve union with the divine. Excitement, haste and hurry is the tempo of our civilization, which is to be changed patiently and perseveringly. Then comes silence. It is prescribed, not as a mortification of speech but of mind, which shows how necessary it is to change the mind first. Control of speech is easier than that of mind. Thoughts are hidden, so even when people abstain from speaking along wrong lines they may continue to indulge in thoughts that are harmful and injurious. Therefore an all-round self-restraint is necessary. Straightforwardness of conduct is also considered a mortification of the mind. A straightforward act is the result of a straightforward mind. Thoughts are the seeds of Karma. It is always the inner that reflects itself in the outer behaviour. This threefold mortification of mind, speech and body can be practised by anyone wishing to bring about a transformation in his character.
In this divine discipline the important idea to bear in mind is to avoid the two extremes and follow the path of moderation—neither self-indulgence nor self-torture. For a harmonious development of the whole character, moderation at every turn is necessary. In the Sixth Discourse of the Gita, Krishna instructs Arjuna in the practice of moderation, not only in food and sleep, but also in work and recreation. To go to one or another extreme in anything means to go against the law. So, even in the practice of the divine discipline this principle is to be observed. It certainly does not mean going away from the path or being slack; it means always following the golden mean.
In the Sixteenth Discourse of the Gita, a long list of the divine qualities is given. In the Twelfth Discourse, various characteristics of a true devotee or a bhakta are mentioned. Each one of them can be taken up for the practice of the divine discipline so that the personal man may become like unto his divine parent and acquire skill in the performance of his work and in the fulfilment of his aim and purpose in evolution.
Both Lord Buddha and Sri Krishna have given the very same teachings about the Divine Self and the personal self:
The Self is the Lord of self; what higher Lord could there be? When a man subdues well his self, he will find a Lord very difficult to find. (Dhammapada, verse 160)
So the true and real friend is within each one of us. If it is to be known and realized, if its light is to be expressed in daily actions, then this can only be done through divine discipline.
Divine discipline is to be cheerfully performed, with full understanding that it is our most important work in life. It leads one from the darkness of ignorance to the light of wisdom, and from death to immortality. The way of divine discipline is the only way to establish peace on earth and good-will among men.
No man can swim unless he enters deep water. No bird can fly unless its wings are grown, and it has space before it and courage to trust itself to the air. A man who will wield a two-edged sword, must be a thorough master of the blunt weapon, if he would not injure himself—or what is worse—others, at the first attempt.