_Universal discipline: Listen, be and negate
If you’ll ask my parents they will say that I am a star in being late. Maybe they are right. I would rather call it having a standard deviation of, let’s say, five minutes. If I am right, the Americans made a special time for people with roots from the more relaxed countries such as Africa and the Spanish orientated countries. They call it ‘colored people time’ (CPT). It stereotypes the ‘colored people’ frequently to be late (from western perspective of course). And guess what, actually my mother is from the Caribbean, and my skin is a little colored. That entitles me. So if we insist on making a common statement about me being late…I’m not.
Born in the Netherlands, means (in most cases) being raised with the moral duty of being on time. We are so fixated on this, that even in the early stages as birth, you’re early or late! There are birth cards with the exact time, even seconds, given. And I was always thinking that birth was a process. So when are you born? At the moment your umbilical cord is cut? When you’re head pops out of the womb? Nevertheless, from birth till death one is chased by this ‘being on time’ concept. Just think of it – school, work, doctors, semi friends, etc not being on time means trouble.
There are different explanations given to explain the meaning or concept of ‘being late’. To list a few: being late is a form of laziness, a lack of motivation, a lack of moral or ethical awareness, having no sense for social behavior. At the core, the basis you get in school, being on time is called ‘discipline’.
Actually, in school they had a whole list of disciplinary rules. I guess it was to maintain order. In those days, when I first encountered school (also later on) they committed this disciplinary rule ‘being on time’ as top ranked in the list of rules. In fact everything seemed to rely on that factor. The whole schedule was based on time. Breaks, holidays, start, end, program, tests. Even the teachers had to commit to that. And myself, as newly arrived student, knowing nothing of anything, I had to fit in, otherwise the program got chaotic. So connecting a disciplinary rule as time with an institute as school, I concluded, school is rather about the program then about you actually learning something. In these days I felt for the first time that time actually commits discipline on you. But time is not an entity, it is not a sentient being, time is a concept. A concept based on human experience. Time commits nothing, humans do. Humans are cultivating discipline, but why?
Discipline is often mentioned with words like order and structure. When I talk with people about it some think discipline prevents us from chaos. As chaos is the thing to be afraid of. They’ll say chaos will destroy us all. I am not so ‘apocalyptically minded’, think we have been so familiar (conditioned and polluted) with structure, order and discipline that we assume, or like to think that chaos is the direct opposite. Hopefully the world isn’t that black and white. The encyclopedia for the dumb (Wikipedia) follows another definition; it states that discipline is referring to a systematic instruction given for conduct, code or to train students. In the Dutch dictionary they talk about an ‘obedience’ on prescriptions and orders. Another explanation can be given when doctors, scientists or artists are asked. They think of their field of study or profession to be a discipline. In this case discipline can be assumed as a mental or intellectual form to contain a subject or to define it by borders. Doing so, doctors, scientists and artists can claim their expertise. For example they say, ‘This study is physics and not meta-physics, that’s another discipline. Meta-physics follows a different set of rules.’ This makes discipline not universal. One discipline isn’t the other.
Individualization and discipline
Although discipline is not universal, discipline is universally applied. Discipline is found within the foundation of almost anything; society, the environment, the streets, within families, organizations and institutes. In some organizations and institutes discipline is found to be very obvious. Police, military, fireguard, monastery, schools, prison, etc. but actually discipline is found everywhere. Some like to think of their own job as a non-disciplinary institute, that releases some imagined pressure. But start coming late, miss your appointments or get some tattoo’s or a nice green Mohawk haircut and you’ll lose your job. After you’re fired you will think differently. Discipline does dominate our western life and thinking, but also the Chinese, the Russian, and all the strong religious, capitalistic or communistic based countries. And for as far I know it’s not only since our present time, but since all times. Although in this time of the so called individualization, where striving for a sort of self-liberation is a common good, our sense of discipline gets a bit two sided. Our mind, conditioned, awfully familiarized and polluted, with the concept of discipline, likes to work on an individualized form of discipline. This is called ‘self-discipline’. This perspective we love. We commit ourselves to certain diets, habits, rituals, lifestyles. We buy books that define the steps and accentuate to recondition ourselves through self discipline, we (try) to stop smoking, putting our alcohol (ab)use into perspective when the discussion arises to cut back alcohol, drink shakes, etc. Holding on to the more traditional form of discipline, a bad taste enters the mouth. A feeling of being a non-individual rises when discipline is called social, ethical or moral discipline. It feels that we ‘must’ adapt a certain behavior. Some people refer to this as a concept that is against any form of self liberation. In some extreme cases they even think it makes you a ‘slave’ of ‘the system’. Living with this double sided feeling of discipline and self-discipline a struggling for relief begins.
I’m intent to say we suffer from the yoke of discipline. Strangely enough; this same yoke should liberate us. I don’t know much about the ancient (and dead) language Sanskrit, but once when I was attending a course of eastern philosophy, we came across the term Yoga. The professor, who lectured us, explained that the term Yoga in Sanskrit referred to a ‘Yoke’. In fact than it gets also the meaning; ‘to unite’ or ‘to control’. Yoga as yoke refers to a very productive process. The yoke for the horse or rind unites the horse and the plow with the work what has to be done. The yoke restrains (or controls) the animal but also unites. In the end it cultivates the ground to ripen it for growth and harvest. The product of yoga is said to be very fertile. More spiritually said, yoga is a philosophy (of life) which teaches to control body, senses and mind to reach union with the divine or ultimate truth. Later on Yoga stood for a ‘deep urge of change’ in values, motivations, attitudes, habits and way of life. Yoga means putting a constant ‘right’ effort to reach your goal.
With this last explanation, the ‘right’ effort, you can imagine how many philosophical systems, religious as non-religious with their roots founded in India (as the land of the yogi’s) hang on to the word yoga. Every one of them with a slightly different explanation on the words ‘right effort’ and even the word ‘yoga’. Imagine the chaos of disciplines in ancient India. But even in the present days with all those modern people looking for liberation, chaos is finding its way in the offers of all kind of disciplines. The discipline super-market. From a not very productive and even depressing yoke of discipline, people move, unsatisfied, towards another. Or, strange enough, some people trying to loosen one yoke of discipline, trying to add the fruits of another yoke. So instead of cutting down they are adding up. It’s like carrying a heavy backpack. But instead of throwing some out or changing the backpack totally they throw something extra in.
In high-school Economics class they first taught me the formula from the famous British economist John Maynard Keynes. Then they accepted the fact that Keynes wasn’t up to date anymore, so they broke the discipline. The market forces changed. Keynes theory was far too much relying on the demand side. As in (Say’s law) that every supply creates its own demand. We had to be reeducated, re-disciplined. Imagine my confusion, walking around in Holland almost falling over the thousand and one yoga studios. A diversity of yoga is offered, totally in stream with the yoke of the gym / fitness-trend that is also booming. The means of yoga are reduced to some (for me) impossible bodily postures, in between the daily rush. These with a diversity of motivations such as health, flexibility, reducing overweight, (again) stop smoking and so on. The philosophy? …who cares, we can make it up for our selves, if we have the time. This concept of yoga successfully entered the market, provided by enterprising people with a strong self-centered mind. When I wrote yoga can liberate us, I am sure you understood I didn’t mean or demanded this type of yoga.
Being in Dharamsala I met some really nice yoga teachers, trained in world’s oldest yoga school, in the most authentic school. And I can’t explain it but when I spoke to them and saw their behavior, the way, they moved, they thought about aspects of life. I only could think ‘they don’t do yoga, they are yoga, or should I say yogi’. And yes of course also they would give yoga teachings to make money, but they saw and where joyful for the benefit that yoga brings, so they were seeking a way to give all their teachings for free (some teachings for schools in India they already did for free). A case of applied yoga.
back to self-discipline.
Strike the golden mean
Self-discipline is widely encouraged. Self-discipline is said to be needed for study, clean our house, be on time on our job, brush our teeth every day, prepare ourselves a nutritious meal, be nice to each other, turn of your mobile phone during a meeting, etc. Although widely accepted, or maybe, due this ‘social’ acceptance, the individual feels great when breaking the discipline. Some go totally wild, ending up somewhere in jail or in a hospital not remembering how?
What reminds me of a story of the Buddha. Like all religious stories you can explain it on different ways but with perspective on the subject of discipline I like to explain it like this. It is said that prince Siddharta (who became the Buddha) on his path joined some ascetics. This group was famous for their constant meditation. They suppressed all sensation, even hunger and thirst. One day Siddartha was sitting on the side of the river, restraining his senses and body experiences. He wasn’t fully concentrated I think, because than he heard a sitar teacher talking to his student. He gave instructions on how to stretch the string. He told his student when the string was too loose you would get an awful sound. In contrary when you stretch the string too strong the string snaps. At that moment Siddhartha knew he had to break with the ascetic life-style and continue his path. He broke the discipline by eating and drinking, from a woman of all persons, so the other ascetics got angry. Later on in the story Siddartha, then the Buddha, returned to the ascetics and enlightened them with the sentence ‘there is suffering’, the first truth of ‘the four noble truths.’
So, if the string is too loose you get an awful sound, when the string is too tight it snaps. This sounds like a teaching to walk the ’middle way’ or as we would say in Holland ‘strike the golden mean’. Of course we should not mistake the self-discipline dilemma with the (con)quest for enlightenment from the ultimate Buddha. But there is a lesson to be learned.
Taking the lesson the question rises, how can I know if I am walking the middle way? Taking the way not a bit too loose or too tight? Considering the fear of being accused of being lazy. Or to cope with a physical and mental tiredness. Should I join a club who tells me what is ‘right’? Like Jason Bourne did, when he felt like dedicating his life to protect the American citizens, in the ‘Bourne trilogy’. I keep on remembering the sentence; ’Will you commit to this program?’ In order to join the program and show his full commitment, Jason had to execute a man. This lead to moral confusion within his mind. The club Jason intended to join, tortured him to convince him to kill the man and by doing so fully commit to the program (discipline). Eventually Jason cleared his moral confusion and took the discipline! Talking about films, I think Stanley Kubrick also had a far most interesting perspective on the subject of discipline in his film ‘Full metal Jacket’. Kubrick’s films are known for their sharp and rather disturbing view on western society. In this film he shows young Americans getting disciplinary treatment in the army. As good Americans they should fight for their nations. They are taught how to be brave and how to go in war. The disciplinary standards during the training breaks several of the younglings down, one even commits suicide. All old moral and ethical standards were getting replaced. When training finished they were all disciplined, like ‘good’ American soldiers. Then they are sent to Vietnam where they expect to fight in the field, that is what they trained for, but instead they found themselves in an urban war. The discipline they learnt wasn’t suited to that. You should watch the film to see how this lead from one disaster to another. All of the younglings face an individual defeat.
So, considering discipline, joining a club is not always the answer. Especially for the modern individualist who’s taking on discipline for so called ‘self-liberation’.
Geshe Lobsang Tsondu, one of the ‘Geshes’, the title for a Buddhist monk with a certain degree in Buddhist philosophy, who’s teaching me at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), would say,’ take a spiritual leader. But first be analytical and see if you can trust him or her’. Indeed, to attain self-liberation I guess it is not helpful to end up in an Osho gang-bang or some sort. I think the string is then too loose, so always be attentive.
Nowadays I can refer to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as my neighbor. As a totally reliable guru, maybe he can contribute to the subject on discipline. In one of his books I am reading at the moment, about the (earlier mentioned) four noble truths, he states that ‘a person whose mind is undisciplined and untamed is in the state of samsara or suffering; whereas someone whose mind is disciplined and tamed is in the state of nirvana, or ultimate peace’.
So as long we are not totally in control of our mind we’ll never find ultimate peace. In fact Geshe Lobsang Tsondu told me when I asked him directly about discipline, that, from the Buddhist perspective, discipline comes from merits of virtuous deeds committed in former lives. With this one may think that discipline itself is a karmic consequence. So even in the monasteries they can’t ‘give’ discipline. They do have disciplinary rules and give teachings on discipline; Discipline remains something you ‘have’ or can be accumulated true virtues or ‘yogic’ deeds. From Buddhist perspective discipline is not based on social behavior or the environment. Like many things in their teachings it is based on the individual. The individual is the key, because every change starts with the individual, or in this case of disciplining the ’inner-individual’. Further they refer to the clear-light nature in oneself. It is the urge, or the aspiration for everyone to attain liberation. Or more strongly said; it is the mind, that every sentient being possesses, with the capacity to attain full enlightenment.
Beautiful words from the Buddhist teachings. But the same kind of words we can learn from the merciful Catholics or dedicated Muslims. How do they know what is the right effort for us, regarding self-discipline? Through the same instrument we are struggling with, namely; discipline.
To make the scenario a bit darker. Although not all are familiar with the origin of discipline, we all get the shivers when one talks about disciplinary consequences. One way or another it always refers to our freedoms, leisure and enjoyments. That makes me wonder. Is there a relation between freedom, leisure, enjoyments and discipline?
Speaking about disciplining ones-self, with common sense, it usually means cutting back or reducing things that one likes intensely. It is restraining the sensual pleasures, to focus on your goal, or for a cause; short-term and long-term. Earlier I called it a yoke which in a yoga sense was quite productive, or better still, economic. It is different to wearing blinkers, because you know what you’re cutting back, it is not that you’re making yourself blind to the pleasures. Nor does it makes one blind to the benefits of that which is cut back? You are not there to fully explore it, because that implies that you would have to use another discipline. Even if the goal doesn’t change. I guess we can only learn or rely on stories of others who have been walking another path.
Let’s take an example, imagine some hippies wanting to gain spiritual freedom. In one discipline they attend a yoga school or follow Hari Krishna. They commit themselves to a strong disciplinary program of exercises and meditation. In this program the use of drugs (alcohol included) is way out of the picture, because a) it destroys or poisons the spiritual mind and body, and b)it won’t bring you spiritual liberation but spiritual imprisonment or mental addiction [it’s counterproductive to your aim!]. Thus everything but liberation. On the other hand if one follows rock-stars as Curt Cobain, Bob Marley, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, etc. one believes in the spiritual experiences you get from LSD and marihuana and walk naked on Woodstock. Could this liberate you – they ALL died of drug overdoses! It is obvious when you’re seriously committed to a program of Yoga and Krishna you wouldn’t put yourself in a Volkswagen van for 5 days with a load of drugs to head for Woodstock. Neither will you get very far if during the climax of the band Nirvana one starts your meditational practices. Extreme? Yes indeed. Maybe a doctor patient example will help clear things up. The patient goes to the doctor with let’s say the flu. The doctor prescribes a medicine and advices rest. The doctor’s advice and medicine are the discipline. After two weeks the patient returns to the doctor to complain, because he doesn’t feel any better. The doctor asks, did you take the medicine? The patient says, well not totally, my grandmother came to visit me and she made me eat chicken-soup and let me throw away the medicine. Than the doctor asks did you take rest? And the patient says well I stayed home for a day and didn’t like it at all. I got bored and then a friend told me that sitting at home won’t make me better, so I went to work because that makes me feel better, I enjoy my work. I think the doctor would have to seriously practice patience, or just throw the patient out.
So in the example the patient had a choice, to stay with his grandmother and eat chicken soup or just keep on working, or go to a doctor. It is not that one is better than the other, or more acceptable, it is which discipline that the patient thinks, or believes, fits. In these cases you just can’t have it all. You simply haven’t got the time to explore each choice.
Lots of religious, spiritual and science minded people, believers and so-called non believers, should now be happy. They can now say, believe, have faith. And then the marketing starts, I’ll give you forty-three virgins, I’ll give you eternal wealth or wisdom. If you follow me you’ll never want to smoke anymore and you will become thin again. I’ll give you a degree what can guarantee you a job with a good paycheck, studies have proven that, etc, etc.
Beliefin my inner
More clearly stated; discipline is belief based. So I’m proud to say, I am a believer. Lots of opportunity for me to get some discipline I should think. Only there is one problem to this, I believe in nearly everything. So a club can show me a path but they can’t show me the faults, or non-truth, of another. Like a study-friend told me ‘you don’t ask why, just ask why not?
Self-discipline based on the ‘inner-individual’, the analytical mind, should liberate me. But that implies that ‘I’ must ‘believe’ that I have an ‘inner’. Buddha says that self-existence is empty and there is no, inherent existing, self. (why not?)
It would take more than sixteen years of studying Buddhism to fully understand this one sentence, Geshe Kelsang Wangmo (world’s first woman having a Geshe degree in Tibetan Buddhism) would say. And to realize it, as to understand it fully without any doubt, it could take several lifetimes. This path lies beyond the intellect. During the teachings I followed at the IBD the same Geshe often giggled at the idea that many people come to Dharamsala to find themselves, and there they come to the teachings where the idea of ‘no self-existence’ is taught. Nevertheless, even though the Buddhists quote that all existence is empty of inherent existence, this doesn’t deny a perceiver. But this perceiver is not the Self. No self? Wouldn’t this subject of self-discipline be very sober, without the Self? Without the Self, there would only be discipline. Eureka?
Listen to your Self
Talking on this level of Self, means that I have left the dimension where self is related to me, myself and I (or ego in western sense). There are many ways to talk about this Self, to list a few: the self - as object, awareness, transcendence, manifestation, being. So when the life-coach is saying ‘listen to Your Self’. To what is he referring? And not only the modern life-coach is saying this, the oracle Delphi in the ancient Greek philosophy (1400 BC) also stated ‘know yourself’. There is a little Zen story I like to quote, I got it from John Suler he got his PhD at the Rider University in the US and gave teachings on the Self.’ The Emperor was really into Buddhism. He read everything he could get his hands on, he talked with philosophers and monks about it, he even tried writing his own discourses and Haiku. One day he heard that a famous Zen master (a truly enlightened being) was visiting the city. So, naturally, being the Emperor, he requested that the Master come to visit him at the Palace. He offered the Master a fine meal and afterwards performed a truly elegant tea ceremony. The whole time, the master is pretty much silent and peaceful, as you might expect from a Zen master - but the Emperor was biting his tongue. He wanted to pick this guy's brains about Zen. So finally, as they are drinking their tea, he breaks the silence. "Master, according to Zen, what is the Self?"
The Master briefly looks up from his tea and says, "I do not know." Then he quietly continued sipping.’
The subject of Self can be very ambiguous, still many religious and non- religious systems or philosophers acknowledge the idea of a Self. Some have spent their entire career on the Self. Rene Descartes (1595-1650) for example. The man from whom we derived the quote,’ I think therefore I am’. The godfather of the body–mind dualism. He was investigating what we could know for sure, in other words, realize. So during his investigation on ‘what’ we could know, he bumped into the question , ‘who or what’ is knowing? I guess with some pressure from the Catholic Church (he wouldn’t be the first scientist ending on the fire-stack), he thought that the ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ was responsible for us knowing. The soul as the self was an idea relating back to the ancient Greeks. But then where is this soul seated? After cutting into lots of unwilling volunteers he thought he found the ‘soul’ in the pineal gland.
With the statement of George Berkeley, 1710, that neither our thoughts nor imaginations, nor even the sensations which compose the objects of perception, can exist other than in the mind that perceives them. He stabilized the thoughts of Descartes of the transcendent perceiver or soul. Berkeley took his theory a bit further; he stated that our senses are not responsible for the existence for the outer world, but that the soul projects the outer world. So without the soul there is no existence. Berkeley didn’t place this mind in the body, the mind contains the body. He claims the mind to be totally transcendent. Despite Berkley’s efforts the search for the Soul continue.
Nowadays neuro-physics search for the Self. They are making great effort to anatomize the human brain. They can explain almost every part of the brain and its function. They can even tell about its’ chemical process and the neuron activity. But they still can’t explain ‘what’ is actually ‘understanding’ or ‘wanting’. Nor have they found the perceiving self. In some explanations on Buddhist philosophy this would be proof of the non-existence of an intrinsic Self. I would say there is no Self found, because there is no self to be found. Why? We are the Self. How on earth we can find a Self if we are the Self? As the Zen-master Hui-neng, the master from the Platform Sutra, could say, there is no self to be ‘found’, there is no self to ‘liberate’.
The fault when discussing the self, is in trying to ‘conceptualize’ it. Making it an object of knowledge, something what is apart from you. Earlier I mentioned the oracle of Delphi, quoting know yourself. Socrates was one of those people that really understood this. In his time, the powerful people tried to conceptualize life with strong disciplinary rules as an instrument to establish their power. This gave him his life’s mission ‘convincing everybody that ‘conceptual’ knowledge was empty’. Socrates firmly stated ‘the truly wise person admits that they really know nothing at all’. So he questioned people’s wisdom until they realized that they knew nothing. Relating this to the oracle, there is no self to be ‘known’. Realizing this is Self-realizing.
Self based discipline
So an un-’realized’ Self or conceptualized self, combined with discipline as a belief, which itself is also related to the Self (because ‘who’ is believing?), Self discipline can be presumed as useless or even a contradiction. However, with a realized self, (self) discipline could be yoga. Then we put effort into control of the body, senses and mind and reach union with the divine or ultimate truth. Self-discipline could than be translated as Self based discipline. ‘Listening to the Self’ would give one full control over our own life path. We’d have a deeper understanding of our own emotions and feelings. ‘Being the Self’ will lead to a self-guided, real person. We’d fully use the senses and capabilities of the self. ‘Negating a Self’, or cultivating ‘selflessness’ leads to a great deal of compassion, a long life effort for the wish for others to be free from suffering. We’d be free from afflictions and any kind of suffering related to the Self. Which of these, listening, being or negating, would lead to the longed-for sense of ease which some call the ultimate inner-peace? Earlier I wrote that discipline is not universal, well, the Self is universal. So why restrain something as universal as the Self, with a non-universal principal such as discipline?
Socrates would say, nobody knows. Like the Buddha he would opt for the negation of the Self. Listen, the teacher would say just like the Christian or Muslim God. Being is promoted by the modern mindfulness gurus as they would say, live in the ‘now’. They all wish the best for the people. In conclusion:
Listen, be and negate.
Meanwhile I will continue…. cool, aware, attentive and immensely enjoying.
- June 2011 -
Universal Discipline van Stanley Pashouwers is in licentie gegeven volgens een Creative Commons Naamsvermelding-GelijkDelen 3.0 Unported licentie.
Gebaseerd op een werk op http://www.piyama.org.