In the modern world, many people are not really sure if discipline or diligence is such a good thing. It makes people feel as though they have to act in a certain way, as if they are being somehow controlled, rather than living as freely as they choose. Many of us view it as an attempt at regimentation, almost an attack on our free will.
We can embrace diligence by viewing it from a slightly different angle—one that reminds us that it is with discipline that the truly wonderful musicians practise so that they may give us such pleasure and joy. If we engage discipline within ourselves then we are able to train our minds so that we can calm our wandering thoughts. Diligence is really a form of devotion, and devotion is a form of understanding. With diligence and devotion, we stick to our good commitments rather than saying we’ll start tomorrow, and if we have found our inspiration then we will be fortunate enough to enjoy our hard work.
Since it is so difficult to practise discipline by ourselves without any help, prophets and other divine beings were forced to propose edicts—to give constitutions and tell you what you should and should not do. These are helpful but sometimes feel like a kind of burden. You want to drink something but cannot do so according to the teaching. Whatever you want to eat, it seems that it is not allowed. This is why it is so freeing to develop the aspiring mind, as you then begin to know spontaneously what discipline is, rather than having to be told.
The great Indian master Asanga was practising on Maitreya. After practising for three years, he hadn’t gained anything. As he came down from his retreat, he saw a man rubbing a big iron rod with a piece of cotton. Seeing how hard he was working, Asanga asked what the man was doing. “I want to make a needle out of this iron rod to sew my clothes,” the man said. Asanga realised that all the practice he had been doing for the past three years up on the mountain was nothing compared to what this man was doing.
Discipline is an attitude—it is not a gift from nature. It is not something you are born with. So the good part is that almost everyone can learn to be disciplined. Being dedicated and diligent in anything we take up—whether it is work, or parenting, or caregiving, or building a business or just plain doing a job—helps you succeed. Ask any great man or woman who in your eyes is a success and they will always exhibit a strong sense of discipline—sports stars, film stars, businessmen, politicians or spiritual leaders—all of them have this common trait.
Part of the difficulty we feel in being disciplined is the control over our minds. We lose faith in the process because we keep failing, or falling back and feel let down. There is no need to be so harsh on yourself—after all, controlling the mind is one of the hardest things to do, and developing discipline is the exact antidote for it. So, if you break your promise, if you give up, then don’t feel bad but renew it as soon as possible without delay. Don’t feel disheartened.
It is easy to be too humble when it comes to practising, but you can restore your discipline happily and quickly. Otherwise, negativities will tend to grow and soon accelerate. Whatever we decide we want to do, we really need to nourish that promise to ourselves. Just like a plant, it needs to be watered, fed and looked after nicely so it can grow. You need to take care of your promises, your sense of purpose, willingly and happily rather than under any kind of duress.
If you are forcing yourself then perhaps you need to look back at your inspiration and rediscover your motivation, as the feeling that we have to do things just becomes a burden that weighs and slows us down, making us little good to anybody. We may get through life fulfilling our obligations, but it isn’t nice, and by opening up your heart and mind you will discover there is another way.The author is the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas