I wake up at 5 a. m. every morning to do yoga. People have said that this requires discipline, but that word strikes me as objectionable and false in this context.
Growing up a musician, I was constantly presented with the word discipline. What it meant as a child was forcing yourself to do something you didn’t want to do. But later it became clear that this was a childish view. Clearly I love music. It is not that I don’t want to do music. It is rather that so much practice time is sometimes difficult to reconcile. Most people cannot imagine what it is like to spend 6 to 8 hours every day practicing. This begs a different meaning for discipline.
For Westerners discipline is usually wielded like a sword of righteousness. It is entirely egotistical. A disciplined person loves his discipline and disdains those that live in sloppy disarray.
In my practice there is no room for the ego. Indeed the Vedic teaching are focused on freedom from the ego. Patanjali’s yoga was one of the first attempts at realizing the Vedas in a way that people could embrace. Instead of discipline – the word is never used in any translation – the Vedas offer 6 “graces”. Together, these comprise what I substitute, in my heart , for discipline. (Summaries are from Shankaracharya, The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom)
1) Restfulness – a steady intentness of the mind on its goal.
2) Self-control – the steadying of the powers that act and perceive, each in its own sphere, turning them back from sensuality.
3) Withdrawal – the raising of the mind above external things.
4) Endurance – the enduring of all ills without petulance and without self-pity.
5) Faith – an honest confidence in the teaching and the Teacher.
6) Meditation – the intentness of the soul on the pure Eternal, but not the indulgence of fancy.
This ego-less approach is very difficult for the Western perspective. The fist question the Western student has is, “wait – what’s the goal?” The answer that Dogen would give is that you can not possibly understand the goal, even if it were expressible in human terms. This is where Dogen uses the word Faith – it is faith in the Teacher: that your Teacher knows what to teach, having inherited from the thousands of years of Teachers, the path to this goal.
Back to music – what is the goal of music? In America, the goal of all those hours of practice is probably Money and Fame – among the “graces” of the Capitalist Church. But discipline with that goal will produce mediocrity. A very great film, coincidentally about the cello(ish), is Tous les matins du monde. It has been very influential to me, in terms of my understanding of “discipline”. Here is the iMDB summary:
It’s late 17th century. The viola da gamba player Monsieur de Sainte Colombe comes home to find that his wife died while he was away. In his grief he builds a small house in his garden into which he moves to dedicate his life to music and his two young daughters Madeleine and Toinette, avoiding the outside world. Rumor about him and his music is widespread, and even reaches to the court of Louis XIV, who wants him at his court in Lully’s orchestra, but Monsieur de Sainte Colombe refuses.
One day, nineteenyear-old Marin Marais (Guillaume Depardieu) shows up at Sainte Colombes door, requesting that he be accepted as a pupil. In spite of an impressive audition, the Master rejects him, to the great disappointment of both Madeleine and Toinette. In a short but cold and biting pronouncement, Sainte Colombe tells him to go to play at the Court, where his undeniable talent will be most appreciated, but he, Marais, will never know what real music is all about, and what it means to be a musician: You make music, Monsieur, you are not a musician.
For me, this suggests the related word “discipleship”, instead of discipline. You go to your shed in the garden each day to practice, through no power of your own, no ego. Instead, you are called to the shed, to do the work you have been gifted with. It would be impossible to explain this as a kind of “goal” to someone else. This is why discipline may be loud, but discipleship may be quiet. St. Paul says, in the first letter to the Corinthians
In fact, preaching the gospel gives me nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion and I should be in trouble if I failed to do it. If I did it on my own initiative I would deserve a reward; but if I do it under compulsion I am simply accepting a task entrusted to me. What reward do I have, then? That in my preaching I offer the gospel free of charge to avoid using the rights which the gospel allows me. So though I was not a slave to any human being, I put myself in slavery to all people, to win as many as I could.
I have also heard the word sacrifice used in relation to discipline. I take issue with this, as well. In the Western sense, sacrifice is again, tied to the ego. People would not do sacrifice if it were kept a secret. If they drag the cross up the hill, they do so only with a crowd of onlookers. Sacrifice in this sense implies the loss of something great. I see no loss in the few hours of sleep I might have had. I see no loss in the sleep I lose to quiet my baby’s fears in the night.
Instead, I see only gain, feel only enrichment