Often, the word discipline is used in a negative sense.
We associate it with control, rule, restriction, and this is because for a long time now (about 800 years) we have used it to described an almost monastic situation in which somebody punishes themselves for something done that is against what their environment believes is the right, appropriate way.
Originally, though, the Latin word from which discipline comes (discipulus) meant pupil. The link with learning and studying is deep, as it is the idea that to learn something you need to put in the work, day after day, in a disciplined way. In a sense, this is a form of control that is not imposed from the outside, but rather comes from within, from the desire to know and apply the knowledge. It is a way of life, a moral way, a way according to which one knows what needs to be done to achieve something and therefore, relentlessly, they commit to doing just that.
According to Buddhism, discipline is one of the six perfections (paramitas). And it is threefold.
- First, discipline means understanding what needs to be done, giving up all malicious deeds, all selfish and harmful actions.
- Second, discipline means applying what is being learned to all circumstances of life, committing to the disciplined way, without cutting corners, looking for shortcuts, or forgetting the principle when a favorable situation appears.
- Third, discipline means benefiting others, with the understanding and the actions, thinking of others as in terms of “how I can benefit them”.
Discipline is not as scary or restrictive as we are used to think. When it sparks from a deep awareness of who we are and what part we ought to have in the world, it is actually the only way to achieve what we set out to achieve.