Explore the profound depth of self-discipline in Kriya Yoga, as defined in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, leading to true spiritual awakening.
Table of Contents
The Essence of Tapas in Spiritually Awakened Living
Patanjali’s Perspective on Self-Discipline
The True Purpose of Self-Discipline in Spiritual Growth
Ego, Insufficiency, and the Path of Wholeness
Freedom through Self-Discipline
The three strategies or practices of Kriya Yoga that Patanjali offers as the way to remove obstructions and cultivate superconsciousness are self-discipline, self-inquiry, and self-surrender.
Self-discipline (tapas) is practiced every day through intentionally joyful living, by staying focused on higher purpose and true fulfillment. It’s all the choices we make to live in harmony with the soul, to align our thoughts, speech, and action with the spiritual truth of our being.
Self-inquiry or self-study (svadhyaya) is an investigation of higher realities and inquiry into the nature of consciousness, which includes contemplation and superconscious meditation.
Self-surrender (Ishwara pranidhana) is letting go of the illusional sense of a separate self, releasing the erroneous idea that we are separate from the Source of life and its ongoing support.
Here, let’s explore self-discipline.
Self-discipline is the first practice that the sage Patanjali lists as defining Kriya Yoga, the way of spiritually awakened intentional living.
The Sanskrit word is tapas, which means austerity, or focused discipline. Its root meaning is “to burn or to give off heat.” The “heat” of tapas refers to two things: the ignited aspiration of a spiritual practitioner and the energy of resistance that arises when we make intentional changes.
Think of your practice of self-discipline as this fire energy that can burn through obstacles and light up your path — because it can, and it does. To experience that, we need to see self-discipline with the right perspective, in accordance with its purpose.
For Self-realization and Self-actualization,
—Yoga Sutras 2.2
After stating that self-discipline is the initial foundational practice of spiritually conscious living, Patanjali clarifies that its purpose is to remove any obstacle that would interfere with the realization and actualization of our essential nature. This is a critically important point that makes all the difference in how we approach self-discipline.
If we think that our discipline is for self-improvement, or to make ourselves “spiritual,” then our approach is off base. This incorrect assumption exacerbates the error of thinking we’re separate from the Source and can infuse self-discipline with self-punishment or even self-hatred. It certainly can take the joy out of it and ultimately make it hard to maintain. Fortunately, there’s another way to walk the path of discipline, a way that is easier to sustain and brings freedom each step of the way.
That which is unbounded is happy.
— Chandogya Upanishad 7.23
The purpose of self-discipline is to purify the body and mind, thereby creating a clearer pathway for the inner light to shine. What does this mean, really? It means when obstacles to Self-realization are removed, we can experience the awakened consciousness that is samadhi and live an awakened life. It means that we do whatever is conducive to peace, balance, overall well-being, and clarity. We make choices based on these criteria. When we do this, the light of inner guidance can shine more freely into the mind, making it easier to discern the next right action. Our path is illumined.
A spiritually focused practice of self-discipline builds energy, confidence, and resolve. It’s useful to start with one area you know needs to be better aligned with your well-being. This might be a change in your diet, exercise routine, meditation practice, speech habits, or recreational activity. It can be anything you decide needs changing from something that is not currently in your best interest to a different behavior that you know is right for you now. How will you use your energy in a more positive way?
The heat energy of tapas, or intentional self-discipline, comes into play here. It takes resistance to stop an unhealthy or unwanted behavior and begin something we know is beneficial, such as regular exercise or daily meditation. Like braking a moving car, it requires attention, intention, and disciplined action. It causes friction and creates heat. That heat is energy.
In the practice of positive self-discipline, we recognize that energy as potential, as life force that can be used in another way. We can do something else with it, and the more we learn to redirect our energy like that, the stronger and more self-confident we become.
With spiritually centered self-discipline, we are “flexing our soul muscles,” doing what may be difficult initially but ultimately brings us greater freedom and delight. Choose something that feels achievable for you — a stretch but not a hyperextension! Yoga is moderation. What you are looking for is a gradual enhancement of your overall well-being. Use discipline to intentionally lean toward freedom, toward vitality, toward expressing your full potential.
The successful formula for spiritually guided self-discipline is to always begin with “enough,” with awareness of wholeness. From the healthy perspective of innate sufficiency, we make adjustments inwardly and outwardly because we are fine-tuning our expression as the divine being we are. We discipline ourselves to express our fullness, to let our radiance shine through our thoughts, words, and actions.
Ego thrives on the “not enough” lie — it constantly reinforces the belief that we are not good enough, don’t do enough, don’t accomplish enough, and aren’t spiritual enough. A little discernment reveals that this belief system is inherent to the false self. To maintain the sense of being separate from the all-sufficiency of the Source, it is necessary to continually proclaim: Not enough! Remember that ego’s default position is lack. Can you imagine for a moment a wave rising from the bosom of the ocean, looking around at other waves, comparing itself to them, and declaring: I am not enough, not good enough, not pretty enough, not wild enough, not big enough. All the while, it is obvious to the onlooker that the wave is nothing less than the entire ocean expressing itself.
This erroneous belief is the source of great suffering; it sends us around and around the same unfulfilling track, seeking to be more and better. It underlies the negative, punitive, hamster-wheel approach to self-discipline. When we buy into “not enough,” no matter what we do to satisfy that lack, “enough” will always escape us. Always start with enough by remembering who you are, coming from your fullness, and seeing through and refusing to adopt that misguided idea of insufficiency. This sets us on a prospering course of delightful discipline and a life emanating the soul’s joy.
By embracing the true essence of self-discipline in Kriya Yoga, we embark on a fulfilling journey, breaking free from the shackles of ego and realizing our innate wholeness.
Excerpted from the book
Copyright ©2018 by Ellen Grace O’Brian.
Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
© 2023 Ellen Grace O’Brian