Path of Transformation» Meditation

Practicing the Pāramitās in Daily Life, Part Three: Discipline


Discipline tends to sound uncomfortable or like a penalty to most modern people. But, here, in this short video teaching Tulku Migmar Tsering explains that when we correctly practice discipline, we maintain virtuous behavior and rid ourselves of negative habits. And as the second of the six pāramitās, discipline can bring about dramatic transformation. Discipline in the Buddhist context involves monitoring our own behavior so that we do not harm others or ourselves. We behave the way we really want the world to be, rather than behaving reactively.

When we follow rules, we actually begin to abandon negative behavior as we adopt positive actions. In addition to this, discipline brings with it a number of benefits. When we are disciplined, we can more easily guard our own conduct. As we know, we often spend our time engaged in disrespectful behavior. When we participate in negative actions of body, speech, and mind, we do this out of carelessness. Because we are not disciplined, we don’t correct our own behavior. And this causes unhappiness for ourselves as well as for others.

When we are disciplined, we experience more peace and balance in our lives. Instead of feeling constrained, we can understand that responsible actions reduce our anxiety and stress.

Tulku Migmar uses the example of a Singapore traffic light to explain discipline. In mundane life things function better when everyone understands and follows rules. When people obey traffic laws correctly, then everyone in society benefits. If all of us follow these simple regulations and pays attention to the color of the light, then we avoid danger. The yellow light serves as a warning, and that reduces trouble for everyone.

Discipline helps us on both a mundane, societal level and also on an ultimate, spiritual level. We need moral behavior, for example, when we practice the first pāramitā of generosity. If we aren’t disciplined, we may practice generosity with very selfish motivation. Our actions can veer off course if we aren’t careful. We often use the translation of “ethics” instead of “discipline”. That translation may remind us to always guard our own mind, mouth, and actions when we engage in either mundane or spiritual activities.


Reflection Exercise

What do you think of when you hear about “discipline” or “ethics”? Contemplate Tulku’s explanation—does this give you a different perspective? Reflect on the example he gave of generosity without discipline. Can you think of cases where you might have practiced generosity without discipline? Don’t judge yourself if this is the case, but instead see how you might adjust your actions by being more careful. How might that affect your interactions with others?

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