Question: Why do Yoga practices appear as disciplines when they are the source of joy?

Yoga practices don’t appear as discipline—they are discipline. And who said that a disciplined life is an unhappy life? This seems to imply that discipline doesn’t make us joyful. That is not correct. If you really want a good, permanent, and continuous joy, you can only get it through discipline. Only when you discipline the automobile is there a joyful ride. If your steering is wobbling or the break doesn’t work, or there is uneven tire pressure, it won’t be a joyful ride. It will send you into a ditch or make you have a terrible accident. So, discipline means a well-tuned instrument. Your mind is like that car. It should be well-tuned, with no loose bolts and nuts.

We think that freedom means to do whatever we want. Freedom doesn’t mean without discipline. You are really free only if you are disciplined. And with that freedom, you can also help others. But without discipline, if you are free, you may hurt others and yourself as well. Everything needs discipline. If you want to play a violin, the strings must be well-disciplined. One string cannot say, Oh I can be a little loose if I want. How much effort is put into tuning piano keys? That is discipline. If you want a comfortable, joyful life the first thing that should come to our mind is discipline. So don’t ever think that without discipline you can find joy. It’s impossible. Even if you have a joyful life, you still need discipline to use that life well, otherwise you will ruin it.

Discipline is not really liked by many people. But in each and every situation we are in, it is needed. Try to ride a bicycle without discipline or try to learn how to play a piano or drive a car without discipline. True, in the beginning it is hard. You try to sit on the bicycle seat and then you forget to pay attention to the pedaling. When you think of the pedaling, you forget about the handle bar. When you think of both of them at the same time, you forget the brake. It is always like that in the beginning. As you ride, you look here and there and don’t need to think about what the hands or feet are doing. On a piano, every key has to be seen before it is pressed. After some time, you don’t even see the keys. You are able to look at the audience, and the fingers just know where to go. It comes naturally. How did it come? Because you worked hard in the beginning.

In the beginning it is hard, no doubt about it, because the mind likes to be loose. People say it is a boisterous monkey. A lot of training is necessary. But once it is disciplined, everything is easy. Everything falls into place and your life becomes so smooth. Life is like that—what begins in hardship ends in joy. But what begins with joy, ends with a lot of suffering. So which do you want? Ultimate joy or ultimate suffering? If we choose the right thing, life becomes very easy afterward. If you can keep your mind disciplined, nothing will be impossible for you to achieve and you will never lose your joy. All of the Yoga practices are based on that.

One thing to understand is that discipline becomes very difficult if your instruments are not kept clean. Can you cut an apple with a dirty and dull knife? So clean up the instrument first, and then it will be easy to discipline. That’s why we put so much emphasis on what you eat, what you drink, what you inhale. Whatever goes into your system should be clean: sounds, sights, smells, and touch. That’s why I recommend to put a gatekeeper at every opening. It’s the job of the gatekeeper to let in only those things that will not disturb the mind. We have the expression, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” Cleanliness begins with actual cleaning. Is there not something we call “Joy” [the dish soap] to clean with? In the system of Raja Yoga, we’ve been given ten ingredients for a clean life: Ten bottles of joy! They comprise the first two “limbs” in the eight-limbed system of Raja Yoga.

The first five are the Yamas, or abstinences:

Ahimsa – non-injury

Satya – truthfulness

Asteya – non stealing

Aparigraha –non greed

Brahmacharya – moderation.

The second five are the Niyamas, or observances:

Saucha – purity

Santosha – contentment

Tapasya – accepting pain that comes without returning it

Svadyaya – self-study

Ishvara pranidanam – self-surrender

These ten ethical practices are all given to clean the mind. If you clean up the mind, then it will be easy to discipline. Going through a little suffering to begin, with doesn’t matter if we know that later we will realize the permanent peace and joy that is our True Nature.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda