Question: It seems to me that self-control can be carried too far. I don't see any necessity for things like flagellation and semi-starvation and things like that.

Sri Chinmoy: Self-control does not mean self-torture; it does not mean austerity. Unfortunately, in the West self-control has been misunderstood. Westerners think that the austere, arduous life that the Indian saints of the past led is the ideal of self-control. But it is not. Torturing the body, punishing the body, is not self-control, but self-mortification. If somebody fasts for days and weeks together, then he will be embraced by death, not by God. God wants from us a normal, natural life. Buddha taught us to follow the middle path, not to go to extremes. Self-torture is not a sign of self-control. The material foundation has to be very strong and sound; otherwise, the building will collapse.

Self-control means self-transcendence. Self-torture, self-mortification, lead us to abysmal self-destruction in the heart of ignorance. For self-mastery, self-control is of paramount importance. Self-control leads us to self-illumination. But this takes time; it cannot be achieved overnight.

Through self-examination one can achieve self-control. Here I wish to tell an incident that took place in the life of Socrates. Socrates, with a host of his admirers, went to see a palmist. The palmist read Socrates' hand. "What a bad person you are, full of lower vital problems and corruption of all sorts," he said. Socrates' admirers were thunderstruck and they wanted to punish the palmist for having the audacity to say such uncomplimentary things about their teacher, who was a very pious man, a real saint. Socrates immediately said, "Wait. Let us ask if he has something else to say." He said, "This man has all these undivine qualities in him, but they are all under his self-control. They are all at his command."

Self-control is the answer to your worst problems. Before one gets illumination, one may be attacked by undivine forces and may be the victim of all these forces of the lower vital. But one can easily place them at one's feet. Socrates did it, and all aspirants, who are more conscious of God-realisation than ordinary people, can also conquer the wrong forces within themselves eventually. Countless times they may be attacked by vital impulses, but each time they can manfully, boldly and courageously place their feet on the heads of the dark forces.

When the golden day of self-control dawns and the light shines in us, everything in our nature will be transformed. Emotional problems are transformed into a dynamic strength for God to use. But until then the aspirant has to fight hard.

In the outer world one can be the slave of only one master. But in the inner world one can easily be the slave of many masters, and these masters are doubt, fear, anxiety, temptation, frustration, imperfection and limitation. Self-control can only be achieved if we stop deceiving ourselves. We are apt to say that the world is deceiving us, but if we are sincere enough, if we go deep within, then we come to see, feel and realise that it is we ourselves who started this game of deception. We came from God. We could have continued the game in infinite Light and, at the end of our journey's close, returned into infinite Light. But we entered into ignorance instead; we became enamoured of ignorance. Ignorance loved us and we loved ignorance. Finally, we started eating the fruits of ignorance voraciously. The result was self-limitation and self-destruction.

It is we who opened the door of deception. Now other undivine forces have entered into the inmost recesses of our being. How can we push them out? Through aspiration, through our inner mounting flame, we can illumine the unlit forces in us and awaken the slumbering being in us to see the light within and without. Aspiration is the answer. Impurity in our heart is spiritual sickness. This sickness has only one medicine: devotion — devotion for the cause, devotion for the goal, devotion for the Inner Pilot.

Self-control also means self-giving. The more we give, the more we gain. Self-control means self-sacrifice. The more we sacrifice ourselves, the more the Supreme's infinite Power and Plenitude enter into us. Let us play our part; let us give what we have. The Supreme will play His part; He will give us what He is. What we have is a bundle of ignorance; what He is is the infinite inner Wealth.

The world-atmosphere is not yet changed. But it is bound to be changed. Who will change it? We the aspirants, we the seekers of the infinite Light. God has given us this matchless, unique task to accomplish here on earth.