Self-control: self-offering to GodYork University; Toronto, Ontario, Canada
7 October 1970
Self-control does not mean self-torture. Neither does it mean austerity. Unfortunately, in the West, self-control has been misunderstood. People think that the austere, arduous life practised by some Indian aspirants of the past stands as the ideal of self-control. But that kind of austere life, torturing and punishing the body, is not real self-control. It is self-mortification. It leads us to abysmal destruction in the heart of ignorance. If somebody wants to realise God by fasting for days and months, then he will be embraced by death, not by God. A normal, natural life—the middle path—is what God demands from us. The Buddha taught us to follow the middle path, not to go to extremes. We have to be very firmly planted on earth. The root of the tree is under the ground, not elsewhere. The root is under the ground, and the branches are looking up towards the highest. So self-control is within and self-manifestation is without. Self-control leads us to self-illumination. Today's self-control will be tomorrow's self-transcendence.
For self-mastery, self-control is of paramount importance. Self-control takes time. It cannot be achieved overnight. Through self-introspection, self-examination and proper meditation, one achieves self-control.
I wish to tell about an incident in the life of Socrates. Once Socrates and a host of his admirers went to see a palmist. The palmist read Socrates' hand and said, "What a bad person you are, ugly and full of lower vital problems. Your life is full of corruption." Socrates' admirers were thunderstruck. They wanted to strike the palmist. What gall he had to say such things about Socrates, who was truly a pious man, a saint. But Socrates said, "Wait, let us ask him if he has said everything." Then the palmist continued, "No, I have something more to say. This man has all these undivine qualities, without doubt, but they are all under his control. He has not shown any of them. They are all under control."
Before one gets illumination, he may be attacked by all the undivine forces of the lower vital. But he can easily place them at his feet. Socrates did it. Any aspirant can easily conquer these wrong forces after a while. Countless times he may be attacked by vital impulses. Each time he can manfully, boldly and courageously place his feet on the heads of these dark forces. The golden day will come when illumination will dawn in his life, and then everything will be transformed. Emotional problems will be transformed, becoming the dynamic strength of the divine for the divine to use. But until then the aspirant has to fight hard.
Sri Ramakrishna used the phrase "Master of everything, slave of sex." Sri Ramakrishna, the great spiritual giant, saw what was actually happening in the world. Now the same story is being repeated in the world today. Sri Ramakrishna tells a story about a man who had been hunting for a job for a long time. Nobody would offer the poor man a job. Finally he went to the manager of a small factory, for he had been told that this manager had a broad heart and would give him a job. But the manager said there was no vacancy. A few days later he asked again; still no vacancy. The poor man kept going back, and each time he was rejected. One day he told one of his friends how the manager had been constantly turning him away without a job. His friend said, "You are a fool. Why do you go to him? Today go to his mistress, and tomorrow you will get the job." The manager was a very wealthy and important man, but he had this weakness. So the poor man went to the mistress and cried out, "Mother, I have a big family and they are starving. Save me, save me. Please tell the manager to give me a job." She replied, "Do not worry, my child, tomorrow I shall settle it." On the following day the manager said to his English boss, "Here is a man who has great ability. In everything he will bring much credit to our factory." Shortly afterward the man was offered a high post there.
This is Sri Ramakrishna's story. It is still applicable today. The world atmosphere has not yet changed. But it is bound to be changed. Who will do it? It is we, the aspirants; we, the seekers of the infinite Light. God has given us this matchless, unique task. And we have to accept and fulfil it here on earth.
In the outer world one can be a slave only to one master, but in the inner world one is bound to be a slave to many masters. These masters are doubt, fear, anxiety, temptation, frustration, imperfection, limitation, bondage and death. Self-control can be achieved only if we stop deceiving ourselves. We are apt to say that the world is deserting us in and out of season. But if we are sincere and we go deep within, then we come to see, feel and realise that it is we who started this game of deception. We came from God. We could have continued our game in infinite Light. We could have retired at our journey's close in the same infinite Light. But we entered into ignorance and became enamoured of it. We loved ignorance and it loved us. Finally, we started eating greedily the fruits of ignorance. The result has been self-destruction. It is we who have opened the door of deception within us. When the forces of ignorance see that the door is wide open, they enter into us, into the innermost recesses of our heart. How can we pull them out and push them aside? We can do it through aspiration, through our inner mounting flame. This flame will kindle the unlit forces in us, awaken the slumbering beings in us and inundate our life with the Light of the Golden Beyond. Aspiration is the answer.
Spiritual sickness is an impurity in our heart, and this sickness has only one medicine, devotion: devotion to the Cause, devotion to the Goal, devotion to the Inner Pilot.
Self-control. Self-control means self-giving to God. Let us play our part. Let us give what we have. God will play His part. He will give us what He has. What we have is teeming ignorance. What He has is infinite Light. Let us trade.