The Buddhist paramitas are those actions that result in character qualities associated with enlightened beings. As I learned it, the word means to cross over to the other side. On that side is sanity and wisdom. The six paramitas are generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and wisdom. This month, I am contemplating (and writing about) discipline.

This is not the discipline enforced by drill sergeants and assistant principals. It is, rather, self-discipline that helps us live better lives. At its simplest form, it is embedded in Buddhist practice.

Buddhists meditate. How they meditate, exactly, is influenced by regional and cultural differences that add to the richness of the Buddhist world. To meditate, you sit down in an upright posture (or lie down, if sitting is not possible) and focus your mind on one thing, usually your breath or a specific word or phrase. When your mind wanders from that thing, you say to yourself “thinking” and gently escort your attention back to the desired focus. That’s all there is to it, but as anyone who is meditated knows, it’s not easy to do. Each step requires discipline.

Sitting still with your mind on one thing is not natural. Your body will complain about stiffness, pain, or awkwardness. Your mind will present a list of things to do, get lost in memories or fears or speculations about the future. The goal of meditation is not to stop thinking. Meditation is a process, the process of bringing your mind back to your focus as kindly as possible. You are practicing discipline in several ways. You are:

  • sitting down to meditate
  • making a commitment to meditate for a certain amount of time
  • holding your body in an upright posture
  • focusing on one thing
  • watching your mind
  • becoming aware when you have lost focus
  • compassionately returning to focus

Practicing such discipline helps you become stronger and kinder. You are learning to keep a promise to yourself and to be kind to yourself. This discipline spreads to other areas of your life, as holding focus teaches you about thoughts and feelings, change, life-and-death and the interdependence of all things. Pretty impressive for such a simple practice.

In your journal:

  • “I practice discipline when…”
  • “when it comes to meditation…”
  • Write about a time you focused on one thing
  • What does discipline mean to you?