Discipline

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One must manifest discipline of spirit; without it one cannot become free. To the slave discipline of spirit will be a prison; to the liberated one it will be a wondrous healing garden. ~ Nicholas Roerich

Discipline is systematic instruction intended to train a person, sometimes literally called a disciple, in a craft, trade or other activity, or to follow a particular code of conduct or "order." The phrase "to discipline" has a negative connotation involving notions of order maintained largely or primarily through punishment. Discipline involves the assertion of willpower over more base desires, and is usually understood to be related to self control.

Quotes[edit]

Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all. ~ George Washington

Antiquity through sixteenth century[edit]

  • The discipline of piety nourishes the soul with divine thoughts.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 13
  • The ascetic Gotama … avoids watching dancing, singing, music and shows. He abstains from using garlands, perfumes, cosmetics, ornaments and adornments. … He refrains from running errands, from buying and selling.
    • Gautama Buddha, Digha Nikaya, M. Walshe, trans. (1987), Sutta 1, verse 1.10, p. 69
  • A person must take care to exercise moderate discipline over the body and subject it to the Spirit by means of fasting, vigils, and labor. The goal is to have the body obey and conform—and not hinder—the inner person and faith. Unless it is held in check, we know it is the nature of the body to undermine faith and the inner person.
    • Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520), M. Tranvik, trans. (Minneapolis: 2008), pp. 71-72
  • If you desire ease, forsake learning.
If you desire learning, forsake ease.
How can the man at his ease acquire knowledge,
And how can the earnest student enjoy ease?
  • Moses … takes one form of desire, that one whose field of activity is the belly, and admonishes and disciplines it as the first step, holding that the other forms will cease to run riot as before and will be restrained by having learnt that their senior and as it were the leader of their company is obedient to the laws of temperance.
    • Philo, On The Special Laws, Part IV, p. 77
  • Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.

Seventeenth century[edit]

  • My third maxim was to endeavor always to conquer myself rather than fortune, and change my desires rather than the order of the world, and in general, to accustom myself to the persuasion that, except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power. ... This single principle seemed to me sufficient to prevent me from desiring for the future anything which I could not obtain, and thus render me contented. ... But I confess there is need of prolonged discipline and frequently repeated meditation to accustom the mind to view all objects in this light; and I believe that in this chiefly consisted the secret of the power of such philosophers as in former times were enabled to rise superior to the influence of fortune, and, amid suffering and poverty, enjoy a happiness which their gods might have envied.
    • Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637), J. Veitch, trans. (1899), part 3
  • No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.

Eighteenth century[edit]

  • Discipline is, in a manner, nothing else but the art of inspiring the soldiers with greater fear of their officers than of the enemy. This fear has often the effect of courage: but it cannot prevail against the fierce and obstinate valor of people animated by fanaticism, or warm love of their country.
  • The church combats passion by means of excision of all kinds. Its practice, its remedy is castration. It never inquires, “How can a desire be spiritualized, beautified, deified.” In all ages it has laid the weight of discipline in the process of extirpation. The extirpation of sensuality, pride, lust of dominion, lust of property, and revenge. But to attack the passions at the roots means attacking life itself at its source. The method of the church is hostile to life.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Ch. 5 “Morality as Anti-Nature” § 5.1, A. Ludovici trans.
  • Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.
    • George Washington, in Letter of Instructions to the Captains of the Virginia Regiments (29 July 1759)
  • Nothing can be more hurtful to the service, than the neglect of discipline; for that discipline, more than numbers, gives one army the superiority over another.
    • George Washington, general orders, (6 July 1777), published in The Writings of George Washington (1933), edited by John C. Fitzpatrick, vol. 8, p. 359

Nineteenth century[edit]

  • Whoever desires that his intellect may grow up to soundness, to healthy vigor, must begin with moral discipline. Reading and study are not enough to perfect the power of thought. One thing above all is needful, and that is, the disinterestedness which is the very soul of virtue. To gain truth, which is the great object of the understanding, I must seek it disinterestedly. Here is the first and grand condition of intellectual progress. I must choose to receive the truth, no matter how it bears on myself. I must follow it, no matter where it leads, what interests it opposes, to what persecution or loss it lays me open, from what party it severs me, or to what party it allies. Without this fairness of mind, which is only another phrase for disinterested love of truth, great native powers of understanding are perverted and led astray.
  • No evil propensity of the human heart is so powerful that it may not be subdued by discipline.
    • Commonly attributed to Seneca the Younger during the 19th century, but not found in his works.

Twentieth century[edit]

  • The Ancients … subjected themselves to a fierce discipline of detachment from public opinion. Although they inevitably had to try to influence political life in their favor, they never seriously thought of themselves as founders or lawgivers. The mixture of unwise power and powerless wisdom, in the ancients’ view, would always end up with power strengthened and wisdom compromised. He who flirts with power, Socrates said, will be compelled to lie with it.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 284-285
  • Ah, you loved me as a loser, but now you're worried that I just might win
    You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline

    How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin
    First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.
  • To be disciplined does not mean being silent, abstaining, or doing only what one thinks one may undertake without risk; it is not the art of eluding responsibility; it means acting in compliance with orders received, and therefore finding in one's own mind, by effort and reflection, the possibility to carry out such orders. It also means finding in one's own will the energy to face the risks involved in execution.
  • There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.
  • I believe that through discipline, though not through discipline alone, we can achieve serenity, and a certain small but precious measure of the freedom from the accidents of incarnation, and charity, and that detachment which preserves the world which it renounces. I believe that through discipline we can learn to preserve what is essential to our happiness in more and more adverse circumstances, and to abandon with simplicity what would else have seemed to us indispensable; that we come a little to see the world without the gross distortion of personal desire, and in seeing it so, accept more easily our earthly privation and its earthly horror — But because I believe that the reward of discipline is greater than its immediate objective, I would not have you think that discipline without objective is possible: in its nature discipline involves the subjection of the soul to some perhaps minor end; and that end must be real, if the discipline is not to be factitious. Therefore I think that all things which evoke discipline: study, and our duties to men and to the commonwealth, war, and personal hardship, and even the need for subsistence, ought to be greeted by us with profound gratitude, for only through them can we attain to the least detachment; and only so can we know peace.
    • Robert Oppenheimer, Letter to his brother Frank (12 March 1932), published in Robert Oppenheimer : Letters and Recollections (1995) edited by Alice Kimball Smith, p. 155
  • One must manifest discipline of spirit; without it one cannot become free. To the slave discipline of spirit will be a prison; to the liberated one it will be a wondrous healing garden. So long as the discipline of spirit is as fetters the doors are closed, for in fetters one cannot ascend the steps.
    One may understand the discipline of spirit as wings.
    • Nicholas Roerich, Leaves Of Morya's Garden, Book II: Illumination, Introduction (1925)
  • Laborare est orare. [To work is to pray.] By the Puritan moralist the ancient maxim is repeated with a new and intenser significance. The labor which he idealizes is not simply a requirement imposed by nature, or a punishment for the sin of Adam. It is itself a kind of ascetic discipline, more rigorous than that demanded of any order of mendicants—a discipline imposed by the will of God, and to be undergone, not in solitude, but in the punctual discharge of secular duties. It is not merely an economic means, to be laid aside when physical needs have been satisfied. It is a spiritual end, for in it alone can the soul find health, and it must be continued as an ethical duty long after it has ceased to be a material necessity.
    • R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), p. 242
  • Knowledge must grow or perish; and it can grow only in a free mind, that is to say a mind which is sufficiently strong to create its own discipline.
    • Paul Valéry, Reflections on the World Today, F. Scarfe, trans. (1948), p. 198

External links[edit]

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