Practices that promote self-mastery are commonplace in religion and are meant to change us internally as well as externally. These practices free us from conditioning because they teach us how to master our habitual mental functions by consciously re-wiring them, so that we are no longer mastered by them. Whether in the form of texts, human beings, or deities, we need teachers and guides to help start us off on the right track, but ultimately transforming the self requires self-discipline and independent effort.
One Universal God
“There is one further point about the virtues that ought to be noticed. There is a difference between doing some particular just or temperate action and being a just or temperate man. Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is the man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on. They have a certain tone or quality which is there even when he is not playing, just as a mathematician's mind has a certain habit and outlook which is there even when he is not doing mathematics. In the same way a man who perseveres in doing just actions gets in the end a certain quality of character. Now it is that quality rather than the particular actions which we mean when we talk of ‘virtue.’"
"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes."
“Instead of innate human desires eliciting outward forms of conduct, it is the sequence of practices and actions one is engaged in that determines one's desires and emotions. In other words, action does not issue forth from natural feelings but creates them."
“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”
“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control."
“Renouncing wholeheartedly all selfish desires and expectations, use your will to control the senses. Little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the mind will become stilled in the Self. Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diffuse in its search for satisfaction without, lead it within; train it to rest in the Self. Abiding joy comes to those who till the mind. Freeing themselves from the taint of self-will, with their consciousness unified, they become one with Brahman."
"I have felt that the Gita teaches us that what cannot be followed out in day-to-day practice cannot be called religion. Thus, according to the Gita, all acts that are incapable of being performed without attachment are taboo."
"If the body is mastered, mind is mastered."
“Be the master of yourself
And have an ever-smiling countenance."
“But usually, without being aware of it, we try to change something other than ourselves, we try to order things outside us. But it is impossible to organize things if you yourself are not in order[…]That is the secret of Buddhism. So try always to keep the right posture, not only when you practice zazen, but in all your activities. Take the right posture when you are driving your car, and when you are reading. If you read in a slumped position, you cannot stay awake long. Try. You will discover how important it is to keep the right posture. This is the true teaching.”
“Bowing helps to eliminate our self-centered ideas. This is not so easy. It is difficult to get rid of these ideas, and bowing is a very valuable practice. The result is not the point; it is the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable. There is no end to this practice."
"Practice requires the ability to translate intention into action, which in turn requires the body to be spontaneous and responsive and the mind to be still and clear. Therefore, in all learning, the training of body and mind are equally important. If the mind is still but the body is not responsive, no intention can be communicated to the body. If the body is responsive and the mind is confused, the actions will come out confused.”
“We tend to ‘learn’ some things but ‘study’ others. For instance, a child learns to walk but an entomologist studies the behavior of ants. We learn something practical; we study something theoretical. In learning the focus is on the learner; in studying the focus is on the subject. In learning something new, a man improves himself. He either acquires a new skill or becomes more proficient in an old one. In studying, a man acquires new knowledge but this new knowledge need not make any difference to him as a practical man."
“To return to the observance of the rites through overcoming the self constitutes benevolence. If for a single day a man could return to the observance of the rites through overcoming himself, then the whole Empire would consider benevolence to be his. However, the practice of benevolence depends on oneself alone, and not on others.”
"[R]eligion in its broadest sense is a means whereby human beings, recognizing the limitations of phenomenal reality, undertake speciﬁc practices to effect self-transformation within a cosmological context. This is not simply a passing or superﬁcial enterprise but one that is all encompassing."
“Many recollections of ancient philosophy were preserved in monastic exercises of self-mastery. For instance, we find Dorotheus of Gaza, like Epictetus, advising his disciples to begin by training themselves in little things, so as to create a habit before moving on to greater things. Similarly, he advises them to diminish the number of their sins bit by bit, in order to defeat a passion."
“Underlying this conviction is the parallelism between physical and spiritual exercises: just as, by dint of repeated physical exercises, athletes give new form and strength to their bodies, so the philosopher develops his strength of soul, modifies his inner climate, transforms his vision of the world, and, finally, his entire being. The analogy seems all the more self-evident in that the gymnasion, the place where physical exercises were practiced, was the same place where philosophy lessons were given; in other words, it was also the place for training in spiritual gymnastics."
“These spiritual practices are variously referred to as contemplative exercises, mystical disciplines, or meditation. Their aim is to help us move past the profane or ordinary world to experiences that give occasion for wonder. Spiritual practices accomplish this by devising mental exercises that eventually free us from all conditioning and habitual mental functions."