World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson



Self-control is necessary for any spiritual progress. Unruly thoughts, attractions of the senses, lustful desires, anger, covetousness, and avarice constantly arise in the mind of the person who has no mental discipline; and these impel him to do evil deeds. If a person cannot direct his thoughts, desires, and actions according to his own will, how can he possibly direct his soul to God and keep his life on the path of truth? Unless the higher mind is strengthened and given the will power to master the impulses of the flesh mind, there will be little room for God to dwell with that mind. Thus, central to the religious life is self-control.

The passages in this section feature two nearly universal metaphors employed to describe self-control: military conquest and the horse and rider. More relevant passages are gathered under the topics Restraint, pp. 917-21, and Subdue Desires, pp. 925-32.

Irrigators lead the waters. Fletchers bend the shafts. Carpenters bend wood. The virtuous control themselves.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 80 and 145

With the conquest of my mind, I have conquered the whole world.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Japuji 28, M.1, p. 6

Dhammapada 80: Self-control is as necessary to the inner life as skill in shaping wood, metal, or water is required for good industry. Spiritual training is the counterpart to learning a secular trade; cf. Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 4.40, p. 744. For the comparisons to the physical training of an athlete, see 1 Timothy 4.7-8, p. 716; 1 Corinthians 9.24-27, p. 745. Japuji 28, M.1: Cf. Shalot Sehskriti, M.5, p. 1055; Bhagavad Gita 6.5-6, p. 680.

Though one should conquer a million men on the battlefield, yet he, indeed, is the noblest victor who has conquered himself.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 103

Though a man should conquer thousands and thousands of valiant foes, greater will be his victory if he conquers nobody but himself.

Fight with yourself; why fight with external foes? He who conquers himself through himself will obtain happiness....

Difficult to conquer is oneself; but when that is conquered, everything is conquered.

Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 9.34-36

Before you desire to control the universe, you must first be able to completely control yourself.

Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 11-22-70

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

Judaism and Christianity. Proverbs 16.32

Who is strong? He who controls his passions.

Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 4.1

Abu Huraira reported God's Messenger as saying, "The strong man is not the good wrestler; the strong man is only he who controls himself when he is angry."

Islam. Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim

That man is disciplined and happy who can prevail over the turmoil That springs from desire and anger, here on earth, before he leaves his body.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 5.23

The Prophet declared, "We have returned from the lesser holy war (al jihad al-asghar) to the greater holy war (al jihad al-akbar)." They asked, "O Prophet of God, which is the greater war?" He replied, "Struggle against the lower self."

Islam. Hadith

Dhammapada 103: Cf. Dhammapada 42, p. 392; Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 4.28-35, p. 392. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 9.34-36: Cf. Acarangasutra 2.78, p. 926; Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah 43, p. 407. Sun Myung Moon, 11-22-70: 'To control the universe,' that is, to have any good influence over the affairs of the world, first one's self control should be perfect. Proverbs 16.32: Cf. 1 Peter 2.11, p. 926. Abot 4.1: The verse goes on to quote Proverbs 16.32, above. Cf. Berakot 5a, p. 926. Bhagavad Gita 5.23: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 3.41, p. 417; 6.5-6, p. 680. Hadith: This is an important Sufi tradition. The 'lesser jihad' is jihad in the ordinary sense: the war against external foes. The 'greater jihad' is the spiritual war, whose battleground is the soul.

Attack the evil that is within yourself; do not attack the evil that is in others.

Confucianism. Analects 12.21

He who knows others is wise; He who knows himself is enlightened. He who conquers others has physical strength; He who conquers himself is strong.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 33

It is true that the mind is restless and difficult to control. But it can be conquered, Arjuna, through regular practice and detachment. Those who lack self-control will find it difficult to progress in meditation; but those who are self-controlled, striving earnestly through the right means, will attain the goal.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 6.35-36

The flickering, fickle mind, difficult to guard, difficult to control--the wise person straightens it as a fletcher straightens an arrow.

Like a fish that is drawn from its watery abode and thrown upon land, even so does this mind flutter. Hence should the realm of the passions be shunned.

The mind is hard to check, swift, flits wherever it lists: to control it is good. A controlled mind is conducive to happiness.

The mind is very hard to perceive, extremely subtle, flits wherever it lists. Let the wise person guard it; a guarded mind is conducive to happiness.

Faring far, wandering alone, bodiless, lying in a cave, is the mind. Those who subdue it are freed from the bonds of Mara.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 33-37

Man makes a harness for his beast; all the more should he make one for the beast within himself, his evil desire.

Judaism. Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 10.1

Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you.

Judaism and Christianity. Psalm 32.9

Analects 12.21: Cf. Analects 12.1, p. 547; 2.2, p. 926; 5.21-23, p. 199; 16.7, p. 928. Bhagavad Gita 6.35-36: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 6.10-27, pp. 843f. Dhammapada 33-37: Cf. Dhammapada 25, p. 715; Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 4.28-35, p. 392.

Excellent are trained mules, so are thoroughbred horses of Sindh and noble tusked elephants; but far better is he who has trained himself.

Formerly this mind went wandering where it liked, as it wished and as it listed. Today with attentiveness I shall completely hold it in check, as a mahout controls an elephant in must.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 322, 326

Know that the Self is the rider, and the body the chariot; that the intellect is the charioteer, and the mind the reins.

The senses, say the wise, are the horses; the roads they travel are the mazes of desire....

When a man lacks discrimination and his mind is uncontrolled, his senses are unmanageable, like the restive horses of a charioteer. But when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled, his senses, like the well-broken horses of a charioteer, lightly obey the rein.

Hinduism. Katha Upanishad 1.3.3-6

Dhammapada 322, 326: Cf. Dhammapada 94, p. 230; 380, p. 679. Katha Upanishad 1.3.3-6: Cf. Svetasvatara Upanishad 2.9, pp. 842f.


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