Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mastery vs Conquest

In the January 1916 issue of Message of The East, Paramananda wrote this in and article he titled "Self-Conquest:"

Man seems like a double being. There is one man, — the eating, drinking, sleeping man, the man of physical limitations: this man has only a little power and little capacity. And there is another man dwelling within, who has greater capacity, greater power, who is all-wise, all-loving. It is this man whom we want to awaken. The surface being, who constantly identifies himself with physical conditions and makes himself believe that he has no power to conquer, to know, to overcome obstacles — that man must be dropped. Nor does this mean self-torture or self-annihilation, it means rising above limitations.

It is not that the physical man must be destroyed; not so; but the causes of those lower impulses in us, which lead us to hate or strike in anger or do any unworthy act, must be rooted out. This is not achieved by destroying our eyes, ears, or any organ by which we may perform evil deeds, We must go behind the sense organs to find the real cause of evil in us. The senses are merely instruments and when properly controlled, they become powerful aids towards our spiritual advancement.


Until man becomes master of his lower nature, he can never gain that lofty vision which sets him free; therefore he must rise step by step until he attains it. He must deal first with what is nearest and most definite, his physical body, He must see how far he can make this body obey him, — his hands, feet and all his senses. Let him next try to make his mind obedient to him. Let him subdue both body and mind and make them instruments in his hand to work out his freedom.

This is how we must begin in our conquest of the self.

Good thoughts, but i'll have to take the time to sit down and compare this with what he said in his 1923 article on Self-Mastery because i'm curious if, when he wrote them, he saw Self-Conquest and Self-Mastery as different words for the same thing or if he thought they were different. I certainly think they are different.

Conquest, in my opinion, implies defeat, subjugation, imposing one's will, using someone or something for your purposes, regardless of their concerns and desires. Conquest is a one time event. Mastery, on the other hand, implies long-term and persistent efforts to learn to work together, melding the best of multiple skills so that the whole is more efficient, more talented, than the pieces, identifying the best and the worst characteristics of someone or something, working to improve the best and working to eliminate or minimize the worst. Mastery is a never ending process.

Mastery implies the best of ideals. Conquest implies the worst. Mastery is an elusive goal that can never, truly be reached and the path to it is long and arduous, with unexpected branches, twists, and turns hidden everywhere. But, it is not an unwelcome task — no, it is chosen willfully and the hard work is welcomed eagerly, even looked forward to. Why? Mastery of anything, including the self, is not the goal, it's the journey towards that goal that is so intoxicating and the further along that path you get the more drunk you become. In other words, it's an addiction, albeit a valuable and worthwhile addiction, and those that get hooked find that the journey enriches almost every aspect of their lives.

But the key is, you always have to keep in mind that mastery is not a conquest. Bruce Lee, in his Tao of Jeet Kune Do pointed this out when he said:

How can there be methods and systems to arrive at something that is living? To that which is static, fixed, dead there can be a way, a definite path, but not to that which is living. Do not reduce reality to a static thing and then invent methods to reach it.

OK, time to go nuke some left-over stir fry then head out to my favorite lunch spot for a little time in the saddle.

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