The foremost lesson which the world has to learn on its way to wisdom is the lesson of self-control. All the bitter punishments which men undergo in the school of experience are inflicted because they have failed to learn this lesson. Apart from self-control, salvation is a meaningless word, and peace is an impossibility. For how can a man be saved from any sin while he continues to give way to it? Or how can he realize abiding peace until he has conquered and subdued the troubles and disturbances of his mind?
Self-control is the Door of Heaven; it leads to light and peace. Without it a man is already in hell; he is lost in darkness and unrest. Men inflict upon themselves far-reaching sufferings, and pass through indescribable torments, both of body and soul, through lack of self-control. Not until they resort to its practice can their sufferings and torments pass away. For it has no substitute, nothing can take its place, and there is no power in the universe that can do for a man that which he, sooner or later, must do for himself by entering the practice of self-control.
By self-control a man manifests his divine power and ascends toward divine wisdom and perfection. Every man can practice it. The weakest man can begin now, and until he does begin, his weakness will remain, or he will become weaker still.
Calling or not calling upon God or Jesus, Brahma or Buddha, Spirits or Masters, will not avail men who refuse to govern themselves and purify their hearts. Believing or disbelieving that Jesus is God, that Buddha is omniscient, or the Spirits or Masters guide human affairs, cannot help men who continue to cling to the elements of strife and ignorance and corruption within themselves.
What theological affirmation or denial can justify, or what outward power put right, the man who refuses to abandon a slanderous or abusive tongue, or give up an angry temper, or to sacrifice his impure imaginings? The flower reaches the upper light by first contending with the under darkness, and man can only reach the Light of Truth by striving against the darkness within himself.
The vast importance of self-control is not realized by men, its absolute necessity is not apprehended by them, and the spiritual freedom and glory to which it leads are hidden from their eyes. Because of this, men are enslaved and misery and suffering ensue. Let a man contemplate the violence, impurity, disease, and suffering which occur upon earth, and consider how much of it is due to want of self-control, and he will gradually come to realize the great need there is for self-control.
I say again that self-control is the Gate of Heaven, for without it neither happiness nor love nor peace can be realized and maintained. In the degree that it is lacked by a man, in just that measure will his mind and life be given over to confusion. And it is because such a large number of individuals have not yet learned to practice it that the enforced restraint of national laws is required for the maintenance of law and order and the prevention of destructive confusion.
Self-control is the beginning of virtue, and it leads to the acquisition of every noble attribute. It is the first essential quality in a well-ordered and truly religious life, and it leads to calmness, blessedness and peace. Without it, although there may be theological belief or profession, there can be no true religion, for what is religion but enlightened conduct? And what is spirituality but the triumph over the unruly tendencies of the mind?
When men both depart from and refuse to practice self-control, they fall into the great and dark delusion of separating religion from conduct. Then they persuade themselves that religion consists not in overcoming self and living blamelessly, but in holding a certain belief about Scripture, and in worshiping a certain Savior in a particular way. Hence arise the innumerable complications and confusions of letter worship, and the violence and bitter strife into which men fall in defense of their own formulated religion.
But true religion cannot be formulated; it is purity of mind, a loving heart, a soul at peace with the world. It need not be defended, for it is Being and Doing and Living. A man begins to practice religion when he begins to control himself.
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More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.