Here is a snippet from the Mahabharat where Bhishma explains why dama (self-discipline) is the best dharma:
Yudhishthira went to Bhishma, who was lying on a bed of arrows, and asked him questions about dharma after the batle of Kurukshetra
After the battle of Kurukshetra, Yudhishthira went to Bhishma, who was lying on a bed of arrows, and asked him questions about dharma. Bhishma answered them on the basis of his wisdom and vast experience. One of the questions was:
Bahudha darshane loke shreyo yadih manyase |
Asmin loke pare chaiva tanme bruhi Pitamah ||
Mahanayam dharmapatho bahushakhashcha bharata |
Kinsvideveh dharmanamanushtheyatamam matam ||
(There are many philosophies of the good in this world.
Tell me about the ones that you consider the best, O Grandfather!
O descendant of the Bharatas! The path of dharma is a grand path that has many branches.
Which one among them do you consider the best?)
Dharma is a vast and complex thing. Yudhishthira himself was an expert and a keen follower of dharma. It was not easy to answer his challenging question. The answer that Bhishma gave was clear and straightforward, and could be considered the mantra by which he himself had led his life.
Dharmasya vidhyo naike ye vai prokta maharshibhih |
Svam svam vigyanamashritya damastesham parayanam ||
Damen sadrisham dharmam nanyam lokeshu shushrum |
Damo hi parmo loke prashastah sarvadharminam ||
Dharma has not one way but many. Sages have given several different ways. However, the basis of all the ways is dama—self-discipline. In this world, there is no dharma like dama. Dama is the greatest among all dharmas of this world.
Bhishma’s words are worth pondering. Without self-discipline, one can get into uncontrolled behaviour that can leave one exhausted and stressed; lacking time and energy to pursue life goals. Self-discipline is important throughout our life but at certain stages, it becomes very crucial. For example, when one goes from school to college, one goes from a very orderly and protective environment where parents and teachers are there to care for us, to an open and chaotic environment where we are on our own. At this stage, self-discipline, or the lack of it, can be the make-or-break factor determining our future.
Some people want to adopt self-discipline but are afraid because they equate it with leading a restrictive lifestyle where one cannot follow one’s heart or fulfil one’s desires. This is not true. Self-discipline does not mean imposing restrictions on one’s actions; it means having control over one’s actions. It is a misconception that having self-discipline means compromising on our happiness.
In fact, the opposite is true. Self-discipline bridges the gap between what we desire and what we actually achieve; between our dreams and our accomplishments. With self-control, we can accomplish more of the goals that we truly care about and be happier. It is no wonder that Bhishma says about a person with self-discipline that:
Muditah shuchirabhyeti sarvato nirbhayah sada |
Forever full of joy, they are also forever fearless.