Developing the Will
by Israel Regardie
In his introduction to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, William Q. Judge makes the statement that the ancient Hindu sages knew the secret of the development of the Will, and how to increase both its potency and efficacy. This secret of the ages, the enhancement of the power of Will and Wisdom, has never really been lost. Will, to the student of the Mysteries, is the primary factor in the production of whatever spiritual changes he proposes. It is neither good nor bad in itself; it is power only, and vitalizes all things alike.
The secret of the development of the Will is to set up certain goals, and if deflected from observing them, to deprive oneself of something that gives one pleasure. Let it be clearly understood here that there is nothing good nor bad in this process. To deprive oneself of, let us say, breakfast as a punishment for having missed the morning practice, does not make one virtuous or good, nor should it result in the feeling that having given up several hundred calories of nutrition there is a moral gain in a metabolic loss of weight. It must be realized at the start that this method, which we can call a species of modified asceticism, is neither a vice nor virtue, neither good nor bad, just as Will itself is colorless and is not good or bad.
A variety of techniques have been erected on this basic proposition, and some extremely efficient methods have been evolved in recent years — methods free from all the unpleasant implications and moral tendencies of the older systems.
Perhaps the most effective method of reinforcement of the conditioned response is to administer a mild electric shock. In most magic or trick stores you will be able to find a small gadget which will administer a very light shock when the insert is pulled from the surrounding container. The shock is slight, but the surprise value is considerable. If this is used immediately following the broken vow or forbidden action, the association will become fixed and a curious vigilance on the part of the Will is set up. For this reason it is necessary that you carry the gadget with you at all times so that the shock can be given immediately after a violation has occurred. In this way, forbidden action and the electric shock will be conjoined.
According to this system, the technique is so arranged as to include the entire field of human action, speech and thought, and thus is applicable to the entire constitution of man. It is in agreement with the general concept of discipline that a certain action, word or thought which has become habitual and involuntary, should be denied or negated. Such as, for example, vowing for a provisional period of time, say a week, to refrain from crossing the legs over the knee when sitting down, or perhaps not to raise the left hand to head or face. The great advantage is that there is no moral bias in these suggestions. It is not virtuous to refrain from crossing the knees or not touching the face with the left hand. Thus the student is delivered from the tendency of making a foolish virtue of his discipline.
It is necessary also to observe that there is no suggestion to apply the ascetic principle in this scheme to what is commonly termed a bad habit, such as smoking, drinking or swearing. To do so would be to invite certain individuals with compulsive neuroses to regard their abstinence as a virtue to be highly commended, instead of realizing that the denial is simply a matter of convenience and training, a personal idiosyncrasy to which neither credit nor blame should be attached. A thoroughly impersonal attitude of detachment should be maintained. The application of the schema is necessary to those actions, words and thoughts to which it is altogether impossible to attribute a moral worth. It is not conceivable that the intelligent student will make a religious virtue of the fact that he refrains from crossing his knees, or that on occasion he does not touch his head with his left hand. He can formulate other tasks for this purpose.
Now for every violation of this vow to refrain from a certain course of action, a certain punishment should be inflicted. It is in this discipline that the Will derives its training and its strength. For instance, assume the student to have decided to refrain for a period of forty-eight hours from crossing the right knee over his left leg when seated. During a moment of forgetfulness, and there will be many,
45it may be that the student performs the proscribed deed That violation should be immediately punished, so as to make a lasting impression on the mind either by an act or by depriving oneself of something that ordinarily gives pleasure.
One could go without breakfast, or a dessert after dinner or, should one smoke, eliminating the mid-morning cigarette or pipe. I think the electric shocker is better. The forbidden action thus becomes associated with pain or a deprivation of pleasure and soon becomes reinforced by repetition into a conditioned reflex. This will shortly operate automatically without the student having to give the matter any conscious attention. A curious vigilance on the part of the Will is set up, a free unconscious flow of attention being ever present and ready to execute the wishes of the student. One will soon discover that when chatting in casual conversation and in a state of utter forgetfulness of the vow, any automatic tendency of the legs for example to repeat thoughtlessly the habit to which they have long become accustomed will immediately be detected by the Will long before the proscribed act is even half-way completed, and the tendency will be stopped in its inception.
The consequence is obvious. As time progresses, the student accomplishes two separate things, both of them being major aspects of the Great Work. A perpetual vigilance approximating a very powerful current of Will-power has been generated. This, from the beginning, tends to bring the multifarious activities of the human psyche under conscious control of the Will.
An even more important result, from our present point of view, is that not only does the student find himself in possession of a stronger Will, but that the mind itself has gradually placed itself under control. The loss of pleasure is experienced almost as if pain were inflicted, and we all shrink from its repetition. So rather than experience pain or displeasure, a control is exerted which, results in an easier control of the mind, facilitating the development of concentration.