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Consumerism x Aceticism

Dec 22, 2006 04:53 AM
by cardosoaveline


Take a look,   Carlos. 



We live in the world of consumerism characterized by "devotion to 
the overwhelming plenty." It all started with free enterprise where 
consumer was supposed to be the king and could dictate to the 
producers what he wanted. The myth of consumer's sovereignty was, 
finally and firmly, exploded by John Kenneth Galbraith. In his book, 
The New Industrial State, he made it clear that the consumer was a 
slave rather than a king. Advertisements constantly bombard us to 
buy and buy more. The popular slogans are, "shop till you 
drop," "neighbour's envy, owner's pride," etc. Nobody seems to speak 
or think of austerities. However, when people flock to gurus, 
ashrams and retreat centres for peace of mind, they realize that it 
is impossible to buy truth, knowledge, wisdom or peace of mind.

While practising austerities we need to use discrimination and learn 
to distinguish between true and false asceticism. Practising 
austerities does not mean becoming puritanical. A puritan may 
practise all the cardinal virtues—prudence, fortitude, temperance 
and chastity—and yet remain a thoroughly bad man. Often practice of 
such virtues is accompanied by and causally connected with pride, 
envy, chronic anger and uncharitableness, leading to active cruelty. 
Religious persecutions were often a result of extreme puritanism. A 
puritan is only stoically austere, but he mistakes the means for the 
end. Real holiness is total denial of the separative self and 
abandonment to the Will of God. The extent to which there is 
attachment to "I," there is lack of knowledge of the Divine. 
Austerity may actually not reduce self-will but increase it. A 
hedonist may do much less harm than a proud puritanical stoic. The 
hedonist may be ashamed of himself, while the stoic may have an 
untroubled conscience.

Originally, Gandhiji had put "humility" at the top of the list of 
qualities that the inmates of his ashram should cultivate, but 
seeing that this could lead to pride (people could be proud of being 
humble!) he wrote in his list that all virtues must be accompanied 
by humility.

Asceticism could be of sattvic, rajasic or tamasic nature.

Austerity practised with supreme faith and by those who long not for 
a reward is of the sattva quality. Austerity which is practised with 
hyprocrisy, for the sake of obtaining respect for oneself or for 
fame or favour, and which is uncertain and belonging wholly to this 
world, is of the quality of rajas. Those austerities which are 
practised merely by wounding oneself or from a false judgment or for 
the hurting of another are of quality of tamas. (Gita, XVII)

We need to practise asceticism at the level of body, speech and 
mind. Many people, especially in the East, think that the body 
should be tortured or at least disciplined in a harsh manner. In 
fact, we have ample chance of practising mortification as we live 
our ordinary everyday life. We need much patience and resignation, 
to carry our daily cross. That mortification is best which results 
in the elimination of self-will, self-interest, self-centred 
thinking, wishing and imagining. Every self-denial should be 
inconspicuous, non-competitive and non-injurious to health. People 
with a rajasic (or a tamasic) bent of mind or those who are 
ignorant, regard severe physical austerities as true and proper. 
There are numerous examples in history and mythology, and among 
those following Hatha-Yoga, of people standing on one foot or with 
one arm raised or even allowing their bodies to be eaten by worms. 
Shri Krishna condemns such mortifications in the Gita, thus:

Those who practise severe self-mortification not enjoined in the 
Scriptures are full of hypocrisy and pride, longing for what is past 
and desiring more to come. They, full of delusion, torture the 
powers and faculties which are in the body, and me also, who am in 
the recesses of the innermost heart; know that they are of an 
infernal tendency. (Gita, XVII)

Many such extreme austerities are practised for a specific gain or 
to fulfil some selfish desire. Women are no exception to this. In 
the Mahabharata, when Amba found that her former fiancé was 
unwilling to marry her, and Bhishma too refused her, she vowed to 
take revenge on Bhishma. By practising severe austerities she 
transformed herself into Shikhandi, a male, and mortally wounded 
Bhishma in the war. Austerities practiced for the attainment of 
specific gain or for favour from some deity very often lead to 
pride, followed by inevitable downfall. Torturing the faculties of 
the body is not true penance, since the body by itself is incapable 
of action. Body is merely an organized aggregation of physical 
matter, to be used and controlled by the thinker. It is the thinker 
who needs to change his modes of thought and action. Although it 
sounds much simpler than standing on one foot, control and training 
of the mind is very difficult. It is very tough to change one mode 
of thought and replace it by another. It may be controlling the 
temper or changing the habit of overeating. At times we are 
unwilling to accept the fault in us, and even if we do accept, we 
try to explain it away or make excuses. The Gita describes true 
bodily austerity thus: "Honouring the gods, the Brahmans, the 
teachers and the wise; purity, rectitude, chastity and harmlessness 
are the mortification of the body."

Mortification of speech means refraining from saying anything 
uncharitable or merely frivolous and behaving calmly and cheerfully 
when external circumstances predispose us to anciety or gloom or 
excessive elation. "Gentle speech which causes no anxiety, which is 
truthful and friendly, and diligence in the reading of the 
Scriptures, are said to be austerities of speech" (Gita, XVII). 
Practice of silence that is recommended as mortification of the 
mind, is mortification of speech as well. "Serenity of mind, 
mildness of temper, silence, self-restraint, absolute straight-
forwardness of conduct, are called mortification of the mind." 
(Gita, XVII). The necessary and unavoidable corollary to "Thy 
Kingdom come" is "my kingdom go." For, the more there is of the 
self, the less there is of the divine. We live on the borderline 
between two worlds—the temporal and the eternal. If we do not watch 
ourselves, we may lean too much towards the mundane and the physical 
world to gradual total exclusion of the divine. Austerities are 
simply for the purpose of making space for the divine, for giving us 
time for the contemplation of the higher ideas and values. 
Austerities are means to an end and therefore should never be 
mistaken for the end nor undertaken for any other purpose. 
Mortification is the broom which removes the dross from the field, 
which if not cleared, would not be ready for the divine.

We must formulate for ourselves a noble aim and mortification should 
be made subservient to that aim. For instance, people like Gandhiji 
and Maharshi Karve, first made resolve to alleviate the suffering of 
the poor in India, of widowed women, etc. In order to fulfil this 
aim they had to undertake austerities. The giving up of western 
clothes by Gandhiji was not important in itself. The hardships in 
terms of losing his job and living on very little income were not 
the desired things, but when they came upon Maharshi Karve, there 
was no regret for the path chosen. Deeds of mortification became a 
way of life. Prince Siddhartha gave up his kingdom and went into the 
forest and hardly felt that he was undertaking austerities. It was 
merely what was necessary to do in order to try to achieve what he 
had wanted to achieve. But later he gave up the very carefully 
modulated fast he had undertaken because he realized that it was not 
the way to Sambodhi. 

True austerity or mortification is not physical deprivation like 
total fasting, torturing one's body, etc. Severe mortification of 
Hatha-Yoga may help in acquiring some psychic powers. But spiritual 
teachers have warned of the dangers of attaining such powers. 
Without real spiritual knowledge such psychic powers are like a 
weapon in skilled hands that are guided by unskilful and usually 
selfish minds. Sooner or later, the person possessing such powers is 
tempted to misuse them.

Lord Krishna says:

Deeds of sacrifice, of mortification, and of charity are not to be 
abandoned, for they are proper to be performed, and are the 
purifiers of the wise. But even those works are to be performed 
after having renounced all selfish interest in them and in their 
fruits. (Gita, XVIII)

 [ From "The Theosophical Movement" monthly magazine, Mumbai, India, 
June 2005 ] 

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