Austerity the pillar of religion
In the English language, the word “austerity” has negative connotation. Austerity is derived from the greek word “austeros” which means dry or harsh. One who is austere is expected to be stern, rigorous, harsh or severe. Especially in the West and now in India too, ideas associated with the word ‘austerity’ are so negative that when they hear of an austere person they automatically wish to avoid him.
Contrary to this school of thought, one performs so much austerity in material life too. Everyone who works know that they have to accept so much abuse, inconveniences and personal minimization just to get that pay cheque every month.
Austerity we must perform. This is the way the game is played in the material world. We have several task masters here and some of them are in our own body constantly putting us into the state of inconvenience. Therefore, material life also has that element of austerity. Inevitably no one can avoid it. It is basically the design of the material world. We uselessly and foolishly perform austerity for sense gratification. We toil on a futile path which spans to a long number of years. As Srila Prabhupada said ‘we feed into a life of misery’ Ultimately it has to dawn on us that this human form of life is not meant for sense gratification.
Therefore, right austerity implies voluntary acceptance of suffering for a higher purpose. This is conducive to liquidate all our sinful activities for which we are suffering. The propaganda that one can enjoy this life materially and at the same time spiritually advance is simply bogus.
In the Krishna Consciousness movement, we accept simple austerities such as observance of ekadasis (fasting from grains) and similar other fasting days . We refrain from illicit sex life, intoxication, gambling and meat eating. We also chant prescribed number of rounds of Hare Krishna Maha Mantra daily. By following this regulation we purify our existence in this human form of life.
The very essence of our austerity is to please Krishna – samsiddhim hari tosanam – by devotional service. By practicing devotional service , one regains his spiritual life . As soon as one regains one’s spiritual life he enjoys unlimited bliss. But if someone undertake austerities and penances for some material gain, then as stated in the Bhagavad Gita, the results are temporary and are desired only by persons of less intelligence. By practicing devotional service laced with simple austerities prescribed by ISKCON's Founder Srila Prabhupada, we gradually realize the distinction between body and soul and more importantly how the soul can be unaffected by the pleasures and pains of this body. The entire process of austerity is meant to detach one from the material world and enhance our attachment to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This austerity means despite the irrational impulses of the mind one remains focused in executing his proper duty in life. These little regulations disciplines us and frees us from material desires. As they say real heroism is to conquer our lower nature.
This austerity in devotional service connotes immense joy. Devotees rise early chant and dance glorifying the Supreme Lord and Krishna sends us very nice foodstuff and we honour it as his mercy. This austerity leads us to eternal bliss which is transcendental happiness and it continues for ever.
Our voluntary acceptance of inconvenience for a higher purpose pays off. We could start it right away. On June 9, 2014 we celebrate Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi. Observance of this ekadasi has special significance – it gives the fruit of all ekadasis during the year. Under the advice of Vyasadeva , Bhima, the second of the Pandava brothers, follows this ekadasi – fasting from water in the hottest month of the year.
Austerity or tapasya also indicates that we must proceed with our business of Krishna Consciousness despite all the dangers and calamities of the world. This firm conviction and endeavour of voluntary acceptance of difficulties will facilitate and foster spiritual realization.