Austerity (Tapasya)

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2.43 कायेन्द्रियसिद्धिरशुद्धिक्षयात् तपसः
kāyendriya-siddhir-aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ
“Self-discipline (tapas) burns away impurities and kindles the sparks of divinity.”

“Tapasya means accepting voluntarily some suffering. That is the way of spiritual realization,” said Śrīla Prabhupāda. “Why? For transcendental realization. Tapo divyam. If you accept this principle, then your existence will be purified.” In order to become his disciple he mandated four principles for regulating the senses and mind: 

  1. No illicit sex (brahmācārya)

  2. No intoxication (śaucha)

  3. No meat eating (ahiṁsā)

  4. No gambling (satyam)

All well and good. But one can go overboard even with austerity. It is not that performing the austerities more severely will bring the result faster. I have known some disciples who made these mistakes, with the predictable results listed as follows:

  • Sickness

  • Laziness

  • Doubt or indecision

  • Sensuality or sensual over indulgence

  • Illusion or false knowledge

  • Lack of concentration

  • Pain or misery

  • Despair

These are the “obstacles to practice” — also known as fall down. Moderation and patience are the keys to avoiding these impediments. As Krishna advises: 

“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough. He who is temperate in his habits of eating, sleeping, working and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.” —BG 6.16-17

The obvious conclusion was stated by Denis Diderot (1713-1784, French philosopher, art critic, writer) when he said: “There is no moral precept that does not have something inconvenient about it.” —Sravaniya DiPecoraro

(Excerpt from the upcoming Basic Yoga Sūtras to be published in 2019.)