On Austerity & Dedication
Some years ago I had the great fortune of attending a satsang given by the beloved and saintly monk and yogi, Baba Hari Dass. He has taken a vow of silence, and hasn’t spoken a word out loud since 1952. During the satsang, he would write things with a marker on a small dry erase board in his hand, and a devotee sitting next to him would read out what he’d written. At one point he wrote that we all as human beings possess a divine essence. “We are all like clay jars,” he wrote, “sitting next to the Ocean of Divinity, and each clay jar is filled with that same Ocean water.” I couldn’t help myself, and raised my hand and asked, “Babaji, how do we break the jar?” All the heads in the room turned to Babaji as he immediately started writing. After just a few moments, he finished and then showed the board to the devotee, who then read out loud: “Breaking it won’t help. Pour it back.”
As spiritual strivers we often find ourselves pushing our limits, engaged in austerities. But austerity solely for austerity’s sake quickly becomes a fool’s errand. We can retreat from the world, we can fast and push and purge, but if there is no overarching Ideal that becomes our overwhelming passion, then we are bound to fail. The breaking of our body or of our mind is not the Goal. True, through discipline, through the friction of our struggles, renunciations and restraints, we build up heat. That is tapasya. But once that fire catches, what do we do with it? Yes, let it blaze. Our lives should burn, should blaze. But let it burn for an Ideal. Let it be an offering. Burn with pure passion. But don’t burn the house down. Let that fire instead be a source of warmth and light for the One who’s living inside.