Sunday, May 22, 2011

Practice of Austerity

In the “Mahāsīhanāda Sutta - The Great Lion’s Roar”, which is part of the Pali canon “Digha Nikaya”, the naked ascetic Kassapa came to Lord Buddha and asked whether, as followers of the Buddha were saying, the Buddha had decried the practice of asceticism and mortification.
Lord Buddha replied his as follows:

“Kassapa, those who say this are not telling the truth, they slander me with lies. The situation occurs, Kassapa, that I see one practiser of mortification, and with the divine eye which is purified beyond the sight of humans I see him arising after death, at the breaking-up of the body, in a place of woe, a baleful state, a place of destruction, in hell. Again, I see one practiser of mortification…arising after death in a good place, a heavenly state. Again, I see one who practices little austerity…arising in a state of woe…Again, I see one who practices little austerity…arising after death in a good place, a heavenly state. Since I can see as it is the arising, the destiny, the death and re-arising of those ascetics, how could I disapprove of all austerities, and censure and blame all those who lead a harsh life of self-mortification?”

Through his powerful spiritual insight Lord Buddha reveals a great truth regarding rituals and spiritual practices. To recapture the essence of what he says one has to first look at the authenticity of the comment he makes. His conclusions come not from the sense observation or from intellectual debate but from a spiritual vision of the state of affairs of those who either have practiced mortification or those who had not resorted to any practice of austerity. The individual consciousness that arises, after the dissolution of the physical body, takes residence in either in woeful or blissful state irrespective of the extent of practice of austerity or mortification.
What is important is not a specific ritualistic adherence to austerity or mortification but how one’s mind is controlled through The Eightfold Noble Path, namely Right View, Right Thought; Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood; Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.
Austerity and mortification must enable one to walk in the Eightfold Noble Path.

The Buddha further elaborates in the same canon the importance of developing one’s ethical behaviour, his compassion and deep wisdom in the following saying:

“Kassapa, a practiser of self-mortification may do all these things, but if his morality, his heart and his wisdom are not developed and brought to realization, then indeed he is still far from being an ascetic or a Brahmin. But, Kassapa, when a monk develops non-enmity, non-ill-will and a heart full of loving-kindness and, abandoning the corruptions, realizes and dwells in the uncorrupted deliverance of mind, the deliverance through wisdom, having realized it in this very life by his own insight, then, Kassapa, that monk is termed an ascetic and a Brahmin.”

This dialogue is similar to the dialogue Christ had with the Pharisees when He and His disciples started eating without ritual cleaning of hands. He made a powerful rebuke by saying:

“What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth that is what makes him 'unclean.'”…………….Matthew 15:11

It is very essential we ponder over what the Buddha advocates. Today we are inundated with ritualistic requirements in every religion. If these practices do not lead us to a higher state of living in love, compassion and high morality, it is a pure waste of time and physical inconvenience.

Love to you all.

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