Bodhinatha elaborates on the four-fold concept of austerity, which Gurudeva defined as sadhana, penance, tapas and sacrifice. So, why bother performing austerities? It increases our speed on the spiritual path. We resolve karma at a faster rate, and it takes us less lifetimes to realize the Self and attain moksha. Penance is atoning for misdeeds. Our subconscious tells us when there is something to be resolved through penance, for it throws that thing up in front of our awareness over and over again. Sacrifice is giving up to a greater power a possession to manifest a greater good. Tapas literally means "to heat." Tapas is purification through the burning up of impurities. And it all ends in a beautiful way. Tapas in a monastery acts as a magnifying glass on the inside of the person allowing for deeper meditation and forming of deeper psychic ties with the Deities in the temple.
I thought I would speak a little bit about austerity.
It is the tenth and final niyama. Austerity is performing sadhana, penance, tapas and sacrifice. So, we have a four-fold definition of austerity here - sadhana, penance, tapas and sacrifice.
Why bother? It sounds like a lot of work, sounds like it might be unpleasant. I will just watch TV. Why bother with the whole process? What is the benefit?
Well, it is increasing our speed on the spiritual path. Said another way, it is increasing the rate at which our soul body is maturing. Put in gardening terms, we are fertilizing our soul body. It is going to grow a lot faster. We are fertilizing it. We are giving it what it needs to grow. Sadhana, penance, tapas and sacrifice.
What else are we doing? We are resolving our karma at a quicker speed, which means it takes less lifetimes to go through the process. If we want to hang around a lot, see what is going on here. If we are still curious, okay. But if we are wanting to move on, experience the grandeur of our spiritual being sooner, then this is definitely the fertilizer we need.
The theme which goes through all four aspects of austerity is purification. There is a nice verse in the Tirukural, "As the intense fire of the furnace refines gold to brilliance, so does the burning suffering of austerity purify the soul to resplendence."
So purification can sometimes cause a sense of suffering. But it is for a good cause. It is getting rid of the impurity. Not just suffering because you are supposed to suffer, it is a reaction to the process of purification.
The simplest form, of course, is our daily sadhana. In our case, Gurudeva has given us the sadhana of performing early morning vigil, doing our pujas, doing our scriptural study and so forth on a daily basis. For someone who is on the spiritual path, the easiest way to stop making progress is to stop the daily sadhana. Daily sadhana gets us going at a certain rhythm, a certain smoothness in life, a certain rate of moving forward. But, that is all based upon maintaining the daily sadhana. If we stop our sadhanas, our life is going to change. It is being supported at that level of sublimity, that level of success, by our sadhana.
We are also encouraged to go to the temple once a week, at least and attend festivals. The yearly pilgrimage to a far-off temple is the last part of that.
Penance, of course, is atoning for misdeeds. It is easy to know if we should do penance because we feel bad about something we did. We cannot get it off our mind. It is just sitting there, nags us. Wake up in the morning and there it is. Dream about it at night, think about it during the day. The subconscious is telling us, "Hey, there is something down here to be resolved." It keeps throwing it up. So, it is easy to know when penance should be performed and doing so softens the karma, mitigates the karma involved in whatever it is that we have done.
Simple penances as we know are like prostrations, a hundred and eight prostrations. A little more intense is walking prostrations. We have the ability here to do walking prostrations on San Marga.
Thai Pusam is a time of penance, traditional time. It is interesting that it is such a strong tradition in Mauritius and Malaysia. We even have children and teenagers, writing in for blessings to do penance of one kind or another during the Thai Pusam season.