Austerity Part 2
Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami , 2002-03-04
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.
"Sacrifice," Gurudeva says, "is giving up to a greater power a cherished possession, be it money, time, intelligence or physical object to manifest a greater good."
The story that Gurudeva uses in 'Living with Siva' to demonstrate sacrifice, is the famous story about Yogaswami and the pit. Yogaswami had a big meal cooked, for thousands of people there. When the time came to eat, which was noon, he said, "Well, lets keep singing." So they kept singing. Then, he had them dig a pit and sing some more. Finally, in the evening around 6 p.m., they still hadn't eaten. He had them put the food into the pit in a nicely organized way, all on banana leaves, a big heap of rice in the middle, curries on the side. It was laid out just like a huge meal. Finally, he had them cover it up with dirt. They didn't get to eat, they spent all day worshipping. They didn't get to eat and he said, ""Mother Earth always feeds us. Today, we are feeding Mother Earth in return."
That was sacrifice. They denied themselves a meal, involuntarily in that case. Involuntary sacrifice. But it shows the spirit of self-denial. You give up something that you would normally have, in some religious way or for some selfless purpose. Some examples of sacrifice - fasting for a day and giving the money saved to a Hindu project. Normally we would eat but we choose that day to fast, even though we don't have to. It is not pradosha, which doesn't count if you are normally observing pradosha. It is doing something extra, something you don't have to do. You fast for a day when you don't have to fast and do something with the money you saved. That would be an example of sacrifice.
Another example, instead of going on a fancy vacation, go on a budget vacation. Take the money saved and do something noble with it. You are giving up.
A couple of family examples of sacrifice. The kids get together and tell mom she can't cook tonight because they are going to cook dinner. They give up their free time. They don't have to cook dinner, but they give up their free time in this case. They are sacrificing free time to help their mother. The kids take care of the grandparents and let the parents have a day off. Sacrifice - doing something you don't have to do for a good cause.
All of those have in common the idea - we are disciplining our instinctive mind, becoming less selfish, giving ourselves greater control of our instinctive mind and benefiting something or someone else. All the benefit is for someone else, is someone else's. So that is the idea of sacrifice.
The fourth aspect of austerity is tapas.
A number of the monks have been asking me about tapas so it makes it a hot topic, so to speak. Tapas means 'to burn'.
Yogaswami was once asked why he scolded his devotees so intensely. Remember his answer? He said, "Isn't a fire needed to burn rubbish?" Isn't a fire needed to burn rubbish? Of course, the fire in this case was his fiery words and the rubbish was the impurity in the mind of the devotee he was scolding. He was trying to help the devotee become more pure.
That is the spirit of tapas. It is purification through burning up the impurities. Gurudeva gives a beautiful definition, very poetic, a little bit long, but it is so special I thought I would read it. "Tapas is even more austere," meaning more austere than penance. "It may come early in a life time or later in life, unbidden or provoked by Raja yoga practices. It is the fire that straightens the twisted light and mind of an individual, bringing him into pure being, giving a new start in life, awakening a higher consciousness and a cosmic relationship with God and the Gods, friends, relatives and casual acquaintances."
The phrase that stood out there to me was, "giving a new start in life". One of the qualities that happens in life is you start out unburdened, jumping around, having fun, playing. We can become quite burdened with what we experience in life, difficulties we face, what we have done wrong, regrets, remorse. We are not jumping around anymore in a happy joyous way. We have become burdened by life. For most individuals, when they get in that state of mind, it never goes away. It either stays the same or gets progressively worse. But this is saying we can throw it off, start a new life. You can burn it up, you can resolve it and start fresh. That is part of the idea of tapas.
Gurudeva continues, "When tapas begins, it will burn off the accumulated dross from the wrong doings of many past lives
and eventually lift the soul into higher consciousness. This is why we call higher consciousness, Siva consciousness." Not only does it work on this life, it goes into the past as well. "Tapas is a mind in turmoil, insane unto its very self." Fortunately, it doesn't last forever. "The psychic surgery is being performed by the Gods themselves." That is important, that we are not just sitting there by our self suffering. We are invoking the blessings of the Deities and it is coming in the form of a fiery sense that is burning up these problems. "When the operation is over, the patient has been cut loose of the dross of all past lives." Then it gets very poetic here. "Tapas is a landslide of mud, a psychic earthquake coming upon the head and consuming the body of its victim, smothering him in the dross of his misdeeds, beneath which he is unable to breathe, see, speak or hear. However, he awakens from this hideous dream resting on a mat in a garden hut, smelling sweet jasmine, seeing pictures of Gods and devas adorning the mud walls and hearing the sound of a flute coming from a distant source."
Different kind of poetry from Gurudeva. It gives you an important sense that it ends in a very nice way. You end up in a very purified state, very blissful state when the process is over.