Thus Spoke Mahapragya - Vol.1: 12. Yardstick for Asceticism

Published: 05.04.2011

Yardstick for Asceticism

The word “Sadhu” (ascetic) is a pious word in the dictionary. There are millions of words in the dictionary and most of them are related to the materialistic world. On one hand we have a materialistic world and on the hand we have spiritual world. There is a lot of attraction towards this materialistic world. This attraction leads to Raag (Attachment) and Dwesha[1] (aversion / avoidance). When we move away from materialistic world towards the spiritual world, it leads us towards Veetaragata (Total freedom from passions and attachments) or akashaya (passion which makes the soul wander). The word sadhu (ascetic) is synonymous to sanyam (control of emotions, thoughts, and actions), tyagya (giving up), vairagya (detachment) and samata (balance of emotions, thoughts, actions).

In the Indian literature, a lot of emphasis has been given to both, guru (teacher) and sadhu (ascetic). It is not easy to become a guru (teacher) or a sadhu (ascetic). Bharat's ambassador told Bahubali “Bharat is your guru. One must respect the guru”. What Bahubali replied to this context is also very important. He asked “What if the guru doesn't deserve that respect? What if the guru is devoid of those characteristics that make a guru? Respecting a guru in such a situation is shameful.” This is applicable even for a sadhu. One must have shraddha (gratitude / devotion) towards a sadhu provided a sadhu possesses those characteristics. What are those yardsticks that define a sadhu? There are four such yardsticks defined for a sadhu:

1. Samata - Balance of emotions, thoughts and actions.

This is the first yardstick defined for a sadhu. A sadhu should have a balance of emotions, thoughts and actions. One who gets excited in a spur of a moment, gets wild, doesn't differentiate the positive and the negative aspect cannot be called a sadhu. Becoming happy when one gets the things of his choice and sad if he is deprived of it is not the characteristics to be displayed by a sadhu. There is an interesting anecdote. Somebody asked an old lady how her son-in-law was? She always said that her son-in-law was a very good person. The person said that the old lady was saying so because she always gave her son-in-law very good and rich food. The person advised the old lady to give him simple and ordinary meal consisting of Bajra (form of wheat) and then see his reactions. The old lady followed the advice and was surprised to see her son-in-law fuming and saying that it was not the kind of food to be served in the in-law's house. The old lady had now seen the true nature of her son-in-law.

If the sadhu also displays these characteristics then, a question is raised. A sadhu must have samm-bhaav (patience, endurance). If he lacks this, then he cannot be a radiant sadhu.

What are the characteristics of radiance? One must differentiate between a burning fire and extinguished ashes. One cannot walk easily on a burning fire, but can easily walk on ashes which remain after the fire is extinguished. One who has developed this samata (balance of emotions, thoughts, actions), who can remain calm during the good and the bad times, who can withstand the difficulties, who can stay in a hut or a palace can be called a sadhu. He should remain calm during both the good times and the bad times. During good times he should not become egoist and neither become excessively happy. During bad times he should not feel dejected either. On being praised he should not become too happy and on being criticized he should neither be sad. On being honoured he should not become happy and on occasion where he is dishonoured, he should not feel sad. These are the qualities that a sadhu is expected to have. He should remain calm, undisturbed, unshaken, composed during any situation. One who displays these equable characteristics and raises above all the situations is a sadhu.

In the Aagam literature, there are two categories of sadhu defined. One is like a full moon who is well developed and is versatile and is a radiant sadhu and the other is like a half moon where his qualities are not so well developed and versatile.

2. Sanyam - Control of emotions, thoughts and actions.

This is the second yardstick defined for a sadhu. Keeping a constant watch on mind and senses is self-control. One who controls his mind and senses can develop this radiance power and detachment from this materialistic world. Asceticism and wealth do not go together. A sadhu who has any form of association with any form of wealth can never concentrate on asceticism or leading an ascetic life. Unfortunately today a sadhu is measured based on the wealth he posses.

We have heard numerous discussions were sadhus have amassed wealth by preaching certain meditation techniques. A question arises that shouldn't we also follow the same? The answer is no. We try our level best to help the people. The day a sadhu is associated with money, his association with the evils then would also begin.

3. Akinchan - One who doesn't possess anything

This is the third yardstick defined for a sadhu. One who does not have to think about money, house etc is a sadhu. A question was asked to Acharya Bhikshu that how long Terapanth would survive. He replied “As long as one does not develop attachment towards a place, disciple and the commercialization of religion does not happen. The day one develops this attachment, Terapanth would cease to exist.” Attachment is the root cause of all the problems and detachment is the solution to this problem.

4. Vairagya - Detachment.

This is the fourth yardstick defined for a sadhu. It is very common to develop attachment or affection towards people or even the surrounding facilities. Vairagya (detachment) should always be in front of a sadhu. With the increase in age the attachment towards the materialistic world should gradually decrease. The detachment should not be there just when a person is in the process of becoming a sadhu but should also remain after becoming a sadhu. The detachment should gradually increase within us.

The conduct is composed of two elements:

  • Vidhi (What is allowed.)
  • Nishedh (What is prohibited.)

Vidhi tells the rules that need to be followed and nishedh tells us the boundaries of those rules and prohibitions. These are the pillars of the code-of-conduct, which are defined for a sadhu. It is expected of every sadhu that he or she follow the conduct very religiously. There is a difference between sanyam and conduct. Sanyam is related to the control of our mind and senses. Conduct is related to day today activities. There are five samiti and three gupti.  One should do both Pravritti and nivritti. The different forms of pravritti are walking, eating, talking and are related to the physical activities of life. Nivritti on the other hand is related to mind and speech. One should control his mind, thought process and think before one speaks. The five samiti and three gupti are the key elements of the conduct.

The foundation for the conduct is Samata (balance of emotions, thoughts, actions). Once a person develops consciousness towards the five samiti and three gupti, he can develop a radiant personality. One such yardstick for a radiant personality is the jagrukta (conscious awareness). One must be conscious towards both pravritti and nivritti. First, a person is being made aware of the samiti followed by gupti and then pravritti followed by nivritti. This is the order in which one is taught and expected to follow in his everyday life. Samiti GuptiPravrittiNivritti

The path to self purity is in the reverse order. First is the gupti and then is the samiti. During the occasion of Padihara Maryada Mahotsav, I was talking to a group of sadhus and sadhvis. I met a sadhu who said was not able to concentrate on meditation. To me, it is a clear indication that he has not embraced the ascetic life completely. There are three forms of gupti:

  • Manogupti (Meditation by mind or control of mind)
  • Vachangupti (Control of speech; withholding the tongue)
  • Kayagupti (Meditation by body or control of body)

These are the three forms by which one can do meditation. Without meditation one cannot fulfill the conduct in a true sense. One must practice manogupti - controlling the mind. One must control the volatility of his mind. If one has control over his mind, he can control his intake of impure food. If one has control over his speech, he would be polite in his speech and would think twice before he speaks. If he has control over his body, then he can practice the samiti. The practice of these three Gupti is the true meditation that one can do.

The sadhu and sadhvi should spend at least one hour in meditation. One cannot develop radiance without this. A void would develop without it and one would slowly start moving out of the ascetic life. Hence it is very important that one ponder over this and the sadhu and sadhvi should spend at least an hour in meditation. One should practice Manogupti.

Vachangupti is the control of speech. It brings about the cessation in thinking and passion. It enables, mind to regain the equilibrium which has been disturbed by speaking. People used to practice this by maintaining silence for a particular duration of time. The importance is not in maintaining this silence. The importance lies in maintaining the control when one speaks. There used to be a sadhu who used to practice silence for two hours everyday. When he opened his mouth to speak only rude and harsh words would flow. There was no meaning in him observing silence for two hours. There was another sadhu who never observed any silence. However he was very careful about what he spoke. He used to think twice before he spoke anything. He used to be very polite in his speech. Hence it is very important for one to think over how he communicates, how he speaks, how much he speaks, where he speaks, etc. This is a very important element of the Bhasha Samiti (Language).

One must exercise restraint over his food also. Today many companies are in the rat race of providing a variety of food items to their customers. Not only the children are tempted but even the old people are tempted to eat them. It is this overeating that is causing all the problems. Earlier there was a beautiful sutra “control over food”. It meant eating what was required. A healthy living is directly related to the food we eat. The simpler our food is, the healthier we would be. If we don't have control over what we eat, then the doctor or any of his medicines can not give us a healthy living.

A sadhu must observe proper Eshna (Proper care while begging alms which should be free from blemishes) when seeking alms. It is not just sufficient to enquire why the food was prepared but also one must enquire for whom it was prepared. There are two forms of Eshna:

  • Grahanaishna: concerned only when taking alms.
  • Pindainashna:  concerned when consuming the alms collected.

Attraction is not in beauty or the way one dresses up. Attraction lies in the radiance that an ascetic has. What is the hurdle that lies in developing this radiance? The first hurdle is the impure thought. The second hurdle lies in the lack of control over one's mind and senses. The third hurdle is the lack of detachment from the materialistic world. These are the elements which can weaken this radiance. Today the benchmark for measuring a sadhu has changed. Today how radiant a sadhu is, depends on the wealth he possesses. One is considered radiant if he has a very big air conditioned ashrama and has millions of rupees.

One must develop a radiant personality. During the time of Mahabharata, Mrudula said to her son “Son. I am not worried even if you live for a short time. I do not either pray that you should live for hundred years. If you live, you should live like a flame, not like the smoke”. If one has to live a life, he should live the life of a fire and not that of a smoke that remains after. Living a short worthy life is far better than leaving an unworthy life of hundred years.

I have been greatly influenced by my mother Sadhavi Baluji and have learnt from her. She used to say that one must live a radiant life. One must live like a flame. The result of this would be that the sadhu would become a radiant personality and so would be his religion. To develop this radiance we not only have to think on these lines but also set our own benchmarks. We must ponder on things such as: Are we getting angry over every small thing? Are we feeling happy or sad over things which we found or lost? The next thing to ponder on is how far our sanyam (control of emotions, thoughts, actions) has developed. How much are we able to control our mind and senses. The final thing that one has to ponder on is the detachment. Are we progressing in this front? The Sadhus food should be a very simple food. His food should be simple and enough for the body to sustain. With simple food one can lead a healthy life.

His holiness, Kalugani, often used to stress on the intake of simple food. I have seen both his and Chogaji's food intake. It used to be very simple and bare minimum to sustain the body. A heavy meal is not good for one's health and definitely not good for meditation. One can have a heavy meal once a month but not everyday. If the everyday meal is simple and lighter then even the digestive system would remain healthy. The liver and the pancreas would be healthy. If you do not overload, then even a donkey would be happy. If one overloads, how can the sensitive and important organs of the body bear that load. One should not try to overwork these organs. This is the key to a healthy living.

Healthy Diet

“Your meal should be simple and lighter for your digestive system to remain healthy.”

Samata (balance of emotions, thoughts, actions), sanyam (control of emotions, thoughts, actions), Akinchan (One who doesn't possess anything) and Vairagya (detachment) are very important. One must measure themselves on these yardsticks. Does one possess the samata (balance of emotions, thoughts, actions)? One must take measures to develop this. This is the mark of a radiant person. This is which gives a sadhu a radiant personality. The next important thing is the sanyam. One must constantly see whether it has increased or decreased. One must focus on increasing his power of control. The third thing is the Akinchan which focuses on not possessing any materialistic thing. The final one is the Vairagya (detachment). One must deeply think over these yardsticks and take steps to develop them in their lives. Once this happens, I am sure that it will give a new radiance to a sadhu and would be a new step in developing this radiant personality.

On a 17th January

Footnotes
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Sources

Mahapragya ne Kaha - Vol.1 Translated by:
Rakesh Kumar Jain Online Edition: 2011

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Aagam
  2. Acharya
  3. Acharya Bhikshu
  4. Bahubali
  5. Bhikshu
  6. Body
  7. Consciousness
  8. Gupti
  9. Guru
  10. Kalugani
  11. Mahabharata
  12. Manogupti
  13. Maryada
  14. Maryada Mahotsav
  15. Meditation
  16. Raag
  17. Sadhu
  18. Sadhus
  19. Sadhvi
  20. Sadhvis
  21. Samata
  22. Samiti
  23. Sanyam
  24. Shraddha
  25. Soul
  26. Sutra
  27. Terapanth
  28. Veetaragata
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