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Home » philosophy

Go Within or Go Without

Submitted by on August 12, 2009 – 12:25 am8 Comments

meditate2By Swami Tripurari

Ascetics are known for distancing themselves from the world by their austerity. However, as frightful as a life of austerity may at first seem to the worldly, there is something undeniably attractive about asceticism. In the very least, the mystery of how one appears to live “without”—or “within”—peaks our curiosity. We are either enchanted by this prospect or driven to debunk it. In either case it speaks loudly to us, and while ostensibly a life of deprivation, asceticism declares just the opposite, “Go within, or go without.”

We need only explore the ascetic within ourselves to begin to understand the nature of asceticism’s inner wholeness. No one can avoid austerity, and even when we are forced by circumstance to accept it, we find that we can live with less. We learn. We learn that our existence in not as dependent upon material acquisition as we had mistakenly thought. Even during involuntary austerity we are forced to move from the world of the senses and sense objects to the world of the mind and intellect. In great austerity we have to reason to endure, and doing so we find a world that is larger in its scope than that of the mind and the five senses.

The mind is no doubt more spacious and accommodating than the body, but intellect is more spacious and accommodating than the mind. With our five senses we can experience a mountain and we can experience gold, but only in the mind can we encounter a mountain of gold. In the mental world there are many more possibilities than we find in the physical world. Above the senses and the mind stands reason, for with our discriminating faculty we can make sense of our physical and mental experiences, and determine how to respond to them such that our lives become more meaningful and free. For example, although some experiences may feel good to the mind and senses, with our intellect we can determine whether or not they are good for our true selves. From sense objects, to the senses, to the mind, and from there to touch the intellect constitutes a progression within the material hierarchy, beyond which lies the self. As the Gita informs us, “It is said that senses are superior to the sense objects, the mind is superior to the senses, and moreover, the intellect is superior to the mind. Superior even to the intellect is the self.” (3.42) It is when we leap from the last step on the ladder of the material hierarchy to the realm beyond reason that we find the self and become whole, landing on the ground of being.

This leap, however, involves voluntary austerity. It involves intentionally going within in pursuit of one’s fortune, a journey fueled in part by the well reasoned conclusion that the world of things and thoughts has little to do with the self. It should be noted that the reasoning supporting the self’s superiority to the intellect lies in understanding its categorical difference from matter. The self is the perceiver, the thinker, the knower in this world, and merely expresses its capacity to be so through the instruments of the senses, mind, and intellect. It is the self—consciousness—that brings matter to life and underlies the entire material existence. Of all of our human experiences, we should marvel most at one: the experience that we experience, while matter in contrast is that which is experienced, lacking any capacity to experience independent of consciousness. To turn inward, to pursue a more meaningful life above the relentless call of the mind and senses, is reasonable, while the means to do so transcend the limits of reason. From austerity we turn to abnegation.

The ascetic’s abnegation—his or her renunciation of personal interests in favor of the interests of others—is at the heart of the ascetic’s spiritual practice. The sacred Hindu text, Srimad Bhagavatam, informs us in an advocacy of devotional asceticism that “giving up aggression toward others is the highest gift.” The ascetic accomplishes this by eradicating his or her ego of exploitation within the context of replacing it with an ego of dedication. His or her renunciation and austerity is thus is a by-product of their dedication. That which appears on its surface to be negative and world denying has its origin in something sublime.

In yoga we learn that giving is getting, something that contradicts reason yet is nonetheless readily experienced by anyone who gives. The mystery of the ascetic’s fullness—how he or she lives without many of the things we think we need to survive and be happy—is unveiled as much as one begins to give. When we give of ourselves we gain wisdom and understanding of the nature of the self. This gain is not something one can hold up and show to others, yet it is tangible, as tangible as one’s very self.

In this world there are those who have and those who have not. Each, however, thinks the opposite about the other. The worldly think they have and that the mystic has not, while the mystics know that they have and the worldly have not. Again, this is the mystic’s mantra: “Go within or go without.”

8 Comments »

  • Worminstool

    Ultimately, asceticism requires that the ego also be as deprived of gratification and excess as would be the physical and mental bodies of the ascetic.
    This is where actual asceticism begins with the fasting of the ego from prestige, honor and notoriety.
    Unless and until the ego is disciplined and denied the gratification that it seeks, the actual asceticism never takes place nor does self-realization occur.
    Physical and mental asceticism are not complete asceticism if in fact the ego is not included in the ascetic discipline of denial of gratification.
    Asceticism must be practiced on all levels of being before it can lead to actual transcendental existence.
    Superficial physical asceticism without actual subjugation of ego might make for a successful occupation, but it cannot open the door of transcendental realization.

    • How true. From the article:

      The ascetic’s abnegation—his or her renunciation of personal interests in favor of the interests of others—is at the heart of the ascetic’s spiritual practice. The sacred Hindu text, Srimad Bhagavatam, informs us in an advocacy of devotional asceticism that “giving up aggression toward others is the highest gift.” The ascetic accomplishes this by eradicating his or her ego of exploitation within the context of replacing it with an ego of dedication. His or her renunciation and austerity is thus is a by-product of their dedication. That which appears on its surface to be negative and world denying has its origin in something sublime.

      • sanjaya

        i was just going to take that very nice statement (the bold part) and put it on my fb status..
        thank you very much, Maharaj..
        what a source of inspiration..

  • Kula-pavana

    Very nice article, lots of good points.
    The older and more tired of material life I get, the more I think about the freedoms of ascetic life.
    The lesson of “giving is getting” is also easily learned in family life. The more we give to our family members, the more we receive in return. But family life often lacks the simplicity and serenity of ascetic life. Ultimately we need to unload all of our burdens and entanglements in order to prepare for the next phase of our journey.

  • Worminstool

    How about “go without and go within”?
    If we go within for the sake of not going without, then at what point does our spiritual pursuit translate into an occupation instead of self-realization?

  • Prue

    Hari Krishna,

    I like the positive view of austerity presented in this article. In our consumer society, austerity nearly always carries a negative connotation. The idea of austerity as a way to reach the superior pleasure of the soul within is rarely mentioned.

    It has been said that the essence and ultimate goal of austerity is to give up our exploitative material ego and also that this giving up is a by-product of devotion. So devotion will produce austerity, but how useful is the practice of austerity in producing devotion?

    Worminstool says the denial of gratification of the ego can open the door to transcendental realisation, but how can the practice of austerity alone enable one to realise the self? How can the negative process of denying the material ego enable us to realise our ‘true’ ego or spiritual self?

    Given all this, how useful do you think the 4 regulative principles (no meat, intoxication etc) are to aspiring devotees? How does the practice of these restrictions help us achieve the ultimate goal of giving up our material ego? What emphasis or importance should be placed on their practice?

    • Rupa Goswami has written that in the beginning of one’s practice a little knowledge and renunciation may be helpful. Overall the position of renunciation in bhakti is that of renouncing things that are unfavorable to bhakti yukta-vairagya.. Sri Rupa has also used the phrase bhogadi-tyagah krsnasya hetave “renunciation of enjoyment for pleasing Krsna, to get His mercy in order to attain him.” Otherwise renunciation as a path unto itself is something altogether different.

      Regarding the principles of no meat eating, etc., these come from the Bhagavatam itself with regard to the influence of Kali. It does not seem to me to be much to ask people to be vegetarian, give up intoxication, refrain from sex outside of a monogamous relationship, and to earn an honest living. I think more than renunciation, such practices are considered part of living an ethically sound life. If our guru asks us to adopt these principles, then doing so should be seen as favorable to our bhakti.

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