Saturday 22 July 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Sister Christine : 19


...Austerity! Why have the saints in all religions been given to fasting and self-denial, to mortification of the body? True, there have been those who foolishly regarded the body as an enemy which must be conquered and have used these methods to accomplish their end. The real purpose however is disciplining the will. No ordinary will-power will carry us through the great work before us. We must have nerves of steel and a will of iron, a will which is consciously disciplined and trained. Each act of restraint helps to strengthen the will. It is called tapas in India and means literally, to heat the inner or the higher nature gets heated. How is it done? There are various practices of a voluntary nature, e.g. a vow of silence is kept for months, fasting for a fixed number of days, or eating only once a day. With children it is often the denial of some favourite article of food. The conditions seem to be that the vow must be taken voluntarily for a specific time. If the vow is not kept, it does more harm than good. If it is kept, it becomes a great factor in building up the character so necessary for the higher practices.

Beyond a few directions in meditation there was very little set instruction, yet in course of these few days our ideas were revolutionized, our outlook enormously enlarged, our values changed. It was a re-education. We learnt to think clearly and fearlessly. Our conception of spirituality was not only clarified but transcended. Spirituality brings life, power, joy, fire, glow, enthusiasm — all the beautiful and positive things, never inertia, dullness, weakness. Then why should one have been so surprised to find a man of God with a power in an unusual degree? Why have we in the West always associated emaciation and anaemic weakness with spirituality? Looking back upon it now one wonders how one could ever have been so illogical. Spirit is life, shakti, the divine energy.

It is needless to repeat the formal teaching, the great central idea. These one can read for himself. But there was something else, an influence, an atmosphere charged with the desire to escape from bondage — call it what you will — that can never be put into words, and yet was more powerful than any words. It was this which made us realize that we were blessed beyond words. To hear him say, "This indecent clinging to life," drew aside the curtain for us into the region beyond life and death. and planted in our hearts the desire for that glorious freedom. We saw a soul struggling to escape the meshes of maya, one to whom the body was an intolerable bondage, not only a limitation, but a degrading humiliation. "Azad, Azad, the Free," he cried, pacing up and down like a caged lion. Yes, like the lion in the cage who found the bars not of iron but of bamboo. "Let us not be caught this time" would be his refrain another day. "So many times maya has caught us, so many times have we exchanged our freedom for sugar dolls which melted when the water touched them. Let us not be caught this time." So in us was planted the great desire for freedom. Two of the three requisites we already had — a human body and a guru, and now he was giving us the third, the desire to be free.

To be continued.... (Memoirs of  Sister Christine)

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