Human Life Meant for Austerity
Tapas, or austerity, is especially meant for the retired life. One should not remain a householder throughout his whole life; he must always remember that there are four divisions of life- brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa. So after grihastha, householder life, one should retire. If one lives for a hundred years, he should spend twenty-five years in student life, twenty-five in householder life, twenty-five in retired life and twenty-five in the renounced order of life. These are the regulations of the Vedic religious discipline. A man retired from household life must practice austerities of the body, mind and tongue. That is tapasya. The entire varnashrama-dharma society is meant for tapasya. Without tapasya, or austerity, no human being can get liberation. The theory that there is no need of austerity in life, that one can go on speculating and everything will be nice, is recommended neither in the Vedic literature nor in Bhagavad-gita. Such theories are manufactured by show-bottle spiritualists who are trying to gather more followers. If there are restrictions, rules and regulations, people will not become attracted. Therefore those who want followers in the name of religion, just to have a show only, don’t restrict the lives of their students, nor their own lives. But that method is not approved by the Vedas. – Gita 16.1-3, purport
According to Vedic system, therefore, there is forced renunciation. Nobody wants to retire from family life, but the Vedic injunction is that after one has passed fifty years, he must leave his family life. Panchasordhvam vanam vrajet. In the beginning, as a student life, he’s trained up, brahmacari, undergoing severe austerities, penances, and taking instruction from the spiritual master about the temporary existence of this material world. In this way, he’s trained up very nicely. And even after training, if he appears to be attached to this material world, he’s allowed to go home and marry. – Lecture on  Bhagavad-gita 2.1, Ahmedabad, December 7, 1972
There is no happiness. We are declaring, “That’s all right, but if there is little happiness, that is in America.” So you are favored by Krishna. Utilize this favor of Krishna in glorifying Krishna. Then it is success. Avicyuto arthah kavibhir nirupito yad uttama-sloka: to become extraordinary in any branch of facilities, that requires austerities. So when one has acquired that, he should engage it for glorifying the Supreme. Yad-uttama-sloka-gunanuvarnanam.- Morning Walk, February 3, 1975, Hawaii
The Goal is to Remember Krishna
Aradhito yadi haris tapasa tatah kim [Narada Pancaratra]. If one has come to this stage, just to understand Krishna the great, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he’s surrendered soul, “Krishna, whatever You like You do. I am surrendered.”… This is aradhana. Then he doesn’t require to undergo any austerities or penance. His everything is finished. And naradhito yadi haris tapasa tatah kim. And if he does not come to this stage, his so-called scholarship, learned argument, this or that- all nonsense, finished. Useless. Because one has to come to this stage, thinking of Krishna always. So if one does not come to this stage, simply by academic education, he says “It should be like this. The interpretation should be like this,” he’s simply wasting time. Frog philosopher. – Lecture, Bhagavad-gita 2.1-10 and Talk, Los Angeles, November 25, 1968
If one has realized the Supreme Lord, then he has no more any duty for undergoing austerities, penance, this or that, all prescribed rules. His business is finished. When a man is cured, there is no more requisition of medicine. He’s in healthy state. To be engaged in devotional service, in Krishna consciousness, means he’s in healthy state. He has no more any prescribed duty. – Lecture, Bhagavad-gita 3.18-30, Los Angeles, December 30, 1968
It is so easy. You don’t require to undergo very severe austerities and penance. Simply try to follow one instruction of Krishna, that while drinking water, the taste is Krishna. Begin this life and your life will be successful.- Lecture, Bhagavad-gita 4.24, Bombay, April 13, 1974
Do it Voluntarily, not out of Force
Shyamasundara: If you don’t practice voluntarily austerities, then you must involuntarily practice some austerities.
Prabhupada: Yes, under the direction of spiritual master. You have no mind to follow austerities, but when you accept a spiritual master you have to carry out the order. That is austerity.
Shyamasundara: Say, like our parents or many people in the material world, completely addicted to material life. They don’t want to follow any austerities, uncomfortable, but still they must. By nature they’re forced to austerities.
Prabhupada: That is forced austerity; that is not good. Voluntary austerity will help.- Talk with Bob Cohen, February 27-29, 1972, Mayapur
Misdirected Austerities
Those who undergo severe austerities and penances not recommended in the scriptures, performing them out of pride and egoism, who are impelled by lust and attachment, who are foolish and who torture the material elements of the body as well as the Supersoul dwelling within, are to be known as demons. – Gita 17.5-6
There are persons who manufacture modes of austerity and penance which are not mentioned in the scriptural injunctions. For instance, fasting for some ulterior purpose, such as to promote a purely political end, is not mentioned in the scriptural directions. The scriptures recommend fasting for spiritual advancement, not for some political end or social purpose. Persons who take to such austerities are, according to Bhagavad-gita, certainly demoniac. Their acts are against the scriptural injunctions and are not beneficial for the people in general. Actually, they act out of pride, false ego, lust and attachment for material enjoyment. By such activities, not only is the combination of material elements of which the body is constructed disturbed, but also the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself living within the body. Such unauthorized fasting or austerities for some political end are certainly very disturbing to others. They are not mentioned in the Vedic literature. A demoniac person may think that he can force his enemy or other parties to comply with his desire by this method, but sometimes one dies by such fasting. These acts are not approved by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He says that those who engage in them are demons. Such demonstrations are insults to the Supreme Personality of Godhead because they are enacted in disobedience to the Vedic scriptural injunctions. The word acetasah is significant in this connection. Persons of normal mental condition must obey the scriptural injunctions. Those who are not in such a position neglect and disobey the scriptures and manufacture their own way of austerities and penances.- Bhagavad-gita 17.5-6, purport
Austerity of Body (Gita 17.14)
pujanam saucam arjavam
brahmacharyam ahimsa ca
sariram tapa ucyate
Translation: Austerity of the body consists in worship of the Supreme Lord, the brahmanas, the spiritual master, and superiors like the father and mother, and in cleanliness, simplicity, celibacy and nonviolence.
Purport: The Supreme Godhead here explains the different kinds of austerity and penance. First He explains the austerities and penances practiced by the body. One should offer, or learn to offer, respect to God or to the demigods, the perfect, qualified brahmanas and the spiritual master and superiors like father, mother or any person who is conversant with Vedic knowledge. These should be given proper respect. One should practice cleansing oneself externally and internally, and he should learn to become simple in behavior. He should not do anything which is not sanctioned by the scriptural injunctions. He should not indulge in sex outside of married life, for sex is sanctioned in the scripture only in marriage, not otherwise. This is called celibacy. These are penances and austerities as far as the body is concerned.
Austerity of Speech (Gita 17.15)
anudvega-karam vakyam
satyam priya-hitam ca yat
svadhyayabhyasanam caiva
van-mayam tapa ucyate
Translation: Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature.
Purport: One should not speak in such a way as to agitate the minds of others. Of course, when a teacher speaks, he can speak the truth for the instruction of his students, but such a teacher should not speak to those who are not his students if he will agitate their minds. This is penance as far as talking is concerned. Besides that, one should not talk nonsense. The process of speaking in spiritual circles is to say something upheld by the scriptures. One should at once quote from scriptural authority to back up what he is saying. At the same time, such talk should be very pleasurable to the ear. By such discussions, one may derive the highest benefit and elevate human society. There is a limitless stock of Vedic literature, and one should study this. This is called penance of speech.
Austerity of Mind (Gita 17.16)
manah-prasadah saumyatvam
maunam atma-vinigrahah
bhava-samsuddhir ity etat
tapo manasam ucyate
Translation: And satisfaction, simplicity, gravity, self-control and purification of one’s existence are the austerities of the mind.
Purport: To make the mind austere is to detach it from sense gratification. It should be so trained that it can be always thinking of doing good for others. The best training for the mind is gravity in thought. One should not deviate from Krishna consciousness and must always avoid sense gratification. To purify one’s nature is to become Krishna conscious. Satisfaction of the mind can be obtained only by taking the mind away from thoughts of sense enjoyment. The more we think of sense enjoyment, the more the mind becomes dissatisfied. In the present age we unnecessarily engage the mind in so many different ways for sense gratification, and so there is no possibility of the mind’s becoming satisfied. The best course is to divert the mind to the Vedic literature, which is full of satisfying stories, as in the Puranas and the Mahabharata. One can take advantage of this knowledge and thus become purified. The mind should be devoid of duplicity, and one should think of the welfare of all. Silence means that one is always thinking of self-realization. The person in Krishna consciousness observes perfect silence in this sense. Control of the mind means detaching the mind from sense enjoyment. One should be straightforward in his dealings and thereby purify his existence. All these qualities together constitute austerity in mental activities.
Practices in Other Religions
To drink is sinful. Even among the Muhammadans. To smoke, sinful. They have got austerities. Their animal-killing is once in a year. (Hindi) Only animals should be sacrificed in worship. There are so many things. Every religion there is good thing, but then nobody follows. Simply defined, “I’m Christian,” “I’m Muhammadan,” “I am Hindu…” That’s all. He’s neither of them. He’s simply animal. – Morning Walk, December 11, 1973, Los Angeles