Austerity and the Way to God


No matter what level of self-realization you choose,
one essential quality stands out as common to all.

A lecture given in Dallas in 1975
by His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Srila Prabhupada lecturing in Dallas in 1973.
Srila Prabhupada lecturing in Dallas in 1973.

tapasaiva param jyotir
bhagavantam adhoksajam
anjasa vindate puman

“By austerity only can one even approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is within the heart of every living entity and at the same time beyond the reach of all senses.” (Srimad -Bhagavatam 3.12.19)

From this verse we can understand that the Absolute Truth is realized in three features. The first realization is param jyotih, the Brahman effulgence; the next realization is sarva-bhuta-guhavasam, the Supersoul in everyone’s heart; and the final realization is bhagavantam adhoksajam, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is beyond the range of material perception.

We can understand these three features by considering the example of the sun. Our first realization of the sun occurs when we come in touch with the sunshine. That is very easy. Anyone can come into the light of the sunshine. It is open to everyone. Then, the next feature of the sun is the sun globe. That is not so easily available. You cannot go to the sun globe. According to the modern scientific conclusion, the sun is ninety-three million miles away from us, and still we cannot tolerate the heat sometimes. And what will be our position if we go to the sun? Before reaching it—even when we’re still millions of miles away—the temperature will be so high that we’ll be finished.

So we cannot even approach the sun globe, what to speak of entering into the sun. For that we require a different body. Of course, there are living entities within the sun globe, and there is a predominating deity also—the “president,” you might say. There is a state, just as you have the United States, and there is also a president, and the president’s name is Vivasvan. This is all explained in the sastra [scripture]. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, “I spoke this science to Vivasvan, the president or predominating deity of the sun globe.” This is all fact. It is not fiction.

The inhabitants of the sun globe have different bodies than ours. This earth planet is made up mostly of earth, so our bodies are earthy; similarly, the sun globe is mostly fire, so the bodies there are fiery. Five gross elements exist—earth, water, fire, air, and ether—and here on this earth there is a mixture of all these, but the earth element is prominent. Similarly, in the sun globe there is also a mixture of these elements, but the fire element is prominent.

In the material world there are varieties of planets, and they are all part of God’s creation. This earth is God’s creation, and the sun is also God’s creation. But we cannot go to the sun. Land is God’s creation and water is God’s creation, but you cannot live in the water and the fish cannot live on the land. Similarly, although there are millions and trillions of planets within this universe, you have to live on that particular planet where you are destined to live. That is part of your conditioning. You cannot go to the sun planet or the moon planet. You are not free.

Now the scientists have attempted to go to the moon. We are doubtful whether they actually went, but in any case no benefit has been derived by this effort. They have simply wasted their energy, time, and money, Conditioned life means that you cannot violate the laws of nature. It is not possible. But the scientists are thinking they are free to do whatever they like. That is ignorance.

They are falsely thinking that they are free. But where is that freedom? In the Bhagavad-gita [3.27] Krsna says, prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah: “Everything is being carried out by the modes of material nature.” Yet this rascal civilization does not admit this. People are so foolish that although they are conditioned at every step, they still think they are free. This is illusion.

To get real freedom from conditioned life, you have to work for it. Freedom does not come automatically. Suppose you are diseased—you are suffering from fever or some other painful condition. So, to get free of the disease you have to undergo some austerity. If you are suffering from a painful boil on your body, you have to undergo a surgical operation if you want to be cured.

Therefore tapasya, some painful austerity, is necessary to get free of the diseased condition of material life. Formerly, the saintly persons or sages would practice many kinds of tapasya. In the scorching heat of summer they would ignite fires all around and then sit down in meditation. Or they would go to the Himalaya Mountains, and in the pinching, chilly cold they would stay under water up to their necks and meditate.

So, for God realization people formerly used to undergo such severe types of austerities, but at the present moment we are so fallen that we cannot tolerate even these four principles: no illicit sex, no intoxication, no meat-eating, and no gambling. These are the items of tapasya for advancing in Krsna consciousness. Are they very difficult? No. Is it more difficult to give up illicit sex and meat-eating and intoxication than to stay in water up to the neck in chilly, pinching cold? We are not advising, “No sex,” but “No illicit sex.” Where is the difficulty?’

Still, this age is so fallen that even this primary tapasya we cannot execute. But as it is said here in this verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, tapasaiva: only by austerity can one realize God. Otherwise it is not possible. Only by tapasya! There is no other means. The word param means “the Supreme.” If you want to realize the Supreme, the Absolute Truth, then you must agree to certain types of tapasya.

There are preliminary, little tapasyas like Ekadasi. (The eleventh day after both the full and the new moon, on which devotees of Krsna abstain from all grains and beans.) Actually, on the Ekadasi day we should not take any food or even drink water. But in our Society we are not observing it so strictly. We say that on Ekadasi you must not take any food grains but you may take a little fruit and milk. This is tapasya. So, we cannot execute this tapasya? If we are not prepared to undertake even this very, very easily executable tapasya, then how can we expect to go back home, back to Godhead? It will not be possible.

Now, by executing some tapasya, some austerities, do you become a loser? No, you are not a loser. When anyone comes from outside and sees the boys and girls who are members of our Society, they say, “Oh, they have such bright faces!” Once, when I was going from Los Angeles to Hawaii, a priest came up to me on the plane and asked, “Can I ask you a question? I see your disciples are very bright-faced. How has this been done?”

So, by undergoing tapasya, by rejecting all these sinful activities, we can live a very simple and happy life. We can sit down on the floor; we can lie down on the floor. We don’t require much furniture. Nor do we need a large amount of gorgeous clothes. No, if we are serious about God realization, then some minimum tapasya must be there. That is wanted.

Then, the first realization is the brahmajyoti, the brilliant effulgence of Krsna’s body. Generally, the Mayavadis, the impersonalistic transcendentalists, think that the realization of the brahmajyoti is the all in all, while the yogis think that the realization of God in the heart is the highest. God is in everyone’s heart; that is accepted in all sastra. In the Bhagavad-gita [18.61] Krsna says, isvarah sarva- bhutanam hrd-dese ‘rjuna tisthati: “The Lord is in everyone’s heart.” And here in this verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam the same thing is said: sarva-bhuta-guhavasam. (Guha means “the core of the heart.”)

The Lord is everywhere, not only in your heart and my heart and the animal’s heart, but also within the atom (andantarastha-paramanu-cayantara-stham). This is the Paramatma feature, or the Supersoul feature, of the Lord. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, [13.3] ksetra-jnam capi mam viddhi sarva-ksetresu bharata: “I am also the knower of the body; I am present in everyone’s heart.” In another place [Bg. 15.15] Krsna says the same thing: sarvasya caham hrdi-sannivistah.

So, God is present everywhere. He is omnipotent and omnipresent. And in our temples He is manifest as the arca-vigraha, the Deity form, by which He can accept our worship. It is not that the Deity is different from the original Krsna. No. He is the same Krsna who is living in Goloka Vrndavana, the spiritual world (goloka eva nivasati), but who is also present in everyone’s heart (akhilatma-bhutah). To help His devotees realize Him He can present Himself in innumerable forms and accept their service.

Krsna is also known as Adhoksaja, “He who is beyond material vision.” We cannot see Krsna, but we can see stone, we can see metal, we can see wood and other material elements. So Krsna has appeared as the Deity of stone or wood or metal so that we can see Him. But the Deity is not a stone or wooden statue. That you have to understand. The Deity is Krsna, and He is so kind that He has appeared before us so we can see Him and serve Him. This is the philosophy—not that stone is Krsna.

Of course, in the ultimate sense stone is also Krsna, because stone is the expansion of Krsna’s material energy (bhumir apo ‘nalo vayuh kham mano buddhir eva ca . . . me bhinna prakrtir astadha). This is the philosophy of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, that God is inconceivably one with and different from His energies. Again we can give the example of the sun and the sunshine. In the sunshine there is heat and light, and this means that the sun is also present there. When someone is in the bright sunshine in your room, do you not say, “Why are you standing in the sun?” So, by the entrance of the sunshine within your room, the sun entered. This is the philosophy of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. (Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krsna Himself in the role of His own devotee. He appeared in India five hundred years ago to teach love of God through the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra.) This is the philosophy of acintya-bhedabheda—simultaneous oneness and difference.

Normally we cannot understand how one thing can be another thing, and also not be that thing. We have no experience of this because of our poor fund of knowledge. But in the case of Krsna, God, that is possible: simultaneous oneness and difference.

Now, for the atheist, Krsna’s Deity in the temple is just a form made of stone or wood. He thinks, “These crazy fellows are worshiping a stone.” And for them Krsna is not in the Deity. If a crazy man breaks the statue, he does not break Krsna; he breaks the stone. This is what is meant by “simultaneously one and different.”

But for the devotee the Deity is Krsna. He is Krsna all the time. Even if someone sees the Deity as stone, the devotee knows that stone is also Krsna because it is an expansion of Krsna’s energy, just as the sunshine is an expansion of the sun’s energy. Krsna is omniscient and omnipotent, and He can accept your service in any way. Provided you want to render service, Krsna is ready to accept.

Therefore, we should never think of the Deity of Krsna, as something made of stone or wood or metal. We should always think, “Here is Krsna personally present,” and we should worship Him like that. We should offer all respect to the Deity, thinking, “Here is Krsna; I cannot do anything wrong.” In The Nectar of Devotion (A book by Srila Prabhupada that is an English translation and summary study of Srila Rupa Gosvami’s sixteenth-century Sanskrit devotional classic Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu.) there is a list of sixty-four offenses in Deity worship, and we should avoid committing these offenses. Not that we think, “Here is a stone statue; it is not going to see that I am committing this offense.” That is not very good. We should always feel, “Here is Krsna, personally present.”

Actually, He is personally present. Are we such fools that we are worshiping a stone? No. We have installed this Deity exactly under the directions of previous spiritual authorities, so our worship is not whimsical. Krsna is personally present in the Deity, as He is present everywhere (sarva-bhuta-guhavasam). Similarly, He can live in many millions of temples simultaneously, and at the same time He can live in Goloka Vrndavana. That is Krsna’s omnipotency.

Being very kind, Krsna has appeared in our various temples; so we should be very careful to remember, “Here is Krsna, personally present. Here is Srimati Radharani. Here is Lord Caitanya and Lord Jagannatha.” Even if you commit some mistake, the Deity will not protest. But we should not commit any mistake. That is our duty. We should not do anything offensive. The directions are there in the sastra: “Do like this, do like that. Don’t do that.” And if you follow, there will be no offense, and offenseless service will make you more and more advanced in spiritual life.

So, you have to follow the authoritative principles given in these scriptures and handed down by the disciplic succession. Yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau. If you have faith in God—Krsna—and similar faith in the spiritual master, and if you follow his instructions, then you will understand Krsna in His different features: jyotih, bhagavan, and sarva-bhuta-guhavasam. He is the brahmajyoti, just like sunshine; He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna; and He is the Supersoul, the Paramatma, within everyone’s heart. The process for realizing these features of God involves tapasya—a little austerity. Whatever little tapasya we have prescribed you should follow. Then you’ll gradually understand Krsna. And if you understand Krsna, your life is successful.

Thank you very much.

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One response to “Austerity and the Way to God”

  1. I’ve just read the godhead article. I wish, I could pronounce some of the words, & names more easily. Although! Some are easier to pronounce, than others. I’m trying to get an understanding of all this. I’m baptized, as Lutheran religion. I don’t really go, to my church, or any other church. As a matter of fact. For some reason. I’m extremely uncomfortable in a Christian church. I don’t know why.. I’ve visit a Hare Krishna Temple in New Orleans, Louisiana, for the very first time last Sunday evening. I must say! I did not want to leave, & can not wait to go back. It felt like I connect w/myself. With my soul/spirit.. I felt like I was loaded on some sort of drug. Now! I know, that I was not loaded on any drugs. I swear!

    The funny thing, that I find a bit ironic. Is that, before, I’d stepped foot inside that Temple, & new anything about it, & all. I woke up one morning around 5:30am. I believe it was, & a thought just appeared in my mind. It was of this.. The so called forbidden fruit. Which the Christmas Bible has implicated, that Adsm & Eve ate, that was a sin, & had released a curse onto them, us, & into the world, was not a fruit at all. Maybe! It was from eating meat. Meat comes from animals, us, & the creatures of the sea. It has blood in it. Blood is our energy source. Which keeps us alive. Right? If that animals or fish was slain in distress. It releases pheromones. Which are chemicals, that ones body naturally produce.. Which is another source of energy. A bad energy. Which passes to us. When we eat that meat. Plus! God said, for us to care for the creatures of the land, sky, & sea. Take care of them. Not brutal kill them for our pleasure, or to eat them. But, to love them, care for them, take care of them, look after them, & protect them. Killing any living creature, & eating it, for it nutrients, vitamins, & proteins. Is a sin. Because God has provided all those things in fruits, veggies, nuts, & grains.
    Ok! Now! I’m just rambling on. I just have so many questions, & am losing train of thought. I’m thinking faster, than I can speak, & write. Sorry!

    Hare Krishna

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