Re: asceticism

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Posted by Tim ( on November 13, 2000 at 04:56:11:

In Reply to: asceticism posted by Susan Garvey on November 09, 2000 at 15:59:25:

I suspect that your definition of "ascetic" is one who stresses the body beyond the point where we might expect it to be healthy. It must be admitted that there are Buddhist traditions that would seem to encompass asceticism. Tendai has a history in Japan of developing "marathon monks" who run constantly and can voluntarily undergo extremely difficult practices designed to bring them to the edge of death. Few actually follow this path, but it's available. Tibetan monks are famous for braving crushingly cold nights in nothing but monks's robes.

Buddhism does not advocate nor require such intense sacrifices. In fact, the Buddha himself tasted both extravagence and asceticism before settling into what he termed the "Middle Way".

The problem for each of us is defining where we find the Middle Way. Each of us must review our own habits and decide what is suitable and what isn't. For many practitioners, it's necessary to have practices that are, while restrictive, not particularly painful or harmful. They don't aim to weaken the body, but to strengthen the mind by imposing discipline. A monk may wear only rags, but that's not necessarily harmful in a climate where few nights are painfully cold. The intent is not to deprive him of warmth, but of smugness.

Each of us must decide where our Middle Way runs. For myself, I choose to give up certain things, but certainly not the extent that many monks do. Some monks may give up only the ordinary pleasures of the home, while Tendai monks may see their Middle Way as treading perilously close to death. This isn't unusual in world religions, by the way, and is very common in pre-agricultural cultures. The shaman often submits himself to such tortures to achieve visions.

Buddhists don't see themselves as shamans, but as human beings working on awakening. Unlike the ascetics of the Buddha's time, most Buddhists don't see the body as an impediment to freedom.


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