Every spiritual practice is based upon a philosophical principle. Indian schools of thought differ on specifics but share many common principles. One of the most common principles, in fact, the most fundamental principle of all schools, is the concept that, “I am not this body.” It is the first principle Śrī Kṛṣṇa teaches in the Bhagavad Gītā and is the very basis of spirituality. Although a very common principle, and although almost everyone has heard about it, and although it is quoted and discussed by all and sundry on certain special occasions such as death, it nonetheless is one of the most misapplied principles in practical life.
When I had my first encounter with a spiritual organisation, this concept was preached to me very enthusiastically. I had no problem accepting it, but what followed as a consequence messed up my health for a long, long time; to this day.
I was told that because we are not this body, we should not waste much time taking care of it. To care for one’s body was taboo. It was “māyā,” which was a dreadful word.
We were given examples of great devotees who lived only on a cup of buttermilk and slept a few scanty hours at night. These devotees were our ideal. We had to be like them. We were told that if we fell sick, we were not to pay too much attention to it. Again, we were given examples of great devotees who continued doing their sevā even as they were physically suffering.
Trying to live up to these ideals, I tried to ignore my body. I purposely skipped my dinner because I was a brahmacārī, and was told not to eat at night otherwise my mind would be sexually agitated. Even my hunger pains night after night did not deter me. Others would eat at night, but I remained staunch. I had fixed my mind on following all the principles to attain the ultimate goal.
I slept as minimally as possible. I would wake up around 2 am and complete my sixteen rounds before maṅgala-ārati, which was at 4:30 am. I was young, so my body could it take it for sometime. Soon, however, it started giving me trouble. For example, I contracted a heavy cold due to bathing early in the morning in freezing cold water. Of course, I ignored this cold, which resulted in tinnitus in both my ears. I also began to experience heartburn and constipation. Ignoring these eventually resulted in loss of appetite and a weak immune system.
I remember driving on the highway to recruit “life-members” (donating patrons) and falling asleep at the wheel, drifting into different lanes while dozing off—all because I was “not this body” and therefore should “minimize sleep.” Sometimes I would just exit and go to some parking lot and take some rest, because it was not possible to drive. I have heard of several devotees dying in car accidents on the highway. I also remember many others who were trying to minimize their bodily needs abnormally. Like me, they all faced the unpleasant consequences.
It is true that “we are not the body”, but it is also true that “we are in the body.” Everyone knows that they are not their car, but everybody takes care of their car. Nobody wants to drive a car that has major problems. Life is a journey, and the body is the vehicle. If we are serious about reaching our destination, we need to keep that vehicle in good operating condition. We should not waste all our time on it, but we should not flip to the other end of the spectrum and neglect it completely.
In my early years in that spiritual organization, we were also told that the body is the temple of Kṛṣṇa and that is why we put tilakaon it, yet we were not told to take care of it like a temple. That is very strange. We were also told that a human birth is very rare and precious, yet we were asked not to take that much care of this precious object.
In truth, we need to respect our body. It is an amazing creation of Kṛṣṇa. If we have to use this body to serve Kṛṣṇa, then we should keep it healthy! We would also not offer an unclean, dysfunctional, or broken object to the deities. There is a saying in the tantra, devo bhūtvā devaṁ yajet—one should worship the divine by first becoming divine oneself.
If we have surrendered to Kṛṣṇa, then our body belongs to Him. If it is His, it should be protected as a treasured object. So, taking care of our bodies is a crucial part of the spiritual path, because it will help to keep us healthy and strong so we can engage in our service with a stable mind.
It may not sound right, but we must take care of ourselves first. It is like the safety instruction we hear before an airplane takes off—”in case of a drop in cabin pressure, put your air mask on first and then take care of the child next to you.” This is because we cannot properly serve anyone else if we neglect to properly serve ourselves. Most of us do the opposite and feel guilty for any little care we show to ourselves. We have to get rid of this guilt in order to become more integrated and healthy.
Ayurveda says that good health is the basis of attaining success in any of the four pursuits of life—dharma-artha-kāma-mokṣāṇām ārogyam mūlam uttamam. Without good health we cannot be successful materially or spiritually.
Therefore, Śrī Kṛṣṇa advises to tread the middle path and to not be an extremist (BG 6.16-17):
“O Arjuna, there is no question of success in yoga for one who overeats or who abstains from eating to an extreme, nor for one who sleeps excessively or who remains awake to an extreme. For one who is moderate in diet and recreation, methodical in the performance of actions, and regulated in sleep and wakefulness, the practice of yoga dispels all misery.”
This is very wonderful advice. One can remain healthy if one eats, sleeps and relaxes in a balanced manner. Ayurveda also says that food, sleep, and celibacy are the three pillars of health. Just as a building stands on pillars, our health exists on these three things. If they are debilitated by neglect or extremist ways, then our health is bound to suffer.
This is illustrated by an incident in the life of Buddha. A prince became his follower. Being a royal person, the prince had a big ego, so he wanted to be Buddha’s best follower. If other monks were eating twice a day, he would eat only once. If they were waking up at 5 am, he would wake up at 4 am. If they sat in the shade, he would sit under the sun. Everyone marvelled at his austerity. They could not believe that a person who lived all his life in comfort was able to tolerate so much.
Soon the prince’s body became emaciated. One day when he was sitting alone, Buddha approached him and asked him a question, “Did you enjoy music when you were a prince?” The prince-monk replied,
“Yes, of course. I was a good vīṇā player.”
Buddha further asked, “Tell me, if the strings of the vīṇāare too tight, will it play nicely?”
The prince replied, “Certainly not. The notes will not bend easily.”
Buddha then asked, “What if the strings are too loose?”
The prince said, “Then you can hardly play anything at all.”
Hearing this, Buddha smiled and said, “Look, my dear prince, this body is like a vīṇā. As a prince, you had too much enjoyment. As a monk, you are too austere. Both are not good for enlightenment. Follow the life of moderation.”
A question may be raised here. What about the great devotees, who lived a very austere life? Are we not supposed to follow their example? The answer is this: For these great devotees, austere life was not a practice but an outcome of their advanced state. They were so absorbed in thoughts of Kṛṣṇa that they were unable to focus on caring for their bodies. Renunciation is a natural outcome of bhakti. When you have the kind of bhakti they have, you will naturally and happily become renounced like them. But until then, you need to take care of your health and be moderate.
The expertise of a good teacher brings out all of the garbage in your mind. Without you becoming aware of it, you cannot be purified of it. You may become overwhelmed by this. You may start observing problems in your mind or behavior which you never saw before. But you should not become fearful. This is the cleansing process.
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An excellent article that would serve as an invite for the fanatics to reevaluate their belief system.
Radical restrain of sexual desires is another extreme prevalent in many circles. Broken relationships and psychological dysfunction are the effects.
Man conceptualizes sexual restraint as a sign of greatness and foolishly enjoys the concept of a self-made-self, only to be demolished when the allure of kāmadeva can no more be neglected. When the self-made self faces the reality, man delights either in secret coitus or interestingly puts up the subject of sex often in religious discourse and denigrates the erotic. His heart burns for the warmth of female flesh, and his fanaticism burns his head. I have had closely seen this with ‘monks’.
Should a man fast radically from women, he is doomed. I don’t know about spiritually evolved men, how they feel about womanly attraction.
So how does one take the vow of celibacy then? What male can give up celibacy naturally without some kind of restraint, tolerance, forbearance?
Maybe Babji Maharaj could clear this doubt I am having.
Bhakti is a different path. Somehow it has got mixed up with yoga and jñāna at present. So first you have to decide whether you want to follow bhakti, yoga, Jñāna or karma.
Every path has its own principles. Celibacy is not part of bhakti. If you read Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Eastern Wave, chapter 2, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī gives a list of activities for a sādhaka which form sādhana-bhakti.
Celibacy is a natural outcome of bhakti and not the other way round. One does not take the vow of celibacy in bhakti.
You ask, “What male can give up celibacy naturally without some kind of restraint, tolerance, forbearance? ”
I do not understand the question. Please restate it.
Like Babaji, I have had negative experiences within neo-gaudiya organisations. I had to leave those organisations and many of my former associates.
I stayed at Jiva, a number of years ago, and had a number of life changing experiences. I am grateful for the lessons I learned from Babaji. I have had to unlearn many damaging ideas.
I began soul searching and investigating the traditional forms Vaisnavaism outside the neo-gaudiya lines. I have looked at traditional Gaudiya, Sri Vaisnava, Pustimarg, and Nimbarka’s lines.
Hating-the-body fetishes are noticeably missing from all traditional Vaisnava lines I have investigated.
I wish articles like Babaji’s had been around when I was younger.
This article is extremely relevant and the examples especially drive home the point.
While reading the article a question regarding the story of Vrkasura (Bhasmasura) from Bhagavtam came to my mind.
The asura offered his own flesh to Lord Shiva. On 7th day as he proceeded to cut offer his own head, Lord Shiva appeared before him, stopped him and offered him a benediction.
The tamasic worship of self-injury, cutting oneself etc is condemned and it is complete perversion of “I am not the body” principle. My question is that how did this asura obtain the extremely rare and auspicious darshan of Lord Shiva by torturing his body and attempting suicide?
He obtained darshan of Lord Shiva but what was the outcome of that? Not very desirable. This is the outcome of tamasic austerities.
This was very enlightening and I could reflect with your experience very much Maharaj. Two questions spring further from this;
1. Do you believe that without the amount of suffering you witnessed in your sadhanna in the beginning you would be at the level you are ate?
– I find it hard to believe that the Supreme Personality did not gift you in some way because of how far you were willing to take it. You are indeed one of the most advanced Sadhus in the modern times that I have read from.
2. How did all those you mentioned, the ones who lived off of essentially nothing in terms of sleep, food, etc tolerate such punishment to the body and were able to write such philosophical writings such as The Sandharbas you have so graciously translated/commentated on.
Please clear our doubts of these two points please Babaji.
“1. Do you believe that without the amount of suffering you witnessed in your sadhanna in the beginning you would be at the level you are ate?”
“You are indeed one of the most advanced Sadhus in the modern times that I have read from.”
That is not true.
“2. How did all those you mentioned, the ones who lived off of essentially nothing in terms of sleep, food, etc tolerate such punishment to the body and were able to write such philosophical writings such as The Sandharbas you have so graciously translated/commentated on.”
I am not clear what exactly your question is. Please reframe it clearly.
The article addresses those who tend to fanatically fluctuate between extremes under the misnotion that prema-bhakti is just a few nights away. I am afraid that the indulgent majority would misconstrue this article as a welcome relief from an authorised source to remain sluggishly complacent under the pretext of prema-bhakti afterall being a gradual attainment.
It must be emphasised that every sādhaka must voluntarily take immediate and progressive steps to practise as many austerities and sacrifices as possible by constantly pushing boundaries to strive outside the comfort zone, to accelerate the spiritual progress without destroying oneself. We must hold the lifestyles of our ācāryas as the emblem of perfection, and diligently and consistently strive to gradually emulate it rather than imitate it.
Very nice article on spirituality put down in a most practical manner.
The aircraft example of helping a child after putting your oxygen mask is very apt.
So is the line that we are not this body but the fact is that we are in this body.
Thanks Babaji Maharaj.
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Dear babaji maharaj.,
Thank you for the nice article.
You have nicely presented that how a sadhaka should not neglect his body when he is not in the advanced state like that of the acharyas or goswamis.
Extending the same concept further, a sadhaka should not neglect the duties related to the body i.e. varnashrama Dharma by giving devotional service as an excuse.
Devotees like madhavendra Puri said, ” let me say good bye to Sandhya Vandana prayers, sraddha rites ….”
But a sadhaka should not imitate this. He needs to practice bhakti and varnasrama Dharma.
Srila bhakti vinod thakur has nicely described this in a verse.
sädhana-käle ye paryanta
hådaya käma äche
se paryanta varëäçramädi
dharmera apekñä thäke
At the time of practicing sädhana-bhakti, so long as there is material desire within the heart, one should remain within the confines of the varëäçrama system.
For those who get absorbed in varnashrama and neglect devotional service, sastras warn with verses such as , “dharmah svanishtah pumsam…..”, “Ya idam purusam visvam…”
For those devotees who neglect varnashrama by giving bhakti as an excuse, sastras warn with verses such as , “tavad karmani kurvita ….”
Am I correct in my thought process? Can you correct or enlighten more in this regard?
I am not sure how many devotees are born in the varnashrama system and are thus obliged to follow it.
Most devotees that I know of are not part of that, so which varnashrama duties do they have to follow?
Moreover, you write, “For those devotees who neglect varnashrama by giving bhakti as an excuse, sastras warn with verses such as, “tavad karmani kurvita ….”
I do not know how does this verse supports what you are proposing. It seems to say just the opposite.
Dear Ramana bhatta and Rajagopalan
Do sandhyavandana and see the result by yourself. Lets avoid or assume we know what is real VA and let us follow what our forefathers followed bare minimum even when lived in an era there brahmins were afraid to walk on streets due to fear of having then shikha or thread cut off by political parties. And HBV was written in an era worser than this where being a brahmin itself would cost an extra tax to be paid or be whipped. HBV stresses about sandhyavandana etc for vaishnavas .
I would not like this post neither this website be used for something beyond what is intended by its owners
For anything further please write to me in person. You can ask my email id from the website email@example.com
i concurred fully with babaji. i would invite him with other temple devotees for dinners at devsadan mandir in detroit, when some prominent sannyasis or guru would come and he was the only one who would skip the dinner at our home.
so many misapplications were propounded and many families got impacted by incorrect teachings and many families got broke up. therefore, true teaching is the most important.
I am surprised by your reply.
Let us see the names of Krishna.
There are names of krishna in relation to bhakti and bhaktas – bhakta vatsala, bhakta paradhina, asvatantra, sadhu maya, sadhu grasta manas, sadhu priya, sadhu dhana, sadhu cari, sadhu citta, prema vasya etc.
There are names of krishna in relation to dharma (varnashrama Dharma) – dharmadhyakshah (overseer of dharma) dharmah (personification of dharma), dharmaviduttamah (best knower of dharma), dharmagupa (protector of dharma), dharmakrita (propagator of dharma), dharmi (exemplar of dharma), satya-dharma-paraakramah (champion of true dharma), satya-dharma (abode of true dharma) satya-dharma-parayanaah (shelter of true practitioners of dharma) and dharma-yupah (foundation of dharma).
Krishna follows varnashrama in the spiritual world as well as in the material world.
Viswanatha cakravarthipad writes in brhad bhagavatamrta that Krishna follows varnashrama even in spiritual world.
Uddhava to narada – Krishna follows varnashrama both in Earth and in vaikuntha
yathā tatra tathātrāpi
yathā—as; tatra—there; tathā—so; atra—here; api—also; sat-dharma—of civilized religious principles; paripālanam—the maintenance; gārhasthya—the proper behavior of a family man; ari—over enemies; jaya—victory; jyeṣṭha—to elders; vipra—and brāhmaṇas; sammānana—showing respect; ādikam—and so on.
*“Here in Vaikuṇṭha the Lord maintains the religious principles of civilized people, just as He does on earth. He behaves like a proper family man, conquers His enemies, shows respect to elders and brāhmaṇas, and so on.”*
*In Dvārakā, both on earth and in Vaikuṇṭha, Śrī Kṛṣṇadeva thinks and acts like a proper householder and kṣatriya. He dutifully does everything expected of a responsible householder, goes forth with relish into battle to subdue opposing kings, and sincerely honors the brāhmaṇas and His spiritual masters and His elders like Balarāma. The word ādi (“and so on”) implies other daily duties He performs as a gṛhastha-kṣatriya, such as rising during the early hours of the brāhma-muhūrta*.
[16. Writings of Past Ācāryas / Writings of Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī / Śrī Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, Volume 3 / BB 5. Prema: Love of God / BB 3.5.67 / TEXT / yathā tatra tathātrāpi]
When Krishna was present in dvaraka in material world, he followed the duties of grahastha and kshatriya ( chapter 69, canto 10).
Krishna spent 10 years in vrindavan. Krishna spent more than 100 years outside vrindavan to establish varnashrama Dharma while always remembering the vrajavasis and reciprocating with different devotees.
The key for creating legacy of any spiritual society is how they balance between iha and para , temporary and eternal or varnashrama Dharma and bhagavata Dharma. This principle holds true for the individual sadhaka as well as for the spiritual society.
Escaping varnashrama Dharma in the name of bhagavata Dharma was the attitude of Arjuna as presented by srila prabhupada in BG 3.1 , “Arjuna also thought of Kṛṣṇa consciousness or buddhi-yoga, or intelligence in spiritual advancement of knowledge, as something like retirement from active life and the practice of penance and austerity at a secluded place. In other words, he wanted to skillfully avoid the fighting by using Kṛṣṇa consciousness as an excuse”.
You may also refer the purport to 11.20.9
तावत्कर्माणि कुर्वीत न निर्विद्येत यावता ।
मत्कथाश्रवणादौ वा श्रद्धा यावन्न जायते ।। ९ ।।
tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta
na nirvidyeta yāvatā
śraddhā yāvan na jāyate
As long as one is not satiated by fruitive activity and has not awakened his taste for devotional service by śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ [SB 7.5.23] one has to act according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions.
Unless one has developed firm faith in Lord Kṛṣṇa by association with pure devotees and is thus engaged full time in the devotional service of the Lord, one should not neglect ordinary Vedic principles and duties.
[ 03. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) / Canto 11: General History / SB 11.20: Pure Devotional Service Surpasses Knowledge and Detachment / SB 11.20.9 / TEXT]
There are many sastric evidences and also logical arguments based on one’s experience in this world. I do not wish to add more.
Based on one s own limited experience of devotees to philosophise that performance of varnashrama duties is not required is not acceptable when there are ample evidences in the sastra.
One cannot practice varnashrama the way it was practiced in the Vedic age but utter neglect of varnashrama will lead to chaos just like what happened to babaji Maharaj by neglecting his body as described in the article.
For the sake of our readers, please be concise to convey your point. It would help maintain the aesthetics of the comment section which is for rational questions, educated replies, and elevating discussions.
As is well-known, nobody in the Chaitanya Vaishnava sampradaya took varnasrama sannyasa nor took ‘brahmana initiation’ for 400 years before these practices started in one sect in the early part of the 20th century. Given that some here think neglect of such practices will lead to chaos in society, apparently the entire parampara must have been misinformed.
It appears that the founders of the sampradaya who laid down the core precepts were also misinformed. Sri Rupa excludes faith in varnasrama independent from bhakti in his very definition of uttama bhakti (jnana-karma-adi anavrtam).
Furthermore, he does not prescribe varnasrama duties in the limbs of uttama bhakti that are mandatory for all uttama bhaktas of the Chaitanya school.
It appears that Sri Rupa Goswami needs to get an education from the modern followers of the Chaitanya school.
Varnashrama is not one of the 64 items of bhakti and bhakti is independent of varnashrama. There are ample quotes for them.
There is a philosophical reality ( bhakti is independent of varnashrama) and practical reality ( is my practice of bhakti independent of varnashrama?)
The whole theme of babaji Maharaj s article is that neglect of body affects one s health and the practice of bhakti in the long run for a sadhaka bhakta. The same point holds true in the case of neglect of duties related to the body I e. Varnashrama Dharma. Espically neglect of varnashrama duties will affect the growth of others because our duties are related with fulfilling others needs.
Eg – if a mother simply keeps chanting and if she neglects her duty of taking care of child, will not affect the growth of the child in a practical level?
Mahaprabhu instructed everyone to preach Krishna upadesha. Srila Rupa goswami is the prime disciple of mahaprabhu. In the Gita , Krishna says in BG 3.23 and 3.24 that neglect of varnashrama duties would lead to ruination. How would any acharya disagree with this statement of Krishna upadesha?
In my limited experience of the practice of bhakti yoga, I have encountered many pseudo transcendental escapist devotees who neglect their varnashrama duties by giving bhakti as an excuse.
We have to learn to harmonise the practice of bhakti with the varnashrama duties ( mam anusmara yudhya ca) and when the varnashrama duties conflict with the practice of Bhakti, we have to reject varnashrama for the sake of bhakti ( sarva dharman parityaya …. )
I look forward to also hear babaji Maharaj s comment.
Unfortunately Rupa Goswami did dare to explicitly exclude faith in varnasrama from uttama bhakti. Because varnasrama is part of the karma marga, while uttama bhakti is a separate path. The adhikaris for the two paths are different. And that is the meaning of the Bhagavatam verse- tavat karmani kurvita na nirvidyeta yavata..
Below is Sri Visvanatha’s commentary on the jnana karmady anavrtam verse in BRS. The commentary explains that an uttama bhakta should not engage in varnasrama duties out of faith in their independent power to give results. Otherwise uttama bhakti becomes covered. An uttama bhakta must only have faith in uttama bhakti. If an uttama bhakta performs varnasrama duties like srAddha out of a desire to not disturb society, *but* not out of faith in those duties, then that is not a covering on bhakti.
bhakty-āvarakatvaṁ nāma vidhi-śāsanān nitya-karmākaraṇe pratyavāyādi-bhayāc chraddhayā kriyamāṇatvam | tathā bhakty-ādi-rūpeṣṭa-sādhanatvāc chraddhayā kriyamāṇatvaṁ ca | tena loka-saṁgrahārtham aśraddhayāpi pitrādi-śrāddhaṁ kurvatāṁ mahānubhāvānāṁ śuddha-bhaktau nāvyāptiḥ
I disagree that those who perform uttama bhakti outside the varnasrama system – like non-Indians who have no gotra and cannot be part of varnasrama – are animals!
I agree with you that we should not neglect our duties. There is no duality in bhakti.
But my question to you in my earlier reply was that what kind of varnashrama duties you expect from those devotees who are not born in the varnashrama system?
Dear babaji maharaj,
Thank you for your comment. Those who are born in non varnashrama background cannot be expected to follow the traditional varnashrama rituals like sraddha or Sandhya Vandana etc … It is a great thing that they take to the path of bhakti and avoid the 4 main sins. I mainly talked about it from the point of vaishnavas from varnashrama background/Indian background. Even from them I did not mean that they follow the system of madhukari and other impractical things.
Certain things can be taught even to vasinavas from non varnashrama background like gratitude to parents, principles of niskama karma in regards to duties within the system of marriage, pursuing one s svadharma/nature (sreyan sva Dharma..) . Elevated vaishnavas like your good self may have to discuss and try what varnashrama principles can be taught in the particular time and place.
Srila bhakti vinod thakur says, ”
Though all humans have a right to practice bhakti, those who follow the regulations of varnasrama have a much easier time.”
At least at a certain point everone can be given the integral understanding of Dharma and at least theoretical understanding of how varnashrama is a scientific system otherwise we make sort of leftist vaishnavas ( devotees but against the system of Krishna because they are influenced by the immense material on caste system by the western academia).
We also don’t judge a devotee based on whether he follows varnashrama or not. That would be hellish mentality ( arcye Vishnu … Vaishnave jati Buddhi…). We have to see their primary quality of devotion and surrender. I agree with your point of comment on VCT on the BRS verse. (Regarding T.krsna das s comment).
It is better to make a clear statement, as you have done now. When you wrote that devotees should follow varnashrama dharma, it did not tell anything to a person who would like to take your advice.
I wish to share this quote from srila prabhupada s purport for the esteemed vaishnavas for introspection..
A pure devotee’s activities may appear like ordinary activities, but behind them there is profound significance—the satisfaction of the Lord. In order to understand the activities of a Vaiṣṇava, one has to become very expert.
Mahārāja Pṛthu did not allow himself to function outside the institution of four varṇas and four āśramas, although as a Vaiṣṇava he was a paramahaṁsa, transcendental to all material activities.
He remained at his position as a kṣatriya to rule the world and at the same time remained transcendental to such activities by satisfying the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Concealing himself as a pure devotee, he externally manifested himself as a very powerful and dutiful king. In other words, none of his activities were carried out for his own sense gratification; everything he did was meant for the satisfaction of the senses of the Lord.
[ 03. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) / Canto 4: The Creation of the Fourth Order / SB 4.22: Pṛthu Mahārāja’s Meeting with the Four Kumāras / SB 4.22.50 / PURPORT]
I beg apologies for any inappropriate comments or improper language.