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But this said, it must also be said that philosophical mysticism does not desire to nullify our human joys with a lugubrious and somber asceticism. There is an unfortunate tendency among ordinary mystics to become so enthused about the way of asceticism as to regard it not as it should be, that is, only as a means to an end, but as a complete end in itself. The original purpose of ascetic discipline was threefold: First, the victory of mind over body as a preliminary to the victory of mind over itself. This involved taming passions and disciplining appetites. Second, the solar plexus, the spinal nerve ganglions, and the brain nerve-centres were not only recharged with essential life-force but both the cerebro-spinal and sympathetic nervous systems were stopped from obstructing, and made to promote, the new and high ideals implanted in the subconscious mind by the conscious one. Third, the stimulation of the pituitary and pineal glands. Fourth, to straighten and strengthen the spinal column. This gave a clear unhindered path for and helped to evoke the currents of a mystically illuminating force fully evoked by special meditation exercises. Asceticism was like a remedy taken to cure a sickness. But in their unbalanced reaction against worldly life, its followers turned it into a permanent way of life. Medicine is most valuable as medicine, but not as food. Because quinine has cured someone of fever, he does not incorporate it in his diet for the remainder of his lifetime. Yet this is just what most ascetics did. They succumbed to intolerant manias with fanatical exaggeration and without understood purpose, and thus lost the balance of their psyche.

Clearly, the way of sanity lies between the two extremes of self-indulgent worldliness and of body-crushing mortification. Philosophy highly values asceticism when used with adequate reason, when sane, temperate, and balanced. It knows how necessary such a regime is to cleanse the body of poisonous toxins and keep it strong and healthy. But it despises the unnecessary misery and useless struggles with which the ordinary ascetic obsesses himself. It sympathizes with the modern seeker when he is not as attracted by the rigours of a forbidding asceticism as his medieval forebear was. It respects, indeed includes and advocates, an occasional and limited asceticism, but it rejects a permanent and excessive asceticism. It very definitely makes use of abstinence at a certain stage of the aspirant's career but then only as far as necessary, and for a limited time, and with the knowledge got from experience. It certainly bids its votary to practise some austerities, submit to some disciplines, but not to make a fetish of them, to use them only so far and so long as they are helpful to achieve self-mastery and bodily health and thus treat them as means, not ends. Lastly, it affirms that self-restraint and sense-discipline are always necessary, even though harsh asceticism is not.

The limitation of a merely physical asceticism is demonstrated by the fact that bodily habits are really mental habits. Desire, being but a strong thought, can be effaced only by an equally powerful thought, that is, by a mental process. No merely external discipline or physical renunciation can have the same effect, although it does help to bring about that effect and therefore should be used. Asceticism pronounces the pleasure we take in the experience of the senses to be evil in itself. Philosophy replies that it is the being carried away from reason and intuition by the pleasures, the being attached to them to the point of utter dependence upon them, that is evil. The fanatical and dogmatical kind of asceticism declares the physical things we touch and taste to be evil, but philosophy says touch and taste are really mental experiences and that their mental discipline will be more effective than abstaining altogether from their physical exercise. Hence, it leaves us free to enjoy the good things of this world, so long as we do not get too attached to them nor inwardly enslaved by them. Living in inward detachment from the world is much more important than practising outward contempt for the world.


-- Notebooks Category 2: Overview of Practices Involved > Chapter 7: Discipline Desires > # 64






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