Chapter XVII: 5-6
|Those men who practice
terrific austerities not enjoined by the scriptures, given to hypocrisy and egoism,
impelled by the force of lust and attachment,
Senseless, torturing all the elements in the body and me also who dwells in the body - know thou these to be of demoniacal resolves.
These two verses properly belong to the previous chapter! They contain enough food for a world of thought. Zimmer, in his book on The Philosophies of India, feels that The practice of Tapas belongs to the pre-Aryan, non-Vedic heritage of archaic Indian asceticism. When you bear in mind that Krishna (the dark one) is often regarded as of non-Aryan stock, the puzzle is even more puzzling. Zimmer rightly claims that the Gita represents the fusion of all the then-existing cultures and religious faiths - the scripture for the next age.
Spectacular asceticism is not unknown in other parts of the world. When emperor Constantine recognized Christianity, some of the faithful, fearing the evaporation of the true Christian spirit in its exposure to political heat, renounced the world and lived an extremely austere life in deserts and forests. St. Anthony was one of them; and even when he eventually came out to preach, he preached extreme asceticism.
It has been said: With some of these men it is obvious that ascetic discipline had become perverted into an unpleasant form of exhibitionism. And this is true of their kin in other religions, too. In Hindu mythology demons are often described as great tapasvin (men of austerity)!
Such ascetic practices as standing in freezing water or sitting on burning sands are against nature. As Krishna says here, they torture the body and me also who dwells in the body. Instead of purifying the self, they strengthen the ego and are therefore a block to insight - the key to God-realization.
Asceticism on the one hand and sense-indulgence on the other are to be avoided; the middle path is the Gita's.
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