Asceticism in Hinduism
Asceticism is a way of life or an austere lifestyle in which one shuns worldly life and lives in seclusion to pursue spiritual goals such as salvation, peace and happiness. Ascetic people practice abstinence from carnal pleasures and worldly enjoyment to purify their minds and bodies. They restrain their minds and bodies and withdraw from worldly life to control their thoughts, desires and emotions and stabilize their mind in the contemplation of a deity or in peace and equanimity.
In Hinduism asceticism goes by the name Sanyasa and ascetics go by different names such as Sadhu, Sanyasi, Bairagi, Sant, Yogi, Muni, Rishi, Swami, Mahatma, Tantri, Parmahansa, and so on. These names denote different approaches to practice asceticism in various Hindu sects, subsects and teacher traditions. In the past the practice of asceticism was confined mostly to men.
However, currently women also participate in ascetic practices and women based ascetic organization exist within and outside India. The Brahmakumaris are one such organization. They have branches all over the world. Although both men and women are admitted by them, it is a predominantly women oriented spiritual organization.
Hindu ascetic practices are diverse and complex. They range from moderate to most extreme. Most engage in meditative and yogic practices. Some engage in Tantra and esoteric methods. Most of them are open to public and all classes of people, but some are secretive and relatively unknown. The members many even resort to code language or language of signs and gestures to maintain their privacy and avoid public scrutiny. Admission into such organizations is strictly limited to trusted members at the discretion of the teacher or the head of the organization.
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Suggestions for Further Reading
- The Role of Asceticism in the Development of Hinduism
- Hinduism, suffering and fatalism
- Sects of Hinduism
- Atheism in ancient India
- The History, Antiquity and Chronology of Hinduism
- The Concept of Atman or Eternal Soul in Hinduism
- The Problem of Maya Or Illusion and How To Deal With It
- Belief In Atman, The Eternal Soul Or The Inner Self
- Brahman, The Highest God Of Hinduism
- The Bhagavad Gita Original Translations
- The Bhagavadgita, Philosophy and Concepts
- Bhakti yoga or the Yoga of Devotion
- Hinduism And The Evolution of Life And Consciousness
- Why to Study the Bhagavadgita Parts 1 to 4
- Origin, Definition and Introduction to Hinduism
- Symbolic Significance of Numbers in Hinduism
- The Belief of Reincarnation of Soul in Hinduism
- The True Meaning Of Renunciation According To Hinduism
- The Symbolic Significance of Puja Or Worship In Hinduism
- Introduction to the Upanishads of Hinduism
- Origin, Principles, Practice and Types of Yoga
1 It is interesting that the name "Hallah" used by Ajivikas to refer God, sounds so similar to the name Allah of Islam. This together with the evidence of Indus valley civilization in Oman makes one wonder whether some aspects of the doctrine of Ajivikas, which is but an ancient form of Saivism, might have come to the Indian subcontinent from the migrant communities of Mesapotamia and probably eastern Africa.
2.As quoted in Saddarshana Smuchchaya by Haribhadra