THE WORD austerity is understood as the state of being strict with oneself. An austere person is severe in self-discipline, simple, plain and serious in behaviour. From the Bhagavad-Gita, we learn that austerity is of three kinds: of body, speech and mind (17.14-16).
What advantages would one derive by being austere? An austere person can achieve what a greedy person wouldn’t be able to. An austere person connects well with the universe; creates positive energy. Ideally austere living gives pleasures of a wholesome kind or of even higher spiritual kinds. An austere person can avoid temptations, while a lusty person is likely to fall for them. Then, an austere person achieves great satisfaction in gaining something worthwhile; “I have been able to do so”, he exult. Our scriptures inform that saintly persons achieved the highest perfection of the human life, that is liberation by practising austerity.
It is said that human life is meant for austerity. Is not gold purified by heating? Nothing worthwhile can be achieved without austerity. What else are the long hours of practice by an athelete or riyaz by a musician?
But under the influence of our senses and mind, we are not austere. Our bodies and minds are programmed for comforts and sense enjoyments. And, when we do practice some austerity, we do so to achieve sense objects, which bring no permanent gain. We have to reverse this tendency by conscious efforts. The practice must start in the childhood itself. Parents must inculcate this habit in their children, otherwise one has to reprogramme with difficulty later in life.
For an easygoing adult, the first and foremost thing to achieve is mind control: enough will power to practice austerity. We must be determined to be austere. We have to believe this or it will not work despite enforced outward simplicity. We must sincerely want to reduce our wants. We have to aim at liberation from want. That is the spiritual and mental key.
In the ultimate analysis, simple living is conducive to austerity and is smart living, really.