Basic Programme for the Human Body
"The Four Austerities and the Four Liberations")
To pursue an integral education that leads to the supramental realization a fourfold austerity is necessary and also a fourfold liberation.
Austerity is usually confused with mortification. When austerity is spoken of, one thinks of the discipline of the ascetic who seeks to avoid the arduous task of spiritualizing the physical, vital and mental life and therefore declares it incapable of transformation and casts it away with out pity as a useless burden, a bondage fettering all spiritual progress; in any case, it is considered as a thing that cannot be mended, a load that has to be borne more or less cheerfully until the time when Nature or the Divine Grace relieves you of it by death. At best life on earth is a field for progress and one should try to get the utmost profit out of it, all the sooner to reach that degree of perfection which will put an end to the trial by making it unnecessary.
For us the problem is quite different. Life on earth is not a passage nor a means merely; it must become, through transformation, a goal, a realization. When we speak of austerity, it is not out of contempt for the body, with a view to dissociating ourselves from it, but because of the need of self-control and self-mastery. For, there is an austerity which is far greater, more complete and more difficult that all the austerities of the ascetic: the austerity necessary for the integral transformation, the fourfold austerity which prepares the individual for the manifestation of the supramental truth. One can say, for example, that few austerities are so severe as those which physical culture demands 'or the perfection of the body. But of that we shall speak in due time.
Before I begin describing the four kinds of austerity required, I must clear up one question which is a source of much misunderstanding and confusion in the minds of most people: it is about ascetic practices which they mistake for spiritual discipline. Now, these practices consist
in ill-treating the body so that one may, as it is said, free the spirit from it; they are, in fact, a sensual deformation of spiritual discipline; it is a kind of perverse need for suffering that drives the ascetic to self mortification. The Sadhu's "bed of nails" and the Christian anchorite's whip and sack-cloth are the results of a sadism, more or less veiled, unavowed and unavowable; it is an unhealthy seeking or a subconscient need for violent sensations. In reality, these things are very far from the spiritual life; for they are ugly and low, dark and diseased; spiritual life, on the contrary, is a life of light and balance, beauty and joy. They have been invented and extolled by a sort of mental and vital cruelty inflicted on the body. But cruelty, even with regard to one's own body, is none the less cruelty, and all cruelty is a sign of great unconsciousness. Unconscious natures need very strong sensations; for without that they feel nothing; and cruelty, being a form of sadism, brings very strong sensations. The avowed purpose of such practices is to abolish all sensation so that the body may no longer be an obstacle to one's flight towards the Spirit; the efficacy of such means is open to doubt. It is a well-known fact that if one wants quick progress one must not be afraid of difficulties; on the contrary, it is by choosing to do the difficult thing each time the occasion presents itself that one increases the will and strengthens the nerves. Indeed, it is much more difficult to lead a life of measure and balance, equanimity and serenity that to fight the abuses of pleasure and the obscuration they cause, by the abuses of asceticism and the disintegration they bring about. It is much more difficult to secure a harmonious and progressive growth in calmness and simplicity in one's physical being than to ill-treat it to the point of reducing it to nothing. It is much more difficult to live soberly and without desire than to deprive the body of nourishment and clean habits so indispensable to it, just to show off proudly one's abstinence. It is much more difficult again to avoid, surmount or conquer illness by an inner and outer harmony, purity and balance than to despise and ignore it, leaving it free do its work of ruin. And the most difficult thing of all is to maintain the consciousness always on the peak of its capacity and never allow the body to act under the influence of a lower impulse.
(...)The basic programme will be to build a body, beautiful in form, harmonious in posture, supple and agile in its movements, powerful in its activities and resistant in its health and organic function.
To get these results it will be good, in a general way, to form habits and utilize them as a help in organizing the material life. For the body works more easily in a frame of regular routine. Yet one must know how not to become a slave to one's habits, however good they may be. The greatest suppleness must be maintained so that one may change one's habits each time it is necessary to do so.
One must build up nerves of steel in a system of elastic and strong muscles; so that one is capable of enduring anything whenever it is indispensable. But at the same time care must be taken not to ask of the body more than the strictly necessary amount of effort, the energy required for growth and progress, and shut out most strictly all that produces exhausting fatigue and leads in the end to degeneration and decomposition of the material elements.
Physical culture which aims at building a body capable of serving as a fit instrument for the higher consciousness demands very austere habits: a great regularity in sleep, food, physical exercises and in all activities. One should study scrupulously the needs of one's body — for these vary according to individuals — and then fix a general programme. Once the programme is fixed, one must stick to it rigorously with no fancifulness or slackness: none of those exceptions to the rule indulged in "just for once", but which are repeated often — for, when you yield to temptation even "just for once", you lessen the resistance of your will and open the door to each and every defeat. You must put a bar to all weakness; none of the nightly escapades from which you come back totally broken, no feasting and glutting which disturb the normal working of the stomach, no distraction, dissipation or merry making that only waste energy and leave you too lifeless to do the daily practice. One must go through the austerity of a wise and well-regulated life, concentrating the whole physical attention upon building a body as perfect as it is possible for it to become. To reach this ideal goal one must strictly shun all excess, all vice, small or big, one must deny one self the use of such slow poisons as tobacco, alcohol, etc. which men have the habit of developing into indispensable, needs that gradually demolish their will and memory. The all-absorbing interest that men, without exception, even the most intellectual, take in food, in its preparation and consumption, should be replaced by an almost chemical knowledge of the needs of the body and a wholly scientific system of austerity in the way of satisfying them. One must add to this austerity
regarding food, another austerity, that of sleep. It does not mean that one should go without sleep, but that one must know how to sleep. Sleep must not be a fall into unconsciousness that makes the body heavy instead of refreshing it. Moderate food, abstention from all excess, by itself minimizes considerably the necessity of passing many hours in sleep. However, it is the quality of sleep more than its quantity that is important. If sleep is to bring you truly effective rest and repose, it would be good to take something before going to bed, a cup of milk or soup or fruit-juice, for instance. Light food gives a quiet sleep. In any case, one must abstain from too much food; for that makes sleep troubled and agitated with nightmares or otherwise makes it dense, heavy and dull. But the most important thing is to keep the mind clear, to quiet the feelings, calm the effervescence of desires and preoccupations accompanying them. If before retiring to bed one has talked much, held animated discussions or read something intensely interesting and exciting, then one had better take some time to rest before sleeping so that the mind's activities may be quieted and the brain not yield to disorderly movements while the physical limbs alone sleep. If you are given to meditation, you would do well to concentrate for a few minutes upon a high and restful idea, in an aspiration towards a greater and vaster consciousness. Your sleep will profit greatly by it and you will escape in a large measure the risk of falling into unconsciousness while asleep.
After the austerity of a night passed wholly in rest, in a calm and peaceful sleep, comes the austerity of a day organized with wisdom, its activities divided between wisely graded progressive exercises, required for the culture of the body and the kind of work you do. For both can and should form part of the physical Tapasya. With regard to exercises, each one should choose what suits best his body and, if possible, under the guidance of an expert on the subject who knows how to combine and grade the exercises for their maximum effect. No fancifulness should rule their choice or execution. You should not do this or that simply because it appears more easy or pleasant; you will make a change in your programme only when your trainer considers the change necessary. The body of each one, with regard to its perfection or simply improvement, is a problem to be solved and the solution demands much patience, perseverance and regularity. In spite of what men may think, the athlete's life is not a life of pleasure and distraction;
it is a life, on the contrary, made up of well-regulated endeavour and austere habits for getting the desired result and leaves no room for use less and harmful fancies.
In work too there is an austerity; it consists in not having any preference and in doing with interest whatever one does. For the man who wishes to perfect himself, there is nothing like small or big work, important work or unimportant. All are equally useful to him who aspires for self-mastery and progress. It is said that you do well only what you do with interest. True, but what is more true is that one can learn to find interest in whatever one does, even the work that appears most insignificant. The secret of this attainment lies in the urge towards perfection. Whatever be the occupation or task that falls to your lot, do it with a will towards progress. Whatever you do must be done not only as well as you can but with an earnestness to do it better and better in a constant drive towards perfection. In this way all things without exception become interesting, from the most material labour to the most artistic and intellectual work. The scope for progress is infinite and one can be earnest in the smallest thing.
This takes us naturally to liberation in action; for in one's action one must be free from all social conventions, all moral prejudices. This is not to say that one should lead a life of licence and unrule. On the contrary, you submit here to a rule which is much more severe than all social rules, for it does not tolerate any hypocrisy, it demands perfect sincerity. All physical activities should be organized in such a way as to make the body grow in balance and strength and beauty. With this end in view one must abstain from all pleasure-seeking, including the sexual pleasure. For each sexual act is a step towards death. That is why from the very ancient times among all the most sacred and most secret schools, this was a prohibited act for every aspirant to immortality. It is always followed by a more or less long spell of inconscience that opens the door to all kinds of influences and brings about a fall in the consciousness. Indeed, one who wants to prepare for the supramental life should never allow his consciousness to slip down to dissipation and inconscience under the pretext of enjoyment or even rest and relaxation. The relaxation should be into force and light, not into obscurity and weakness. Continence therefore is the rule for all who aspire for progress. But especially for those who want to prepare themselves for the supramental manifestation, this continence must be replaced by
total abstinence, gained not by coercion and suppression but by a kind of inner alchemy through which the energies usually used in the act of procreation are transmuted into energies for progress and integral transformation. It goes without saying that to get a full and truly beneficial result, all sex impulse and desire must be eliminated from the mental and vital consciousness as well as from the physical will. All transformation that is radical and durable proceeds from within outwards, the outward transformation being the normal and, so to say, the inevitable result of the inner.
A decisive choice has to be made between lending the body to Nature's ends in obedience to her demand to perpetuate the race as it is, and preparing this very body to become a step towards the creation of the new race. For the two cannot go together; at every minute you have to decide whether you wish to remain within the humanity of yesterday or belong to the supermanhood of tomorrow. You must refuse to be moulded according to life as it is and be successful in it, if you want to prepare for life as it will be and become an active and efficient member of it. You must deny yourself pleasures, if you wish to be open to the joy of living in integral beauty and harmony.
From The Mother, The Four Austerities and the Four Liberation
Bulletin of Physical Education