|A wandering Hindu ascetic sleeping on a bed of nails in India (petermalakoff.com)|
But while the Buddha was not pro-asceticism, he did not condemn all ascetic practices. He suggested 13 difficult but practical austerities.
This "sane asceticism" can be helpful for individuals wishing to overcome negative tendencies in their character -- such as greediness, grasping, clinginess, attachment, discontentedness, laziness, and so on.
Wisely undertaking them one is able to cultivate contentedness, renunciation (non-clinging to what one has), energy (inspiration for the goal), knowledge-and-vision, and so on.
No one need practice all of them, nor necessarily any of them. Moreover, they are contraindicated for "hate" (dosa) types who, not paradoxically, are most willing to undertake them. They will only increase aversion for such individuals rather than balancing and making greed (lobha) more manageable.
Under a wise teacher, particularly in a monastic setting, they can be helpful. Some are so useful that they have become set features of Theravada monastic life.
13 Ways of Shaking Off
1. "Using Discarded Cloth" is the sane ascetic practice of utilizing found cloth as material for making robes and sewing it in a patchwork. At the time of the Buddha, such cloth was readily accessible from charnal grounds which people avoided. (It has been suggested that the origin of the words bhikkhu and bhikkhuni, Buddhist "monk" and "nun," may be "rag gatherer").
2. "Three Robes" is the practice of using only three robes (upper, lower, and outer) as garments.
|Merit is made by sharing and supporting the Sangha. Here parents and neighbors in Laos offer food to young novices (Franco Beccari/flickr.com).|
3. "Gathering Alms" (pindapata) is the practice of eating only what one collects on alms round, which one shares with others or remains contented even if one gets nothing at all. Monastics are not allowed to beg or ask for food and requisites except under special circumstances. One observing this austerity declines meal invitations and instead offers the bowl to all without distinction who may want to share or give food.
4. "Unbiased Alms Gathering" is the practice of not omitting any house on alms round and avoiding returning again and again to the same house where one has received delicious food. In this way one is able to avoid becoming attached, expectant, full of preferences, or greedy for treats.
5. "One Eating" is the practice of partaking of one's alms food in one place at one time rather than eating a little in one spot then more in another.
6. "Limited Food" is the practice of eating only a certain measured amount of food from one's alms bowl rather than indulging one's appetite and using many dishes.
7. "No Food After Time" is the practice of not accepting any extra food after one has started to take one's meal.
8. "Dwelling in a Peaceful Place" or forest living is the practice of residing in a peaceful rather than noisy or busy place that distracts one from meditation and contemplative exercises. Peace and quiet and withdrawal (mental and sometimes physical) are needed to develop the stillness needed to potentiate one's insight practices. [See First Stop Then Insight.]
9. "Dwelling Under a Tree" is the practice of not dwelling under a roof.
10. "Dwelling in a Dewy Place" is the practice of residing neither under a roof nor a tree but in the open simply using one's robes as shelter.
11. "Charnal Ground Dwelling" is the practice of residing in a graveyard. Charnal grounds in India are desolate places where corpses are left in the open intact or only partially cremated. Wild animals, hungry ghosts, and frightening spirits may dwell in such places which are rarely frequented by humans. These are ideal places to contemplate foulness.
12. "Any Chanced Upon Place" is the practice of accepting any safe place as a bed wherever it happened to be. Buddhists monastics were, after all, wandering ascetics, recluses, hermits who did not tend to settle in one place (except during the Rains Retreat period) so as not to become attached or colloquial but free and open minded travelers.
|Some monastics stand up (tibetanaltar).|
These are "13 Sane Ascetic Practices" (dhutangas) suggested by the Buddha in special cases.