There was a news article this week that reported on the death of a member of a so-called Buddhist cult in Arizona that practices extreme asceticism, the practice of self-denial, especially of food and water. Asceticism is intended to free one’s Self from earthly desires and to clear the mind for spiritual awakening. However it goes against the Buddhist philosophy of practicing the Middle Way. Going to such extremes makes balance and harmony in body, mind, and soul impossible.
At the age of 29, Siddhartha Gautama left his palace to become an ascetic so that he could understand suffering. After six years of starving himself, he realized that self-mortification and self-violence was not the way to nirvana, the freedom from suffering. It was only then, while sitting in meditation under the Sacred Fig, or Bodhi Tree, that Shakyamuni became enlightened about the nature of suffering. The Buddha saw that Dhyana/Jhana, stillness and concentration, is what will lead to total awareness of body, mind, and soul, and hence nirvana.
From his Enlightenment, the Buddha developed the Four Noble Truths, which includes the Noble Eightfold Path (#4), as a means for all of us to understand the nature of suffering (#1-3) and as a pathway to overcome it (#4). I will discuss these in future posts, but for now let us all strive to bring more balance and harmony into our lives through taking care of and nourishing our bodies, minds, and souls.