Last modified on 7 December 2014, at 14:30

Asceticism

Ascetisicm (from the Greek: ἄσκησις, áskēsis, "exercise" or "training" in the sense of athletic training) describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals. Some forms of Christianity and the Indian religions (including yoga) teach that salvation and liberation involve a process of mind-body transformation effected by exercising restraint with respect to actions of body, speech, and mind. The founders and earliest practitioners of these religions (e.g. Buddhism, Jainism, the Christian desert fathers) lived extremely austere lifestyles refraining from sensual pleasures and the accumulation of material wealth. This is to be understood not as an eschewal of the enjoyment of life but a recognition that spiritual and religious goals are impeded by such indulgence.

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  • Where is Christ, the King? In heaven, to be sure. Thither it behooves you, soldier of Christ, to direct your course. Forget all earthly delights. A soldier does not build a house; he does not aspire to possession of lands; he does not concern himself with devious, coin-purveying trade. … The soldier enjoys a sustenance provided by the king; he need not furnish his own, nor vex himself in this regard.
    • Basil of Caesarea, “An introduction to the ascetical life,” Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, M. Wagner, trans. (1950), p. 9
  • Under the dominion of the priests our earth became the ascetic planet; a squalid den careering through space, peopled by discontented and arrogant creatures, who were disgusted with life, abhorred their globe as a vale of tears, and who in their envy and hatred of beauty and joy did themselves as much harm as possible.
  • The ascetic Gotama … avoids watching dancing, singing, music and shows. He abstains from using garlands, perfumes, cosmetics, ornaments and adornments. … He refrains from running errands, from buying and selling.
    • Gotama Buddha, Digha Nikaya, M. Walshe, trans. (1987), Sutta 1, verse 1.10, p. 69.
  • Whereas some ascetics and Brahmins remain addicted to such unedifying conversation as about kings, robbers, ministers, armies, dangers, wars, food, drink, clothes, beds, garlands, perfumes, relatives, carriages, villages, towns and cities, countries, women, heroes, street- and well-gossip, talk of the departed, desultory chat, speculations about land and sea, talk about being and non-being, the ascetic Gotama refrains from such conversation.
    • Gotama Buddha, Digha Nikaya, M. Walshe, trans. (1987), Sutta 1, verse 1.17, pp. 70-71.
  • Freedom from the world is, in principle, not asceticism, but rather a distance from the world for which all participation in things worldly takes place in the attitude of “as if not.” (1 Cor. 7:29-31)
    • Rudolf Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings (1984), p. 18.
  • A scholar who loves comfort is not worthy of the name.
  • If you wish to make Pythocles rich, do not give him more money, but diminish his desire.
  • I spit upon luxurious pleasures not for their own sake, but because of the inconveniences that follow them
  • The man who follows nature and not vain opinions is independent in all things. For in reference to what is enough for nature every possession is riches, but in reference to unlimited desires even the greatest wealth is not riches but poverty.
  • Nothing satisfies the man who is not satisfied with a little.
  • Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all riches.
  • A person of sharp observation and sound judgment rules over objects and keeps objects from ruling him.
    • Baltasar Gracián, Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia, § 49 (Christopher Maurer trans.).
  • Certum voto pete finem.
    • Set a definite limit to your desire.
      • Horace, Latin Quotations (New York: 2005), p. 15.
  • Schopenhauer … makes asceticism interesting—the most dangerous thing possible for a pleasure-seeking age which will be harmed more than ever by distilling pleasure even out of asceticism
  • Ascetic ideals reveal so many bridges to independence that a philosopher is bound to rejoice and clap his hands when he hears the story of all those resolute men who one day said No to all servitude and went into some desert.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals § 3.7, W. Kaufmann, trans., Basic Writings of Nietzsche (1992), p. 543.
  • The peculiar, withdrawn attitude of the philosopher, world denying, hostile to life, suspicious of the senses, freed from sensuality, which has been maintained down to the most modern times and has become virtually the philosopher’s pose par excellence—is above all a result of the emergency conditions under which philosophy arose and survived at all; for the longest time, philosophy would not have been possible at all on earth without ascetic wraps and cloaks, without an ascetic self-misunderstanding. To put it vividly: the ascetic priest provided until the most modern times the repulsive and gloomy caterpillar form in which alone the philosopher could live and creep about.
  • The most intelligent men, like the strongest, find their happiness where others would find only disaster: in the labyrinth, in being hard with themselves and with others, in effort; their delight is in self-mastery; in them asceticism becomes second nature, a necessity, an instinct. They regard a difficult task as a privilege; it is to them a recreation to play with burdens that would crush all others.
  • Asceticism is the trifling of an enthusiast with his power, a puerile coquetting with his selfishness or his vanity, in the absence of any sufficiently great object to employ the first or overcome the last.
    • Florence Nightingale, in a letter (5 September 1857), quoted in The Life of Florence Nightingale (1913) by Edward Tyas Cook, p. 369.
  • Brevissima ad divitias per contemptus divitiarum via est.
    • The shortest way to wealth lies in the contempt of wealth.
  • Natural desires are limited; those which spring from false opinions have nowhere to stop, for falsity has no point of termination.
  • Non qui parum habet, sed qui plus cupit, pauper est.
    • It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.
  • Anyone entering our homes should admire us rather than our furnishings.
  • Mysticism intends a state of "possession," not action, and the individual is not a tool but a "vessel" of the divine. Action in the world must thus appear as endangering the absolutely irrational and other-worldly religious state. Active asceticism operates within the world; rationally active asceticism, in mastering the world, seeks to tame what is creatural and wicked through work in a worldly "vocation" (inner-worldly asceticism). Such asceticism contrasts radically with mysticism, if the latter draws the full conclusion of fleeing from the world (contemplative flight from the world). The contrast is tempered, however, if active asceticism confines itself to keeping down and to overcoming creatural wickedness in the actor's own nature. For then it enhances the concentration on the firmly established God-willed and active redemptory accomplishments to the point of avoiding any action in the orders of the world (asceticist flight from the world). Thereby active asceticism in external bearing comes close to contemplative flight from the world. The contrast between asceticism and mysticism is also tempered if the contemplative mystic does not draw the conclusion that he should flee from the world, but, like the inner-worldly asceticist, remain in the orders of the world (inner-worldly mysticism).
    In both cases the contrast can actually disappear in practice and some combination of both forms of the quest for salvation may occur. But the contrast may continue to exist even under the veil of external similarity. For the true mystic the principle continues to hold: the creature must be silent so that God may speak.
  • When a main trains a dog to perform tricks he does not beat it for the sake of beating it, but in order to train it, and with this in view he only hits it when it fails to carry out a trick. If he beats it without any method he ends by making it unfit for any training, and that is what the wrong sort of asceticism does.
  • Should not every man hold self-control to be the foundation of all virtue, and first lay this foundation firmly in his soul? For who without this can learn any good or practise it worthily? Or what man that is the slave of his pleasures is not in an evil plight body and soul alike? From my heart I declare that every free man should pray not to have such a man among his slaves; and every man who is a slave to such pleasures should entreat the gods to give him good masters: thus, and only thus, may he find salvation.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)Edit

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
  • There never did, and there never will exist any thing permanently noble and excellent in the character which is a stranger to the exercise of resolute self-denial.
  • One never knows a man till he has refused him something, and studied the effect of the refusal; one never knows himself till he has denied himself. The altar of sacrifice is the touchstone of character. The cross compels a choice for or against Christ.
  • Sacrifice alone, bare and unrelieved, is ghastly, unnatural, and dead; but self-sacrifice, illuminated by love, is warmth and life; it is the death of Christ, the life of Cod, the blessedness and only proper life of man.
  • Contempt of all outward things, which come in competition with duty, fulfills the ideal of human greatness. This conviction, that readiness to sacrifice life's highest material good and life itself, is essential to the elevation of human nature, is no illusion of ardent youth, nor outburst of blind enthusiasm. It does not yield to growing wisdom. It is confirmed by all experience. It is sanctioned by conscience — that universal and eternal lawgiver whose chief dictate is, that every thing must be yielded up for the right.
  • In heaven, we shall never regret any sacrifice however painful, or labor however protracted, made or performed here for the cause of Christ.
  • Nothing is really lost.by a life of sacrifice; every thing is lost by failure to obey God's call.
  • They that deny themselves for Christ shall enjoy themselves in Christ.
  • The sweetest life is to be ever making sacrifices for Christ; the hardest life a man can lead on earth, the most full of misery, is to be always doing his own will and seeking to please himself.
  • Take thy self-denials gaily and cheerfully, and let the sunshine of thy gladness fall on dark things and bright alike, like the sunshine of the Almighty.
  • Whoever will labor to get rid of self, to deny himself, according to the instructions of Christ, strikes at once at the root of every evil, and finds the germ of every good.
  • That which especially distinguishes a high order of man from a low order of man, that which constitutes human goodness, human nobleness, is surely not the degree of enlightenment with which men pursue their own advantage; but it is self-forgetfulness; it is self-sacrifice; it is the disregard of personal pleasure, personal indulgence, personal advantage, remote or present, because some other line of conduct is more right.
  • Which do you think of most, your interest or your duty? Can you sell all for the pearl of great price? Are these the natural breathings of your heart: " Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done? " Is the cause of Christ your concern, the dishonor of Christ your affliction, the cross of Christ your glory? If so,you are not strangers to the spirit of self-denial.
  • Deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow me. This is war, not peace. It is battle declared against the world, the flesh, and the devil. In me said Christ, "ye have peace,"—not in the world; there is no promise of it there.
  • The secret belief that the Lord of conscience loves and accepts each faithful sacrifice is the ultimate and sufficient support of all goodness; dispensing with the chorus of approving voices; replacing all vain self-reliance with a Divine strength; and with the peace of a reconciled nature consoling the inevitable sorrows of a devoted life.
  • The very act of faith by which we receive Christ is an act of the utter renunciation of self, and all its works, as a ground of salvation. It is really a denial of self, and a grounding of its arms in the last citadel into which it can be driven, and is, in its principle, inclusive of every subsequent act of self-denial by which sin is forsaken or overcome.
  • Self-denial is the result of a calm, deliberate, invincible attachment to the highest good, flowing forth in the voluntary renunciation of every thing that is inconsistent with the glory of God or the good of our fellow men.
  • The first lesson in Christ's school is self-denial.

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