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Article LXXVI: Abstinence, Indulgence, and Between

Does removing desire imply that one must abstain from any object or situation of the world, which gives one temporary pleasure? Perhaps a better approach to this concept is that one should aspire to achieve an inner joy with or without any particular worldly object or condition. Abstinence from certain objects may or may not be suitable depending on the person and the extent of spiritual progress. For example, one may eat and enjoy sweets from time to time. Abstaining from sweets may cause one to constantly crave sweets, and indulgence in sweets may cause one to be dependent on them. Both extremes may lead to greater desire and attachment, but at some level of balance in between, one may more easily approach nonattachment.

Similarly, one may literally renounce the world and retreat to the Himalayas, but if the mind and body constantly crave worldly pleasures, the situation may not be any better than living in the midst of the worldly pleasures. It is also possible for a rich man to be nonattached to his vast wealth because he has so much while a poor man may be greatly attached to his very few possessions because that is all he has. All these examples illustrate that each person's balance may vary along the spectrum of abstinence to indulgence. However, achieving that personal balance in each area of life, can facilitate one's spiritual progress toward enlightenment. Also, as one approaches enlightenment, one must embrace changes of where that balance lies in order to make further spiritual growth.


Katha Upanishad

The context of this scripture is a dialogue between Naciketas, a spiritual aspirant, and Yama, the god of death:

IV.1: The self-existent (God) has rendered the senses (so) defective that they go outward, and hence man sees the external and not the internal self. (Only, perchance) some wise man desirous of immortality turns his eyes in, and beholds the inner Atman.
IV.2: Children (inexperienced, ignorant souls) pursue the external pleasures (and so) they fall into the snare of the widespread death. But the wise do not desire (anything) in this world, having known what is eternally immortal in the midst of all noneternals.
IV.3: That Atman by which man cognizes light, taste, smell, sounds, touches and the sexual contacts, -- what is there unknowable to that Atman in this world? This is verily that (Atman thou hast wanted to know).

East-West Counseling & Meditation -- Modern Psychiatry Integration -- Himalayan Philosophy -- Penn & Stanford Medicine
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