A HERMIT IN THE HIMALAYAS
which the preachers of rigid asceticism frequently ignore simply
because they know nothing about it.
What a man does require is decency and self-restraint; he needs
to remember that the body has its own hygiene which must be
observed for health's sake, but he does not require conflict and self-
Many of the ascetic rules were given to former ages, when social
conditions were very much different from what they are today. What
is the use of demanding that everyone should obey injunctions
.which were specially intended for centuries now in their grave?
The old epochs are disappearing into the abyss; do what we may,
we shall not be able to drag them back.
It does not concern the body so much as it concerns the inhabi-
tant of the body—the soul. We shall find it not through fussing
about our physical organs but through conquering that which
ultimately rules them—the mind.
The whole question of asceticism, misunderstood at all times
as it has been, can only be disposed of on a personal basis after all.
It depends, more than most people realize, partly on the peculiar
traits of each individual's temperament, and partly on the type of
life-experience which he has had.
There are those whom Nature and destiny and Deity have given
a vocation for complete asceticism and world-renunciation. My
ideas are not for them and it would be as wrong, as unwise and as
sinful for me to attempt to impose such ideas upon them as it
is for the ascetics to attempt to impose their own upon me. Such
persons should profoundly respect the inborn way which is theirs.
Let them be true to their inner voice, and thus they shall achieve
their best. For such the monastery or the hermitage, the forest or
the mountain, must be a permanent home; complete chastity and
inexorable celibacy a lifelong acceptance; and worldly affairs kept
at arm's length. I respect, nay, deeply revere such men, when I meet
them and find them sincere.
But they are necessarily the few. The rest, who ape and imitate
these great souls, do so to their own danger. For the snares of self-
deception and the pitfalls of reaction He in ambush for them.
The old man whom I used to see rolling himself in the dust
every day around the eight-mile circuit of Arunachala Hill became
for me a powerful symbol. I saw in him the representative of ideas
and principles which arc today being carried away by the under-
taker. He may be, in fact he is, an exceedingly pious and devout
old gentleman; his worship of this sacred spot attests to that. But
all that he gains may be gained with less discomfort and more
simplicity by sitting down quietly anywhere on the hillside and