Richard (now Radhanath Swami) was intrigued by the Naga Babas; their austerities and rigorous life of denial was for real. They were completely naked and held tridents; they covered their bodies with ashes. Even in the burning cold, they lived and ate simply. They insisted that Richard join their sect. when Richard humbly declined they honored his desire and blessed him to pursue his search for God. Richard left the Naga Babas being impressed by their camaraderie and loyalty to the sect. Although they were wild, rough and lived severely, in their own way Richard concluded it was all in search for God.
Naga Babas, “the naked ones”, belong to an order founded by Dattatreya, a long time ago, in human history. The group was finally organized into a sect by Adi Shankara in the 5th century AD. The Naga Babas see themselves as the ultimate protectors of the Sanatan Dharma, or what is popularly called as the Hindu religion.
As a practicing spiritualist I often wonder if it’s possible for all to practice these rigid austerities. More importantly I often asked myself if these kind of austerities are needed at all. I once asked Radhanath Swami if we are disqualified from spiritual life if we cannot practice strict austerities. Radhanath Swami gave me lot of hope by saying that spiritual life is not about austerities or denial but rather it is a life of acceptance- acceptance of God’s grace. Radhanath Swami reveals that austerities can be influenced by different modes in nature. One in the mode of ignorance performs austerities that are grossly harmful to the body. One influenced by the mode of passion performs austerities with a fruitive desire for monetary gain or for some recognition and popularity. Radhanath Swami urges that our austerities should be in the mode of goodness- that which helps us sync with nature and connect to God.
Radhanath Swami says performance of austerities is inevitable. A student who wants to do well in his exams relinquishes his play- this is a type of austerity. Similarly, Radhanath Swami says, a spiritual seeker forsakes worldly pleasures for spiritual pleasures. This giving up of some material or bodily gratification may seem painful in the beginning, but the result is a sweet experience. Radhanath Swami specifically urges that while performing austerities if we remember God, the remembrance of God will fill our heart with a certain kind of spiritual happiness that cannot be equaled by anything material. Therefore Radhanath Swami is clear in his exposition of the need to perform austerities. He says austerities are useful to the extent they increase our favorable remembrance of God.
Radhanath Swami has also time and again elaborated that austerity means putting aside our selfish ambitions for a higher purpose. As a master at developing vibrant spiritual communities, Radhanath Swami implores practicing spiritualists to keep aside their selfish, material ambitions and unite for a higher cause to help others. This is a great austerity, says Radhanath Swami but we have to do it for it pleases God and helps us advance in our relationship with God.