What Does Asceticism Mean to Me (And Philosocom's Directory On Asceticism)
Updated: Sep 24
(Articles on asceticism: https://www.philosocom.com/post/my-motives-for-asceticism-in-the-modern-age
For me, asceticism means freedom. Well, not absolute freedom, since we organisms are always dependent on something to keep us alive. I view this value as equivalent to liberty because an ascetic lifestyle is a life of independence from the various seductions and addictions of the world, in which, if not put in doubt and in constant moral conflict, summons slavery. Slavery in this context means, dependency on things which reduce one's freedom, to act in opposition to them. Freedom, of course, means independence, or the lack of dependency.
Alcohol, drugs, prostitution, hedonism, obsession, megalomania, greediness, slothfulness.
All of these concepts are a prime example for slavery. All of these may seem, to the naked, first world-oriented eye, a key for freedom. After all, isn't freedom about having access to more and more things?
However I inquire to ask, is taking drugs can be considered an act of freedom? Does the notion of joy is also the notion of liberty? Not always, because drugs makes you an addict; it makes you crave for more and more in order to sustain this sensation of joy, which many view as a philosophical ideal.
This is not a worthy joy. It is a joy that deceives its bearer into thinking they are free, while the opposite is true. Yes, they may choose independently to consume drugs, but independent choices can lead to imperialistic consequences, or consequences that make one develop dependency on said things.
We, modern people, live in a social state of deception; we may believe that the general variety and richness in life, and the aspiration to achieve them, are the key to freedom. Various TV shows, various movies, various foods, various drinks - does variety, or to be more exact - the passion for variety, can be considered as freedom?
Not necessarily. The more we want, the more things we crave and become passionate about, the more susceptible to "slavery" we become; about the next destination abroad, the next love interest, the next restaurant - this desire for constant change and enrichment becomes itself an addiction, and no addicted entity is a master of their own path. To be of greater freedom, we must prevail over as many dependencies as we can, in order to truly become freer. Even though life is not without dependency on something or someone else, why not reduce it, while we can?
This is where asceticism comes in: this concept is all about living from the necessities which provide our existence, and nothing more. Some have different statements about what is the definition of necessity in human life, but I believe that writing this essay is also a necessary deed. Knowledge is key for survival, and the more knowledge and wisdom we gain, the more chance of survival we may have. Retrospectively, this may also be why I got into philosophy in the first place, to justify my existence.
Development is also a vital necessity, as all organisms need to be developed in order to survive. Therefore self-actualization is a necessary need, because inner prosperity ensures health both in body and in mind, which in turn ensures survival. Therefore, at least according to this logic, we must strive to not only survival, but also greater self-actualization, as while survival gives us more time to live, self-actualization justifies further survival in the future and in general.
Smoking, taking drugs, becoming sex addicts and drunk from authority, power, status and control over others - these are bad for one's health, because they damage the individual, while making them feel good and joyful, in the process. This is a fake joy, a synthetic one, because it is the creation of addiction, and addiction is always a source of useless misery. Even if one may feel joyful after consuming prostitution services, they may bear a sexual disease, and he who craves authority as a source for joy, threatens his own serenity, which is the full presentation of a balanced, harmonious mind. Of course, power is necessary in a collective, but one must keep it away from going over his or her head, for it can be tempting, and lead to delusion of greater self-worth.
Therefore, the more monotonous we become, the more we shall liberate ourselves from being dependent on various external sources to provide our satiation and satisfaction - which are in no way necessary for optimal, individual survival.
A monk can be happy and healthy simply by eating the same healthy food and drinking the same water every day; an addicted slave cannot be satisfied from eating in the same restaurant for a certain period; A happy husband can find his entire happiness simply by holding hands with his wife; An addicted slave may lose satisfaction from a love interest in a short period of time, just to seek a better love interest - a loop that may end with his or her own death in the form of an unexpected virus.
Asceticism is a very unique practice: it is a loop that does not depend on passion or addiction. It is a healthy, liberty-promoting loop that cures the temptation to trap oneself in all other loops which depend solely on sensation and nothing more. Because asceticism resists desire, it is liberty that resists the tyranny of the external stimuli.
It is, to say, a loop that ends all loops, except the loop of survival, which can only be ended by death. As beings who strive to survive and have a good reason to keep on moving, we should consider having too many risks as harmful to that imperative.
To finish, here is an anecdote: The Indian revolutionary, Gandhi, in one of his imprisonments, wrote in his prison cell, "I have never been so free before in my life." (I remember reading this somewhere, and I remember it to this day.) How ironic that a prisoner can be freer than a rich and desired playboy. The latter jumps from one way to the next, just for mere fun, while the former justifies their existence and takes greater responsibility by going forward with their beliefs.