This contribution is a reply by
posed at a symposium at Cardiff Lodge
Is there any spiritual benefit in asceticism or self denial for its own sake where there is no benefit for others ?
My dictionary definition defines an ascetic as one who refrains from all forms of pleasure, for religious or spiritual reasons.
As a general rule, the answer to the question would be NO but it would obviously depend on the motive behind the self denial. Asceticism was developed in association with personal spiritual progress. We are told in Theosophical literature that there are stages of Initiation that require a person to divorce himself temporarily from the world in order to bring a condition whereby consciousness can more easily be raised to a higher level because the Initiation takes place on a higher level.
At our everyday level of consciousness there so many distractions that it is easier to focus and concentrate on spiritual training when removed from the world.
There will always be personal peripheral benefits by simply removing oneself from the world, however, this can also have repercussions which would do harm because one is in the world mainly to learn lessons in co-operation with other human beings and the main way of learning lessons is by making mistakes.
When following a spiritual path, an important phrase to bear in mind is that we should try to be IN the world but not OF the world.