by Swami Sivananda
Anushthana is practice of religious austerity. It is observance of certain disciplines for the sake of obtaining some object of desire. The desire or the object may even be the final emancipation. Even that is a desire though it is generally not included as such. One who performs Anushthana has to be free from worldly engagements until the end of Anushthana. He should be completely engrossed in one thought and that is the thought concerned with the austere performance of the observances prescribed by the Sastras or scriptures. Such disciplines mould the man and make him fit to realise higher objects of his desires and ambitions.
Generally the highest form of Anushthana is unselfish worship of God for the sake of self-purification and final emancipation. There is no Anushthana better than this. Other Anushthanas done for the sake of petty material ends are the outcome of ignorance and are not spiritual. Spiritual Anushthana is based on discrimination and has for its ideal the liberation of the soul from the round of birth and death.
Anushthanas can be practised for a day, a week, a fortnight, a month, fortyeight days, ninety-six days, three months, six months or one year. The duration of time depends upon the ability and the liking of the performer. He can choose any kind of Anushthana according to his circumstances.
Even the rigour of the Sadhana is dependent on the constitution and health of the individual. A sick man is not required to take cold bath thrice daily. An unhealthy man with very weak body is not required to observe absolute fast. A person suffering from an acute disease is not required to forego taking medicine. Commonsense is the fundamental factor in all Sadhana. No rule is an eternal rule. Rules change from place to place, time to time and from one condition to another condition. A Sadhaka of Madras may live only with a Langotee even in the dead winter. But a Sadhaka living in the icy Gangotri cannot be expected to practise the same method even in summer. The Himalayan climate is not like that of Trivandrum or Madras. To hold an umbrella when it is heavily raining is not against the practice of Anushthana. Anushthana is rigorous mental discipline and not mere physical mortification.
A pair of shoes used when walking over the glaciers of Kailasa or Manasarovar will not prove detrimental to Anushthana. Absolute necessities of the body are not hindrances. Abnormal cravings are against Anushthana, not the normal requirements. Strict Brahmacharya is an absolute necessity for all Anushthanas. Truth speaking and non-injury are absolute necessities, for these are mental disciplines.
Any action done against the feeling of the mind is not conducive to the rigour of the Anushthana. The actions of the mind alone are actions, not of the body. One who feels one thing and does another thing is a Mithyachari. To him the fruit of Sadhana will not accrue. The mind is the author of all actions. The body is only an instrument. Suppressing the effect when the cause is vigorously working will not add to the annihilation of the cause. The mind has to be calmed, and for that all Sadhanas are done in one way or other.