Prabhu: If a person doesn’t wear clothes in the wintertime and gets sick thinking that he is very austere, and so he doesn’t need to wear almost anything, that is also based on ignorance?
HH BVPS Maharaja: Yes, based on ignorance. Austerity means the proper performance of your duty.
You do have the element of austerity meaning that there is some physical discomfort, and if you properly perform your duty you are accepting those comfortable and uncomfortable aspects of body, mind and words of your duty. Therefore your duty already includes the natural austerities that you are supposed to follow. One can add more austerities unto that if it is your duty, like vanaprasthas could do that.
Sometimes people go like at Kumbha-mela, they take vows. There was one Madhva Swami there, he only keeps one set of clothes, then when he goes and takes bath in the morning in the Ganga, then he’ll wash his clothes and bring them out and put them on, and they drip-dry during the day. It is an austerity that he is taking, and it is something that he can do and it won’t affect his service, so he is still able to do his puja and this and that. So it is nice, it controls the senses, only because he is a sannyasi therefore he would be controlling the senses. He is at Kumbha-mela and so he is performing a vrata, they are there for 41 days, they are there not just for a bath, they are there for the full mandala. They can do these things and it is part of the duty. If it is not part of the duty and one gets sick and therefore it affects your health and your service, that is not your duty.
Because the body is also to be maintained properly to use in Krsna’s service. Keeping it warm – that is the austerity. It is very easy to just get up in the morning and walk out without your warm clothes on, it is more difficult to put them all on. Then when you come back in the house, take them off and when you go out put them back on, that is more austere. Otherwise if that was an actual symptom of austerity then all the small kids in our community would be great sages, because he is happily running out of the house with no clothes on. And they put themselves in all kinds of very austere situations, like mud, bramble-bushes, falling out of trees, running in crowds of people, bumping into everyone, very austere if you take all those symptoms.
(16th Dec 2008, Sri Isopanishad Lecture, Bhaktivedanta Academy, Sridham Mayapur)