Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: May I ask the next question, Śrīla Prabhupāda? "Are fasting and other dietary regulations necessary for leading a spiritual life?"
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Certainly. For advancement in spiritual life, such tapasya is essential. Tapasya means voluntarily accepting something which may be painful. For instance, we are recommending no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling, no meat-eating. So those who are accustomed to these bad habits—for them, in the beginning it may be a little difficult. But in spite of this difficulty, one has to do it. That is tapasya. To rise early in the morning—for those who are not practiced, it is a little painful, but one has to do it. So according to the Vedic injunctions, there are some tapasyas that must be done.
It is not "I may do it or not do it." These austerities must be done. For example, in the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad it is ordered that if one wants to become self-realized, one must approach a spiritual master: tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet [MU
At the very beginning of life one must be a brahmacārī. He must go to the spiritual master's place and act like a menial servant. If the spiritual master says "go and pick up some wood from the forest," one may be a king's son, but he cannot refuse the spiritual master's order. He must go. Even Kṛṣṇa was ordered by His spiritual master to go and pick up some dry wood from the forest. So He had to go. Although His father was Nanda Mahārāja, a village vaiśya king, and although Kṛṣṇa was the Personality of Godhead Himself, still He could not refuse. He had to go. Nicavat—just like a menial servant. This is brahmācārya, spiritual student life. This is tapasya. Tapasya is so essential that one has to do it. There is no question of an alternative.
After brahmacārī life, one may marry. This means he enters gṛhastha life, household life. That is also tapasya. He cannot have sex whenever he likes. No. The śāstra says, "You must have sex like this: once in a month and only for begetting children." So that is also tapasya.
People do not follow any tapasya at the present moment, but human life is meant for tapasya—regulative principles. Even in ordinary affairs—let us say you are driving your car on some urgent business, and you see a red light. You have to stop. You cannot say, "I have to be there in a few minutes. I must go." No. You must stop. That is tapasya.
So tapasya means following the regulative principles strictly, according to the higher order. and that is human life.
Animal life, however, means you can do whatever you like. On the road, animals may keep to the right or keep to the left; it doesn't matter. Their irregularity is not taken as an offense, because they are animals. But if a human being does not follow the regulative principles, he is sinful. He'll be punished. Consider the same example: When there is a red light, if you do not stop you'll be punished. But if a cat or dog transgresses—"Never mind the red light; I shall go"—he's not punished. So tapasya is meant for the human being. He must do it if he at all wants to make progress in life. It is essential.
Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: And so, Śrīla Prabhupāda, tapasya includes dietary regulations?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is also tapasya. For example, we prohibit meat-eating. So in your country this is a little troublesome. From the very beginning of life, a child is habituated to eating meat. the mother purchases powdered meat and mixes it with liquid and feeds it to the infant. I have seen it. So practically everyone has been brought up eating meat. yet I say, "Don't eat meat." Therefore that is troublesome. But if one is serious about becoming self-realized, one must accept the order. That is tapasya.
Tapasya applies to diet, to personal behavior, to dealings with others, and so on and so forth. In every aspect of life, there is tapasya. That is all described in the Bhagavad-gītā. Mental tapasya. Bodily tapasya. Verbal tapasya—controlling vaco-vegam, the urge to talk loosely or whimsically. You cannot talk nonsense. If you talk, you must talk about Kṛṣṇa. That is tapasya. There is also tapasya in connection with krodha-vegam, the urge to express one's anger. If one becomes angry and wants to express it by beating someone or doing something very violent, tapasya will restrict him—"No, don't do it." There is also tapasya with regards to the tongue, belly, and genitals. One cannot eat anything and everything, or at any time he pleases. Nor can one have sex freely, but only according to the scriptural injunctions. "I am sexually inclined, but I cannot do it. This is not the time." That is tapasya.
So one should practice tapasya in every way—in body, mind, words, personal behavior, and dealings with others. That is human life. Tapo divyam: [SB 5.5.1] if you want to simply be a human being, and especially if you want to make progress in spiritual life, you must act according to the sastric injunctions. That means tapasya. Before Brahma could take part in creation, he had to undergo tapasya. Is it not stated in the śāstra? Yes. So tapasya is essential. You cannot avoid it.
And what is the aim of performing tapasya? The aim is to please the Supreme Lord through the spiritual master. Yasya prasādād bhagavat-prasādo:** "One can attain the mercy of the Lord only by attaining the mercy of the spiritual master." This is the idea.
Now, in today's educational institutions, who is teaching this tapasya? Where is the school or college? The students are even smoking in front of their teacher, and it is tolerated. No offense. What can you expect from such students? This is an animal civilization. This is not human civilization. No tapasya, no brahmacārī life. Real civilization means tapo divyam [SB 5.5.1], godly austerity. And this tapasya begins with brahmacārī life, learning to control the senses—that is the beginning of life. Not "A-B-C-D" learning, and maybe your character is less than an animal's, though you have a degree from the university. "Never mind. You have become a learned man." No—that is not accepted.
Even from the standpoint of basic moral instruction, we must ask, Who today is educated? The educated person is described by Cāṇakya Paṇḍita:
yaḥ paśyati sa paṇḍitāḥ
That is the paṇḍita, the learned man. In Bhagavad-gītā [5.18] Kṛṣṇa also describes the paṇḍita:
brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
"The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater." That is a learned man. Not this degree-holder. A degree-holder who has no tapasya and no character—Kṛṣṇa says he is māyayāpahṛta-jñānā, "his knowledge is stolen by illusion." Although he has learned so many things, nonetheless, māyā has taken away his knowledge. He's a rascal. He's an animal. This is the perspective of Vedic civilization.