[Listen to Asha read this story]

When Sant Keshavadas, a well-known spiritual teacher from India, came to visit Ananda Village in the late 1970s, he was given a grand tour of the community. Impressed by what had been accomplished in such a relatively short period of time, he exclaimed, “Creating this community required a great deal of tapasya.

“Yes,” Swamiji said quietly.

Tapasya is a Sanskrit word usually defined as austerity. It is equally true to say that tapasya means devotion. 

“Some Christians believe that God demands suffering in exchange for his blessings,” Swamiji explained on another occasion. “This is not true, nor is it what Jesus taught. To accomplish anything in this world, however, does require sacrifice. You have to renounce lesser desires—even real needs—in order to focus your energy on achieving the goal you set for yourself.

“Others may define such renunciation as suffering. To the devotee, however, if his attitude is right, it is not suffering at all.  It is joyful self-offering to God. That is why tapasya can be defined as both austerity and devotion.

“The scriptures and epics are filled with heroes and devotees who do ‘penance,’ as it is called in the West, to strengthen themselves and draw the grace of God. You don’t have to go out looking for tapasya, though. It also comes of itself.

“Whether you call it Satan, the dark force, human jealousy, or human ignorance, any effort to do good in this world sets in motion a counter force that tries to keep that good from manifesting. Sometimes God Himself puts obstacles in the way of the devotee in order to test his sincerity and to help him build the inner strength he needs.”

* * *

Peter Caddy, one of the founders of the Findhorn community in Scotland, came to visit Swamiji. Just a month earlier, the brand new temple at Findhorn had been burned to the ground by an arsonist. Peter told the story of this recent loss without a hint of self-pity. 

“To be attacked in this way is a sign of success,” Peter said. “The more good you do in the world, the more people try to stop you. In fact, if you aren’t being persecuted, it means you are slacking off and need to work harder.”

“If you measure success in terms of how much opposition you face, then Ananda, too, is a huge success,” Swamiji said with a smile.

Peter and Swamiji laughed with delight at their mutual “good fortune.”

“I get so many brickbats,” Swamiji said once, “I can’t keep track of who has styled himself as my enemy. The simplest answer I’ve found is just to treat everyone as my friend.”

Ananda was besieged for a time by a series of petty acts of vandalism. When I described to Swamiji the latest incident, he reassured me cheerfully. “We have to expect opposition,” he said. “After all, we are trying to transform all of society and naturally it will take a little time.”

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