Is walking barefoot to temples, fasting or practicing restraints necessary in spirituality?

On the spiritual path, a seeker essentially seeks to liberate himself from the bondages of ego, senses and perceptions. Because of these bondages, one becomes dependent on the external world and sensory gratification for happiness. Spiritual path is about “Citta Vritti Nirodah” which translates as breaking free from the modifications in the consciousness because of the external world to realise the true Joy of being. When we trek to Shirdi or Vaishnodevi barefoot, or observe strict and regular fasts like Navratri fasting for 9 days or practice Niyaam or restraints like abstaining from certain foods or activities for certain period or on certain days, we essentially are on path to master our own senses.

The ultimate goal of all these activities is not just to master the senses but to develop an inner power within us and that is the “Power of Sankalpa”. Sankalpa, also called Intention is what the Soul is made out of and is the foundation on which life is created. A human being takes birth to fulfil one primary intention, and that is self-realisation.

The Power of Intention
According to the Vedic tradition, the most profound way to affect the course of your life is by harnessing the power of resolution or intention, which in Sanskrit is called sankalpa.

Sankalpa is the compound of two Sanskrit words: kalpa, which means “a way of proceeding” or, more revealingly, “the rule to be observed above or before any other rule,” and san, which refers to a concept or idea formed in the heart. Thus, sankalpa means determination or will: an intention, a conviction, a vow, or most commonly, a resolution—one that reflects your highest aspirations. In practical terms, a sankalpa is a declarative statement, resolution, or intention in which you vow or commit (to yourself, to another person or God) to fulfil a specific goal. In the Yoga System, Sankalpa is the forerunner of any penance. In order to achieve a particular motive and to achieve a particular aim a specific resolve in the form of penance is necessary which should be accompanied by Sankalpa. Then the body and the mind becomes charged with special waves that make a person self-confident, resolute and motivated and one pointed to achieve what he set out for. Sankalpa is a call to awakening. It makes one able to direct consciousness through the chakras.

Symbolically, I could also say that our Sankalpa Shakti is invoking Lord Ram within us. Lord Ram also called Maryada Purshottam is personified by the mantra ‘Pran Jaye par Vacchan na Jaye’ . This means that one should honour and fulfil his commitment in word or promise or Intention at any cost, even at the cost of one’s own life. This is the strength of Sankalpa which infuses in a seeker’s life the fire to fulfil his Intention. Spiritual seekers therefore strengthen their Sankalpa Shakti by practicing self-restraints like fasting, following austere practices or doing tapas like walking long distances barefoot.

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