A visitor asked Nisargadatta: “What is austerity?”
I found his answer so simple and enlightening that I am sharing it here.
Nisargadatta: “Once you have gone through an experience, not to go through it again is austerity. To eschew the unnecessary is austerity. Not to anticipate pleasure or pain is austerity. … Desire by itself is not wrong. It is life itself, the urge to grow in knowledge and experience. It is the choices you make that are wrong.
To imagine that some little thing – food, sex, power, fame – will make you happy is to deceive yourself. Only something as vast and deep as your real self can make you truly and lastingly happy.
You are not in the body, the body is in you! The mind is in you. They happen to you. They are there because you find them interesting. Your very nature has the infinite capacity to enjoy. It is full of zest and affection. It sheds its radiance on all that comes within its focus of awareness and nothing is excluded. It does not know evil nor ugliness. It hopes, it trusts, it loves.
You people do not know how much you miss by not knowing your own true self. You are neither the body nor the mind, neither the fuel not the fire. They appear and disappear according to their own laws.
That which you are, your true self, you love it, and whatever you do you do for your own happiness.
To find it , to know it, to cherish it is your basic urge. Since time immemorial you loved yourself, but never wisely.
Use your body and mind wisely in the service of the Self, that is all. Be true to your own self, love your self absolutely. So not pretend you love others as yourself. Unless you have realized them as one with yourself, you cannot love them. Don’t pretend to be what you are not, don’t refuse to be what you are.
Your love of others is the result of self-knowledge, not its cause. Without self-realization no virtue is genuine.
When you know beyond all doubting that the same life flows through all that is and you are that life, you will love all naturally and spontaneously. When you realize the depth and fullness of your love of yourself, you know that every living being in the entire universe is included in your affection. But when you look at anything as separate from you, you cannot love it for you are afraid of it. Alienation causes fear and fear deepens alienation. It is a vicious circle. Only self-realization can break it. Go for it resolutely.
(Nisargadatta, I Am That, p. 211 ff.)