The word ‘penance’ means nothing but integrating yourself, making yourself a single entity. You may ask, ‘Are we not like that now?’ If you look closely, you will see that we exist as different entities, never as one. There is everything else in our life, except integration.
If you look deeply inside, you will understand, there are hundreds of voices continuously talking inside you. The moment the mind says, ‘Let us do this,’ the very next moment the thought will arise, ‘No. Let us not do it!’ After thinking of the side effects and after effects, the mind starts oscillating.
Integrating the fragmented parts of the mind is the very essence of life. Integrating the feelings and the mind, integrating your face and your mind, ensuring that your face shows the same thing as what your mind thinks, is the essence of life.
The intense effort to integrate oneself completely is what is called penance. Penance always ends in auspiciousness.
If you study the lives of great masters and try to search for one basic essence in all of their lives, you will find, it is not knowledge or devotion. It is integrity! What they believed in, they lived. That’s all! Their integrity was solid. They were ready to lose even their very lives, but not their integrity.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the great enlightened master from India, used to move around on the streets just singing devotional songs. He never bothered about what others said about him. What he felt, he expressed. He was thrown into the sea because of the way he walked the streets, but it didn’t stop him. To be like this requires a deep sense of sacrifice. It takes the courage to sacrifice anything to live with integrity! That is why anything that these great masters did in their lives always culminated in eternal auspiciousness! Everything they did was an effort to integrate themselves with deep sincerity and devotion. The intense effort to integrate oneself completely is what is called penance. Penance always ends in auspiciousness.
There will be innumerable things happening in your life all the time. Enduring all those things and intensifying your integrity with them – that is called penance. On the other hand, if you allow life’s happenings to shake you, then you land in disgrace. Which ever way you wish to go, is up to you.
Adi Shankara was a great enlightened master from India. As a young boy, he was caught in a dilemma when he wanted to pursue the path of sannyas. He wanted to leave home with the permission of his mother, but she was unwilling to let go of him. One day, he went to bathe in the river. Suddenly, his mother heard him crying out loud for help. She ran out and saw that a crocodile had caught his leg. He was struggling to be free.
Suddenly, by a flash of thought, he cried to her, ‘Mother, if you give me permission to become a sannyasi, I will be freed from this crocodile now to continue with my life.’
The mother was surprised and asked how. He explained, ‘According to the Vedas, if I enter a new ashrama (stage of life), it is equal to being born again. So, if you give me permission to enter into sannyas, then maybe god will give lease of life!’ really are. The mother was totally helpless. She quickly made up her mind. It was better to have her son as a sannyasi than see him dead. She agreed.
Immediately the crocodile released the grip! Sankara ran to his mother with great joy. He had lived the truth he sought at that moment… and it worked.
source: Living Enlightenment