The first question:
Why are you against ascetic practices? Aren’t they religious? Isn’t asceticism a path to truth?
It is just the opposite: it is a path to the madhouse. It is pathological. It is an expression of an ill mind, it is an expression of a violent mind. Ordinarily the violence is directed towards others, but the violence can be directed to oneself too. And when the violence is directed to oneself it is more dangerous, because there is nobody to defend you.
When you are violent with somebody else the other is there to defend, to protect himself, to fight with you. When the violence turns upon yourself, it is absolute; there is nobody left to defend you.
So to me, Adolf Hitler is less dangerous than Mahatma Gandhi, Adolf Hitler is less violent than Mahatma Gandhi. It may be very difficult for you to understand it, but this has been happening down the ages: the people who are masochistic have declared themselves religious. Religion is an excuse to be a masochist. Take the excuse away and the masochist is exposed.
If you go on thinking that the person who is torturing himself is a spiritual person, you are also nourishing his masochism. He’s simply enjoying torturing himself. There is a joy that comes out of torturing oneself: it consists of the feeling of power. When you torture somebody else, then too it gives you the feeling of power. That’s why violence exists. People simply go on doing violence to each other; that is their only way to feel powerful. They can destroy the other; that is their power. But there is a variety of violence where you can start destroying yourself, and you will feel powerful.
For example, the story is told – I don’t believe it is true, but it could be true – that a Hindu mystic, Surdas, was passing through a street and he saw a beautiful woman, and for a moment he forgot that he had renounced the world. He forgot that he was a saint, he forgot all about religion, discipline, yoga. In that moment his heart simply moved with great passion and love towards the woman. Just a moment later he caught hold of himself. He went back to his hut and destroyed his eyes, became blind, because the scriptures say if the eyes lead you astray, destroy them. He must have felt immensely powerful while destroying his eyes: “I can do even this!” The ego must have felt very subtle nourishment. The ego must have become more strong than ever.