The negative karma we have accumulated in the eons has grown as high as a mountain. The purpose of practice is to eradicate such karma. If we fail to practice diligently and continue to create more negative karma, that mountain of obstruction will grow to ever more formidable height, barring us from escaping the cycle of birth and death.
Ascetic practice means cleansing our minds, or replacing the bad seeds within us: washing away the seeds of greed, anger, and ignorance common people cling to, replacing them by lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, which are the seeds of buddhahood and bodhisattvahood.
Ascetic practice is no easy matter! In our daily lives, we must train our minds to abstain from calculations and from discrimination. That is the essence of ascetic practice.
To practice, or be a practitioner, is easier said than done. As we are all subject to the common ailments of greed, anger, ignorance, pride, and doubt, let us carry out monastic duties with a purpose to train our minds and untie ourselves from such fetters. Only if we have attained that can we set out on the path of practice.
The purpose of practice is to eliminate our greed, anger, and ignorance so that our deeds, words and thoughts will be pure and clean.
Wisdom will not unfold for those who do not eradicate their greed, anger, and ignorance.
Likewise, those who cling to the pleasure of the six gunas (sense objects, i.e. sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and ideas) can not unfold their wisdom.
Most of the karma we are born with are negative, few are virtuous. Therefore, we must practice asceticism to eradicate our karmic obstructions.
Only after we have expelled evil thoughts can right mindfulness come to the fore and steer us away from klesa (vexations, i.e. attitudes, views, emotional states, or conditions, arising from attachments, that cause suffering or disharmony).
Asceticism is a great help in support of practice. Thus the great patriarchs and Bodhisattvas Manjusri, Samantabhadra, Avalokitesvara, and Ksitigarbha all took asceticism as their vow and practice. Now, in our practice, we ought to follow their determination, treading the paths of the bodhisattvas.
When Master Hsu Yun set out on his pilgrimage, he left bare-footed, took along only a stool and a simple bundle, and passed many a day with scanty food. He would just follow his path, never worrying about the next day. Since his mind was free of clinging, all the dragon kings and devas safeguarding the Dharma protected and maintained him. We simply lack such determination; or else there should be nothing we might not accomplish in our practice.