Meaning of तपस्, tapa, tapas, tapah, tapasya: austerity, penance, self-discipline, meditative practice, ascetic devotion, a burning desire to get perfection, any act or ritual that helps to burn the impurities, performing the responsibility with intense efforts.
I personally think that tapas is a practice of detoxification that can be in different levels.
Misconceptions: self-denial, suppressing the desires, doing long fasting, performing meditative practices in particular places (forests, mountains,...) or in particular temperatures (very cold, or very hot).
Killing yourself at gross or micro level is not tapas.
As Swami Satchidananda ji said, “Tapas is self-discipline, not self-torture. It is right effort, not more effort.”
Understanding of the word "tapa":
In Sanskrit, tapa means "to burn" or "to heat" or "to cook".
The literal meaning of Tapas is "anything that burns" or "anything that produces heat". In yogic culture and spirituality, tapah is a practice that burns the impurities and negative aspects.
Tapa is that heat, warmness, temperature or fire that is used to purify the metals for the sake of making them beautiful and shiny.
If we bring water in the contact of fire, it will become hot. In Hindi we would say there is Tapa (heat) in the water.
In the summer season, when temperature reaches up to 35, 40 or more, we used to say, Tapa (temperature, heat) is very high.
With these examples, we can say tapa (heat, temperature, warmness) is the effect and the fire (internal or external) is the cause.
One more thing needs to be understood is that we also have to follow certain method to bring the heat. It's something like different methods of cooking (boiling, roasting, steaming,...)
tapaḥ svādhyāy-eśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ 2.1
"Austerity, study of the scriptures or japa, surrendering the fruits of actions, is called Kriya Yoga."
The practices of Kriya Yoga (tapah with japa and bhakti) is advised only when someone already have made the base strong by the practice of Yamas, Niyamas and regular practice of Asanas. Then the other higher practices of tapah would be safe and fruitful.
कायेन्द्रियसिद्धिरशुद्धिक्षयात् तपसः ॥ २.४३॥
kāy_endriya_siddhir_aśuddhi_kṣayāt tapasaḥ 2.43
"Any practice that can helps one to weaken his impurities and get mastery over his body and senses, is tapah or austerity. "
Here, sage Patanjali ji is making it clear: the practice of tapa helps to minimize the intensity of negative Samskaras and at the same time, helps to get the mastery over the senses.
Kaya shuddhi (purification of gross or physical body) will be the first attainment of the tapas.
Bhagavad Gita, chapter 17
In Bhagavad Gita, 3 types of tapah are explained:
Tapah of the body
Tapah of the speech
Tapah of the mind
See the shlokas and short explanation by Swami Shree Shivananda ji.
1. Tapas of the body
brahmacaryam_ahiṃsā ca śārīraṃ tapa ucyate. _14
"Worship of the gods- deities, the twice-born, the teachers and the wise ; purity, straight-forwardness, celibacy, and non-violence; these are called the austerity (Tapah) of the Body."
In short, tapah of the body can make the foundation strong for those whose mind is totally dominated by the tamas and rajas (strong negative samskaras). They should need direct company of the wise people/Yogis. They should totally involve themselves for long time in seva (service, whatever is given by the master) physically or mentally.
2. Tapas of the speech
Anudvegakaraṃ vākyaṃ satyaṃ priyahitaṃ ca yat
svādhyāyābhyasanaṃ caiva vāṅmayaṃ Tapa ucyate.- 15
"Speech which causes no excitement, and is truthful, pleasant and beneficial, and the practice of the study of the Vedas, these constitute the austerity of speech."
It's tapah of speech. Tapah of speech is more subtle than the tapah of the body but it is more difficult, more intense.
Yogis have found that common people use to waste their major energy through the talk. That's why, in many of the monastries/Ashrams, the observation of silence is necessary. This shloka also tells us to talk less. To talk only when it is necessary and useful. Too much talk is not just a waste of our energy but it also makes our mind agitated and unstable.
3. Mansic Tapah (tapas of the mind)
मनः प्रसादः सौम्यत्वं मौनमात्मविनिग्रहः ।
भावसंशुद्धिरित्येतत्तपो मानसमुच्यते ॥
manaḥ prasādaḥ saumyatvaṃ maun_amātma_vinigrahaḥ
bhāva_saṃśuddhirityetattapo mānasam_ucyate. _16
"Serenity of mind, good-heartedness, silence, self-control, purity of nature- these all together are called the mental austerity or Tapah of mind."
Mansik tapah is the subtlest one. So, more efforts, more observance, more alertness are required.
In the Mansik tapah, some points need to be noted:
The tranquility of the mind. That means keeping the mind free from all kind of stress, anxiety and worry. Keeping the mind free from anxiety is itself a Prasad means a blessing of God.
The cultivation of attitude of loving-kindness and compassion for all the beings.
The observance of silence starts with the silence of the tongue and then, move ahead to become silence with the mind.
At the end, this shloka is also talking about the purity of the heart. Means pure feelings (bhava) of love, compassion, joy... needs to be developed.
The Sutra 1/33, of Patanjali Yogasutra helps us to understand more about the Mansik tapah and the purity of the heart:
Maitri Karuna _Mudita Upeksanam Sukha_Dukha_ Punya Apunya Visayanam Bhavanatah_Chitta Prasadanam.
The mind becomes purified by the cultivation of feelings of friendliness, (loving, kindness), compassion, goodwill, and indifference respectively towards happy, miserable, virtuous and sinful creatures.
My understanding about the tapas
Choosing or accepting the pain (rather than comfort) or hard work or any meditative practice knowingly, willingly and cheerfully for achieving the purity, perfection and particular goal, is called Tapas.
Any activity or ritual that helps to burn the impurities, toxins, negativity and brings the purity, clarity, lightness, positivity, is called Tapas or austerity.
Austerity emphasizes to go little bit more extreme into the practice.
Little more than the normal capacity. Little intense than the balanced approach. But it should not be extreme and sudden. The intensity should be increased gradually and carefully.
It would be always good to practice in the guidance of teachers those who have gone through such kind of practices and have proper understanding about those practices.
One thing is your practice (that is regular and little intense), 2nd thing is the purpose behind the tapas.
If your purpose is to serve others, not only yourself, then definitely the practice will lead towards purity and serenity of the mind.
One thing is clear that here practitioner is not suppressing the desires.
I would say the mind is brought under control through the tapas from where desires keep on arising.
There is a scientific method for weakening, reducing the intensity and the quantity of the uncontrolled desires. Wise practitioner should learn that method from different teachers, masters or the Holy scriptures.
The method and the routine that helps the practitioner to perform Tapah (austerity), is called Tapascharya and practitioner who performs tapas is called Tapasvi (male) or Tapaswini (female).
The place where Tapah is been performed is called Tapovan.
"Na_tapavino Yogah Siddhayati" Sage Vyasa
Here, Sage Vyasa is clearly writing that yoga or Samadhi can not be attained by non-tapasvi.
On the the path of yoga and meditation, the practice of Tapah is a must.
Acquiring the success and excellence in any field, some level and specific kind of Tapa is always required. Without tapa no big transformation can take place.
How should you start your Tapas?
The practice of yoga with the discipline of tapas helps you to remember that life is an unknown road. Some moments will be bumpy and other parts will be smooth and enjoyable.
You cannot controle what will come in your path but you can accept it, that is in your hands. You should start the tapa for your chosen goals, from your level of capacity and capabilities. Then, after few months/years, the fruits and benefits of tapas will become the booster or catalysts to push you forward. Now you don't have to worry, about your long journey of tapas between you (now) and the final goal.
1- If your goal is to loose 20 kg weight. Whenever you think about it, your surface mind (negativity trained) will say "no🤔, "madre mía", it's impossible for me, it is definitely not safe to loose suddenly, I should look another safe way..." etc etc.
Your mind will give many excuses but, in another side, just for few moments, some thoughts may also come and will tell you "it is not impossible, you can do it! It is not so difficult. 20 kg weight is so easy. How ? Thinking about a plan of action. Everyone can think and have ideas! I will think about only 1 kg to loose in a month though just 20 minutes of exercise and by skipping all the cold water with warm or normal water..."
It's just an example. If somebody wants, then he can go ahead.
2- Someone has the goal to sit quietly for one hour in padmasana or sukhasana for meditation.
Same here: when you think about one hour to sit quietly, your mind will say to you "one hour... for me, it is not possible🤔... my mind is so restless... and also last time I sit for 05 minutes, I got back pain. So meditation is not for me, it is only for flexible people" or... any other excuses.
But your positive side, your Buddhi (pure intelect), also sometimes tells you, and reminds you about your hidden capabilities. If you would succeed to listen it and start following this voice, no one can stop you!
Definitely the mind will bring the difficulties again and again. You don't have to worry about those difficulties that not arised yet. ☺
As long as you would succeed to implement the voice of your pure intelect (heart), the sanskaras of the negative influenced mind will be weaken and minimized.
So, you just start your journey, your tapas, for big goals of life. And this is only the way to come over negative thoughts, fears, feelings and emotions. There is only one way to nourish and strengthen your positive thoughts, feelings and emotions. You should use it again, again and again.
No doubt Yogis incorporate the practice of tapas for self-realization but I think that it can be adopted or it should be adopted for external prosperity also. I believe that external prosperity (good physical health, economic stability, job stability) can give us more freedom, more space to think about Dhyana, Samadhi, liberation,..
Asana practitioners should go on in the practice of Asanas. The practice of asanas also helps to access the internal fire of the tapas, but ultimately, it is your willpower, passion, discipline that would keep you moving towards your goal, missions.
At the end, only one thing: be aware during the tapas especially your ego ("I am performing this particular tapas so I am superior and purest than others"). This attitude will disturb your spiritual growth.
Tapas which are practiced just for recognition, through self-denial, suppressing the desires, cravings or torturing yourself, sorry to say: it is not a tapas. These ways of tapas will make your energy, enthusiasm and encouragement down in few weeks or months.
I believe that, in deeper sense, tapas is not for hurting yourself, (means body, mind, senses) nor others. It is a way for self purification (detoxification). Some problems definitely come but you should deal with them like an experienced Ayurvedic doctors. After few years of practice, all limbs of your body, senses and your mind will become your good friend and good doctor...
I have mentioned that the practice of tapas has little higher intensity than the balanced approach. But that's not recommended in Bhagavad Gita also not in Buddhism. 🙏
Take care yourself and be blessed
Hari om!!! 🙏
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