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Tapas (Samskrit: तपस्) refers to the mode of self-discipline, prescribed to bring the body and mind under control. It is training of the mind to achieve equanimity. It is one of the five Niyamas (religious observances) recommended by Maharshi Patanjali as part of the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. The basis of Tapas (austerity) is achara (regulation of daily life). Tapas along with Svadhyaya (studying and understanding of scriptures) and Ishvara Pranidhana (worship of the Supreme and surrendering the fruit of actions to the Supreme) constitute Kriya Yoga that purifies the mind, attenuates or thins out the five afflictions (Pancha kleshas) and leads to Samadhi.
The word Tapas is derived from the root word 'tap' and signifies warmth. The Upanishadic usage of the term 'tapas' throws light on the various meanings that can be attached to the word. The aspects thus, associated with the concept of Tapas include,
तपसा ब्रह्म विजिज्ञासस्व । तपो ब्रह्मेति...
Here, Varuna says, "Through austerity know Brahman is austerity".
- Knowledge and Circumspection
स तपोऽतप्यत । स तपस्तप्त्वा । इदँ सर्वमसृजत ।
It means that the Supreme Being created everything having performed tapas. Here, Shanka
racharya in his commentary explains the term 'tapas' as knowledge and circumspection.
तप इति ज्ञानमुच्यते।
स तपोऽतप्यत । तस्य श्रान्तस्य तप्तस्य यशो वीर्यमुदक्रामत् ।
Meaning: He practised austerity, while he thus rested and heated, fame and vigour went forth.
Here, tapas literally means burning. In fact, the root tap is used to mean ' to burn' even in the Rgveda. (ref 8.102.16)
- Glow caused by concentration of mental energy
अजो भागस्तपसा तं तपस्व तं ते शोचिस्तपतु तं ते अर्चिः ।...॥४॥
In the Rgveda, the root tap is used in the sense of warmth or glow.
- Passing through fierce fires
- Being stripped of everything we possess
- Enduring illness without moaning
तद्य इत्थं विदुः । ये चेमेऽरण्ये श्रद्धा तप इत्युपासते तेऽर्चिषमभिसम्भवन्त्यर्चिषो...
So those who know this and who in the forest meditate on faith as austerity go to light and from light..
This gives rise to two broad types of Tapas.
The first type inclusive of austerity (consisting of abegation and self-mortification), burning, glow caused by concentration of mental energy, passing through fierce fires, being stripped of everything that we possess, restraint, penance and celibate chastity is physical in nature. The second type inclusive of knowledge and circumspection, Brahman (ie. probably a means of achieving direct experience of Brahman), non-censure (for illness or death falling to one's lot) and lack of bemoaning one's misfortune of being ill or the possibility of death ie. (developing) an equanimity of mind and faith, all of which seem to be necessary for a truly religious and socially useful life, can be considered the essence of tapas.
त्रिविधं तपः ॥ Threefold Tapa
The 17th Chapter (Shraddha Traya Vibhaga Yoga) of the Bhagavad Gita prescribes three kinds of austerities that purify the heart rapidly. They are,
- शारीरं तप or Physical Tapas that constitutes worship of the Supreme, the brahmanas, the teachers and the wise, purity, straightforwardness, self restraint and harmlessness.
- वाङ्मयं तप or Verbal Tapas that constitutes speech causing no annoyance, truthful and beneficial and the practice of the study of the scriptures.
- मानसं तप or Mental Tapas that constitutes mental happiness, equilibrium, silence, self-control and purity of nature. Wherein, silence refers to control of thought which precedes the silence of the tongue. And self-control refers to controlling the mind by detaching it from sense enjoyment.
देवद्विजगुरुप्राज्ञपूजनं शौचमार्जवम् । ब्रह्मचर्यमहिंसा च शारीरं तप उच्यते ॥१७.१४॥
अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत् । स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते ॥१७.१५॥
मनः प्रसादः सौम्यत्वं मौनमात्मविनिग्रहः । भावसंशुद्धिरित्येतत्तपो मानसमुच्यते ॥१७.१६॥
devadvijaguruprājñapūjanaṁ śaucamārjavam । brahmacaryamahiṁsā ca śārīraṁ tapa ucyate ॥17.14॥
anudvegakaraṁ vākyaṁ satyaṁ priyahitaṁ ca yat । svādhyāyābhyasanaṁ caiva vāṅmayaṁ tapa ucyate ॥17.15॥
manaḥ prasādaḥ saumyatvaṁ maunamātmavinigrahaḥ । bhāvasaṁśuddhirityetattapo mānasamucyate ॥17.16॥
त्रिगुणाः तपश्च ॥ Trigunas and Tapa
The Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 17, Shraddha Traya Vibhaga Yoga) further describes these three kinds of Tapa with respect to the Trigunas that influence the nature and choice of an individual. It says, the threefold austerity (ie. Sharira, Vangmaya and Manasa Tapa) when performed by people with firm belief, without desire for fruit, being harmonised, is known as pure or Sattvika.
श्रद्धया परया तप्तं तपस्तत्त्रिविधं नरैः । अफलाकाङ्क्षिभिर्युक्तैः सात्त्विकं परिचक्षते ॥१७.१७॥ śraddhayā parayā taptaṁ tapastattrividhaṁ naraiḥ । aphalākāṅkṣibhiryuktaiḥ sāttvikaṁ paricakṣate ॥17.17॥
It is well known that Rshi Vishvamitra became a Brahma Rshi through vigorous Tapas while, Rshi Markendeya changed his destiny through Tapas and worship of Shiva. However, Tapas performed out of pride in order to gain respect, honour and reverence is said to be Rajasika in nature. And its result is uncertain and transient.
सत्कारमानपूजार्थं तपो दम्भेन चैव यत् । क्रियते तदिह प्रोक्तं राजसं चलमध्रुवम् ॥१७.१८॥ satkāramānapūjārthaṁ tapo dambhena caiva yat । kriyate tadiha proktaṁ rājasaṁ calamadhruvam ॥17.18॥
While, Penance performed out of foolishness, with Self-torture or to destroy or injure others, is said to be in the mode of ignorance or Tamasika.
मूढग्राहेणात्मनो यत्पीडया क्रियते तपः । परस्योत्सादनार्थं वा तत्तामसमुदाहृतम् ॥१७.१९॥ mūḍhagrāheṇātmano yatpīḍayā kriyate tapaḥ । parasyotsādanārthaṁ vā tattāmasamudāhr̥tam ॥17.19॥
There are instances of foolish penance undertaken by demons like Hiranyakashipu, who performed austere penances to become immortal and kill the demigods. He prayed to Brahma for such things but ultimately he was killed by the Supreme Being. Therefore, to undergo penances for something which is impossible is certainly in the mode of ignorance.
अर्थव्याप्तिः ॥ Conceptual Overlay
The Bhagavad Gita mentions that one must always perform yajna, dana, tapa and karma.
यज्ञदानतपःकर्म न त्याज्यं कार्यमेव तत् । यज्ञो दानं तपश्चैव पावनानि मनीषिणाम् ॥१८.५॥ yajñadānatapaḥkarma na tyājyaṁ kāryameva tat । yajño dānaṁ tapaścaiva pāvanāni manīṣiṇām ॥18.5॥
It should be noted here that when one gives away something (as dana), one may suffer some loss but that may be considered tyaga, which is considered a kind of tapas. Considering this complex relationship between dana and tapas, Prof. Bhawuk, in his research, proposes that dana and tapas are interrelated constructs and can be visualised as occupying a common semantic space. Similarly, all activities (karma) done for lokasamgraha or for the good of people too may be considered tyaga or tapas.
- Swami Nikhilananda (1944), The Bhagavad Gita, New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center.
- Anant Balwant Marathe (2011), The Socio-Religious Implications of Vanaprastha and Samnyasa, Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation.
- Swami Sivananda (1999), All About Hinduism, Uttar Pradesh: The Divine Life Society.
- Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhrguvalli (Anuvaka 2)
- Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Anuvaka 6
- Taittiriya Upanishad (Shankara bhashya)
- Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 1)
- Rgveda, Mandala 10, Sukta 16
- Chandogya Upanishad (Adhyaya 5)
- Dharm P. S. Bhawuk, Sraddha: Construct Definition from the Bhagavad-Gita, SAGE Journals, Volume 32, Issue 1.
- A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1998), Bhagavad Gita As It Is, USA: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International.
- Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17 (Shraddha Traya Vibhaga Yoga)
- Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1937), Practice of Bhakti Yoga, Amritsar: Editor, Ideal Home Magazine.
- Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18 (Moksha Sannyasa Yoga)