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Tapas (Samskrit: तपस्) 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 17th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita prescribes three kinds of austerities that purify the heart rapidly. They are,
- शारीरं तप or Physical Tapas that constitutes worship given to the Supreme, to the brahmanas, to the teachers and to the wise, purity, straightforwardness, self restraint and harmlessness.
देवद्विजगुरुप्राज्ञपूजनं शौचमार्जवम् । ब्रह्मचर्यमहिंसा च शारीरं तप उच्यते ॥१७.१४॥
devadvijaguruprājñapūjanaṁ śaucamārjavam । brahmacaryamahiṁsā ca śārīraṁ tapa ucyate ॥17.14॥
- वाङ्मयं तप or Verbal Tapas that constitutes speech causing no annoyance, truthful and beneficial and the practice of the study of the scriptures.
अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत् । स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते ॥१७.१५॥
anudvegakaraṁ vākyaṁ satyaṁ priyahitaṁ ca yat । svādhyāyābhyasanaṁ caiva vāṅmayaṁ tapa ucyate ॥17.15॥
- मानसं तप or Mental Tapas that constitutes mental happiness, equilibrium, silence, self-control and purity of nature.
मनः प्रसादः सौम्यत्वं मौनमात्मविनिग्रहः । भावसंशुद्धिरित्येतत्तपो मानसमुच्यते ॥१७.१६॥
manaḥ prasādaḥ saumyatvaṁ maunamātmavinigrahaḥ । bhāvasaṁśuddhirityetattapo mānasamucyate ॥17.16॥
It is said that, this threefold austerity, performed by people with the firm belief, without desire for fruit, harmonised, is pure.
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.