Tapas by Swami Sivananda

Tapas—austerity of the mind and body—means that you should be able to bear heat and cold, physical discomfort and fatigue; as well as insult, injury, persecution and any sort of humiliation. You should always be able to keep your mind and the senses ever pure and carefully guarded. That which purifies the impure mind is tapas. That which regenerates the lower animal nature and generates divine nature is tapas.

That which pleases the mind and destroys lust, anger, greed is tapas. That which destroys tamas and rajas and increases sattva is tapas. That which steadies the mind and fixes it on the eternal is tapas. That which arrests the outgoing tendencies is tapas. Desire moves the senses. Desire can be controlled only if the senses are curbed. That which destroys desires, egoism, likes and dislikes and generates dispassion, discrimination and meditation is tapas.

Tapas is of three kinds: physical, verbal and mental. Physical Celibacy, service of guru and saints, practice of non-violence are some of the practices of tapas for the body. Verbal To speak the truth, to observe the vow of silence, not to hurt others by unkind or harsh words, to speak words that are beneficial and to study the scriptures are all tapas of speech. Mauna is verbal tapas. Exercise control over speech through vigilance and discipline. Mental This tapas is more powerful than physical tapas.

He who bears heat and cold does physical tapas. He increases his power of endurance, but he may not be able to bear insult, he will be easily upset by a harsh or unkind word, he may take revenge and do ‘tit for tat’. He has no control over the mind, he has disciplined only the physical body. To keep a balanced mind in all conditions of life, to bear insult, injury and persecutions, to be ever serene, contented and peaceful, to be cheerful in adverse conditions, to have fortitude in meeting danger and to have presence of mind and forbearance are all forms of mental tapas.

Poise, mental restraint, purity of nature, one pointedness of mind, mental happiness, cheerfulness and cleanliness of life are all tapas of mind. Philosophically, meditation is the highest form of tapas. Fixing the wandering mind on God or Brahman is great tapas. Enquiry and deep meditation are the highest tapas. Sense control, pranayama, concentration and samadhi, practice of contentment, peace, enquiry and company of the wise, the nine modes of bhakti and yama and niyama are great tapas.

The tapas performed by those with the utmost faith, without desire for fruit and harmonised, is sattvic or pure. That practised with the object of gaining respect, honour and worship and for ostentation is rajasic, unstable and fleeting. That done under a deluded understanding, with self-torture or with the object of destroying another is declared to be tamasic or of darkness.

By tapas the mind, speech and senses are purified. Fasts and all religious observances that are laid down in scriptures and the rules of yama and niyama, asana, pranayama etc. come under tapas. Manu says ‘He whose speech and mind are pure and ever carefully guarded obtains all the fruits that are obtained by means of vedanta. By the performance of tapas, all afflictions and impurities can be destroyed.’