Tapas (Sanskrit "heat") refers to spiritual practices including deep meditation, reasoned self-discipline and effort to achieve self-realization, often involving solitude, hermitism or asceticism; it is derived from the word root tap, which depending on context means "heat" from fire or weather, or blaze, burn, shine, penance, pain, suffering, mortification.
In the Vedas literature of Hinduism, fusion words based on tapas are widely used to expound several spiritual concepts that develop through heat or inner energy, such as meditation, any process to reach special observations and insights, the spiritual ecstasy of a yogin or tāpasa (a vṛddhi derivative meaning "a practitioner of austerities, an ascetic"), even warmth of sexual intimacy. In certain contexts, the term is also used to mean penance, suffering, austerity, pious activity, as well as misery. The word tapasvinī for example, means a female devotee or pious woman, "an ascetic, someone practicing austerities", or in some contexts it can mean poor, miserable woman.
Ancient texts and scriptures
Tapas implies meditation and reasoned moral self-discipline, considered to be a means to realize ātman (self) in ancient texts of India. The Chāndogya Upaniṣad suggests that those who engage in ritualistic offerings to gods and priests will fail in their spiritual practice while those who engage in tapas and self-examination will succeed. The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad states that realization of self requires a search for truth and tapas, meditation.
By Truth can this Self be grasped,
by Tapas, by Right Knowledge,
and by a perpetually chaste life.
Meditation and achievement of lucid knowledge is declared essential to self realization in ancient scriptures. Texts by Adi Sankara suggests tapas is important, but not sufficient for spiritual practice. Later Hindu scholars introduce a discussion of ‘false ascetic’, as one who go through the mechanics of tapas, without meditating on the nature of Brahman. Tapas is an element of spiritual path, state Indian texts. The concept is extensively mentioned in the Vedas, and the Upanishads.
The earliest discussions of tapas, and compound words from the root tap (Sanskrit: तप) relate to the heat necessary for biological birth. Its conceptual origin is traced to the natural wait, motherly warmth and physical "brooding" provided by birds such as a hen upon her eggs - a process that is essential to hatching and birth; the Vedic scholars used mother nature's example to explain and extend this concept to hatching of knowledge and spiritual rebirth.
Some of the earliest reference of tapas, and compound words from the root tap (तप) is found in many ancient Hindu scriptures, including the Ŗg Veda (10.154.5), Satapatha Brahmana (5.3 - 5.17), and Atharva Veda (4.34.1, 6.61.1, 11.1.26). In these texts, tapas is described as the process that led to the spiritual birth of ṛṣis - sages of spiritual insights. The Atharva Veda suggests all the gods were tapas-born (tapojās), and all earthly life was created from the sun's tapas (tapasah sambabhũvur). In the Jāiminiya-Upanisad Brāhmaņa, life perpetuates itself and creates progeny by tapas, a process that starts with sexual heat.
According to Walter Kaelber, and others, in certain translations of ancient Sanskrit documents tapas is interpreted as austerities, penance, asceticism, or mortification; however, this is frequently inadequate because it fails to reflect the context implied, which is of sexual heat or warmth that incubates the birth of life. The idea of linking austerity, exertion, fatigue and self-renunciation to the ancient idea of heat, brooding and inner devotion, comes from the observed labor every mother puts in caring for its embryo and delivering her baby, regardless of the life form; The concept and reference to 'egg hatching' is replaced in Sanskrit texts written in later centuries, with simply 'brooding' or 'incubation'.
In ancient literature of Hinduism dedicated to love, desire, lust, seduction and sex, the root of the word tapas is commonly used. For example, in Atharva Veda, a mantra recommended for a woman who wishes to win or compel a man's love is, 'Love's consuming longing, this passion this yearning, which the gods have poured, into the waters of life, I kindle for thee (tam te tapāmi), by the law of Varuna.' Desire (kāma) is homologized with the concept of tapas, to explain the feelings and inner energy that leads to sexual intercourse. Agnicayana, Satapatha Brahmana and other ancient texts similarly use the root of the word tapas to symbolize emotions, biological stages and a mother's effort from conception to the birth of a baby.
Sanskrit tapasyā (neuter gender), literally "produced by heat", refers to a personal endeavor of discipline, undertaken to achieve a goal. One who undertakes tapas is a Tapasvin. The fire deity of Hinduism, Agni, is central to many Hindu rituals such as yajna and homa. Agni is considered an agent of heat, of sexual energy, of incubation; Agni is considered a great tapasvin. From tapas the more widespread word tapasyā was derived, which is used in all three genders and was mentioned in Katyayana-Shrauta-Sutra, Baudhayana's Dharma-shashtra, Panini-4.4.128, etc. Monks and gurus in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism practice tapasya to obtain moksha, or spiritual liberation.
The concept of tapas as symbolism for spiritual rebirth begins in the Vedas. Atharva Veda verse 11.5.3 compares the process of spiritual rebirth of a student in care of his or her teacher, with the gestation process during the biological birth of a baby in a mother's womb.
David Frawley (in his book "Yoga and Ayurveda") defines Tapas as the spiritual transformation in which Tejas transforms Ojas to produce Prana. He defines Prana, Tejas and Ojas to be the subtle aspects of Vata, Pitta and Kapha (Doshas) respectively.
Yoga, a practice that aims physical, mental and spiritual purification in Hinduism, is closely linked with tapas. The disciplined and concentrated practice of yogic arts and exercises are a form of tapas. Patañjali, widely considered as an ancient authority on yoga, suggests yoga as a way to reduce impurities, confusion and ignorance in or about one's body, mind and spirit. In his Yoga Sūtra, Patañjali urges that realizing the full meaning of Yoga requires tāpas (meditation, calm reflection, exercises, brooding), svādhyāya (study of self), and īśvara-pranidhāna (reflect on universal oneness of life, God, quality of action).
Tapasya is part of a stage of life, called brahmacharya - a monk or nun like celibate lifestyle. At the mind and spirit level, meditative tapas involves focusing upon the Supreme Brahman - the central principles of reality and universe.
Vedic literature correlates and joins tapas with dīksā. Diksa is the initiation and incubation of a student, by his or her teacher, in the principles of knowledge; diksa sometimes starts with a ceremonial ritual before Agni, the fire deity. The Vedic literature suggests diksa requires tapas, and tapas is enabled by the state of brahmacharya. This state sometimes includes tapas such as vrata (fasting, sacrifice of food), sram (philanthropic social work, sacrifice of income), silence (sacrifice of speech), and asceticism (bare minimum living, sacrifice of comfort). Oldenberg notes that Brahmana scripture suggests that the Brahmachari should carry tapas to the very tip of his existence, which includes not cutting his hair, nail and beard. Thus, during this process of spiritual rebirth and diksa, the tapas observed by a Brahmachari may include silence, fasting, seclusion, chastity, as well growing of hair, beard and nails; in other cases, the tapas may include simply reduction in talk, noise, amount and types of food consumed, and other human activities. The goal of tapas is to help focus the Brahmachari on meditation, observation of reality, reflection and spiritual rebirth.
Brahmacharya and tapasya is so interrelated that some modern literature incorrectly consider it as synonymous. In Hinduism, brahmacharya is one of the four stages of life; while tapasya is an ongoing learning process during all four stages of life. During the brahmacharya stage, typically the pre-adult youth stage, a brahmachari (bachelor, monk, nun) retains his or her sexual energy, focuses on learning, knowledge, understanding and cleansing of ignorance. Once cleansed and matured with self-knowledge, the individual graduates from brahmacharya stage with better understanding, he or she is ready for responsibilities, career, and sexual partnership of grihastha stage of life in Hinduism.
In Buddhism, mortification is rejected, as is indulgence in sensual pleasures. The word Tapas in ancient Buddhist literature, explains Richard Gombrich, means "meditation" and "reasoned moral self discipline".
Modern Hindu mendicants pursue tapas - meditation and study of religion in ashrams across India and the world. Numerous monks and mendicants base themselves around the holy sites of Hinduism, or in hermitages around the Himalayas and other retreats to do Tapas.
- Hinduism, Buddhism
- Meditation, Nirvana, Brahmacharya, Moksha
- Satyagraha, Gandhism
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