The Yoga Tutor

Tapasya - Willpower for Evolution

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 420 ]

Tapas is often defined simply as "austerity." It is derived from the word tejas, which refers to "fire." Tapas means, "to burn," "to radiate" or "to be consumed by fire."

Fire is the symbol for the ardent desire or the invincible will to achieve something. Therefore, tapas has been called 'the burning fire of austerity'. It means the passionate effort on all levels, in any circumstance, for achieving any clear goal in life. Yet tapas is a very comprehensive Sanskrit term which has no real exact English equivalent. It combines the significance of a number of words such as purification, austerity, and self-discipline.

"The word [tapas] stands for a class of various practices, the object of which is to purify and discipline the lower nature and to bring the vehicles of the Jivatma under the control of an iron will."
~I.K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga

In yoga, tapas implies to do something difficult that requires great effort and concentration. Certainly effort is necessary for anything of value to manifest in life. Just as hard work and effort is necessary for the entrepreneur to be successful in business, so too, aspiration and a disciplined effort are essential to achieving spiritual goals. Tapas, then, represents the conscious effort of burning all the desires that hinder us on the evolutionary path. Without the virtues and strengths gained through tapas, spiritual progress is difficult to attain.

Any sadhak on the spiritual path will attest to the difficulties that they have encountered along the way. Patanjali lists 9 such “obstacles” to yoga sadhana, in his Yoga Sutras:
  1. Vyadhi (disease)
  2. Styan (dullness)
  3. Samshya (doubt)
  4. Pramada (procrastination)
  5. Alasya (laziness)
  6. Avirati (worldly mindedness)
  7. Branti-Darshan (illusion)
  8. Alabdhabhumikatwa (inability to achieve higher states of consciousness)
  9. Anavasthitatwa (inability to maintain those states which have been achieved)
To the average person, each of these alone presents no small challenge, and all together they represent a sizable hurdle in both the spiritual and even the everyday life. It is no far stretch then, to suggest that a great deal of strength of will is essential if one can ever hope to overcome these hurdles and approach success in yoga. But where does this strength of will come from? Should we hope to just find it waiting somewhere within us, patiently, for our beck and call?

"'Where there is a will, there is a way'.
But Oh, Heavens!
Where is the way to get a will?
Instinct replies; 'In thyself'"
~ Subramanya Bharathiyar, Thoughts


NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.

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