The Yoga Tutor

Tapas - The Power of Austerity

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 426 ]

Sage Patanjali says:

~ Yoga Sutras (Chap. 2, Sutra 43)
Translation: Through tapas, the impurities are destroyed and the perfection of the body and sense organs is achieved.

As suggested in this sutra, it is the presence of impurities in the body and the lack of bodily control which stands in the way of it being used as a perfect instrument of the higher consciousness. Thus, the removal of impurities (asuddhi-ksayat) is the main purpose of tapas. As the word suggests, tapas has the power to 'burn' -- and therefore, it can also help to burn some bad karma too.

Through tapas, one gains force in the body, the mind and the character. The tapasin gains courage, wisdom, integrity. Through tapas, one also comes to cultivate simplicity in life, a lack of which is a primary source of disharmony, and one of the biggest obstacles to evolution. Complexity in life is a combination of both ignorance and lack of discipline, and a strong barometer indicating the necessity for change.

Once we have developed a good, strong strength of will via the previously mentioned methods, then a wonderful by-product occurs; we find ourselves in the midst of a 'Self' that has been transformed. We have a healthy lifestyle filled with good habits, a calm and pleasant demeanour, and a psyche that displays wisdom, discernment and clarity of perspective. We have good health, both physical and mental, and we display patience, self-confidence, enthusiasm, and joyfulness in all situations. In other words, a strong will is a great support for one of the primary virtues expounded in the Bhagavad Gita, which is sthiti prajna -- equal mindedness in all situations.

"Established in Brahman, with firm understanding and no delusion, the knower of Brahman rejoices not, getting what is pleasant, and grieves not, getting what is unpleasant."
~ (Chapter 5, Verse 20)

Perhaps above all else, we possess the will and determination to see ourselves through any and all challenges that present themselves, both in the rigours of regular life, and along the spiritual path. It is obvious that through this attitude one will generate a sattvic state within the being. The great Indian philosopher and yogi Adi Sankara states:

"The one who knows atman (the Supreme Self) does not identify with his body. He remains in it as in a vehicle. If the people create for him conditions of comfort and luxury, he will enjoy them and play with them as a child. He can wear either expensive clothes or rags... sometimes the people honour him with greatness, other times they insult him. He has no riches and is still always content. He acts and still is not enslaved by the action. He seems to be an individual being, yet is present in everything, everywhere."


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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