March 20, 2018
Tapas (austerity, 'fire') refers to a kind of 'heating' of the muddied mind which the Indian sages recommended for 'burning' away the accumulated impurities till the mind-stuff is pure. When the mind was considered as the real cause of bad behavior, it was suggested that meditation would purify it. That was supposed to be sufficient and there was a tendency to go from the extreme of self-torture to that of self-indulgence!
The real purpose of tapas was forgotten in all this. Tapas was taken to mean suffering - for the sake of God and also for the sake of those one loved. It was assumed that the Almighty Father preferred his children to die rather than to live for him! This encouraged a martyr complex and masochism.
Tapas however really refers to the great energy required to discover the coloring of the mind. The most important factor is the destruction of this coloring of the mind stuff that makes all judgments and evaluations. What is it that is colored? What does all the evaluating? Without condemning or justifying the mind colorings one looks at it, discovers it - thus de-coloring the colored understanding. Instead of artificial suppression, one brings it up so as to see it and to be able to deal with it. One has to get hold of it. Thus one can get to the coloring that is to be eliminated.
As one calmly says "No!" to the wish or the habit as it arises - stopping it physically - the mind gets into a commotion. The whole being seems to burn. That is tapas. One is neither enjoying it nor suffering it, one is in it. Each time the same desire crops up, one looks at it in that way, going on and on with the enquiry: "Where is it arising? What is it? What makes me want to do this again?" - until after some time this particular problem has dissolved. It has been 'burnt' away! What we are interested in is to find the coloring agent that gives value to these things that attract or repel us. As one comes face to face with the habit (or thought or ego-wish) it dissolves. The cover has been discovered! The mind stuff has been discolored, purified!
The Upanishads tell us: "Go on practicing tapas. Tapas itself is Supreme Truth!" Tapas is the inner commotion, the energy of the burning; and tapas is the fire that burns constantly - the Light that watches, purifies, illumines - and in the course of time becomes enlightenment.