Thursday, August 11th, 2022 13:53:28

Is Tapas Mere Self-Denial?

Updated: June 15, 2017 1:42 pm

Tapas is the control of the indriyas or sense organs, practised with a view to bringing about a perfect hold upon the mind and its various qualities.

Mere asceticism, however impressive it may be, will not be sufficient in itself. Renouncing the objects of the world is not real renunciation. To give up our desires for them is the real sacrifice and to dry p this desire we must distil our personality of its contents of craving. No doubt, self-denial at the level of the senses is the means, but the goal is the total elimination of even the thirst to enjoy.

Self-denial, even when it is real, cannot produce true results unless it is accompanied by a high mental purity. The stories in the Puranas, of rakshasad (demons) doing tapas are ample illustration of this point. Out of their tapas, the rakshasas ultimately got only self destruction brought upon by their own indulgences.

There must be elimination of desires from the mind without which all asceticism is mental self persecution. Through asceticism the vitalities that would otherwise have been spent in indulgence can be conserved, but without redirecting it for creative self application, self denial becomes a ruinous self suppression.

Re-applying the energy so discovered in ourselves as a result of our self-denial, in the path of positive development and spiritual unfoldment, is called sublimation of our instincts. Suppression is unprofitable. There is no profit greater than sublimation.

The Greatest Tapas

Every attempt at living in self-control, in all our contacts with the outer world, wherein all efforts are dedicated to the high purpose of evolving ourselves into a diviner being is called tapas. From pilgrimage and fasting, to japa and dhyana-all spiritual endeavours at self control are different types of tapas.

Ignorance of the Self is the cause of all our problems. Actions can never remove ignorance. To attain supreme happiness we have to know our true nature. Knowledge alone dispels ignorance. Knowledge arises as a result of self-enquiry and hence this is the greatest penance.

We cannot believe that the solution is so very simple and direct. From our mystical literature (Puranas) and history (ithasa) we learn about sages who did severe penance for hundreds and thousands of years. By penance we generally understand physical denial amounting to torture. Such austerity cannot give a person true joy and peace.

Mental work requires greater concentration and is therefore subtler and superior to physical action. Even in mental work, thinking about objects, their relations, qualities and events is easier than thinking about abstract ideas and concepts.  Thinking about the source of thought, which itself is beyond thought, requires the greatest concentration.

Self-enquiry is therefore the highest penance. This type of austerity destroys the ego and reveals the Self.

Pilgrimages, vows and charity are all exercises to prepare the seeker’s mind for the great path of meditation. Through self enquiry, until the Highest is actually apprehended, total freedom (mukti) from the natural human weaknesses can never be gained. The snake on the rope seen by your foolishness cannot disappear by Garuda mantra, the wise say.

Waking up alone is the remedy for all the sorrows of the dream. Wake up O limited ego! And come to apprehend your own infinite nature, wherein there is neither matter nor spirit. ‘That Thou Art.’

 (Courtesy: Chinmaya Mission)


By H.H. Swami Chinmayananda

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