Tapas - The Instrument of the Spiritual Will

Bepin Behari

TAPAS is a Sanskrit word ordinarily translated into English as austerity. In the Hindu religious system, it has been assigned an important role specially for treading the occult path that lies before each aspirant. Various descriptions given of this concept, however, do not very much enlighten the reader, but by deep contemplative meditation its nature and significance can be comprehended.

For the student of Theosophy, this term is as important as Karma and Dharma. The three attributes of the Logos are said to be Will, Wisdom and Activity. On the objective planes of existence they are expressed as the laws of tapas, whereas the literature on the latter two has been quite substantial. For this very reason, while introducing her Convention Lectures of 1906, Mrs. Annie Besant drew the attention of her readers to this word, and hoped that it would gradually become part of the Theosophical vocabulary as Karma and Dharma are already.

Etymologically, the word tapas is derived from the root-word tap which means to shine or blaze as fire or the sun. Some of the synonyms of the word are penance, religious austerities, and deep contemplative meditation without regard to physical comfort. These are various acts by which the voice of the flesh is completely stifled and the real nature of the pupil brought out. This takes place when the compulsions of the physical mould through which the pristine consciousness is expressed are completely negated. The essential nature of his being, the Inner Ruler Immortal, is then enabled to function in all its

Cannot there be identification not with a bauble, not with a crusading idea, not with a sensation, but with a state of peace or bliss, an ecstatic experience? We can , strictly speaking, use the word identification, only so long as there is a subject (or self), apart from its object, yet identifying itself with that object, not if the experience of peace, bliss, love and so forth arises from the very nature of the subject, which in that case is not the self. In so far as one hankers for an experience, it is the self attached to its memories which hankers. The memory to which one clings is precipitate from the flow of life's waters from the past through the present to the future. If the waters were free from sediment, that is, the experiencing were free from the element of self, there would be no precipitate.

When the devotee (or lover) disappears as a separate self, there is only the truth and beauty of the Object of devotion (or love). There is love; but not separate from that love, a self that loves. One cannot understand this with the bare intellect; for one has to be cognizant of the nature of the self in himself. The typical attributes or ways of the separative self are brought our in the Five Precepts of the Buddha;

  1. Violence, aggression
  2. Appropriation, possession
  3. Pretence, deception
  4. Lust, cravings
  5. Escapism through oblivion or alteration of psychological states, as achieved by liquor and drugs. The self itself is a notion; it is a feeling or emotion that projects the though " I am so and so". It is only when consciously or unconsciously something is sought for oneself, whether in love or devotion, that there is the self. When there is no seeking whatever, even unconsciously, there is only the giving from the heart with one's whole being. In that condition of giving and wholeness there is no duality.