In the Gita there are three kinds of tapas: the austerity of the body (which is simplicity of life, a certain pleasantness, a certain uprightness, and honesty – not being pleasant to peoples’ faces and then stabbing them in the back; control of the senses).
Then there is the austerity of speech, which consists of saying what is true and useful, pleasantly uttered and not provoking people.
But the highest austerity is the austerity of the mind, which is inner calmness, and finally silence.
Shankara, in his commentary to the Upanishad, says that the highest form of tapas means meditation, and he defines it as one-pointedness and samadhi, and he says that this is the method by which Brahman is known and twice he says this is the only method.
The disciple practices meditation and he has an experience.
He sees the whole world consisting of physical things but he is not satisfied and goes back to his father and says,
“Teach me Brahman”.
The father does not give him any instruction but says,
“Meditate, for meditation is the way of knowing Brahman”.
He meditates again and he has an experience of the world as energy. Again he goes to his father and his father does not confirm or deny it.
He says “Teach me”
but the father says, “Meditate, for meditation is the means of knowing Brahman”.
Then it comes to Intelligence and finally it comes to Bliss. The father does not confirm it but when he has reached this realisation the Atman of the disciple and the Atman of the teacher are one.
There is no need to speak.
As one Christian mystic said, “First you will speak to God. Then God will speak to you. Finally, neither of you will need to utter a word”.
Again, there is a lost Upanishad which Shankara quotes from. V…. went to the teacher and questioned him, asking about Brahman.
Again, he must have done a lot of discipline to have heard of Brahman and to have the desire for liberation.
The teacher said, “Learn Brahman, O friend”.
Then he [the disciple] said, “Teach me” but the teacher sat silent and he [the disciple] said again, ‘Teach me”.
The teacher sat silent.
He asked again, “Teach me”.
The teacher said, “I do teach you but you do not understand. Silent is this Self”.
It was a demonstration of the Absolute, beyond words, beyond attributes. Where the teacher was, there was a clear blue sky with no word clouds. Silent is this Self.
In another Upanishad [Chandogya}, Satyakama comes for initiation and he demonstrates his love of truth and the teacher gives him a single initiation and sends him away with a herd of cows to look after them. And he thinks I will come back when there are a thousand of them and he is there for several years. So he has this one initiation in which the truth has been spoken to him. He lives with that, constantly in service of his teacher.
Swami Rama Tirtha, too, it is said, achieved the whole path on a single initiation because there was so much intensity behind it.
When the cows become a thousand, nature begins to speak to the disciple. The bull of the herd declares to him the glory of Brahman. Then a swan declares to him the infinity of Brahman. A bird declares to him the light [of Brahman.] There is another declaration and then he takes the herd back and when he comes back the teacher looks at him and says,
” Satyakama, you shine like one who knows Brahman. Who has been teaching you?”
He says, “Not men. But I desire to hear this all from you, as my teacher”.
Then the teacher taught him the same things, – the Upanishads said they were exactly the same – but he followed the tradition that it should be handed on through teacher to disciple.
These are examples given. It is the intensity of the enquiry but the teacher is always there and it is in the presence of the teacher, even though he may be at a distance which enables the transformation to take place.
It is not unknown in other traditions. In Buddhism there is a tradition that a learned Brahmin who was dissatisfied – he only knew ritualism but he was very learned in the sacrificial skills – came to the Buddha and he said,
“What do you teach?” And the Buddha said nothing. He sat there in silence. The Brahmin stood – great Brahmin – then he bowed and he went away satisfied.
Ananda, who was Buddha’s attendant – and it was always popularly supposed that because he was the Buddha’s attendant he must be full of the wisdom of the Buddha and actually it was not so; he was the only disciple who did not attain realisation in the Buddha’s lifetime, but only afterwards.
Ananda said to the Buddha, “What did he get? You did not tell him anything”.
The Buddha is said to have replied, “The good horse goes at even the shadow of the whip”.
© Trevor Leggett