Self Mastery -Tapas13 min read

” If you desire to breath deeply You must first empty the lungs ;

If you desire to be strong You must first learn to be weak ;

If you desire to be in a lofty position You must first learn to take a lowly position;

If you desire to be enriched by gifts

You must first give away all that you have.”

These stanzas attributed to the Master Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher of the sixth century B.C. reveal the motive and technique underlying true tapas— an apparent impoverishment, undertaken voluntarily, in order to obtain increase.

The word tapas means austerity—self-imposed discipline, exercised to obtain mastery over the body and mind, to the end that they may be purified and then bent to spiritual purposes. It involves a conscious alteration of the physical and mental rhythm, but a new and more perfect balance is thereby achieved.

To some people moderation is essential ; to some, excess is natural, while to some attainment of a goal by whatever means, is a life and death matter. If you value your present balance of body and mind above all else, you may fear and avoid tapas ; on the other hand, if you enjoy excessive self-mortification, you will probably clutch at it, and certainly overdo it ; but if your interest lies in the issue at stake, and not in your psychological reactions, you will look on tapas as a most powerful tool, although difficult to handle.

The word ‘ tapas ’ in its literal translation, means ‘heat’. Heat indicates the presence of energy, and energy presupposes a prior concentration of latent force of some kind. Considered from this aspect tapas may be said to be the concentration of energy on a given point, through the conscious exercise of the will, to the end that the powers latent in the point or centre, may be revealed and set in motion.

The body has powers, the mind has powers, and both have higher powers, but nothing will be known of them except by hearsay, until the pupil has learnt to look upon his body and mind objectively, and has made an attempt to control them. The process by which he will develop this capacity is tapas.     …

Tapas involves sacrifice.

Sacrifice is a coin of universal currency which is paid for desired things, it need not necessarily be spiritual in character, but sacrifice of some kind always accompanies resolute endeavour. The scientist, the scholar, the writer, all burn the midnight oil, and when necessary restrict their worldly activities and their capacity for enjoyment, in order to accomplish their purpose. A well-known artist once said that if he wished the creative mood to visit him, he must first do violence to himself.     …

In an untrained man, the Consciousness, which is divine, is enmeshed (so to say) in the body and the mind, and thus restricted, it cannot manifest its divine qualities. When a sword is in the scabbard, it cannot be used as a weapon ; it must first be drawn out of the scabbard. The Consciousness cannot operate as a spiritual force, until it has been drawn from the body and mind, and is visualised as independent of them.    …

As long as there is instinctive thinking, instinctive action and re-action, the Consciousness is still a prisoner in the scabbard. The process of its liberation and its subsequent control of the operations of the body and mind, through the medium of the will, is the preparation for the true Yoga.

A gymnast performs arduous feats of endurance and skill in order that his powers of balance and strength may be developed. The spiritual aspirant also performs, under the dictates of the will, feats of endurance, sacrifice and concentration of the spiritual element, in order to increase his proficiency, and develop powers which have not as yet been called into play. This is the only true purpose of tapas, for it would be strange if fasting, control of the bodily reactions, and the emptying of the mind of thought, had spiritual significance in themselves. They have not. The significance does not lie in the fasting—the denying oneself food and thought—it lies in the fact that the mind and body are becoming obedient to orders issued by an independent power, which is now operating and in focus.

The radiations of the sun pervade every particle of matter, and their effects are diffused throughout the Universe, but hold a burning glass steadily over a point, and the radiations which were diffused and unapparent before, are now concentrated, and a fire is soon produced. This gives an idea of what happens when tapas is practised. Consciousness is diffused over the bodies, physical, mental and spiritual. The burning glass of tapas is held steadily over a point, and the concentration of consciousness thus produced, creates a fire—an energy—powerful in its results. Energy is generated in restriction and concentration.

There are many different forms of tapas. Long complete fasts, and the conquest of sleep over long periods, may suit intense natures, who desire speedy and perhaps spectacular results, but the Teachers of the purest Truth do not encourage them.

It is said that a devotee, Abu Ali and a fellow devotee were one day sitting together talking of God and divine ecstasy.

“ How long shall we make empty pretensions ” cried the friend,

“ Come, let us sit fasting for forty days.” Abu Ali replied :

“ No, let us eat three times a day but nevertheless only require one purification during those forty days.”

In the great Sufi classic, the Masnavi, it says :—

“ Many a one has no good of his fasting, but hunger and thirst. To abstain only from food and drink is child’s play. One must abstain from idle pleasures and unlawful acts, not only from eating lawful food. When you fast, let your ears fast, and your eyes, and your tongue, and your hand, and every limb.”

These extracts show that tapas is a means to an end, but not the end itself, and that moderation, which is after all only another form of restraint, must be observed even here.

“ The heights attract but not the steps thereto,” says Goethe, and the modern man, when he hears of excessive forms of training, decides that he had better leave tapas alone. But the truth is that he cannot leave it alone, if he wishes to become a serious student.

He must make sacrifices for what he really wants.

“A great shaking is required that the milk may be induced to render back that butter which is within its inmost heart ” (Masnavi).

What then must the man do ? The highest is always the simplest and most efficacious way, and the great Teachers the most practical.

The highest way has been taught in all the great Scriptures. In the Gita Shastra it is laid down :—

“ Worship of the Gods, the Teachers and wise men, purity, straight-forwardness, continence and abstaining from injury, is termed the bodily austerity.

“ That speech which causes no excitement, which is true, pleasant and beneficial, also the practice of sacred recitation, is the austerity of speech.

“ Serenity of mind, warm-heartedness, silence, selfcontrol, purity of nature, this is called mental austerity.”

In the Katha Upanishad there is a verse :—

“ He who has not first turned away from his wickedness, who is not tranquil and subdued, or whose mind is not at rest, can never obtain the Self, not even by knowledge.

” Thomas a Kempis says in the Imitation of Christ:—

“ No man doth safely appear abroad but he who gladly hideth himself ;

No man doth safely speak but he who willingly holdeth his peace ;    …

No man doth safely rule but he who is willingly in subjection ;

No man doth safely command but he who hath learned well to obey.”

From these teachings it is clear that the tapas advocated by the great Teachers, does lie within the scope of the modern man, but it must be practised hour by hour, and minute by minute, if mastery of the instruments is to be won.

This higher tapas is psychological in character, and consists of withdrawal and direction. The word ‘ withdrawal ’ is here used in the sense of ‘ absence of identification ’. Identification will never lead to control, it may lead to self-immolation, but never to mastery. In the realm of the senses, to take an instance, if you indulge in identificative, indiscriminate and un-directed speaking, listening, looking, you will be possessed by these senses consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly, and will remain their slave and not their master.

Tapas of the senses consists in allowing the things of the senses to come in to you, only for as long as you wish, and not in going out to meet them instinctively and without a plan. In other words it consists in practising the art of starting and stopping their activity, as you would practise starting and stopping a car. You cannot be said to know how to drive until you can start, stop, guide and regulate the speed of your vehicle, but once you are able to do this, you may drive it where you will.

The technique by which this control is achieved is an individual affair, but its basis is always the same—withdrawal, and direction by the will. To speak for so long and no longer, to look at objects for so long and no longer, to direct the ear when to listen and when not to listen, these exercises can be made into individual technique, but until they are practised daily, the pupil will only produce a semblance of control, which can be upset at any moment.

Control of the body is obtained in the same way, namely by using it as an instrument, which has to accomplish our purposes. We should command the body to bear adverse circumstances and small austerities with equanimity, and subject it to excursions into these regions. Heat, cold, sleeplessness, danger, illness, may not be our lot in actuality, but they must be consciously faced in the mind and accepted, as possibilities.

1. Meditation should be done on the fact that the body is an instrument and that you are its master, independent and superior to it.

2.See it in imagination engaged in doing those things natural to it, and see yourself, as the superior force residing in it, making it do the things you wish it to do.

3.Every day at a specified time, take up a physical position and hold it without moving, for say, five minutes—no more and no less. It is a mistake to allow a practice to continue beyond the time you have set for it, because you happen to be doing it with success. It would also be a mistake to curtail the practice if you were doing it badly.

4.The importance of the practice, in the initial stages, is not that you shall sit still, but that your body shall accustom itself to obey the orders given by your will, and the time factor is an important part of that order. This is a simple practice in body control, but its value will be appreciated when you wish to sit immoveable in meditation for an hour or longer, at a time.

5.Mastery of the mind, entails control of anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, sorrow, worry. These passions poison, not only the mind, but the body also ; they create disharmony and make the mind mercurial, and unfit for meditation or any other spiritual activity. They can be neutralised by meditating on their opposites.

6.Equanimity in place of anger, compassion for hatred and so on. This mastery is attained, like the control of the body, in part, by meditating on the fact that you stand separate from the mind, and that you can direct its activities. Idle thoughts come and go like clouds over an untrained mind, and it is necessary to bring this fact clearly into the consciousness, and having done so, to affirm one’s capacity to restrict these thoughts.

This is the inner and true tapas, which, if sustained, will ultimately give mastery of the activities of the mind, and make conscious and skilful living possible. As in the elementary forms of tapas just described for the body, there are practices for control of the mind, which may be done during the working day.

7.When walking in the street, tell your mind that for a certain distance you will fix your eyes, say fifty yards on the ground ahead, and will not raise them, and that during this period you will repeat a name of God mentally, or a word such as ‘ courage ’, ‘ strength ’, or ‘ detachment ’.

8.Again, give your mind permission to think of what it will for a given time.

9.This is a most important practice, for it gives rest to the mind, while keeping it under orders. Then fix it on a verse from some Scripture and allow it to think about the meaning, for say five minutes, not more and not less.

10.Everyone must develop their own technique, and to carry it out. When this has been done, you will find that at the time of meditation, when the mind often develops mercurial tendehcies, you will be able to issue an order which it will recognise as an order, and obey.

These are some of the preliminary and most practical forms of tapas, but they are of vital importance, for until they have been mastered, one can never hope to carry out the more advanced forms. Through the spiritual training given by the Teacher, and the practical training thought out by himself, the pupil is at last fitted to enter on the higher Yoga, where every circumstance provides a spiritual opportunity, and the directed activities of the body, mind and senses become acts of worship.

In whatever you do with your hands, avoid harming any living being,

This is called the Service of the great God, Whose Glory none can declare.’

As you advance, leave behind all thoughts of gain or loss,

This is called ‘ the Perambulation of the great Deva’.

Let the words you utter be pleasant and free from self-seeking,

This is called ‘ the Prayer of the Lord ‘—know it well.

Whatever your karma brings, accept it without attachment or aversion,

This is called ‘ the Offering to the God of Bliss’.

Look with reverence on all that is an object of the mind or senses,

Know phenomenal existence to be the body of the Lord, and His abode,

Harbour love for all beings, and put aside all sense of difference,

This is called ‘ Devotion to God’.

He is all in all, yet He transcends all; His nature is Existence, Consciousness and Bliss,

This is an undoubted fact.

The relation between Him and the world, is as that between the sun and its light.

This is called ‘ Vichara ‘—dwelling in thought on the Lord.

Fix your mind on the incoming and outgoing breath,

This is the deep and purifying Japa of God.

Make your intellect space-like, negating all name and form,

This is called ‘ the Adoration of God Who is Taintless and All- pervasive’

Establish yourself in the witness-consciousness, disregard all day-dreams,

This is called ‘ the Highest Meditation on the August Lord’.

To merge the empirical self in the Witness—the Self—is samadhi,

This is called ‘ Union with God’.

Says Nirbhya Rama—‘ Worship God in this wise and you need follow no other discipline’.

This is the way to perfect illumination.’

(Nirbhya Rama)