By Swami Harshananda
Tapas literally means ‘that which causes suffering’.
The word tapas comes from the root-verb ‘tap’. Hence it means any discipline that causes suffering to the body-mind complex.
Tapas as per Ṛgveda
Tapas as per Upaniṣad
Tapas as per Dharmasutras
- Brahmacarya - celibacy
- Satyavacana - speaking the truth
- Ārdra-vastratā - wearing wet clothes on the body until they dry up
- Adhaśśāyitā - sleeping on the bare ground
- Ahiṅsā - non-injury
- Astainya - not depriving anyone of his possessions
The duration for the observance of these as expiations varies from one day to year. It also depends on the nature of sin.
Tapas as per Yogasutras
The Yogasutras of Patañjali uses the word in the sense of control over food, forbearance and also the performance of kṛcchra and cāndrāyaṇa. The Bhagavadgitā deals with tapas from three angles:
- Śārīra - Honoring and serving gods and holy persons, cleanliness, celibacy and non-violence belong to this category.
- Vāṅmaya - Sweet but truthful speech belongs to this category.
- Mānasa - Control of mind and purity of emotions are the essential elements of this section.
Tapas as per Gītā
The Gītā further qualifies these three kinds from the standpoint of the three guṇas.
- Sāttvik tapas is that which is performed by persons of pure character possessing concentration and faith.
- The tapas performed by persons who are hypocrites, for selfish benefits like name and honor, is termed rājasik.
- The one undertaken by foolish persons to harm others is classed as tāmasik.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore