As we continue to explore the yogic precepts for living, we turn our focus this month to the third Niyama (personal ethics): Tapas.
“By austerity, impurities of body and senses are destroyed and occult powers gained.” – The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sutra II.43
Translated literally, Tapas means “to blaze,” “to burn,” or “heat.” Tapas also refers to the focused and disciplined use of energy to restrain physical urges and actively pursue a higher purpose in life. With perseverance, austerity, awareness, and dedicated effort, bodily purification and spiritual enlightenment can be achieved.
Tapas is directly related to the second Niyama, Santosha (contentment), our focus last month. The contentment of Santosha, writes Donna Farhi, “arises out of a realization that no matter how sticky and difficult life can be, when we stand in our center, our inner self remains essentially untouched. To remain centered in this awareness takes discipline and enthusiasm, and thus the fire or heat of spiritual practice (tapas), the third niyama, becomes a way of constantly clearing our slate of the daily residue that can color our perceptions.”
With the flames of discipline and enthusiasm inspired by tapas, we burn off the negative energies that block the path towards spiritual evolution. Tapas acts like a bolt of lightning slicing through a darkened night, igniting everything in its path. The bolt burns away time and effort we waste on trivialities, allowing us to focus all our energy on life’s necessities.
The disciplined commitment of tapas also creates an austerity of being that continuously reveals more and more of our true nature. Viewed through the enthusiasm and passion of the third Niyama, every experience is an opportunity for self-realization. Tapas helps us direct our attention towards the discovery of our innermost truth.
Tapas can be explored in many ways, like meditation, fasting, and the disciplined practice of Yoga. This month, challenge yourself to be disciplined in one problematic area of your life that leads to a deeper state of the practice of Yoga.
“Tapas is derived from the root “tap” mean to blaze, burn, shine, suffer pain, or consume by heat. It therefore means a burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life. It involves purification, self-discipline and austerity. The whole science of character building may be regarded as a practice of tapas…. Life without tapas, is like a heart without love.” -BKS Iyengar