"Rishis harnessed enormous powers and became invincible by doing tapa." This is one of the many glories of tapa
mentioned in Indian scriptures.
The meanings of tapa
include: to make hot or warm by supplying heat; to voluntarily suffer pain; undergo self-mortification and practice austerities. The first meaning relates to the physical objects, whereas the rest relate to the subtler vital, emotional and mental parts of human being. The principle of tapa
thus affects both the physical world (matter) and the inner world (the soul).
In the physical world, tapa
causes the refinement and sublimation of matter. For instance, gold ore has to be processed through fire to convert it into pure gold. Useful metal equipments and instruments are manufactured after melting the metals by heating. For cooking, heat energy is supplied to raw foods. An atom bomb is capable of causing a devastating explosion only when ignited. Heat produced by friction can be used in many ways. Rubbing them against a solid surface sharpens many tools, such as a knife or a stone. The source of energy for the formation of water vapour, burning petrol, photosynthesis, etc. is heat. The cycle of formation, expansion and disintegration of matter is primed and caused by the heat energy of the Sun. Eggs hatch only after receiving heat from the female animal. If we remove from the world, the element of tapa, we would be left with awe-inspiring void and darkness.
The outcome of any procedure of tapa
is the generation of (heat) energy. Tapa
is the cause of the existence of the animate world. It is the least common multiple for human achievements. In relation to humans, tapa
takes various forms, such as hard work, focussed effort, steadfastly meeting adversities, etc., and these all lead to success. Thus, a student, a businessman, a farmer, a labourer, a sculptor, a musician, a doctor, etc. perform tapa
and succeed in their aims, depending on the intensity and quality of their tapa. The more intense the tapa, the greater is the success and prosperity. History shows that communities that were industrious for the upliftment of the conditions of their members progressed, whereas those that gave priority to personal pleasures and laziness summoned their downfall.
Sometimes the results of tapa
contradict the expectations because of sancit karmas and agata karmas. Unknown to the conscious mind of the individual, association with good and bad company leaves some impressions on the psyche. Unless willingly and consciously accepted, samskars produced in this process are faint, week in potency and feebly reactive. The karmas, which produce such week samskars, are known as Sanchit Karmas. These samskars remain stored in some odd corner of the inner consciousness, buried in dormant state. Then there are karmas unwillingly, reluctantly performed under compulsion or in a state of helplessness. If one is forced to carry out such karmas with revulsion and these are not made into a habit, these too fall in the category of Sanchit Karmas. Being extremely feeble, the samskars produced by Sanchit Karmas may remain in a dormant state in the psyche for thousands of years through successive births. These samskars generally remain inactive, but if a suitable stimulant is provided to them by deliberate, strong, conscious repetition of similar deeds, these, too become active.
Some people achieve stupendous success with a little effort, while some fail despite great effort. Sancit karmas are the players behind this apparent anomaly. A person starts getting results that are directly proportional to the degree of his efforts once the store of sancit karmas is depleted. The suffering, for instance, from the ill effects of sancit karmas stops; so a person who had been failing in spite of the sincerity of his efforts begins to benefit from his efforts. Regardless of the role of the sancit karmas, tapasya never fails; sooner or later it yields results – this is an irrefutable law.
The source of all energy is tapa. Whether man uses this energy constructively or destructively depends on the quality of his emotions and intelligence. Wise and kind people use it for the welfare of the society, but criminals use it for evil purposes, harming themselves as well as the society in the process.
The human body and mind are filled with mysterious and amazing subtle powers, which remain dormant by default. They are awakened by tapa. The power of sukshma (that which is subtle, invisible) is greater than that of sthula (that which is gross and visible). The powers of the human mind and soul are subtle. The power of the mind is greater than the power of the body, while the power of the soul supersedes that of the mind. The development and refinement of the powers of the soul through tapa
result in the spiritual upliftment of an ordinary person to the level of a divine being. It was the abundance of the divine beings in the golden ages of India (vedic and post-vedic) that had made India "the Land of Plenty" and "Jagadguru".
Tapa played such an important role in ancient India that the history of the Indian Culture
can be said to be the history of tapa. Indians have always held in high esteem the successes and achievements in the field of soul-level tapa, over and above any other achievements; therefore, they were called deva purusha (divine beings) and the land of India was termed svargadapi gariyasi (more glorious than Heaven).
Everyone, kings as well as the commoners, in the ancient times enthusiastically opted to perform tapa. The children of royal families were sent to gurukulas to live like tapasvis and gain vidya. Today, people have chosen the degrading path of consumerism and greed instead of greatness of the soul, due to which individual and social lives have been infected with the ailments of hostility, intolerance, tension, disturbances and crime. Lasting peace and prosperity would be possible only by tapa, for which the spiritual field need mining, along with a diminishing focus on the requirements of the physical body and gross vital and mental urges. The acquisition of simple joys of the world becomes a natural consequence of tapa, climaxing in attainment of supreme eternal bliss.
Tapa is indispensable for refinement and transmutation of human life. Gayatri
is the epicentre of tapa; it superbly defines the authentic path of tapa. The different forms of tapa
observed in the world originate from Gayatri. A building cannot be constructed if its foundations are weak. Gayatri
is the foundation of tapa, as explained in the word "bharga" of Gayatri Mantra