“Is it not she beautiful ?”
“Who?” asked the bewildered visitor.
“This woman, hiding in the marble block”
“Where I don’t see any woman”
“You will, just as soon as I finish removing all the unnecessary stuff around her” , sculptor smiled.
On the spiritual path, this process of removing all the unnecessary stuff is Tapas.Tapas is the intense joyful effort that transforms you from what you think you are now to what you are really. Of course the sculptor was working on the marble, but the material on which you will be working is ‘You’, yourself. The sanskrit word literally means “burning”. Tapas is the process of burning one’s ego with the fire of truth. One burns oneself with the truth. Letting the truth penetrate ones’ being, work on one’s being to remove all that is false in you. Tapas is not a spiritual practice to be added to you, it is the process of destroying all that is not you. So that whatever is really you may be experienced. Tapas is only for the very courageous. Because it is at the same time, the process of death and process of rebirth. Always the death leads to rebirth. Tapas is a death for your ego because it involves shedding all the false ideas, false concepts that you are carrying around calling them as yourself and your life. Tapas destroys only the false identities, not you.
Right now your personality is entangled in too many things, too many situations, too many people. When you remove all these things one by one from your life what remains is your individuality. At so many levels you are carrying ideas that you think of you as ‘You’. At the outermost level you are deeply connected to the world as you experience it. Your social identity, your family, your profession, you are carrying all these in yourself, as part of yourself. That is why traditionally seekers in spiritual path choose a life away from family and society. I can say it is not necessary to be physically away from family and society. It is enough if you can psychologically disconnect from them and clutch when you require. I am not asking you to become indifferent to the world, No. Just become aware of the subtle influences that world is exerting on you. You are carrying the baggage of so many other peoples ideas. Just become aware how many people are living inside your head right now, telling you how to run your life. Just listen and see how many voices you can hear. We are living our life based on ideas of right and wrong which are given to us by others. Becoming aware is the only first step. Many times we are already know it but we don’t have the courage to free ourselves from these influences. We know they are simply acting out of the ideas that have been given to us by our parents, by friends, by society, by media, but we don’t want to let go of these ideas because we are afraid of leaving without a social identity. You think social identity adds spice or juice to life. We are afraid of being ‘Kevala’ means ‘alone’.
As you may move from Ego to spontaneity you will surely experience some pain, some fear. This is nothing but the process of transition happening in you. Naturally the Ego will resist the process and you will experience this transition as pain i.e. your penance, your tapas. Tapas is delicious pain before any birth. Pain has to happen before the tree happens. The seed has to suffer the pain of opening up. The seed has to break and give way, only then can the tree happen. Any process of transition will be both painful and joyful. It will be a delicious pain. When you start letting go of your social identity you will experience pain, this is what i meant by tapas. To feel the pain of loneliness you don’t have to go and sit in a forest, when you let go of your social identity you will go through the same pain of loneliness. You will experience only freedom, when you stand with the tapas.
Whatever is really ‘you’ cannot be taken away from you, only the ideas behind which you are hiding can be taken away. Only your social identity has been taken away. Such a crisis is actually a beautiful oppurtunity for transformation. At such times you can just remember whatever is happening in you, is it really happening to me. All the things which I am going through is it really me or is it just my social identity that is being destroyed. If you can remember this, just this remembrance is enough. You don’t need a seperate technique or method to awaken yourself. Of course, I am not saying it is easy to be aware. Whenever you fall out of awareness it is going to hurt. Even at such times, if you can just witness the pain of loosing what you felt to be one part of yourself, if you can just witness the pain of loneliness. For the first time you will see that you are being stripped of your social identity. If you can go through that and come out, you will be succeeding in huge tapas. Whenever you feel the pain of loneliness undergoing totally with total acceptance, you will move from loneliness to aloneness, to kaivalya. Aloneness that is complete, accept and welcome this loss of personality, whenever it happens you will see you will give birth to yourself as individuality.
Tapas is intelligent effort. I am not saying, tapas is always a painful process. Sometimes if life is gracious to you it gives you an intense crash course. Tapas need not always be a painful process. In fact, real tapas happens naturally out of intense longing for the truth. Anything done by force is not going to help you or society. When you are seeking for the truth is intense each false identity that is removed from you, can only bring joy not pain. Many times people undergo tapas just to prove for themselves or to society. In such cases there is a big danger of tapas itself becoming an act of ego. Many seekers fall into the trap of trying to make an extraordinary spiritual effort just to prove that they can do it. Its really dangerous. They torture themselves to prove something to the world.
See, there are 2 types of people;The people who are caught in the attractions and sufferings of this world. These are the people who are tortured by the desires and fears of body and mind. But atleast these people know that they are caught.Then there is another set of people, these are the people who continuously torture their body and mind, in the name of tapas. I have seen myself in India, people sitting on the nail bed and standing on nails for 5, 10 and 12 years. I have also seen people standing on one leg torturing the body for 30 years. Rolling on the ground, walking on hot coals.
There is no need to all these. Actually you torture your body because you think it is torturing you. A person who knows how to enjoy the body and the mind is totally at ease with himself. He enjoys intensely all the pleasures and the comforts but he never abuses the body. One should know the difference between enjoying the body and abusing the body. ‘Tavam‘ is ok, but not ‘Avam‘. Tavam means really working towards enlightenment. Avam means abusing the body. At one extreme you have a person torturing his body in the pursuit of sensual pleasures, at the other extreme you have people torturing the body in the name of penance or suppression. Both do not know how to handle the body and the mind.
Usually people who have spent their whole life running after material world, when they enter into spirituality also, they will carry the same mental setup. They start chasing peace, chasing enlightenment. It becomes an ego trip or ego game. Whether their tapas develops or not, they develop HUGE spiritual ego. They feel they have done something extraordinary. The moment we think we have done something extraordinary that very act becomes a burden for you.
Tapas happens without even you knowing you are doing tapas. That very achievement will stop you further making any progress. It has happened because you didn’t feel it as extraordinary when you were doing it. But you only have realized that it was extraordinary after you have done it. During my days of Tapas, I endued all kinds of rigours, many times I had to go without a meal for days. I never even understood or thought I am doing Tapas. I lived in so many kinds of harsh climates wearing just a single piece of cloth on my body. When I talk about it people say “Oh, you have done so much tapas”. But to tell you honestly, at that time I never felt it was something extraordinary. Just the withering away of the will happened spontaneously. Understand this word “Withering away of the will“. The individual will am I doing or not has withered away. I never felt that I was doing some great tapas. Actually I was enjoying my life, because there was such a deep longing in the heart to experience the ultimate. Experience the experiencer. If I had realized that it was extraordinary, that idea itself would have been too intense to achieve.
One problem with the seekers is we do not know the art of being playfully sincere. I was not feeling that I was doing something great, I was just being playful, enjoying and sincereity was happening. We do not know how to approach our seeking. Somehow we always feel unless we act in an extreme manner the goal cannot be achieved. We cannot believe that enlightenment can be had so easily. So we plan all kinds of ways in which we torture ourselves in order to prepare ourselves for enlightenment. Its the nature of the mind to make us feel that enlightenment is very far away and we have to torture ourselves for it. Even Buddha during his tapas made the mistake of falling into extremes. For many years he performed all possible tapas, exposing himself to the hot sun, starving himself, torturing his body. Then it is said one day, he came across a musician tuning his instrument, this was a revelation for Buddha. When you are ready for it even a small incident can be a revelation for you. He saw how carefully the musician was tuning his instrument because if he tuned the string too tight, it would snap, if he kept it too loose, no music. Too tight or too loose, both don’t work. When Buddha the musician he immediately understood where had gone wrong. From the musician Buddha learned ‘Madhyapantha‘, walking on the middle path, the path of balance. Later he taught the same. This is tapas or intelligent effort. When you add intelligence to your effort, your effort will become effortless. You will not be acting out of ego. Thinking that you are not performing something extraordinary nor you will be acting out of confusion, doing unwanted things that do not produce results. Neither having the Ego that you are extraordinarily performing nor having the doubt what you are doing may not bring the results. No.
Tapas is passion with patience.