DAAJI continues his series on refining habits, in the light of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and current scientific and yogic principles and practices. Last month, he explored the second Niyama of contentment, santosh. This month he shares his insights on the next Niyama, known as tapas, which is often translated as austerity, but which has a much more interesting and exhilarating meaning.
Simplicity is the final achievement.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
—Leonardo da Vinci
Kriya Yoga – externalization
Let’s do a brief review of where we have traveled so far in refining our habits in the light of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. First, we explored the five Yamas – the giving up of unhelpful habits, including violence and aggression, falsity, hypocrisy and multiple personas, dishonesty, the pull of the senses toward unregulated desires, possessiveness, and greed. Next, we have explored the first two Niyamas – the filling of helpful qualities in the heart – purity and contentment. We have also seen how each successive habit has followed naturally from the previous one. They build upon each other in a cyclical way, like a positive feedback loop, creating a web of character changes that forms a firm foundation for our evolution.
Patanjali considers the remaining three Niyamas to be even more closely interrelated. They are tapas (austerity), swadhyaya (self-study), and Ishwar pranidhan (awareness of and surrender to God), and he defines them together as Kriya Yoga – Yoga in action. Having worked to change our thought patterns, the results must now express in our outer behavior, in action. Up until now, it has all been about inner change, mental and emotional well-being, but now Patanjali turns to action. At the beginning of Part 2 of his Yoga Sutras, the section on “practice,” Patanjali says:
2.1: Tapah svādhyāyesvarapranidhānāni kriyā yogah
Austerity, self-study, and God-awareness together
constitute Kriya Yoga (Yoga in action).
2.2: Samādhi-bhāvanārthah, Kleśa-tanūkaranārthaśca
It promotes meditation flowering into Samadhi
and minimizes tensions.
We are now externalizing our thinking and feeling into action. Kriya Yoga is the action that arises out of Yoga, and it is made up of these three Niyamas. Just as Yoga is defined as citta-vritti-nirodha, the state in which “the ideational choice-making movement of the mind slows down and comes to a stop,” Kriya Yoga arises out of that inner still state, free of any turbulence.
But Kriya Yoga is actually more about the inner awareness and choices that define our action in every moment. This awareness purifies our activities of any negative effects of ego, removing selfishness. It propels us away from a habitual way of living, driven by the past, to a life lived in the present.
The second sutra above explains the results of Kriya Yoga: Through meditation (bhavana) we experience Samadhi, and at the same time the complexities of our tensions (klesas) are removed.
Kriya Yoga is the action that arises out of Yoga,
and it arises out of that still inner state,
free of any turbulence.
The advances in Heartfulness during the last 150 years have made this whole process much easier, because of yogic Transmission, also known as pranahuti, and because of the Cleaning process that removes the complexities from our system. With pranahuti, we experience the inner stillness of Samadhi during meditation, and this transforms us from the inside out. The three Niyamas of Kriya Yoga then arise naturally as external expressions of that inner state. In fact, all the Yamas and Niyamas are expressions of the inner state of stillness. All the habits and qualities are contained in seed form in pranahuti.
At the time when Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, however, the method was more laborious: Yogis practiced Kriya Yoga in order to promote Samadhi. Now, is one approach better than the other? The reality is that both must go on in parallel. Pranahuti makes it faster and simpler, because we start by experiencing the inner state of Samadhi in Heartfulness Meditation.
Cleaning also makes it faster and simpler, because the complexities that block our awareness of the inner stillness are removed in an almost effortless way. But then, the onus is on us to make sure we absorb that inner state and let it radiate from every atom of our being, so that our actions are in sync. Otherwise, we lose the inner condition. Nature dictates that outer and inner must match, otherwise there is tension, and we slip back to the lower state due to entropy.
Kriya Yoga is more about the inner awareness
and choices that define our action in every moment.
This awareness purifies our activities
of any negative effects of ego, removing selfishness.
It propels us away from a habitual way of living,
driven by the past, to a life lived in the present.
There is one very simple way to prevent this slipping or falling, and it is the most vital aspect of Yoga, love. Our feeling level of connection binds us and holds us to the Center, or more commonly to the Master who is connected with the Center. This is known as bhakti, the inner gravity that connects our orbit to him. While he is cradling us in this weak force of love, which can expand over vast distances like gravity, we have the possibility of working upon our character so that the Yamas and Niyamas become an integral part of our personality. This is one of the many reasons why a spiritual Master is so vital in the process of inner change. Without his support, our pre-programmed, subconscious, unwanted habits will keep pulling us back to lower levels time and time again. With his support, there is vitality, as inner gravity holds us to the Center.
The first quality of Kriya Yoga is tapas, which is generally translated as “austerity,” so it is not the most popular of Niyamas! People much prefer “contentment.” The word austerity evokes images of tightening the belt when times are tough, downsizing and counting pennies, no indulgence, no fun, and even torture. But this is a very extreme and distorted view of tapas.
Actually, rather than being anything to do with enforced hardship, tapas is a direct result of the previous Niyama, contentment. It is the process of simplifying and purifying our being into a shining state, radiating love and light. Instead of “austerity,” we can use the words “plainness” and “simplicity,” where “plain” means unembellished and original. The outcome of all yogic practice is this ultimate simplicity, and my teacher, Babuji, describes the approach in the following principle, “Simplify your life so as to be identical with Nature.”
Simplification and plainness are one aspect of tapas. The Sanskrit word tapas comes from the root, tap, meaning “to shine,” also meaning “heat” and “intensity.” Tapas is to be intensely, super-sensitively aware of everything, internally and externally, with the self-mastery to respond from a state of centeredness. Normally, when people perceive things in the outside world, their consciousness is enlivened and pulled outward. This creates vibrations in the subtle body, which hook onto similar vibrational patterns or cognates of memories from past experiences. As a result, they perceive the present situation in the light of those past experiences. It is like retrieving data from storage and using it to predict the present moment, which is done all the time in data modeling.
Yogis do something very different. While resting in a state of inner stillness, drawing the senses inward through the yogic process of Pratyahara, they are not pulled outward by the movement of thought energies through the vrittis. Instead, they hold their energies within and remain in stillness, creating an intensity, a potential, and that intensity is also another aspect of tapas. It purifies consciousness in much the same way that fire purifies the dross from gold ore. It is associated with the fire element, and it is also associated with Pratyahara. And it is this centeredness that allows us to continuously maintain a beginner’s mind.
Tapas is about self-purification and simplification.
It is the process of continuously refining ourselves
to become the best we can be.
It is something sublime,
something worth aspiring for as
the greatest expression of human potential.
So, tapas is not about austerity in the sense of self-harm or suffering imposed from outside forces, as many people have wrongly assumed throughout the centuries. It is about self-purification and simplification. The attitudinal shift, from something imposed and negative to something that evolves from within and is positive, comes with expanding consciousness through meditation. Tapas is the process of continuously refining ourselves to become the best we can be. As Chopin said, “Simplicity is the final achievement,” and da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” It is something sublime, something worth aspiring for as the greatest expression of human potential.
Tapas is our trajectory toward a simple life, an uncomplicated life, an austere life, with great awareness, great sensitivity, and great flexibility, constantly refined by purification and simplification. It is wrapped in love, starting with self-love, self-compassion, and self-awareness, and culminating in becoming love itself. In Heartfulness, it is not something to be practiced; it is the natural result of our meditative inner practices. We can say that these practices are our tapas, and the more intensity we bring to them, the more transformative they become. We shine, and the fragrance of Divinity radiates from every atom of our being, just as the wind is the conduit for the fragrance of sandalwood trees in the forest. I have spoken about this in the series March to Freedom, describing the state we arrive at when we reach chakra 10 of our inner journey. This is where the inner intensity of tapas really starts to manifest, once we have arrived at the realm of God, expressed so beautifully in the mystical love poetry of Radha, Rumi, Kabir, Rabi’a Basri and Meerabai. I wish that all of you will have the opportunity to experience this sublime state.
Tapas is our trajectory toward a simple life,
an uncomplicated life, an austere life,
with great awareness, great sensitivity, and great flexibility,
constantly refined by purification and simplification.
It is wrapped in love, starting with self-love, self-compassion,
and self-awareness, and culminating in becoming love itself.
How do we attain this state?
Along the way, what helps us to keep going until we reach this state? Awareness and attitude; essentially the awareness of the difference between needs and desires.
What happens when we are forever complaining about the challenges we face in daily life – with family members, worldly worries, colleagues at work, and friends? Will we see the Divinity and the potential for growth in the problems life throws at us? Unlikely. And when we are busy judging others for their faults and mistakes, will we see the Divinity in them? Also unlikely. The attitudinal shift we are looking for is not to be pulled down into the entanglements of the worst of our shared humanity, but instead to rise up to the highest awareness of beauty, love and light. We are looking for an inner state of acceptance, without expectation, with a carefree, cheerful contentment.
In ancient times, tapas was often thought to be hard, the result of arduous penance, both physical and mental, renouncing daily life and living in a forest, on top of a mountain, or in a remote ashram away from human society. When we look back throughout history, however, we can easily see that the most evolved mystics and yogis were often not those who ran away from everyday life. Many were immersed in the day-to-day dramas of family, work, and normal society. They refined themselves through these everyday lives. This holds true for both ancient and modern-day mystics alike. What is required is attitudinal shift. Today, we acknowledge this fact – that a more effective approach to purifying and potentializing the human system is to live within the structure of society, solving the challenges of family life, work, and social issues, with equanimity and poise.
Imagine now that your intensity is
so heightened that you have 360-degree awareness of everything
that is happening both inside and outside you:
The flows of energy throughout your system,
the blockages in that flow, the tensions that accumulate with stress,
the effect of circadian rhythms on your physiology,
behavior, thoughts and feelings,
the vibrations in the atmosphere around you,
what is happening in others, etc.
This is our training ground, and every day we are given ample opportunity to refine ourselves, rise higher, and let go of negative thoughts and emotions. Does it mean we are not discerning, unable to distinguish between what is right for us and what is wrong? Not at all! But it means we approach each situation and each person with the generosity of an awakened heart – contentment, calmness, compassion, courage, and clarity.
The effect of tapas
The effect of tapas has also been described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras when he says:
Austerity brings about mastery
over the body and the senses through
the elimination of impurities.
This adds another dimension to our experience. Mastery over the body and the senses is another outcome of tapas. Remember the “intensity” that we explored earlier in the article? Imagine now that your intensity is so heightened that you have 360-degree awareness of everything that is happening both inside and outside you: The flows of energy throughout your system, the blockages in that flow, the tensions that accumulate with stress, the effect of circadian rhythms on your physiology, behavior, thoughts and feelings, the vibrations in the atmosphere around you, what is happening in others, etc. In reality, we know so little about the physiology and psychology of the human system, the three bodies – physical, subtle and causal – and the interplay among them, and the interplay with the outside world. Science may be discovering new information every day, but there is still so much to be uncovered by the great scientists.
With the awareness that comes as a result of our tapas, with the removal of all the mental modifications that Patanjali describes, we are then able to perceive these directly. Also, as we journey through the chakras, from the Heart Region to the Mind Region to the Central Region, our human potential expands in ways we cannot possibly envision. This real purpose is the promise of Heartfulness, and of the shining simplicity of tapas we achieve through the practices, which results in the purity that Patanjali describes. It is an awe-inspiring journey and I wish that you will all experience it for yourselves.
Kamlesh Patel is the Heartfulness Guide, and he is the fourth Guide in a tradition of Raja Yoga that is around 120 years old. He oversees Heartfulness centers and ashrams in over 130 countries, and guides the 14,000 thousand of certified Heartfulness trainers under his care. Known to many as Daaji, he is an innovator... Read more