Tapas in the Bhagavadgita

Tapas in the Bhagavadgita

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Item Code: IHL625
Author: Minoru Hara
Publisher: The Adyar Library and Research Centre
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 8185141541
Pages: 38
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch

The word tapas, derived from the root tap ‘to generate heat’, is generally recognized in the sense of some prescribed act of afflicting the physical body, senses and mind, in order to destroy desire (tapah krcchradi-karma; vaidham klesa-janakam karma; kamanasanam tapah; etc.). Under the wide umbrella of tapas the Upanisad brings : speaking truth (rtam, satyam), studying and teaching scriptures (svadhyaya—pravacana), self—control (dama), tranquillity ‘(sama), performance of sacrifices (agnihotra etc.), entertaining guests (atithi- satkara), fasting (anasana) and many such items; How- ever eminent spiritualists, like Veda Vyasa, consider that the intense concentration of one’s mind and senses is the highest form of tapas (manasas cendriyanam ca hy aikagryam paramam tapak, Santiparvan 242.4). The reason is that the Sruti itself specifically and repeatedly advises the aspirant to seek, to realize the Supreme by means of this tapas (tapasa brahma vijijnasasva) since this alone constitutes the sure and direct means to the realization of the Supreme Reality (sadhakatamam sadhanam brahma—pratipatteh). However all other acts (mentioned above) that go by the term tapas are accepted as tapas since they distantly help (arad upa-karoti) and augment the concentration of mind.

But the treatment of the topic tapas in the Bhagavadgita is quite different, yet interesting. The logic followed by the Gitacarya seems as follows. All actions, good or bad, are performed by man by making use of anyone of his three faculties, namely, physical body (kaya), speech-organ (vak) and mind (manas). Tapas is also a kind of act. Hence there are also three kinds of tapas, kayika, vacika and manasa, executed respectively by body, speech—organ and mind.

One more point. All that exists in the universe whether substance, quality or action and so on are noticed to fall into three categories, namely, superior, moderate (or intermediate), and inferior. To the basic principles responsible for this threefold gradation of beings, the Samkhya philosophers had given three respective designations, namely, sattva (bright), rajas (red) and tamas (dark) and they call them by the general term gunna ‘strand’. These designations, the author of the Gita readily accepts as convenient technical terms for grading things of the world. Moreover the theory of three guna—s of the Samkhya might have itself had its " ultimate origin in the Upanisadic doctrine of the development of things in threefold colours: white, red and black (Chandogya VI.4; Svetasvatara, IV.5).

Now as a result, each one of the three tapas (kayika, vacika and manasa) is gradated into sattvika (superior), rajasa (intermediary) and tamasa (inferior). Thus we have nine forms of (3x3) basic tapas, each with its own sub—varieties. Of them the three superior forms of tapas help one to go up and up on the spiritual ladder; the three kinds of intermediary tapas keep man in the middle of the ladder and make him much preoccupied with worldly pursuit; while the inferior ones push the man down and down in the ladder and to the nether regions, lower animal status, etc. All these facts are logically explained lucidly in the Gila".

Professor Minoru Hara, an internationally reputed scholar in Sanskrit and in Indian philosophy, particularly in Buddhist studies has taken up for study this spiritual subject in his paper ‘Tapas in the Bhagavadgita?. While analysing the contents of the verses there of the author draws our attention to the striking parallels he could find in works like the Mahabharata, Buddhacarita, Kumarasambhava and Sakuntala, and he is not tired of citing the concerned passages there from. In this way Professor Minoru Hara’s treatment of the seemingly dry subject, tapas, has become an absorbing one. It touches the heart of readers who at times unawares, wipe off tears. This paper has appeared in the Adyar Library Bulletin, vols. 68—70 (2004-06). Yet we thought it should also reach a wider circle of persons interested in spiritual pursuit. So it reappears in the Adyar Library Pamphlet Series as no. 61.


Preface vii
I. Hindu Asceticism in General 4
II. Asceticism in the Mahabharata 5
III. Tapas and Kama 19
IV. Sattvika Tapas 24
Abbreviations 33
Bibliography 34
Notes 35