Tapas is one of the key principles of Vedic thought and Yoga practice, without which it cannot be understood. Tapas is described as the power of Agni, our inner flame of awareness.
Tapas is often a synonym for Yoga itself. Yoga is Tapas or developing the inner fire (Agni) and will power necessary for a radical change of Consciousness. Tapas is the basis of the Yogagni or Fire of Yoga from which the Kundalini Shakti arises.
Tapas can be looked at broadly as self-discipline, inner focus, concentration and self-sacrifice, cultivating our inner flame of aspiration. As such, Tapas is the way of all siddhis, all true and lasting accomplishments in life and Self-realization.
Tapas literally means creating heat, but an inner heat, fervor or aspiration to create and sustain a higher awareness. It reflects the powers of Agni, extending to its highest level as Tapo-Loka, the realm of Tapas, which is identified with Chit-Shakti, the power of Pure Consciousness.
Tapoloka, the realm of Tapas, Agni or Consciousness is the sixth of the seven lokas, next to Satya Loka, the realm of truth or reality that is the highest loka. Tapas is connected to the Vedic idea of fire offerings or Yajnas, as the inner fire to which we offer our own minds to our higher Self.
Tapas and Yoga Sutras
Tapas is the first principle of Kriya Yoga mentioned in the first sutra of the second section of Yoga Sutras, which is called Sadhana Pada, the section relating to Yoga practice. Tapas is followed by Svadhyaya or Self-examination and Ishvara Pranidhana or surrender to the Divine within as the three factors or Kriya Yoga, which later in the text occur as the first three of the five Niyamas or Yogic rules of right living.
Tapas thus appears as the main principle of the Yamas and Niyamas, Yogic values and attitudes, which all involve a deeper application of the energy of our Consciousness towards inner transformation.
As the second section of the Yoga Sutras is Sadhana Pada teaching all eight limbs of Yoga, Tapas is the basis of all Yoga practice in all eight limbs.
Tapas and the Eight Limbs of Yoga
Asana aims at developing Tapas at a physical level, which implies patience, stillness, steadiness and endurance of environmental and physiological changes.
Pranayama aims to increase the Pranagni, the fire of Prana, which requires the Tapas of Prana through developing a deeper breathing process, leading to an internal Prana and the breathless state, no longer identifying the Prana with the physical body.
Pratyahara aims to turn the mind and senses within, offering them to our inner fire of awareness. Such introversion preserves and develops our inner energy. It is a type of Tapas and creates a special inner heat and purification.
Dharana as concentration is first of all developing and concentrating our inner flame of awareness, the one pointed mind. As such it enkindles the Agni or inner fire for continuous meditation.
Dhyana or meditation consists of gradually merging the mind into that inner flame of Self-awareness, in which all distractions disappear.
Samadhi, the highest limb of Yoga, as unitary consciousness consists of the highest Tapas that burns away all the karmic patterns in the mind. We become the highest Agni of the inner Self.
Samyama, which refers to the unity of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi as the inner Yoga, is the ultimate focus of Tapas that unfolds all the powers of Yoga. It requires full attention, resolve and dedication within.
Tapas requires that we turn our energy within, whether from the body, senses, prana or mind, and develop an internal heat, luster and radiance to focus and direct our awareness upwards. Tapas involves introspection, self-examination and Self-inquiry to burn away the impurities of the outgoing mind and its emotional reactions.
Tapas is of referred along with Tejas which is a fire of effort, self-motivation, independence, daring and fearlessness. Such higher Tapas is the deeper potential of Agni and Pitta on all levels.
To be inwardly strong, we need more Tapas and less sense of entitlement or self-assertion. Only then is true Yoga Sadhana possible. Tapas creates the inner heat through which our awareness ripens and gains its own strength, apart from all outer influences.
We need to bring Tapas back into our way of life. Our culture of entitlement and entertainment today weakens our character, individuality and resolve. To be inwardly strong we need more Tapas today, more of the inner labor and less of the outer entertainment.
Make sure to cultivate Tapas in your own life through a dedicated and self-transcending practice, whether Pranayama, Mantra and Meditation and various Yoga Sadhanas. To develop the fire of Tapas your practice must be concentrated, determined, patient, steady and dedicated.
Tapas must become the most important factor in your life for which you apply your main purpose, energy and labor, like that of an artist dedicated to their creative work above all. Learn to cultivate the inner flame of awareness throughout the day.
May the power of Tapas and the Supreme Agni arise within you!
David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)