10. Niyama - Austerity & Sacrifice | Tapas
Summary of the Tenth Observance
Practice austerity, serious disciplines, penance and sacrifice.
Be ardent in worship, meditation and pilgrimage.
Atone for misdeeds through penance (Prāyaśchitta), such as 108 prostrations or fasting.
Perform self-denial, giving up cherished possessions, money or time.
Fulfil severe austerities at special times, under a Satguru’s guidance, to ignite the inner fires of self-transformation.
The Tenth Observance
Austerity & Sacrifice
Tapas / तपस्
The tenth and final niyama is austerity, performing sādhana, penance, tapas and sacrifice.
All religions of the world have their forms of austerity, conditions which one has to live up to—or which individuals are unable to live up to who are too lazy or too dull-minded to understand; and Hinduism is no exception.
Our austerities start within the home in the form of daily sādhana:
This is obligatory and includes pūjā, scriptural reading and chanting of holy mantras. This personal vigil takes about half an hour or more.
Other sādhanas include pilgrimage to a far-of sacred place once a year, visiting a temple once a week, preferably on Friday or Monday, attending festivals and fulfilling saṁskāras, rites of passage, for the children especially, but all the family members as well.
To atone for misdeeds, penance is obligatory:
We must quickly mitigate future effects of the causes we have set into action. This is done through such acts as performing 108 prostrations before the God in the temple.
Tapas is even more austere. It may come early in a lifetime or later in life, unbidden or provoked by Rāja yoga practices:
It is the fire that straightens the twisted life and mind of an individual, bringing him into pure being, giving a new start in life, awakening higher consciousness and a cosmic relationship with God and the Devas, friends, relatives and casual acquaintances.
Tapas in Hinduism is sought for, feared, suffered through and loved:
Its pain is greater than the pains of parturition, but in the aftermath is quickly forgotten, as the soul, in childlike purity, shines forth in the joys of rebirth that follow in the new life.
Tapas is walking through fire, being scorched, burnt to a crisp, crawling out the other side unburnt, without scars, with no pain.
Tapas is walking through the rain, completely drenched, and when the storm stops, not being wet.
Tapas is living in a hurricane, tossed about on a churning ocean in a small boat, and when the storm subsides, being landed on a peaceful beach unharmed but purified.
Tapas is a mind in turmoil, insane unto its very self. A psychic surgery is being performed by the Devas themselves. When the operation is over, the patient has been cut loose of the dross of all past lives.
Tapas is a landslide of mud, a psychic earthquake, coming upon the head and consuming the body of its victim, smothering him in the dross of his misdeeds, beneath which he is unable to breathe, see, speak or hear.
He awakens from this hideous dream resting on a mat in a garden hut, smelling sweet jasmine, seeing pictures of Gods and devas adorning the mud walls and hearing the sound of a flute coming from a distant source.
Truly, tapas in its fullest form is sought for only by the renunciate under the guidance of a satguru, but this madness often comes unbidden to anyone on this planet whose dross of misdeeds spills over.
The only difference for the Hindu is that he knows what is happening and how it is to be handled; or at least the gurus know, the swamis know, the elders know, the astrologers know. This knowledge is built into the Hindu mind-flow as grout is built into a stone wall.
Austerities are a vital part of all sects of Hinduism:
They are a call of the soul to bring the outer person into the perfection that the soul is now, has always been and will always be.
Austerities should be assigned by a guru, a swāmī or a qualified elder of the community:
One should submit to wise guidance, because these sādhanas, penances, tapas and sacrifices lift our consciousness so that we can deal with, learn to live with, the perfection of the self-luminous, radiant, eternal being of the soul within.
Austerity is the powerful bath of fire and bright rays of showering light that washes the soul clean of the dross of its many past lives, and of the current life, which have held it in the bondage of ignorance, misgiving, unforgivingness and the self-perpetuating ignorance of the truths of the Sanātana Dharma.
“As the intense fire of the furnace refines gold to brilliance, so does the burning suffering of austerity purify the soul to resplendence” (Thirukural, 267).