What is Tapah? : A Proper Understanding of The Bhagavad Gita – Part 126


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Updated on December 2, 2020

Speech which does not cause anxiety, and is truthful, is pleasant and beneficial, and the regular practice of study of the spiritual scriptures, is described as Tapah or Austerity of speech.

Physical Aspects of Tapah or Austerities

देवद्विजगुरुप्राज्ञपूजनं शौचमार्जवम् |
ब्रह्मचर्यमहिंसा च शारीरं तप उच्यते || 14||

deva-dwija-guru-prājña- pūjanaṁ śhaucham ārjavam
brahmacharyam ahinsā cha śhārīraṁ tapa uchyate

The Bhagavad Gita Ch17 Verse14

General Meaning:

Worship of God, Spiritual people, Teachers, of the wise and saints, cleanliness, straightforwardness, celibacy, and non-injury are considered as the Austerities of the body.

Explanatory Notes:

In this verse and the following verses, Lord Krishna speaks about the physical aspects of Tapah or Austerities. These are clear-cut and well-defined techniques or steps one should practice as physical aspects of Tapah. The term Dwija means born twice, i.e. once born from the mother‘s womb (biological entity) and born a second time, spiritually, after having initiation by the spiritual teacher (Guru). Having spiritual initiation and having a Guru, is the first firm step to rising above animality and biological egoism. All persons who have accepted personal initiation and are spiritually oriented are Dwijas.

  • Shaucha means cleanliness and purity.
  • Brahmacharya means complete orientation to God as higher meaning. The lower meaning is celibacy.
  • Celibacy means sex activities for married persons only and that too, not overindulgence. Sexual activities are the dominance of Apana Prana, which is degenerative in nature. So, Self-discipline enhances, energy, longevity and spiritual progress.
  • Ahimsa means harmlessness in body, mind, and speech. It helps in realizing the Unity of all lives.
  • Aarjavam means harmony in thought, speech, and activities. In one word, it means straightforwardness.

Austerity of Speech

अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत् |
स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते || 15||

anudvega-karaṁ vākyaṁ satyaṁ priya-hitaṁ cha yat
svādhyāyābhyasanaṁ chaiva vāṅ-mayaṁ tapa uchyate

The Bhagavad Gita Ch17 Verse15

General Meaning:

The Speech which does not cause anxiety, and is truthful, is pleasant and beneficial, and the regular practice of the study of the spiritual scriptures, is described as Tapah or Austerity of speech.

Explanatory Notes:

Speech is a very vital and highly evolved function of the brain, the mechanism of articulation, and sound production. It conveys the thoughts, ideas, emotions, feelings, and knowledge, of the speaker. Its effect is far-reaching and permanent. It also operates under the cosmic laws of Karma and brings the inevitable results. The speech should be truthful (cosmic harmony) and spoken in a positive and pleasant style. It should not cause anxiety or any negative feelings. When the speaker knowingly and purposefully ignores the truth and distorts it, the ego is working and gets stronger. Self or Soul awareness is bypassed and it recedes further. The study and thinking about spiritual texts or yoga scriptures keeps the negative and common animal or biological thoughts and speech away. These have to be practiced daily, so that spiritual habit is formed.

Repeated actions make a habit;
Repeated habits make a character;
Repeated character makes a personality;
Repeated personality makes a destiny.

One has to choose one’s own destiny and then practice Right Action, Right Speech and Right Thoughts to attain that Destiny – either Spiritual and Liberation, or, material and bondage. The choice is yours. The Guru helps you to attain that destiny.

Mental Austerity

मन: प्रसाद: सौम्यत्वं मौनमात्मविनिग्रह: |
भावसंशुद्धिरित्येतत्तपो मानसमुच्यते || 16||

manaḥ-prasādaḥ saumyatvaṁ maunam ātma-vinigrahaḥ
bhāva-sanśhuddhir ity etat tapo mānasam uchyate

The Bhagavad Gita Ch17 Verse16

General Meaning:

Calmness, cheerfulness, good-heartedness, silence, self-control, purity of thoughts and emotions – these are described as Mental Austerity.

Explanatory Notes:

Calmness signifies an absence of mental restlessness and irritability, in a more positive way. An Absence of negative thoughts and hopefulness, inherent helpful and positive nature, immunity from spontaneous reactionary mental and verbal responses (silence), self-control, signifies Self Discipline. This necessarily means controlling the spontaneous biological restlessness of the mind, which is a common quality of animals and humans. Spirituality comes gradually as these biological qualities are overcome and oriented spiritually. Harmony of thoughts, speech, and action gives inner purity. These are no more polluted or colored by egoism, selfishness, and animality.

Saatwik Tapah

श्रद्धया परया तप्तं तपस्तत्त्रिविधं नरै: |
अफलाकाङ्क्षिभिर्युक्तै: सात्विकं परिचक्षते || 17||

śhraddhayā parayā taptaṁ tapas tat tri-vidhaṁ naraiḥ
aphalākāṅkṣhibhir yuktaiḥ sāttvikaṁ parichakṣhate

The Bhagavad Gita Ch17 Verse17

General Meaning:

Practiced with supreme faith and zeal, by dedicated people, without craving for fruits, these three types of Tapah is dedicated as Saattwik Tapah (Austerity).

Explanatory Notes:

Sattwik Tapah includes physical, verbal, and mental self-discipline with a firm positive attitude, supreme faith practiced in a dedicated effort, and with no cravings for the fruits of the efforts. For most people, such Tapah appears to be a tall order. However, for Self Realization, and part of Kriya Yoga practice, it is a must. Here, the best policy and strategy is SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE. One should practice as much as possible in a slow, steady, life long, work culture, with unshakable faith in God and Gurus.

Raajasik Tapah

सत्कारमानपूजार्थं तपो दम्भेन चैव यत् |
क्रियते तदिह प्रोक्तं राजसं चलमध्रुवम् || 18||

satkāra-māna-pūjārthaṁ tapo dambhena chaiva yat
kriyate tad iha proktaṁ rājasaṁ chalam adhruvam

The Bhagavad Gita Ch17 Verse18

General Meaning:

That Austerity, which is performed with the intention of getting good reception, honor, and worship, and with arrogance, is described as Raajasik. Its merits are unstable and transient.

Explanatory Notes:

People with different mentality and Gunas perform Tapas, with purely material benefits. Some people perform Tapah with the intention of getting social recognition, honor, and clout. Some others perform Tapah arrogantly and with hypocrisy. Some people perform Tapah in order to be worshipped and revered. Such Tapah is known as Raajasik Tapah. The benefits of such Tapah are unstable and transient. It has no cosmic or spiritual value. It does not bring Progress or Perfection or Liberation.

Taamasik Tapah

ढग्राहेणात्मनो यत्पीडया क्रियते तप: |
परस्योत्सादनार्थं वा तत्तामसमुदाहृतम् || 19||

mūḍha-grāheṇātmano yat pīḍayā kriyate tapaḥ
parasyotsādanārthaṁ vā tat tāmasam udāhṛitam

The Bhagavad Gita Ch17 Verse19

General Meaning:

That Austerity which is practiced based on foolish ideas, with Self Torture and for the purpose of destroying others, is described as Taamaasik.

Explanatory Notes:

People think, act, and behave according to their Gunas. Taamasik people perform Tapah (Austerities) out of erroneous ideas and notions. They torture their body, mind, and intellect, not for Self Realization or Liberation, not for gain or profit, but to harm others, to destroy others. Such Tapah (Austerity) is spoken of as Taamasik Tapah. It is said that, as you think, so you act, as you act, so you become. Nothing happens without exertion. Exertion is possible only by Austerity (Tapah). Tapah means concentration, determination, firm resolve, tremendous efforts, and exertion without being afraid of pain and suffering. These are only the external or material meaning.

The Gunateeta State – Beyond the 3 Gunas

The real meaning is practicing Kriya Yoga as taught by the Guru. Kriya Yoga signifies Gunateeta state, beyond Saattwik, Raajasik, and Taamasik. The cherished goal of Liberation or Self Realization is achieved automatically without torture or suffering. So, please practice Kriya Yoga daily, living your normal life, wherever your destiny has put you. Only this will bring you health, happiness, fitness, harmony, and knowledge.

May God and Gurus, Bless, Guide, Protect and Inspire you and your loved ones and remove your troubles.

With Love and Best Wishes,
Paramahansa Atmananda Ji


Paramahansa Atmananda

A Doctor, A Yogi, A Teacher. He is a Yogi and highly qualified doctor. With his specialization in Internal Medicine and Neurology, he has been able to make many spiritual seekers understand about Kriya Yoga as a scientific technique for Self and God Realization.