We will wrap up the discussion on Patanjali’s enunciation with the analysis of two concepts that have been the basis of Indian culture, philosophy and religion.  In Sanskrit, these two concepts are labeled tapa and īśvara.  The conceptual origin of these two words is not known to me, but the profoundness built in the concepts is baffling.  Let me explain.

Taking the Sanskrit root structure as the basis, we find that tapa comes from the verb tap which is used in the meaning “to heat.”  The process of heating is called tapa, the object that radiates heat by itself is called tapana “the sun”; heat rays from the sun are called ātapa “the sunshine”.  Then we have tāpa, the amount of heat in an object, literally used for grief and pain.  Indian languages use anutāpa to mean repentance, and paritāpa to mean extreme pain and agony.  In the same line, saṁtāpa is used to denote anguish and suffering.  In a reverse way, pratāpa is used for heightened radiance that transforms to valor.


tapa in yoga has similar conceptual meaning except that the “heating” is internal.  The idea is that our manifestation as physical beings can cause us to lose sight of the universality of the Creation and we do get enveloped in a cocoon claiming an identity labeling it with our name, family and species.  While we may need such an identity to operate in the world, Patanjali declares that such an identity is artificial, mostly opportunistic.  The labeling of an identity separates us from the rest of the universe thus adding stress tāpa to our life.  He hypothesizes that such a label is the cause of our pain in life.  Borrowing from sāṁkhya, yoga recommends that the happiness in life is the complete removal of such tāpa.

The novelty and beauty of yoga philosophy is the delineation that the pain that we suffer is a product of our mental state.  First, we have to understand at the core that there is something called a “mind” in us and that “mind” lets us perceive events and create experiences which might bring grief and unhappiness as well as pleasure.  It further declares that we have a “pure mind” inside of us which gets covered up with various impurities, technically called kleśa (please refer to a previous article).  Our functional mind is a superposition of afflictions due to kleśa on the “pure mind.”  In our pure state we are all joyful, universal and spiritual; in our kleśa state we are anxious, jittery and nervous.  Empirically we can relate to these two states in ourselves if we examine with reflection.  Such internal realization gives validation to Patanjali’s categorization.


Kleśa in our mind makes us unstable, unfocused and unspiritual.  Sometimes we claim success by tricking others but such tricks haunt us when we get old.  All short-cuts in life implemented to achieve local advantage come back to us with extreme repentance when we lose our strength and when we lose our ability to manipulate.  Sometimes we manipulate a given situation without even realizing that our action could be injurious to us in the long run.  Yoga theorizes that there is pain resulting from these deficiencies in human undertakings.  It prescribes the path of tapa to clear ourselves from kleśa.  Yoga declares that the elimination of kleśa should be our fundamental goal in life.


That life has to be lived in purity, and that our perceptions and experiences must not contain individual bias to gain advantage from any situation is technically called tapa. As we said earlier tapa has the connotation of heat; we apply heat tapa to our mind to purify it just like any metal would get purified by the application of heat.  Heat to the mind however is applied by implementing restrictions on our conduct through insightful contemplation and subjecting ourselves to purity by denying unrighteous advantages.  Practice of tapa can be manifold; various religions create their own dogmatic assertions about possible benefits from a practice.  tapa in yoga in plain and simple, the mind must be cleaned out of its impurities; tapa is a path to our internal “pure mind.”  It is a slow process; we may not succeed fully. To slip out of the righteous path is easy.  The world is full of allurements and short-cuts always remain attractive.   Many try, only a handful may succeed.


The practice part of tapa rests on the understanding that we live our life as a blessing because we have been “blessed” with our life as a gift from an unknown source, locally represented by our parents.  We appreciate the blessing by understanding the purity of life, the eternity of creative force and the power of our own mind when it is “clean.”  Aspects of tapa reinforce each other; disciplining one part does augment the discipline in another part.  A good body yields good health, good health yields good breath, good breath yields alertness, alertness yields presence of mind, presence of mind yields skills and intellect, skills and intellect make life less stressful allowing the mind to clean further.  Like any beneficial pursuit, the beginning of the journey is the most important factor.  To watch out pitfalls is the next factor.  Yoga prescribes two attributes, abhyāsa “regularity in practice” and vairāgya “dis-concern to a result.”  If we continue in the path, we would feel the difference internally; we need not claim our success to anyone.


In yoga, the practice of tapa is prescribed through the yama and niyama, each comprising of five elements.  We discussed the first two of the yama set in the previous article.  All need be studied preferably with a teacher.  A teacher helps us as a buffer where we can help clarify doubts through interrogation.  If you have strong determination you may choose your own path of journey and good teachers might find you to create association.  All people seeking a righteous life are similar in nature by virtue of their limited wants and cordial friendship to others.  Seekers do gravitate to each other, but we may need a teacher to accelerate our progress.  Joyful life has a special bliss.


The last element in the series of yama and niyama is labeled īśvarapraṇidhāna.  I wanted to help explain this word īśvara, a state we would asymptotically approach as our mind gets cleaned.  As we practice elements of tapa, our mind can get better focused; we can acquire stronger skills and extra talents by applying our mind better.  A cleaner mind has less distraction hence our concentration in work can be sharper leading to extra distinction and noteworthy accomplishments.  However the culmination of tapa does not rest in accomplishments, but attaining a “pure mind” which gains the wisdom of the mechanics of the universe containing all things around us.  A “pure mind” does not need to learn a skill, but can visualize all objects and skills internally by virtue of the power of the “infinite” mind (please refer to an earlier on article on “mind” in this series).


This internal visualization of objects, actions and skills has been technically termed as jṇāna, an intuitive understanding that can arise in people with “pure minds.”  Such understanding is termed revelation in the sense that the object reveals itself to the seeker since the complete object could already be in the mental map.  A person having the jṇāna can see through the events and “know” the events yet to come.  Because one knows, the anxiety of the unknown can disappear and one can be in a state of pure joy. “Pure mind” has no expectation, and in the reverse way it has no work.  It resides in the body but is not driven by it.  The body decays and dies, the “mind” has little to do with the process.  It has become the observer. This state has been called īśvara.


Since such state is a remote goal, the concept of īśvara can only be imagined.  Patanjali defines such a concept in the book and declares that each of us is endowed with this asymptotic entity that we can continue to explore.  Keeping the existence of such high level spiritual state in our mind is the process of   praṇidhāna. By default, the īśvara in us is our regulator acting as our ideal.  When we achieve success, when we demonstrate talents or when we exhibit our potential, our īśvara is our silent partner.  To be able to connect to this internal īśvara is the goal of our tapaĪśvara is latent; it is the source of all creative energy in us.  By being independent of the body, it resides as the cosmic energy as a part of our local manifestation.  It does possess infinite potential.


Because our talents are a functional blessing of the īśvara, there is a tendency among people to map it as a teacher or as an external boon-giver.  In yoga as envisaged by Patanjali, no such external entity needs to exist.  The individual is empowered to get to the loftiest heights by regular practice and contemplation.  Some scholars of religion translate īśvara as the western concept of “God” which is totally unacceptable to yoga.  As we said earlier, it is a state inside of us that gets gradually revealed as we clean our mind from its short-cuts, assumptions and impurities.  This cleaning is like cooking by applying “heat” through mental discipline.  The īśvara in us slowly glitters through.


Let Sai bless all.

Bijoy Misra

November 25, 2013