Tapa is resorted to in when one wants to please one’s ishtadeva (favourite deity) or wishes to attain special powers. The ishtadeva, after being pleased, gives us boons and fulfills our desires. At the age of six, when most children only eat and play, Dhruva did tapa and shook the throne of his ishta. Lord Krishna, who blessed others with boons, had to undergo tapa. Rama had to do tapa by spending fourteen years in the forests. Even today every religion holds tapa in the highest regard. Vrat (vow), upwas (fasting) japa (chanting of sacred text) and dhyana (meditation) come under the definition of tapa. “Tapa santape”, the austerity of the mind and its mortification increase and one is required to renounce something. The mortification of the senses is the suffering they are subjected to and the disorganization of the mind is the suffering of the mind. The suffering of the senses is associated with desires that are born out of rajoguna (the passion of love and pleasure).One who marches ahead on the path of penance unmindful of its suffering achieves a wonderful tatva (truth) in the end. Suffering ensures when the mind is required to relinquish whatever it is attached to or a part their of. To relinquish something for the sake of someone is tapa. For example observing silence or observing fast in the name of some god is tapa. The aim is to empty oneself so that something can be purified something new can be achieved.
Tapa (penance), sangatikaran (keeping a good company) and charity are parts of yagya (sacrifice). The yagya is a continuous process in the creation. It is the creator, regulator and destroyer of creation. Therefore, tapa is equally important. There are many kinds of tapa. The tapa that engages the body and the soul of man is the tapa of the body, mind, intellect and of the soul. Another tapa is that of creation, of nature. On the other hand there is the tapa of the prana, mind as well as that of the body. The soul is our causal body from where the prana arises. Where there is a movement of the pranas it is our celestial part. Our body, being composed of the five elements, is pashupranmay-bhut-pind a (filled with the breastly pranas and bhutpinda).
Activity always takes place in the yaju. Rik and sam are always stable. Rik is the foundation and the sam is the limit of our body. The movement of the prana, invested by the light of the soul, is subtle. Activities are influenced by these pranas. The yagya, in essence, continues in the prana. The body is only the result. The body is used for labour. It is the pranas that undergo penance. Tapa, fasting etc. are done in the name of a cause. It is because of these that the quantity of bhutas is reduced, animal instinct is lessened and the void of the soul is filled with new sannivesh. It is a new celestial ground, a part full of prana, which is incomparable.The advent of the new pranas is the result of tapa. From this one achieves extra ordinary qualities.
The penance of the pranas is of also two types. When a new prana emerges out of the combination of the two different pranas, when the two old pranas lose their entity and unite with a new prana, it is known as ‘yaga’. Where a new prana emergs and the old pranas retain their entity and where two bhutas are entertained, it is called ‘yoga’. Where the first devtas (divine beings) have not lost their power and where they unite with a new devta, it is called yoga. The word yoga has also been used to denote the union of the two bhutas. Both these activities take place under “yaga.” Yagya is that incomparable result which is obtained through yaga. This yagya is completed when soma is given in offering to the agni. Our thinking is the result of the mortification of the pranas where by ever new thought is created. The birth of the offsprings and the continuation of the parents are a form of the natural yagya. When javan (rennet) is added to the milk, it becomes curd. Milk and javan disappear. It is the result of intermixing known as ‘yaga’.
Our mortal creation is based on beastly prana (pashu-prana). These pashu-pranas are our bonds. We inherit ignorance (agyan), pride (asmita), attachment (raga), enmity (dvesa) and abhinivesh (perseverance) from birth itself. Because of these qualities we are known as animals. That is why our presiding deity is known as pashupati (Lord of animals). Ignorance is known as avidhya. Our child-like ignorance, which continues because of lack of knowledge, is known as asmita (vanity). Abhinivesh (perseverance) is known as insistence (hatha). Tapa helps to reduce these animal instincts.
The sun continuously burns. Because of this seasons are formed. The sun also remains in existence. This also is yagya. Sweating is the result of excessive heat. This is like the soma. Soma is born out of manthan (churning). Hence tapa is also yagya. Donation is also yagya. Through this the pranas are rejuvenated They receive new energy. One of the forms of tapa is controlling the needs of the body. For developing practice in swadhyaya (self-study) and in upasana (worship) one has to control (sadhana) the body. Hunger, thirst and urge for creation are very difficult to control. These can be controlled only gradually through intensive practice.Vrat (observing vows) and fasting play an important role in achieving such control. Exercizing control over hunger and thirst is indeed difficult. But after having achieved it, one can sit calmly at one place for hours together. Observing silence is tapa (penance) and so is japa (recitation of sacred text). But silence (not being on speaking terms) which is observed due to enmity or ill-feelings for others, is, in fact, wrong. As against this if one observes ‘maun’ on a particular day for one’s ishtadeva, it gives great strength to the soul.
Controlling of the senses is tapa. The asanas (yogic postures) and the pranayam (breath control) are also the means of preparing the body for sadhana. In sadhana these are very important. Breath cannot be controlled without first establishing control over the body. Without perfecting the breath, it is not possible to control the mind and thoughts. Only through this the mind can become concentrated and self-directed. That is why the first step is the tapa for controlling the body, next is the controlling of the pranas and lastly, the tapa of the mind which means blocking desires. From here the mind advances towards the joy of the self. There is continuity in tapa from here. Without tapa new energies cannot be felt. Yes, vrat and fasting can make one feel that one’s body is light. But in the tapa of the pranas controlling and readying the body for sadhana is important.
The struggle for life is also tapa. If we are a form of God, the creator and holder of the universe, we will have to undergo mortification. It is tapa that enlarges us. Tapa is necessary for reaching the top. Tapa is equally necessary for understanding one’s energies and for making use of those energies. In the true sense tapa is the movement of life. The rik of our body is pratistha, the limit of our body is the sama, all the activities of the middle are yaju (which is also called yajurved). Tapa energizes the prana and gives them momentum. Therefore, the awakening of the yaju is the awakening of fortune. That is the result of tapa. Human life will be fruitful, if on our middle of life which is moving and stationary, we exercise adequate control and do not become a prey to the temptations of the flow of time and space.That is what the Acharyas have said. In fact that is the tapa.