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By Shyam Mehta

The Yoga Sutras of Lord Patanjali distinguish between mental disciplines required to still the mind [given in chapter 1] and physical discipline [given in chapter 2]. Nowadays, no one is qualified to straightaway commence meditation and other mental disciplines. This is because no one has a peaceful tranquil mind, a prerequisite for meditation. We all need to follow the yoga of actions consisting of Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana as specified in the first sutra of the second chapter.

In this first of three articles, I consider what tapas means for the sincere yoga student. The other two articles discuss Svadhyaya and Ishvarapranidhana.

First, you should know that tapas is not voluntary. A yoga student has to practice tapas. He or she is not a yoga student if he does not each day practise tapas.

The yoga of action leads to Ishvarapranidhana, surrender of all actions to God. Only pure actions can be surrendered to God. The yoga practitioner therefore needs to burn away impurities in his body and mind so that all his actions have the potential to be pure, coming as they do from a pure source.

The body and mind are generated from the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space. The yoga practitioner therefore needs to consume these:

  • In the right quantities [no excess, no shortage]

  • With right attitude [gratitude to God for supplying him with what he needs for his spiritual/religious progress]

Specifically, the yoga student needs to eat healthy natural food in moderation, drink milk etc. in moderation, keep himself not too cold, not too warm, breathe fresh air and live in a not too crowded place. Inputs include what he sees, hears, tastes, feels and smells.

It is not just the inputs to the body and mind that need to be conducive to purity but the actions of the body and mind also. One's body metabolism needs to be kept healthy by moderate exercise, appropriate sleep, good diet and leading an active life.

Tapas also relates to the activities at the mind engages in. All activities, from morning to night need to be pure: bringing the mind closer to God. This may be through many different ways -- helping people to become happy, studying the Scriptures, thinking of God, walking in the countryside, making love to your wife, etc..

Purity is the test of whether an activity you engage in is tapas. You experience God only when your body and mind have the same level of purity as that of God. Practicing yoga asanas with a motive [to become flexible or healthy or to teach for money] is not tapas. A woman who becomes a prostitute in order to feed her children is engaging in tapas -- helping others. If she gains pleasure from her activity this does not stop it being tapas unless her motive ceases to be helping her children.

It is finally important to note that there are two types of genuine yoga practitioner: those in search of God [following Ishvarapranidhana] and those in search of their soul [following the traditional eightfold path]. Your soul is a Goddess [men] or God [women]. Ishvarapranidhana relates solely to surrender to God, but tapas relates also to activities that bring you closer to the level of purity of your soul.Your soul has the same level of purity as God..

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