Tapas (Indian religions)

Tapasya - Jain meditation in progress.[1]

Tapas is a variety of austere spiritual practices in Indian religions. In Jainism, it means asceticism (austerities, body mortification);[1][2] in Buddhism, it denotes spiritual practices including meditation and self-discipline;[3] and in the different traditions within Hinduism it means a spectrum of practices ranging from asceticism, inner cleansing to self-discipline.[4][5][6] The Tapas practice often involves solitude, and is a part of monastic practices that are believed to be a means to moksha (liberation, salvation).[2]

In the Vedas literature of Hinduism, fusion words based on tapas are widely used to expound several spiritual concepts that develop through heat or inner energy, such as meditation, any process to reach special observations and insights, the spiritual ecstasy of a yogin or Tāpasa (a vṛddhi derivative meaning "a practitioner of austerities, an ascetic"), even warmth of sexual intimacy.[7] In certain contexts, the term means penance, pious activity, as well as severe meditation.[8]

Etymology and meaning

Tapas is based on the root Tap (तप्) meaning "to heat, to give out warmth, to shine, to burn".[9] The term evolves to also mean "to suffer, to mortify the body, undergo penance" in order to "burn away past karma" and liberate oneself.[9][10] The term Tapas means "warmth, heat, fire".[9]

The meaning of the word evolves in ancient Indian literature. The earliest discussions of tapas, and compound words from the root tap relate to the heat necessary for biological birth.[11][12] Its conceptual origin is traced to the natural wait, motherly warmth and physical "brooding" provided by birds such as a hen upon her eggs - a process that is essential to hatching and birth; the Vedic scholars used mother nature's example to explain and extend this concept to hatching of knowledge and spiritual rebirth.[13]

Some of the earliest reference of tapas, and compound words from the root tap is found in many ancient Hindu scriptures, including the Ŗg Veda (10.154.5), Satapatha Brahmana (5.3 - 5.17), and Atharva Veda (4.34.1, 6.61.1, 11.1.26). In these texts, tapas is described as the process that led to the spiritual birth of ṛṣis - sages of spiritual insights.[11] The Atharva Veda suggests all the gods were tapas-born (tapojās), and all earthly life was created from the sun's tapas (tapasah sambabhũvur).[11][14] In the Jāiminiya-Upanisad Brāhmaņa, life perpetuates itself and creates progeny by tapas, a process that starts with sexual heat.[15][16]

Sanskrit tapasyā (neuter gender), literally "produced by heat", refers to a personal endeavor of discipline, undertaken to achieve a goal. One who undertakes tapas is a Tapasvin. The fire deity of Hinduism, Agni, is central to many Hindu rituals such as yajna and homa. Agni is considered an agent of heat, of sexual energy, of incubation; Agni is considered a great tapasvin.[17][18]

The word tapasvi refers to a male ascetic or meditator, while tapasvinī to a female.[19][20]