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Vedic Tapas

If it turns you into a grumbler, it is not fit for you.

Vedic penance The Sanskrit word tapas means penance, or just as well the striving for nirvana and freedom from the wheel of suffering.

The Gentle Middle Path helps to steer away from extremes and to go ahead along a more or less carefully balanced road for attaining good things and get rid of as much dukkha as can be. The term is a key for understanding tapas - it is for getting through with dukkha in nirvanic joy.

Dukkha - dukka in the Pali language - denotes "stress" and other sufferings of probably all kinds. Tapas could build dukkha unless you are aware enough to guard against that. If mortification stresses you and makes you suffer, you get damaged, and not helped to that extent. That is basic.

The word Tapasya is closely associated with meditation and yoga practice. In yoga practice, tapas may be tried to win a boon, or to greatly improve as long as happiness accompanies it. Since great happiness is part of the goal there is not good enough reason to renounce it.

Be a Friend to Yourself at Least

It is well to do wonderful things instead of tormening yourself.

Be a friend to yourself and your Self and refuse to be taken in by wolves. Early Vedic may differ from late Vedic, and later Hinduism has changed as compared to older Hinduism. This is to say the matters are far from as simple or clear-cut as thought at first, second or third glance.

Study central matter in the reliable sources first, and keep a lookout for what will enable you and not deprive you of freedom. Some quality books may escape you through this. Further, there are differences of opinions too. On some issues there are no agreements among experts.

It helps to preserve our the freedoms we have, and much can be won by lining up well from the start.

We can take pleasure in thoughts and deeds that are seemly.

The Bhagavad Gita says:

Fig. One who is . . . taking pleasure in the self, who is illuminated in the self, who rejoices in and is satisfied with the self only, fully satiated - for him there is no duty. (3:17)

The ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results. The learned may also act . . . (3:25)

Vedic sacrifices and duties

How are Vedic sacrifices? Can they be akin to the Avadhut's words in the Avadhut Gita? "Renounce, renounce the world, and also renounce renunciation, and even give up the absence of renunciation. By nature all-pervasive as space, knowledge absolute are you. (Avadhut Gita 4:21)

That could give: "Sacrifice even sacrifice, and sacrifice the sacrifice of sacrifice" to get a hold on life so long as it lasts. The four life stages of Hinduism suit it nicely.

All may not suit present-day conditions or conformism. What about this one from the Institutes of Vishnu? Opinions differ:

If [a subordinate] breaks wind against [his superior, he shall lose] his hindparts. [5:22]

Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva are the four Vedas. A Veda is divided into four parts: Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad. Thus, Upanishad forms the last part of a given Veda.

Upanishads are largely philosophical, poetical and religious-mystical. Adi Sankara of the Advaita system of philosophy has commented on twelve Upanishads. There are many others - many dozens more.

Now, the hoary Vedas speak for rituals and sacrifices, while the last Vedas and Vedanta - which includes the Bhagavad Gita - say rituals need to be transcended in deep meditation. Then insights may be had. Sage Yajnavalkya is credited with this in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

Wisdom [A] person, when embraced by the intelligent (pragna) Self, knows nothing that is without, nothing that is within. This indeed is his (true) form . . . [21]

Then the worlds are not worlds, the gods not gods, the Vedas not Vedas. For he has then overcome . . . [22]

But there is then no second, nothing else different from him that he could know. [30]

An ocean is that one seer, without any duality; this is the Brahma-world.

Thus did Yagiiavalkya teach. (Brihadaranyana Upanishad, 4.3.21-32, passim)

Adi Shanakra teaches likewise:

Wisdom When the Great Reality is not known, the study of the scriptures is fruitless. When the Great Reality is known, the study of the scriptures is also fruitless. [Shankara]

Of what avail are the rites of religion for one who has attained to wisdom? [Shankara]

When there is direct perception, the Self shines forth clearly, without regard to place or time or rites of purification. [Shankara] [All three quotations are from this page]

First things first: deepening meditation is what Vedanta tells brings inner knowledge of the Self, Atman-Brahman. How may it described? There are not any ideal words to describe it, but Dattatreya tries to describe the nature and the state of a person who is spiritually free and liberated in this way:

Wisdom There is neither you nor I neither anything great (nor small) neither any teacher nor any pupil. That Supreme Truth is, in its very nature, absolutely free. I am the knowledge immortal, unchanging, and all pervading like space. (Avadhut Gita 3:42).

You are eternal Bliss pervading everywhere within and without. Why do you, then, wander here and there like a ghost? (1:14)

I am the blissful One, the highest truth, the one uniform essence, free and boundless like the space. (1:27)

Know the whole universe to be as a form of unbroken Bliss. (1:40)

I am eternal and immutable Bliss. (2:5)

If it is all one an unbroken perpetual bliss, how can old age, youth or childhood be attributed to it? (4:13)

Bliss, universal unbroken and boundless as space, exists. (7:13)

Mourning

Those who are far from being attuned to the inner Self (Atman) and have not realised It, are they in states of mourning, comparatively speaking?

Deeply unconscous mourning is mourning too. Happy people are worthy of esteem accordingly, and so are wise ones. And they are not all easy to detect if "it is a fool who cannot hide his wisdom," as the proverb says. Sometimes wise ones teach, though.

Losses entail mourning, and mourning entails losses along the way. In some societies there are mourning rites that include paid wailing-women. Just let mourning be an individual matter.

"The rites of mourning should not extend beyond the expression of heartfelt grief (Confucian, in Giles 1998:132)."

It is good to know that mourning is a process through many stages, and perhaps with many twists and turns.

  • Being shocked or shaken - possibly disbelief, denial and isolation.
  • Emotional discharges - anger too.
  • Loneliness, anxiety, isolation and despair - bargaining with God and so on.
  • A sense of guilt or depression as a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss, and linked to the farewell.
  • Resignation. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm.
  • Acceptance is not afforded to anyone: it suggests you can get on with your life.

You may go back and forth between phases, experience more than one at a time, or even skip one all together. Different authors line up the phases differently.

These are main tasks involved in mourning: Accept the reality of loss; experience and bear the pain or grief; adjust to a world in which something or someone is missing; withdraw and reinvest emotional energy.

It may help to learn about stages of grief recovery, and express the felt emotions adequately, get them out. And cherish the good memories too.

There is also grieving over one's lost opportunities. Gossips may reveal loss of actualisations of their own inner sides by their delight in gossiping, so gossiping may well be grief with a mask on. There is probably some deep loss to handle inside it.

Grief may be most intense the first few months.

The loss of someone or something can make you feel sad, lamed and empty. It could be part of a process that in the end is crowned with coping. Grief may be said to be "long process fuel" that makes a full recovery from loss possible. (Smith and Mackie 2000:461-62; Smith 1990:761-62)


vedic tapas, tapasya, Literature  

Dattatreya. Avadhut Gita. Tr. Ramaswami Shastri. Benares (Varanasi): Mahamandal House, 1920. ⍽▢⍽ Portions that are used here are freshened up by me. TK.

Dattatreya, Mahatma. Avadhut Gita. Tr. Hari Prasad Shastri. London: Shanti Sadan, 1968 (1934). ⍽▢⍽ A very neat and readable translation.

EB: Britannica Online.

Giles, Lionel, ed. The Sayings of Confucius: A Translation of the Confucian Analects. Twickenham: Tiger Books, 1998.

James, John W., and Russell Friedman. The Grief Recovery Handbook: 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition. The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, And Faith. New York: Collins Living, 2009.

Smith, Tony, red. Familjeläkarboken (The Family Doctor). Stockholm: Forum, 1990. ⍽▢⍽ A Swedish adaptation. The more recent The BMA New Family Doctor Home Adviser: The Complete Quick-reference Guide to Symptoms and How to Deal with Them. by Tony Smith and Sue Davidson (3rd rev. ed. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2001:170), lacks the information about the grief process following bereavements.

Smith, Eliot R., and Diane M. Mackie. Social Psychology. 2nd ed. Hove: Psychology Press, 2000.

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