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Vedic Penance, Tapas


Of Vedic Penance, Tapas

GUIDELINE: If it turns you into a grumbler, it is not fit for you.
Non-grumbler effect of Vedic tapas shown. Rembrandt. Head of a Laughing Man. 1628. (It is no self-portrait). Detail.
Who is illuminated needs to be strong to tackle impurity.

Vedic penance The Sanskrit word tapas means penance. Spiritual suffering, mortification or austerity go into the term. Tapas may also be the striving for nirvana and freedom from the wheel of suffering. However, Buddha came to understand that tapas alone was not enough to gain Enlightenment, and set forth the serene Gentle Middle Path of steering away from extremes and not getting your head turned away from decent progress and continued life on earth. Buddha found out how to go ahead with a smile, so to speak. But the one - a well regulated and carefully balanced life - does not exclude tapas; it is a matter of decent, balanced adjustments, for most part, and preferably without snarling.

Tapasya, which means "heat", is derived from it. It is commonly used figuratively to denote spiritual suffering, mortification or austerity. Such penance had better be carefully directed for attaining good things along the road, and not leave us in some inferior conditions. That is an area where common sense inn part is needed.

One who undertakes tapas is a Tapasvin, that is, "wretched, poor, miserable". And "an ascetic, someone practicing austerities".

Fear self-inflicted suffering

Some try to sacrifice for art, others forsake good sides to life to get better careers, and so on. Thus, tapas is found "all around", and tends to make folks rigid too. Maybe stiff and snarling, stressed individuals are subjects to one or more forms of dukkha. The term is a key for understanding Buddhism at its core, for Buddhism is a way of living away from dukkha, to the end of ending it in nirvanic joy.

Dukkha, dukka in the Pali language, denotes "stress" and other sufferings of probably all kinds. Tapas may 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 ancient Rigveda has dozens of references to words derived from 'tapas' which indicate that "suffering, austerity" was its meaning in the Rigvedic times. Tapasya is closely associated with meditation, fasting, and yoga practice. Fasting is accompanied by avoiding all cooked foods. In yoga practice, tapas is undertaken toward the goal of realization, or to win a boon, or to greatly improve. So maybe it is fit to add: "There is a right way to do it, a wrong way, and the way they do it in the Army." However, guarding one's well-being, thriving, and happiness is fit.

This is sorry or dreadful road: From disappointments to grief, and then through grief. Some make it all the way, others not. Hence, find out how you will not get disappointed first. For example, do not get too occupied with words alone, bigwig words that suit bigwig schemes or set cultural habits. Example often speaks louder than words and teachings. China's sage Confucius teaches things like these. Through nearly 2,500 years the light kindled by Confucius has burned steadily and prepared men's minds for better things and goings [Soc 32-35].

Jesus enjoined a sort of "amputating tapas" on his Jewish followers by speaking of his light yoke, and demanded poverty and subservience to death from adherents - persecutions and killings included. He advocated "no-no" and "yes-yes" - and denounced saying more - But he did. Such talk was of evil, he said too. It is clearly shown, or what?

He also demanded self-amputations and molestations of eyes and hands that "led astray", as if they could do such things. He commanded followers to give up property and not defend themselves - he spoke against healthy provisions and self-defence and self-assertiveness. It is worth noting. There must be better ways than that, and Buddha is one of those who found one.

Jesus also said it was better to enter Heaven crippled than not at all, to fly into heaven with broken wings, so to speak. All of that is far from a light yoke, just as the belief among his disciples that doomsday would come soon, a long time ago. It made some of the millions of martyrs embrace death too easily, instead of evoking the powers promised to true believers, including the power to outdo Jesus [John 14:12] Mind in passing how vastly better it is to enter heavenly realms uncrippled than crippled, with decent thoughts in the deep-going mind, and not erroneous ones.

Be a Friend to Yourself at Least

The Hindu swami (monk) Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) claims he is fully for Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita and Jesus. Yogananda teaches he unites the yoga of Krishna and the "original Christianity of Jesus Christ". He does so by trickery, and still has a following.

  • According to Jesus, the teachings of Jesus were for Jews only. They were not first for Jews and next for gentiles.
  • All the apostles and the Holy Ghost that had descended on them, agreed to drop all the commands of Jesus to help non-Jewish followers, asking them to keep four requirements only. No to blood food is one of them. Black pudding is such forbidden blood food, and blood sausage too, Savouruing it as common Christmas food is not respecting the Holy Spirit [Acts 15 and Acts 21:25].
  • What remained is termed Christianity. There is even good hope of surviving in it, contrary to the original deals of Jesus for his Jewish adherents, because of the powers promised, and the eased yoke for non-Jewish followers.
  • Also, according to gospels, Jesus warned beforehand of false Christs. Yogananda lines up a row of guru christs and propagates their teachings, especially a method called kriya-yoga. You may learn it for free here: [Link].
  • An attempt to reconcile what is not reconcilable, is a failure from the start. Yogananda teaches Jesus and Krishna teach the same things. They do not. For example, Jesus teaches the soul can be destroyed, whereas Krishna does not. Then ask where Yogananda's claim leads his far to gullible adherents. Into sectarian drivel, is one of the first steps.

A fair comparison of different teachings and traditions is not done through a piecemeal approach, where single utterances are taken out of their contexts and said to be similar. And essential, deep unity is not proved by such findings either.

Be a friend to yourself and your Self and refuse to be taken in by wolves in sheep's clothing. Yogananda's kriya yoga society teaches there is perfect unity between the Christianity of Jesus (there was none) and the Gita-Yoga og Sri Krishna, and that they represent both! it comes very close to serving two masters . . . The fact is they teach differently on vitally important matters, such as whether the soul can be destroyed, whether all is illusion or not, and further. There are many issues where SRF departs from Christian theology and traditional practice. The "perfect unity and harmony" that SRF talks of is markedly ceremonial and shewbreads.

According to the Bhagavad Gita Krishna teaches Vedic sacrifices. Some are ruthless, others do not fit in at this place, and even though "Vedic" is no less than "Divine" in Hindu circles, the Vedic scriptures were written by people who saw things differently and who thought differently among one another. One may assert that 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 SRF would have them by foolishness repeated.


Instead of being taken in by by fanciful scenarios of man-catchers who flourish by twisting your head and taking off much of your inherent well-being or thriving and fit life course, for the sake of "Master said" or "for God", heed the following:

  1. Study central matter first; they go deeper, for you may get capable through it. Being properly skilled is praised in Buddhism - in good and fair yoga too.
  2. One should discern between surface agreement and deep agreement, partial agreement and total agreement. You have to use your judgement to decide about things like that. It is not crazy to point out essential and frequent elements of concord and discord, to take much into account so as to reach a balanced, fair outlook.
  3. Consider the context the content was produced within and relates to also.
  4. On some issues there could be agreement, but the question of how far such agreements are significant in the overall picture, is another matter.
  5. Ideas that are dizzy, obscure, or much figurative, may agree and disagree with one another, depending on interpretations. Some "interpretations" are tendentious, unfit, and tantamount to cheating. Drop them for your future benefit, at least.
  6. Be on the outlook for what will enable you and not deprive you of freedom.

Favour yourself by searching out the reliable sources first. It has become rather easy with the Internet. See what books on are recommended, for starters. See what books are written by doctors and professors and published by solid publishers. See what books a university library has found worth while to include. By such simple means you may find yourself on the track, at least a track that is generally respected.

Some quality books may escape you through this tactical approach, so maybe you want to ascertain things first-hand and well by studying texts yourself. In comparison work there is a lot to take into account and much to master to some degree at least, so as to do it well. The good thing is to go for being fair and not biased.

On some issues there are no agreement at all, not even among experts and so-called experts. Much depends on perspective, or one's angle of approach. Still, behaving well does not present a mismatch as a match, contrary to Yogananda claims here and there, and does not seek to hide real differences on issues that count.

Yogananda Craze

Yogananda was empowered to serve as a "locomotive", he writes in his autobiography. This implies that those who linked up to him seriously, had to follow him, wherever he took his "train" of disciples. They are bound through an oath that has marring sides and a fine-looking facade, and a denigrating after-taste. I appears to be very hard for wagons in his train to show independence of thought as well.

As his follower you may feel it your duty to cry a lot for Divine Mother, as Yogananda advocated, and to swallow everything he teaches as divine, and so on. In his cult they do. However, it may not function all right to trade in your freedom - there are many sides to it and levels of it - as a gullible guy. It should be better to get empowered to cater to life as you find best yourself, and preserve your freedom instead of putting it on the block. There are many risks for a follower. If the guru makes mistakes, "devoted followers" say it is their own fault that they do not understand his wisdom.

Preserve your freedom. Much is won by lining up well from the start.

Krishna on Duties of Sacrifice

We have gathered some Vedic statements below. They are not of much use today, and some are too violent to serve one. Killing is strictly forbidden by law in most countries, for example. Take pleasure in thoughts and deeds that are appropriate. The Bhagavad Gita says:

Fig. Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed . . . So [try to] perform your prescribed duties for his satisfaction. (3:9)

A man who does not follow this prescribed Vedic system of sacrifice certainly leads a life full of sin. A person delighting only in the senses lives in vain. (3:16)

One who is, however, 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)

[Some verses above are abbreviated.]

You see Jesus does not teach all that.

Vedic sacrifices and duties

How are Vedic sacrifices, then? All may not suit present-day conform living. Krishna is said to be the god Vishnu descended into human shape. Below we make do with just a few points from The Institutes of Vishnu. However, you may study much more from Vedic law and regulated living in the Laws of Manu. A look into "Visnu" will do here, and "don't try this at home" may serve you well:


Folk wisdom has seen that small criminals get hanged or exported to Australia or other colonies, while big criminals are made mayors and the like. Much depends on who is on top of the "chain", or who is in command. They institute laws that support them and try not to be undermined too much.

Great criminals should all be put to death. [5:1]

Let the king put to death those who . . . forge (private) documents. [5:9-10]

With whatever limb an inferior insults or hurts his superior in caste, of that limb the king shall cause him to be deprived. [5:19]

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


"A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on. [Ohio proverb, Ap 114]" Contracts have to be formally OK. Let many divorces teach you that things can take an ugly turn, and then non-formal contracts are not worth a fig. Our large society defines or delivers many terms for relating and laws to abide by. The following Vedic ones are not valid here:

A written contract having been fulfilled, the writing should be torn. [6:25]

If he who contracted the debt should die, or become a religious ascetic, or remain abroad for twenty years, that debt shall be discharged by his sons or grandsons. [6:27]

The use of ordeals

The Catholic Church thought the Great Inquisition was the thing - it tortured and killed millions, allegedly out of love for their souls. Don't fall for such crap. Others were subjected to brutish ordeals by fire, water and so on. Have nothing to do with ordeals, no matter what they teach in Vedic India . . .

[Ordeals include the ordeal by poison. cf. 9:9-10.] If the poison is digested easily, without violent symptoms, [the judge] shall recognise him as innocent, and dismiss him at the end of the day. [13:5]

By the way, every follower of Jesus has a mark that cancels out the said value of the poison ordeal. He says his followers can drink poison - but do not try this at home either.

Mourners and Dealing with Mourning

You note dissimilarities and inconsistencies in the teachings you were made to believe are from God. First you get a slight disappointment, maybe, or you seek to ward off the unwelcome insights. Many do that. If you get further exposed to "faithal errors", you may get angered with the messenger. It is a defence streak, or mechanism, as Sigmund Freud had it. Then you suffer from discord within for a while. You may feel grief and anger and much else. If you can no longer bear it, you think of reorienting yourself to ease your mind and get less battered too.

It would be better not to have succumbed to false teachings in the first place. But trying to regain mental clarity is an aspect to health in the holistic perspective. Hope for it. Reduce the dross and go for sanity-helping guidelines first and foremost.

Mourning and tapas have similarities. Suppose you have realised that much that you were made to believe in and hail as a follower of Jesus or Yogananda is too bad. In such cases you may feel alarm, which is stressful. You may fall into grief and mourning yourself too, and your missed opportunities for having and going for a good life (as in pregnant Buddhism). A main point is: do not stress. Relax gratefully.

In some societies there are mourning rites that include paid wailing-women. Just let mourning be an individual matter if you can. Mourn as it comes naturally, and live up to the Confucian: "The rites of mourning should not extend beyond the expression of heartfelt grief [Soc 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 "Oh, if only I had . . ." - 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 or resignation. 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. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, psychologically speaking, but you may find yourself surrounded by a culture and its ways.

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 with some comforting and relaxing activities. Learn to express your feelings, talk, write, sing, exercise, and cry. Learn more about grief recovery, and try to incorporate such as: Tell the story until you don't need to tell it anymore. Express the emotions, get them out. Seek to decide what good and reasonable will come out of what you are experiencing. You may reach out to others with similar experiences, who have lost faith in Jesus, the Ghost and the guru Yogananda, for example. 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 gossiping, which suggests that gossiping may come very close to grieving with a mask on.

Grief may be most intense the first few months. Gradually it is replaced by apathy and much emptiness. One has to reconcile oneself with the loss, gain strength by not giving in to the wishy-washy apathy, and build for life anew, as often as it takes. If the grief is extra violent and long-lasting, however, the proper thing to do is to seek psychiatric help for it. And mourners may need support during long months after their bereavement, and some contact might be much appreciated.

The death of a close family member can be a most stressing and painful event. The loss of someone or something can make you feel sad, lamed and empty. It may take a few years to get over the first worst period. For a while those who are bereaved may go on much as earlier, as if not much has happened, till intense sorrow comes at their door. In this phase the image of close friend may come to mind, and his traits may be "nicified", if not glorified. Guilt and violent sorrow may set in through stages, even anger, depending on the conditions. It may all be part of a process that in the end is crowned with coping. One has to be open about his grief and not shoo it from one's mind at all. Grief is the "long process fuel" that makes a full recovery from loss possible. Even though it may be painful and grieve you, talk about the deceased one as you straighten out his or her things and divide them among you. [Sop 461-62; Fam 761-62]

A clean conscience is a very good help against deep grief. Acceptance may come easier to someone with nothing much to burden his or her conscience.

Those even who have the power of creating and annihilating in this world (the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies) continually perish by the act of Kala; for Kala (time) is hard to overcome. [20:27]

Mourners [should] perform the obsequies to the best of their power. [20:30]

On Presaging and Pruning

You are invited to see how far these Vedic ordinances are in harmony with what is left of the teachings of Jesus - they were "pruned away" by the apostles and Holy Ghost. Other-directedness is at times a blessing, but in time it may cripple. The child grows from great dependency and other-directedness into wilful mastery of some things in its life. A maturing person grows from "must-based' ideas into "ought-based" ideas to adhere to.

Purifying agents

Smearing (with cow-dung and the like, see 23,56), air (see 23,40) the sun, and time (by the lapse of the ten days of impurity and the like) are purifiers of animate objects. [22:88]


[The student] (must not study) when a strong wind is going, or when rain, lightning, and thunder happen out of season [30:7-8]

Nor while dogs are barking, jackals yelling, or asses braying. [30:12]

[When] a cow, or a Brahmana (in general) has met with an accident (he must not study). [30:23]

Sexual misconduct in the family and otherwise

Sexual connection with one's mother, or daughter, or daughter-in-law are crimes in the highest degree. Such criminals in the highest degree should proceed into the flames . . . [34:1-2]

Crimes in the fourth degree listed

  • Sexual intercourse with another man's wife; [37: 9]
  • For a younger brother to marry, though his elder brother is not yet married. [37:16]
  • Omitting to pay one's debts to the gods, Rishis, and manes (or sacrificing, study of the Veda, and propagation of one's race). [37:29]
  • Subsisting by a reprehensible art (such as dancing). [37:32]
  • Intercourse with women who drink spirits. [37:33]
  • Such criminals in the fourth degree shall perform the Kandrayana [of regulated self-starving, [ch 47] or [46:18] or [37:35]

Marks of sinners in a big picture

Now after having undergone the torments inflicted in the hells, . . . sinners are born as human beings with (the following) marks (indicating their crime): [45:1]

A criminal in the highest degree shall have leprosy; [45:2]

A killer of a Brahmana, pulmonary consumption; [45:3]

A drinker of spirits, black teeth; [45:4]

A stealer of food, dyspepsia; [45:11]

An incendiary, madness; [45:17]

One who has extinguished a lamp, blindness with one eye; [45:21]


Now follow the penances. [46:1]

During day-time let him be standing; [46:6]

At night let him continue in a sitting position; [46:7]

At the close of the ceremony let him give a milch cow (to a Brahmana). [46:8]

Thus has [vital parts of] the penance Aghamarshana been described [46:9].

COMMENT: Tormenting oneself is seldom all right; do wonderful things instead.

Vedic penance, tapas, tapasya, END MATTER

Vedic penance, tapas, tapasya, LITERATURE  

Ay: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 1st ed. New York: Theosophical, 1946. Online. []

Ebu: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2008 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2008.

Fam: Smith, Tony, red. Familieläkarboken. Stockholm: Forum, 1990?

Pa: Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 11th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1971.

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

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

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