Sunday, November 7, 2010

1. Tapas: Nourishing the Body With More than Just Spanish Apetizers.

"Self-discipline is an aid to spiritual progress, whereas self-torture is an obstacle.1 -Sri Swami Satchidananda  
Face-plant on ice: tapas or torture?

Try to google "tapas" and what do you get? Spanish appetizers! You've gotta love those edible tapas but the tapas of the yoga variety is something differentTapas (self-discipline), as the first part of Kriya Yoga, lays the foundation for a solid yoga practice; the tangible practices used to discipline the physical body and our behaviors. It also provides the endurance to take on life's obstacles called kleshas in The Yoga Sutras.   The kleshas cause us much pain and suffering, and through tapas we learn to endure and eventually overcome this pain.  However, this is not a practice of creating pain through some sort of self-torture, as the opening quote reminds us;  So we are not being encouraged to be gluttons for punishment here.  Instead we try to cultivate a healthy body and refine our lifestyle.  These aims can be tackled with the practice of Hatha Yoga and Karma Yoga (two yoga paths that fall under the tapas umbrella).  So, it is for tapas sake that we practice the most popular yoga practice in the Western World: the yoga postures found in Hatha YogaKarma Yoga (The Yoga of Action) promotes a healthier lifestyle by encouraging us to partake in selfless service.

Tapas, Sacrifice and Carrying the Cross
 "Let me die in my footsteps before I go down under the ground" - Bob Dylan 
Now let's take a look at how the Biblical concepts of "carrying the cross"2 and "the body as a living sacrifice"3 compare to the tapas of Kriya Yoga.  To me, carrying one's cross means to live fearlessly; it means taking on life's challenges and burdens rather than hiding from them. It is a commitment to overcoming the fear of death.  This is the same obstacle, or klesha, that tapas is meant to overcome.  Both tapas and "carrying the cross" are methods of self-discipline that start with regulating our actions and attitudes to the world.  We are asked to take on our own selfishness and self-righteousness.

St. Paul's request to become a "living sacrifice" is also similar to tapas.  Rather than living for ourselves we are asked to sacrifice everything to something more than ourselves - what some call "God", and in The Yoga Sutras is called "Isvara".  Becoming a living sacrifice is hard work that requires one to examine one's actions on a moment to moment basis in an unending process of refinement.  In Karma Yoga the same idea of self-sacrifice is summed up with this passage from The Bhagavad Gita: "...if you want to be truly free perform all actions as worship.4"  With the same spirit that we turn outward with tapas, we also need to turn inward in a process that begins with svadhyaya, self-study, the next part of Kriya Yoga.
1 The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Intregal Yoga publications, 1990. (pg. 80).   
2. Mark 8:34 see also Matt. 10:38 and 16:24; Luke 9:23 and 14:27
3. Romans 12:1
4 3:9 of The Bhagavd GitaTranslated by Mitchell, Stephen. Bhagavad Git: A New Translation.  Three Rivers Press. New York, 2000. (pg. 63).

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