Understanding the Essence of Tapa with Dr. N Ganesh Rao

Understanding the Essence of Tapa

Embracing the inherent role of suffering in our lives and recognizing the valuable lessons it brings, we unlock the power of wisdom and compassion. By accepting grief and sorrow as inevitable companions, we actually reduce our own suffering. Similar to how a piece of carbon withstands intense pressure and heat, transforming into a radiant diamond, our minds, and hearts grow stronger through hardship.

In today’s fast-paced world, our tolerance for everything has diminished to zero. With the convenience of 30-minute deliveries, impatience has become our norm. We crave the comfort zone without experiencing any discomfort. But is this truly the path we should tread in life? Are we sacrificing valuable lessons and personal growth by avoiding challenges and pain? It’s time to question our approach and do some self-deflection.

Read our enlightening Chat on the Mat as we explore “tapa” and what significance it holds in Hatha yoga. Gain valuable insights into the three distinct types of tapa or pain that this verse unveils and guide us on this insightful conversation is the esteemed Dr. N Ganesh Rao.

अशेष्ह-ताप-तप्तानां समाश्रय-मठो हठः |

अशेष्ह-योग-युक्तानामाधार-कमठो हठः || १० ||

aśeṣha-tāpa-taptānāṃ samāśraya-maṭho haṭhaḥ |

aśeṣha-yogha-yuktānāmādhāra-kamaṭho haṭhaḥ || 10 ||

For those continually tempered by the heat of tapa (the three types of pain-spiritual, environmental, and physical) hatha is like the hermitage giving protection from the heat. For those always united in yoga, Hatha is the basis, acting like a tortoise.

Chat on The Mat With Dr. N Ganesh Rao

hellomyyoga: Hatha Yoga in Hatha Pradipika begins with the concept of “tapa” and refers to (the three distinct types of) ‘tapa’ and their role in Hatha Yoga. We are curious to know more about tapa and its importance. Can you shed some light on this concept?

Dr. N Ganesh Rao: ‘Tapa’ has two meanings: The first meaning is “to heat, to burn, to purify”. This meaning becomes pertinent to the practice of ‘Tapa’, one of the Niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Tapas or Tapa practices burn and purify i.e. eliminate the physical and mental impurities.

The second meaning of ‘tapa’ may be considered as “pain”. Accordingly, it refers to the three types of pain viz. adhyatmika (intra-organic – cause of pain is within the organism I.e., one’s own body & mind), adhibhautika (extra-organic – cause of pain is external to the organism but caused by the natural world) and adhidaivika (extra-organic – cause of pain is external to the organism and caused by the supernatural world). 

These three types of pain are comprehensive enough to include all types of pain of human beings.

Hatha Yoga prepares the sadhaka so as to be not afflicted, and accordingly to remain unaffected, by these three types of pain. Like a monastery, Hatha Yoga provides a safe shelter/haven for the sadhaka from pain per se.

hellomyyoga: In our day-to-day life, we often go through various negative emotions like jealousy, and anger, and we do get triggered easily. How does “tapa” come to our rescue?

Dr. N Ganesh Rao: Tapa, in the sense of tapa practices i.e. austerities, strengthens the psycho-physiological constitution of the practitioner. Obviously, tapa practices increase the willpower (determination) and thus enable the practitioner to not succumb to the undue and wavering demands of the body and mind. 

A controlled mind can better deal with negative emotions like anger and jealousy. In a way, tapa practices strengthen the immunity of the practitioner, both physical and emotional.  

hellomyyoga: Interestingly, this verse from the ancient text compares Hath Yoga to a tortoise. What does the tortoise symbolize here? Does it have any special significance?

Dr. N Ganesh Rao: Hatha Yoga is compared to a tortoise because when there is a threat in the environment, the tortoise withdraws its limbs within the safety of its unassailable shell. Thus, like a tortoise, Hatha Yoga protects the sadhaka from tapa or pain of all types.

Hatha yoga practices may be considered as tempering due to which the physical body and mind of the practitioner become like the protective covering of the tortoise’s shell – free from disease and disharmony. They can allow the senses to indulge in the external world as much as is necessary and withdraw them inside in the face of any threat (temptations leading astray). 

hellomyyoga: Many people believe that achieving spiritual enlightenment is a simple process involving only yoga or meditation. However, this notion is far from accurate. In reality, one undergoes tapa or suffering to truly cultivate patience and tranquility. But how does this tapa effectively foster these virtues?

Dr. N Ganesh Rao: ‘Spiritual enlightenment’ is the culmination of a due process of painstakingly purifying oneself. There is no magic wand that works here without due effort – not even that of Yoga and meditation

Purifying oneself or going through the tapa process may be understood as transcending the demands of the “I” (Ahamkar) which manifest through the body and mind. Only when the body and mind are transcended, when the “I” is dissolved, “spiritual enlightenment” happens.

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