Beneficial vs. Destructive Spiritual Practices (Tapas) (175)


Lesson 175 shows 3 kinds of energies that constitute all spiritual practices (physical, verbal, mental).

Source: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19

VERSE 14-16: Three types of tapas (based on instrument).


  • Tapas meaning:
    1. Specific: willful self-denial to establish mastery over sense organs.
      • Tendency of sense organs is to attach to some object. If attraction is denied, it agitates the mind. Most succumb by appeasing the senses. Hence tapas is deliberately saying “no” once in a while.
      • Strengthening buddhi’s witness power towards desirous objects.
      • Opposite of tapa is pata (fall).
    2. General: any form of discipline that fine-tunes our body-mind-intellect. Category of V14-16.
  • Krishna categorizes tapas, in V14-16, according with which organ you practice it.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 14:

deva-dvija-guru-prājña-pūjanam śaucam ārjavam ।
brahmacaryam ahiṃsā ca śārīram tapaḥ ucyate ॥ 17-14॥
Worship of the Gods, the brahmins, the teachers, and the wise men, purity, straightforwardness, chastity, and nonviolence are said to be physical austerity.

  • V14 speaks of PHYSICAL tapas (called: kāyikam).
  • 2 Benefits of physical rituals:
    1. They remove laziness/inertia/tama-guna from mind.
    2. Rituals revive our relationship with the one being with whom our relationship is eternal; with whom our relationship is PRIMARY. All other relationships are SECONDARY/INCIDENTAL.
      • According to Vedanta, root of all misguided actions comes from PRIMARY relationship overshadowed by SECONDARY relationships.
      • And how are relationships formed?
        • By motion (engaging with the other). And motion produces EMOTION, which defines the relationship.
        • ORDER: Physical motion (rituals) > emotion > Relationship with the Lord > Devotion.
      • EG of rituals:
        • Valentines card.
        • Religion will create rituals, like Ramaḍān, Shivaratri, Rama Navami, Guru Purnima, Diwali, Christmas. Companies will put together special get-together rituals.
      • SUMMARY: Rituals infuse life and meaning into the relationship. And they’re not meaningless, but I haven’t come to recognize their meaning.
  • Sattvic PHYSICAL tapas Involves:
    • Śaucam: Physical cleanliness, and keeping surroundings clean.
    • Ārjavam: Physical actions are keeping with thought/word.
      • EG:
        • Being punctual. If can’t, at least inform them.
        • Physically follow up on your thoughts, like meditate for 10 min as planned.
    • Brahmacaryam: Not denying satisfaction at physical level, at same time, remember the physical satisfaction belongs to the grossest sheath; annamaya-kosha. Brahmacarya may even naturally evolve to stage of celibacy.
    • Ahimsā: Gentle, mindful ways of handling things. Even books, kitchen utensils, garden tools.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 15:

anudvegakaram vākyam satyam priya-hitam ca yat ।
svādhyāya-abhyasanam ca eva vāṅmayam tapaḥ ucyate ॥ 17-15॥
That speech which is not harmful, which is truthful, pleasant, and beneficial, and the regular study of scriptures are said to be verbal austerity.

  • V15 speaks of VERBAL tapas (called vācikam).
    • Importance of vāk-indriya: Can’t think of vāk without human buddhi. Entwined. Imagine no vāk. Would have to figure everything yourself, no moksha.
  • Sattvic VERBAL tapas Involves:
    1. Anudvegakaram: Reduce hurtful words, sarcasm.
      • Fastest way to improve communication: Don’t talk where your words/experience/stories are not valued. We tend to say hurtful things in situations we don’t belong.
    2. Satyam: What I know and speak are in union. Buddhi/Intellect (leads) = husband and  Vāk/Speech (follows) = wife.
    3. Priyam: Manners or delivery with which you speak.
      • Communication isn’t mere transference of information, but body language, timing, eye contact.
        • That’s why live guru more effective then non-live.
      • Receiver is to feel comfortable. Person should feel comfortable speaking to you again.
      • Even unpleasant can be said pleasantly, and pleasant said unpleasantly. EG:
        • You look relatively beautiful.
        • Take to wisdom, and I’d be your fan.
        • Draupadī was filled with grief and anger at the heinous murder of her five young children by Aśvatthāmā. Yet when she spoke words of forgiveness, they were considered ‘righteous, just, compassionate, un-offending, dignified, poised and great”. – Bhagavatam 7.49
      • QUESTION: What if I want to speak truth, but it’s unpleasant; how to approach?
        • FORMULA: Praise > say unpleasant truth > praise.
        • If one is known as mostly a critic, then even his “constructive criticism” won’t be considered. Hence learn to be a pleasant communicator in general.
    4. Hitam: Both speaker and listener (can ask questions and act interested) are benefiting the communication.
      • When a person is in sattvika state, he speaks about concepts, noble thoughts, elevating experiences, the goodness of others or on subtle or spiritual subjects. He questions and discusses to arrive at the truth of a matter.
  • CONCLUSION: All 4 must be there. EG: Father asks fella various bad-habit questions to find daughter’s suitor.  Fella says ‘no’ to each, but says only has one bad-habit “I tell lies”.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 16:

manaḥ-prasādaḥ saumyatvam maunam ātma-vinigrahaḥ ।
bhāva-saṃśuddhiḥ iti etat tapaḥ mānasam ucyate ॥ 17-16॥
Mental quietude, gentleness, silence, mind control, purity of motive – all these are said to be mental austerity.

  • V14 speaks of MENTAL tapas (called mānas).
  • Sattvic MENTAL tapas Involves:
    • manaḥ prasādaḥ / Maunam: Doing any practice that silences the mind chatter.
      • EG: Japa via mantra repetition. Kriya Yoga.
    • saumyatvam: Entertains kind and tender thoughts by wishing all well, especially the disliked.
    • Ātmavinigrahaḥ: Deliberately directing thoughts to the higher. Should already have symbols/books/list of things to direct mind to.
    • Bhāva-saṃśuddhiḥ: Purity of intention / motive. No hidden agenda. It’s done as a duty or devotion.

VERSE 17-19: Three types of tapas (based on gunas).

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 17:

śraddhayā parayā taptam tapaḥ tat trividham naraiḥ ।
aphala-ākāṅkṣibhiḥ yuktaiḥ sāttvikam paricakṣate ॥ 17-17॥
(They) declare that threefold austerity which is practised with great faith by those people who are disciplined and are not desirous of the result, to be sattvic.

  • How are the threefold tapas (kayikam, vacikam, manasam) to be practiced? If Sattva dominant, then person practices them all because recognizes the value, and experiences contentment practicing it. And doesn’t expect a reward of following the tapas.
  • OBJECTION: “What do you mean by ‘not expecting any reward/result? What motivation is there to do it?”.
    • Krishna means…
      • If you truly know the value of the goal (END), then you’ll gladly perform the MEANS. And the MEANS itself will feel like the END. Because love for the MEANS is borrowed love for the END.
        • EG:
          • Building a garden becomes an end of itself, even if GOAL is homegrown food.
          • Driving in traffic isn’t seen as inconvenience if you’re driving to someone you admire.
        • To ask, “What’s in it for me doing this?”, implies:
          1. Don’t have faith in the GOAL/END.
          2. Haven’t made END a personal Value.
          3. Your approach of attainment isn’t compatible with your case/personality.
      • In case of following dharma; long as person complains they’re suffering despite following dharma OR sees no value in following dharma… he is still an animal-man. Only becomes man-man (2nd birth) when sees dharma an END of itself, rather then a MEANS to heaven or moksha.  EG:
          • If one says “there’s no one to appreciate my punctuality or participation”, then dharma is seen as a MEANS to some other end (IE: validation).
          • A new couple suddenly start showing their caring side to strangers, just so they’re perceived as worthy material to the partner.  Meaning neither value ethics, but ethics is only a MEANS to some personal gain.
          • Complying with all the rules to pass drivers license, but only to drive irresponsibly once get a license.
          • Comes to spiritual seminar/event for partners sake, meaning values partner more then spirituality.
  • Krishna further says, whatever results show up for a sattvic oriented disposition, mind remains equanimous. Meaning intellect is never overshadowed by emotions. Meaning one is neither excited nor deflated, but sees it as incidental by-product of ones tapas/actions.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 18:

satkāra-māna-pūjārtham tapaḥ dambhena ca eva yat ।
kriyate tat iha proktam rājasam calam adhruvam ॥ 17-18॥
That austerity which is performed with pretense for the sake of praise, honour and worship is said to be Rājasic, whose result is temporary and uncertain.

  • How are the threefold tapas (kayikam, vacikam, manasam) to be practiced? If Raja dominant, person does them all for sake of future reward. 
    • EG:
      • Sales person learns to be charming and caring only for sake of increase chance of getting the sale. Thus “care” is a MEANS to an END.
        • IE: Vyavaharika becomes a MEANS to Pratibhasika (END).
      • Learning to hold breath and keep calm to stay underwater for 15 min, to be in Guinness Book of World Records.
      • Words are often manipulative, and meant to impress/flatter.
      • They want to be known in society as “good person” / earning respect.
      • He wants to make sure people always know the good he is doing, otherwise won’t be motivated. Publicity motivates him.
      • One in a rajasika mood talks about events, enjoyments, one’s own praise, or criticism of others. Argues about issues to prove himself right or to prove others wrong.
      • His disposition is forceful, complaining and demanding. IE: Unhealthy leader.
  • SUMMARY: Raja tapas becomes a MEANS to an end.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, Verse 19:

mūḍha-grāheṇa ātmanaḥ yat pīḍayā kriyate tapaḥ ।
parasya utsādanārtham vā tat tāmasam udāhṛtam ॥ 17-19॥
That austerity which is practiced by the torture of the body out of an erroneous notion or for the destruction of others is said to be Tamasic.

  • How are the threefold tapas (kayikam, vacikam, manasam) to be practiced? If Tamas dominant, all 3 are meant to deliberately cause harm for sake of self-satisfaction.
  • Examples of using PHYSICAL, VERBAL, MENTAL capacity to hurt others:
    • Sacrificing animals to the gods.
    • Builds muscles or learns fighting skills to fight professionally, or for revenge to society.
    • Takes time to get qualifications for firearm and take it out on a school.
    • Putting secret camera in hotel to records couples.
    • Learns to charm and sweet talk for dating scam.
    • Training in terrorist camp like London underground bombing of 2005, Bali 2002, Mumbai 2008.
    • Amba did tapas to kill Bhisma in next life.
  • Examples of using PHYSICAL, VERBAL, MENTAL capacity to hurt oneself:
    • Torturing one’s body in the name of austerity like sleeping on a bed of nails, or sunbathing all day.
    • Piercing body with ornaments.
    • Tattoos.
    • Not eating properly in name of transcending the body.

Keywords: tapaḥ, tapas

Credit for help in Bhagavad Gita teaching given to Swami Dayananda (Arsha Vidya), Paramarthananda & Chinmaya Mission.

Recorded 28 June, 2022


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