SUPREME AUSTERITIES OR PENANCE
(Uttama Tapa Dharma)
'Penance is a cataract that washes away all blemishes
and purges the soul of all karmic matter'
The word 'tap' (Penance or Austerity) is derived from the root 'tap' by the addition of the suffix 'ach'. The word austerity conveys the sense - to vanquish the enemies of soul; heating agent to purify the real self; that which burns and annihilates the karmic matter; penance; and rigorous religious meditation.
Penance is an easy medium to lead a living being towards spiritual uplift. All the great men born in the world so far became great only by practicing austerity. Penance is an extremely significant function of life. Those who adopt austerity in life sail across the ocean of the world smoothly i.e. get rid of the cycle of birth and death. Austerity is the only path to attain liberation.
Nothing can be gain in life without austerity. The sun goes through heat and fire; that is why it supplies light and warmth to one and all. Likewise, the moon and the stars undergo austerity in their own way. No work is fulfilled in the world without penance. If the sun had not been hot, the land would not have become fertile; for in the absence of sunrays, no existence of any vegetation would have been possible on the earth. Every vegetation prepares its food itself from the soil by absorbing the sunrays. In 'Kurul Kavya' Acharya Kundkund Swami has also said, "The more heat the land gets, the more fertile it becomes. The seeds sown at that place become capable of germinating very soon and bearing fruits quickly. The sun's own heating is essential for it."
Tapa (penance) is of two folds;
(a) Bahya Tapa (external austerities), referring to food and physical activities. The 'Tattavartha Sutra' and 'Dash Bhakti' categorize the external penance thus;
Anshnavamodryvritiparisa nkhyanrsprityagviviktshyasankayklaisha bahim tapa
The Bahaya Tapa - six external austerities - are as follows;
Aikantai shyanopvaishan kriti santapnam tanvam
Sankyo vriti nibhandana manshanam vishvanr madhodarm
Tyagam chaindrya dantino madyata svado rasyanisham
Shodha bahya maham stuvay shiv gati praptyabhiyupayam tapa
- Charitra bhakti
i) Vivikta-Shayyasana - sitting and sleeping in a secluded place devoid of animate beings;
ii) Kayaklesha - mortification of the body so long as the mind is not disturbed;
iii) Vritti-Parisamkhyana - taking a mental vow to accept food from a house-holder only if certain conditions are fulfilled without letting anyone know about the vow;
iv) Anashana - fasting, to give up all the four types of food for the sake of meditation.
v) Avamodarya - eating less than one's fill or less than one has appetite for; and,
vi) Rasa-Parityaga - daily renunciation of one or more of six kinds of delicacies namely, ghee (clarified butter), milk, curd, sugar, salt and oil.
(b) Abhyantara Tapa (internal austerities); referring to spiritual discipline. The internal penance has been categorized as below-
The Abhyantara Tapa - six kinds of internal austerities are:
Svadhiyeya shubhkarmnrshchyutvata samprtyavsthapanam
Dhyanam vyapritiramyavini guro vridhay ch balai yato
Kayotsarjan satkriya vinay itayvam tapa shadvidham
- Charitra bhakti
i) Svadhyaya - study of scriptures for getting rid of the ambition for name and fame, for 'Fame is the last infirmity of noble minds.'
ii) Prayashchit - expiation or confession and repentance of sins;
iii) Dhyana - concentration of mind and not to let the mind go astray.
iv) Vaiyavrtyaya - rendering service to other saints, who have been rendered helpless due to sickness or old age.
v) Vyutsarga - giving up attachment to the body; and,
vi) Vinya - reverence or modest behavior - to practice four types of humility in conduct.
These external and internal penances form the code of conduct for the rigorous life of self-denial the ascetics have to lead.
Again, penance is of two kinds;
1. Tamasa-tapasaya (kutap) - dark penance.
The dark penance involves the ghastly and terrible practices, as to sleep on the pointed iron nails, to walk on the burning fire, to get oneself suspended from a tree, to get oneself buried in the ground.
2. Satvika-tapasya (sutap) - real or true penance.
The true penance involves the genuine or natural ways of practicing penance. This real or true penance gives prominence to the practice of ‘Dhayana’ (meditation) and 'Upavasa' (fasting). Dark penance is the cause of migration of soul in the universe. True penance results in the liberation of the soul. Penance is practiced for eternal bliss. It has been said:
"Karmkshyarth tapayat iti tap"
The penance performed to annihilate the karmic matter is the real penance. Without annihilation of the karmas, the final goal i.e., liberation cannot be attained. Therefore, penance is a must for a living being aspiring for salvation. It has been stated in 'Rajvartika'- 'karmdahnatapa': that which results in the burning or annihilation of the karmas is called penance. Acharya Padam Nandi in the holy book ‘Panchvinshati’ has stated the same thing as follows:
"Karmmlbilyahetobordhdrisha tapayatai tapa proktam"
The penance performed by a monk endowed with the vision of Right Knowledge (samyakgyanddsss) to wash off the dirt of karmas from the soul, is called true penance. He who on subjugating five senses and four passions aroused by the abundance of semen is called penance. The author of the sacred book 'Dhawal' has also defined penance as followed:
Suppression of desires to attain the three jewels - Right faith, Right knowledge, and Right conduct - is called penance. To discard all desires at heart and become absorbed in the real self in order to conquer the karmas is known as penance. The word penance means to shun the sensual pleasures. Therefore, one who desires to perform penance will have to first overcome the lust for sensual pleasures; only then penance can be called successful. The abstention of ambition for legitimate and illegitimate, right and wrong sensuous pleasures in order to attain the three jewels, viz. Right faith, Right knowledge, and Right conduct is termed penance. In Bhagwati Aradhana penance has been defined as strict observance of the rules of moral conduct:
Chranrami tasmi jo ujamo ya aunjanra ya jo hoi
So chaiv jinraihin tavo bhanrido asadam charantas
The holy Lord Jinendra has declared the dedication to the moral code of conduct and the observance of these rules of morality in practical life penance.
To suffer calmly without murmur, the good or bad results of karmas that have become effective and not to commit any type of violence towards any living being is the essence of penance. In the critical appreciation of 'Sarvartha Siddhi' it has been said:
To mortify the body as much as possible according to the rules laid for the path of salvation without letting your spiritual power lie dormant is penance. A wise thinker has said, "The path of the brave is thorny; it involves mortification of the flesh'.
The same thing has been stated in the Rajvartika as below:
"Dehsyaindryanram ch tapam karoti ityanshanadi tap ichauchaytai"
To keep fast and observe austerities by restraining man's tendency of indulging in the pleasures of the body and senses is penance. In Kartikeyanupreksha it has been said:
Ih par loye suhanram nrirvaikho jo karaidi sam bhavo
Viviham kaya kalaisham tavdhammo nrimaalo tas
The equanimity soul, who tortures his body in various ways in the hope of getting happiness in this world and the other world, performs the unblemished penance. In order to attain this virtue of austerity the monks perform penance on the riverbanks in extreme winter; on the mountain peaks in the scorching summer heat and under a tree in heavy down pour in the rainy season. So long as we don't let our body pass through severe penance well performed, this body will not prove helpful in annihilating the karmas attached to our soul. Iron has to pass through many ordeals under heating process, before it can be finally molded into different shapes and sizes to manufacture precious implements and other objects. Likewise only the living being, who mortifies his body through various types of penance and tortures, attains the invaluable and invisible three -fold jewels of Right faith, Right knowledge and Right conduct, all of which lie dormant in the human body. Rightly has it been questioned: 'Has not being purged in fire gold wrought a crown?'
Self-torture or mortification of self is undoubtedly the surest way of purging both body and soul."
"Penance vanquishes karmas and annihilates all sins. What to speak of obtaining ordinary things as royal happiness and the high rank of Indra, the mundane soul can attain even Godly hood by penance. Human life is futile without penance?" - Lokantic Deva (Vardhman Puran, pg. 68)
The penance performed in a perfect way alone is real penance. Only such penance can be helpful to the monks to attain salvation - Moksha. Any other penance contrary to it is Bal tapa (ignorant penance). This ignorant penance is the cause of migration in the world. Acharya Kundkund Swami states the characteristics of 'Bal Tapa' in Samaysaau as follows;
Parmathmimhi du athido jo kunrdi tavam band ch dharyadi
Tam sacham baltavam balvandam vinti savanrhu
Samaysar gatha 152
The omniscient lord has termed all such penance and observance of vows that a living being attached to the worldly allurements performs, as 'Bal Tapa' or Bal Vrata (ignorant vow). The bodily torture and observance of vows deceitfully for pubic show; that which cannot prove helpful in treading the path of liberation i.e., salvation due to wrong belief is Bal Tapa (ignorant penance). Because such penance does not become helpful in relieving the soul from karmas, rather it becomes the cause of the bondage of soul by karmas.
Penance has been regarded a part and parcel of self- restraint. Those who adore moral conduct i.e., self- restraint, as a rule adore penance as well; and those who worship penance inevitably get the benefit of character worship. Penance is performed by the observation of vows discarding indolence and passions; and through study of scriptures and by meditation. It has been said:
"Svadhyaya parmam tap"
On this ground also penance implies character. Hence, all the penances are included in character worship. A full and perfect dedication to the thirteen types of characters is self-restraint. This self-restraint is achieved only when one is made purified by external and internal penance, otherwise not. Therefore, on account of being purified by external and internal penance, self-restraint has been counted as part of penance. The self-restrained wise monks, after proper deliberation over all the six things, e.g. matter (dravya), age (kal), place (kshetra), thoughts (bhav), power (bal), and virility (virya), should engage themselves in penance in different posture, viz. Sarvasan, Vidhasan, and Suddhasan; in order to enjoy the bliss of perfect good health and real self. A man should not aspire for worldly rewards in exchange for the above said penances while performing them. In the performing of penances it is essential to be indifferent to their results. Indeed, to practice life long penance is as difficult as to walk on the edge of sword.
Penance has been assigned an insignificant place in this 'Pancham Kala' i.e., materialistic age. While telling the interpretation of the dreams of the sovereign king Bharat, Lord Rishabh Deva said, "The sight of a horse with bent back due to being over loaded with a burden fit to be carried by an elephant indicates that in the 'Pancham Kala' (materialistic age) the monks will not be capable to adhere to all the characteristics of penance." Due to this very reason declaring the study of scriptures as the superb type of penance, the Lord emphasized the study of scriptures both by monks and householders.
We should know that one, who does not perform penance or practice austerities in life to one's utmost power, deceives one's real self. Besides, all powers of such a man lie dormant. By being engrossed in worldly pleasures a living being is held by the shackles of severe bondage of sins due to the influx of evil karmas which bring him untold misery and bitter agonies in the several births to come.
If a living being performs penance within his power, he reaps its fruits beyond imagination. Just as the high temperature of a person's body scorched by the fierce rays of the sun subsides by a shower bath, likewise penance works as a tranquilizer for the noble souls burnt by the great worldly fire of passions. Penance possesses the infinite power of undoing of the worldly miseries. The glory of penance beggars description i.e., its significance is unlimited. He, who does not perform penance observing as much self-restraint as possible, is worthless like a straw.
The great poet Reidhu has described the supreme virtue of austerity or penance as below:
Tam tau jhin parigahu chandijyi, tam tau jhin Myrna ji
Tam tau jhin nrgtnru disei tam tau jhin gir kandri nrivsyi
Tam tau jhin uvsagg sahijyi tam tau jhin rayain jinrijyi
Tam tau bhivkhyi munrijyi savay gaih kalinrivam sijyi
Tam tau jath samidi paripalnru tam tau gutityam nrihalnru
Tam tau janhi apaparu bujhiu tam tau jhin bhav manru ji ujhayu
Tam tau jhin sasruv munrijau, tam tau jhin kamaham gnru khijyi
Tam tau jhin sur mati pyasyi, pvynrth bhaviynrham pabhasyi
Jainr tavain kaivlu upjyi sasye sukhu nrich sampjyi
Varah vihu tau viru gugyi pariharu, tam pujyi thir ganrinra
Machhru mau chhandivi karnryim dandivi, tam vi dharijyi gau ravinra
1. He who has abstained himself from greed or worldly possessions; who has got rid of mental impurities; who has adopted nude monkshood; who resides in mountain caves, observes the supreme penance.
2. Penance is that in which calamities are suffered without murmur; that in which feelings of attachment are conquered and that in which food is accepted as alms at an appropriate time from the householders.
3. Penance is that in, which the five samities - regulation of the movements of the body are observed. That in which full attention is paid to the three Guptis - regulation for self- control. That in, which a man ponders and meditates over his self and non-self; and that in, which a man sheds the feeling of vanity in his present state of birth.
4. Penance is that in, which a man ponders over the purpose of his real life; that in which the karmas are vanquished; that in which the Gods give expression to their devotion; and that in which the sermons are delivered for the well-being of mundane souls.
5. Penance is that by the performance of which, as a rule one attains salvation and obtains eternal bliss.
6. These are the twelve types of supreme penance. Penance rids one of a miserable state of existence. We should pay homage to it with a stable mind; and discarding vanity and malice with full pride, the living beings should subjugate all the five senses.
Hence, O Mortal Man! 'Mortify yourself, mortify yourself and mortify yourself. Give up the feeling of tenderness for the body. Conquer desires and then you will realize that you have conquered all sorrow and misery; cut off all types of attachments, suppress hatred, and thus you will be happy in this worldly existence and reap a rich spiritual harvest.'
'Self-torture is not a curse, but a boon and a way to eternal peace.' Indeed, sweet are the uses of penance i.e., self-torture.
To sum up, penance teaches us to surmount hardships and difficulties willingly and cheerfully. In truth, difficulties, which are part and parcel of penance, are the ladders that lead us to heaven.
Be there thorns or flowers
What difference they make for soul;
Be it a palace or a cottage
They shelter the body not soul;
Be it a clod of clay or gold
The real wealth lies in soul;
Who can excel a person?
Enlightened is whose soul?