Sattwic Tapasya

A sattwic tapasya is characterized by balance and harmony, as well as appropriate control over body, speech and mind. Sattwic tapasya prepares the nature for its evolutionary advancement, focuses and purifies the energies, and helps liberate the soul from the bondage of the lower nature.

Sri Aurobindo describes the Gita’s view of sattwic tapasya: “First comes the physical, the askesis of the outward act; under this head are especially mentioned worship and reverence of those deserving reverence, cleanness of the person, the action and the life, candid dealing, sexual purity and avoidance of killing and injury to others. Next is askesis of speech, and that consists in the study of Scripture, kind, true and beneficent speech and a careful avoidance of words that may cause fear, sorrow and trouble to others. Finally, there is the askesis of mental and moral perfection, and that means the purifying of the whole temperament, gentleness and a clear and calm gladness of mind, self-control and silence. Here comes in all that quiets or disciplines the rajasic and egoistic nature and all that replaces it by the happy and tranquil principle of good and virtue.”

As the sattwic tapasya progresses it begins to transcend its roots in the Gunas and bring about an increasing identity with the Divine spirit and presence which finds a suitable foundation in the nature prepared by this discipline. “And what will remain then will be the spirit’s immaculate Tapas, a highest will and luminous force in all the members, acting in a wide and solid calm and a deep and pure spiritual delight, Ananda. There will then be no farther need of askesis, no Tapasya, because all is naturally and easily divine, all is that Tapas. There will be no separate labour of the lower energism, because the energy of Prakriti will have found its true source and base in the transcendent will of the Purushottama. Then, because of this high initiation, the acts of this energy on the lower planes also will proceed naturally and spontaneously from an innate perfect will and by an inherent perfect guidance. There will be no limitation by any of the present Dharmas; for there will be a free action far above the rajasic and tamasic nature, but also far beyond the too careful and narrow limits of the sattwic rule of action.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 472-473

Tamasic and Rajasic Tapasya

The concept of “tapasya” is frequently translated to mean the practice of austerities, an ascetic discipline, but the sense is actually much more complex and nuanced than that. The root word implies production of heat, radiating energy. It is generally associated with yogic disciplines, in some cases with penances, privations and physical suffering. Sri Aurobindo, however, in his translation of the Taittiriya Upanishad translates it to mean “concentration of thought” or “concentration of force”, and this represents the more central, inner sense of the phrase. The teacher in the Upanishad asked the disciple to undertake tapasya, because “tapasya is the Eternal.” This shows the essential nature of tapasya and the need we have to truly understand what is implied by it in the deepest sense. The other inflections represent the influence of the Gunas on the practice of tapasya, as each Guna will yield a different sense of what “tapasya” must be.

Sri Aurobindo describes Tamasic Tapasya as follows: “…that which is pursued under a clouded and deluded idea hard and obstinate in its delusion, maintained by an ignorant faith in some cherished falsehood, performed with effort and suffering imposed on oneself in pursuit of some narrow and vulgar egoistic object empty of relation to any true or great aim or else with a concentration of the energy in a will to do hurt to others….a darkness in the mind and nature, a vulgar narrowness and ugliness in the doing or a brutish instinct or desire in the aim or in the motive feeling.”

He describes Rajasic Tapasya as well: “Rajasic energisms of askesis are those which are undertaken to get honour and worship from men, for the sake of personal distinction and outward glory and greatness or from some other of the many motives of egoistic will and pride. This kind of askesis is devoted to fleeting particular objects which add nothing to the heavenward growth and perfection of the soul; it is a thing without fixed and helpful principle, an energy bound up with changeful and passing occasion and itself of that nature. Or even if there is ostensibly a more inward and noble object and the faith and will are of a higher kind, yet if any kind of arrogance or pride or any great strength of violent self-will or desire enters into the askesis or if it drives some violent, lawless or terrible action contrary to the Shastra, opposed to the right rule of life and works and afflicting to onesel and to others, or if it is of the nature of self-torture and hurts the mental, vital and physical elements or violates the God within us who is seated in the inner subtle body, then too it is an unwise, an Asuric, a rajasic or rajaso-tamasic Tapasya.”

It is thus important to recognize that, as with all things and forces in the world, the pervasive action of the Gunas can distort the action and destroy the intended spiritual result.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pg. 472

The Foundations For Development of Morality and Ethics as Powers In Life

As the mental power works to gain control over the vital energy, there has to be a shift from the instinctive action of the vital to a more free exercise of the will. This provides both more scope for development and more need of discipline and restraint in order to direct and manage the energy effectively. The mental power includes morality and ethics as one of its lines, but these are not sole and fully determinative as there are actually a number of factors involved in achieving result in the world of action, and the moral force is just one of them.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “The moral is not the sole element: it is not entirely true that the moral right always prevails or that where there is the dharma, on that side is the victory. The immediate success often goes to other powers, even an ultimate conquest of the Right comes usually by an association with some form of Might.”

The concept of morality does play a part, especially in the interactions in society where we need the cooperation and good will of others, and the support of the framework of organisation of the nation and machinery of government in order to succeed. In this instance, any willful disregard of the moral aspect can lead to opposition and cross-currents that would inevitably weaken, or even defeat the goal of the effort. As a result there are automatically checks that make it difficult for someone to use the mental power to gain control over the vital and physical life to an extreme degree.

“Moreover, man in the use of his energies has to take into account of his fellows and the aid and opposition of their energies, and his relations with them impose on him checks, demands and conditions which have or evolve a moral significance. There is laid on him almost from the first a number of obligations even in the pursuit of vital success and satisfaction which become a first empirical basis of an ethical order.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 15, Mind Nature and Law of Karma, pp. 133-134,