‘Tapas’ – what on earth are the yogis talking about?

For some of us, especially those who are relatively new to the yogic path, may have heard of the term ‘tapas’. But what, exactly, do people mean when they talk about practising tapas?…

The term tapas originates from the Sanskrit root ‘tap’, which means to give off heat, to shine (like the sun), or to practice austerities. Tapas is often used to mean self control or cultivation of willpower.

From a formal point of view, tapas is an act of making a commitment to perform a particular spiritual practice or observance for a specified amount of time.

After having learned yoga practices, the aspirant is intended to apply them on a daily basis and to assume specific forms of tapas like diet, asanas, pranayama, meditation, etc. If practiced according to the tradition, tapas, the third niyama, is seen as being the source of all spiritual accomplishments.

We can also define it as the use of such commitments to develop and purify the will to the extent that it can take us deeper in the spiritual practice. If we assume a tapas and succeed in the challenge, we gain a momentum and confidence in this pure will. In this way, we can skilfully take on more and more difficult challenges to slowly build up willpower over time.

‘Strengthen your willpower, so that you will not be controlled by circumstances, but will control them.’

Paramahansa Yogananda –

The concept of tapas is found in virtually all spiritual traditions. Jesus said that we should develop a “faith that can move mountains,” and this is precisely what is meant by tapas. In Christianity, as well in other traditions, austerities have been performed to build the will and faith in order to live a spiritual life. In this way, we can also say that tapas is the capacity of maintaining a state of equilibrium even when subjected to very challenging influences.


‘If you do not fast from the world,
you will not find the kingdom.
If you do not celebrate the Sabbath as a Sabbath,
you will not know the Father.’

– Jesus Christ –

In the trantic tradition, the fifth great cosmic wisdom of the Hindu pantheon and one of the great Mahavidyas, Tripura Bhairavi, embodies the transformation force of the practice of tapas. She is fierce in her form: radiant like the sun, she is often depicted as smeared with blood and wearing a garland of human heads or skulls. Tripura Bhairavi is therefore often worshipped by those seeking divine inspiration in their tapas practice. While she is terrifying, Tripura Bhairavi also represents the transformation that comes from the destructive practice of tapas and in this way, she is the guiding light of the practice. Below is an image of the Tripura Bhairavi yantra.

If you can’t go outside – go inside!

‘Surrender to Existence, accept yourself as you are, do everything with total awareness’

We have been a bit quiet on the social media front here at Kalyan Yoga – although far from quiet in reality, packing our bags and making the long awaited move from Manchester to South Devon.

It is difficult to find the words to describe the current environment – we have experienced ALL the feels recently. If you have been feeling challenging emotions, such as fear, anxiety, doubt, uncertainty – please know that you are not alone and it is ok to experience this!

I, (Sabina), experienced quite intense feelings of fear and anxiety making the move in such uncertain times. I felt deep feelings of scarcity, not having the essentials to cook food with and being without the comforts that I have grown so used to having, such as a washing machine and a fridge.

There have been many moments when I have been fully identified with the feelings.The pinnacle culminated with me crying on the steps of our place when the delivery guys wouldn’t bring our (extremely heavy) washing machine into the house because of the virus (and then utter relief when they saw my panic and agreed to bring it up the stairs). On the flip side, there have been moments of profound joy, gratitude and happiness.The lockdown has provided an intimate time to nest in our new abode, reinvigorate our hatha yoga practice and dive deep into meditation.

On an even deeper level, the upheaval and shocks to the system have been profound opportunities to become very present. Eckhart Tolle succinctly writes ‘How to be at peace now? By making peace with the present moment.The present moment is the field on which the game of life happens. It cannot happen anywhere else’. And the beauty is that it is true! Surrendering to What Is – as opposed to what ‘should or could be’, affords the us the greatest freedom imaginable.

When we are present, we are also afforded the opportunity to face challenging emotions and thoughts head on – revealing their unreal nature.

Rumi (one of the most celebrated Sufis of all time), said that to be a Sufi meant ‘to feel joy in the Heart when sorrow appears’. Our teacher Sahajananda, explained that what Rumi was referring to, is the capacity to sublimate personal emotions (including sorrow, fear, and anxiety), into the freedom of the infinite heart. Sahajananda says that ‘even during a pandemic, sorrow can be sublimated in compassion and Love’.

In this way, we can begin to see moments of feeling overwhelmed by difficult emotions or thoughts as opportunities. Opportunities for what? 1. To remain as present as possible. 2. To anchor ourselves in the heart. 3. To act from that place.

We know first hand how intense and challenging times like this can be, and how easy it is to run with our thoughts and become identified with emotions. However, with practice, it becomes easier and eventually, witnessing from the heart becomes our natural way of being.

Sahajananda also highlighted the importance of meditation, calling it ‘the meditation remedy’. Meditation is a practice that requires us to remain intimately present and witness whatever is arising in our being. By simply watching our thoughts and emotions with an equanimous attitude, we invite more spaciousness and freedom. Even more profoundly, our inner most essence can be revealed as a state of clear, centered awareness and love. As put by Sahajananda, by becoming nothing we become everything.

There are many beautiful offerings at the moment for free online mediation and yoga. We would encourage you to explore these offers – this time of isolation is the perfect opportunity to explore the inner realms of your being! (If you can’t go outside – go inside!)

We will be offering online guided meditations every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1 April. Unfortunately we are not able to offer these any earlier, as we don’t have wifi connected yet! However, other dear friends are making many beautiful offerings now – check them out!

Hridaya Yoga France is offering 1 hour meditations via Facebook Live every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7.00am CET

-Hridaya teacher, Stephan Oesterreicher is offering two hour meditation via Zoom at 8am-10am German time

-Senior Hridaya Teacher, Antonaneta is leading a 49 day tapas dedicated to Goodness Tara. (Check out the Hridaya Yoga France page for details).

Sending everyone deep love, in times of uncertainty and joy.

‘Surrender to Existence, accept yourself as you are, do everything with total awareness’

The Odyssey of Enlightenment by Berthold Madhukar Thompson

Perseverance

Before completing my training in Mexico at the end of last year, Sahajananda (the main founder of Hridaya Yoga) affirmed the importance of perseverance. Below we have a short story about Milarepa and his foremost disciple, Gampopa where a similar message was conveyed. I have included a few more quotes as well, to consolidate this essential attitude for any spiritual aspirant. 

Milarepa’s Bottom

One day, Milarepa warned Gampopa that the time had come for him to depart.

He told Gampopa, “You have received the entire transmission. I have given you all the teachings, as if pouring water from one vase into another. Only 1 pith instruction remains that I haven’t taught you. It’s very secret.”

He then accompanied Gampopa to a river, where they were to part. Gampopa made prostrations to take his leave and started across. But Milarepa called him back: “You are a really good disciple. Anyway I will give you this last teaching.”

Overjoyed, Gampopa prostrated 9 times, then waited for the instructions. Milarepa proceeded to turn around, pull up his robe, showing Gampopa his bottom. “Do you see?”

And Gampopa said, “Uh…yes…”

“Do you really see?”

Gampopa was not sure what he was supposed to see. Milarepa had calluses on his buttocks; they looked as though they were half flesh and half stone.

“You see, this is how I reached enlightenment: sitting and meditating. If you want to reach it in this life, make the same effort. This is my final teaching. I have nothing more to add.” 

His buttocks have been an inspiration against my own self-cherishing ego ever since. 

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Never give up.

No matter what is going on, never give up.

Develop the heart.

Too much energy in your country is spent developing the mind instead of the heart.

Be compassionate.

Not just to your friends, but to everyone.

Be compassionate.

Work for peace; in your heart and in the world.

Work for peace, and I say again, never give up.

No matter what is going on around you…

NEVER give up.

A.A. Milne, Winnie-The-Pooh

‘Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.’

Milarepa

‘Do not entertain hopes for realisation, but practice all your life.’

Shakyamuni Buddha

‘Shakyamuni Buddha’: literally translates to ‘Sage of the Shakyas’ & name used to refer to Gautama Buddha, a Prince born in North East India around 563 BC.


He sought the truth through several years of ascetic practice (such as fasting and long hours of meditation).

The Buddha reached enlightenment after a committed period of meditation underneath a bodhi tree, in Bodhgaya, India. From then on he was called ‘the Awakened One‘ and he travelled India, sharing spiritual teachings on how others could also become ‘awakened’.

Buddha referred to his recommended path to enlightenment as the ‘Middle Way’. His teaching was clear, consisting of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (‘meditative absorption or union’).

Theravada Buddhism is often denoted as the most conservative school of Buddhism and it has attempted to conserve the teachings of the Buddha.

At Kalyan Yoga, we share a few practices inspired by Theravada Buddhism, including walking meditation and anapanasati (watching the sensations of the breath with detachment)

The Astonishing Light of Your Own Being

Inspirational blackboard, on day three of a ten day silent meditation retreat at Hridaya Yoga, Mazunte, Mexico

The mystical words on this blackboard were originally written by Hafiz, a 14th C Sufi poet. Ralph Emerson described Hafiz as ‘the poet for poets’. Hafiz’s poems about the beauty of this life hit us right in the heart. The deeper truths he reveals with his words can be felt, (not just understood).

The wisdom of Hafiz’s words stand the test of time. Echoes of the same message can be seen in the below words from modern spiritual teacher Ram Dass.

You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing.
You don’t have to do anything to earn it.
Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic success- none of that matters.
No one can take this love away from you, and it will always be here
.’
-Ram Dass

There is a deeper essence of our being, waiting to be discovered. A divine love that is eternal, unchanging and that exists in us all.

This may sound quite esoteric and unfamiliar to many of us. Societal conditioning, driven by materialism and a culture that heralds the triumph of the competitive ego, doesn’t naturally encourage a deep connection to this essence. The good news is- it is very possible! At Kalyan Yoga we practice daily meditation and contemplative hatha yoga as a way of quietening the mind and reconnecting to our hearts.

Yogi is a completely experiential science, there is limited value in understanding things intellectually if we don’t also practice. Getting onto the mat (and regularly) is our best way to experience yogic teachings of oneness and reconnecting to the astonishing light of our own being.

Green Tara Mantra

A Tibetan Buddhist depiction of Green Tara

Tara is the goddess of compassion. From the Sanskrit root ‘tr’; ‘Tara’ means to ‘take across’, referring to Tara’s role in helping us to traverse through samsara (‘world of illusion’).

Her mantra: ‘Om tare tuttare ture svāhā’, is one of the most well known mantras in the tantric tradition (there are over 72 million!). Mantras are sacred words with spiritual potency and are generally used to transport the mind from ordinary thinking to stillness.


Mantras are also seen to have an intrinsic vibrational quality. Sri Aurobindo clarifies: ‘The function of a mantra is to create vibrations in the inner consciousness that will prepare it for the realisation of what the mantra symbolises and is supposed indeed to carry within itself‘.

Below is a breakdown of what the Sanskrit words of this mantra mean.

Om: (also known as ‘Aum’), represents the substratum of creative sound that sustains the Universe; a primordial, cosmic sound. Sanskrit symbol: ॐ

Tare: salvation from mundane dangers and suffering; a protection from worldly dangers such as floods, crime, dangerous animals and traffic accidents.

Tuttare: deliverance into the spiritual path conceived in terms of individual salvation. Tara offers individual protection from the spiritual dangers of greed, hated, delusion: factors that cause individual suffering.

Ture: a deliverance from an aspiration for personal enlightenment, into the altruistic path of universal salvation (the ‘Bodhisattva path’).

Svaha: ‘hail’ or ‘hail to!’ We could view this final blessing as symbolising the recognition that we are, ultimately, Tara. 🙏

Impermanence – A Gateway to Liberation

The worlds longest stretch of prayer wheels. The inner kora at Labrang Monastery, Xiahe, China.

Anitya or impermanence is a very powerful and profound teaching of the Buddha. We can define Anitya as; 

…the constant, basic universal truth of change. Impermanence is both a process of continual loss, in which things exist and then disappear, and it is also a process of continuous rebirth or creativity, in which things that do not exist suddenly appear.’ – Joseph Goldstein, American Theravada Buddhist teacher. 

Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh describes impermanence as ‘What makes transformation possible. We should learn to say, ‘Long live impermanence.’ Thanks to impermanence, we can change suffering into joy.

We can observe impermanence very easily, especially in meditation, but also in our daily activities. In meditation, if we become aware of our breathing cycles, each inhalation is like a mini birth and each exhalation, a mini death. The impermanence of each breath, becomes obvious. This insight, that everything that arises, falls away brings a great sense of peace into being. The recognition of impermanence is simple, remembering to maintain an awareness of it is more challenging. 

In Vipassana meditation retreats, orchestrated by S. N. Goenka, retreat participants focus on the impermanence of physical sensations as a way of realising that mind and body are in a constant process of change.

This is a very powerful technique that can bring an increased perception of anitya. As we become more aware of the impermanence of whatever we perceive, we begin to free ourselves from old tendencies and habitual patterns. We no longer attach ourselves to feelings, emotions, thoughts. We realise that as soon as a thought is born, it dies. The thought, ‘I am not worthy’ becomes just another thought rather than a belief. 

Long live impermanence.’

A bhikkhu on the path.

Impermanence does not mean complacency however. We remain responsive and responsible to our surroundings but we do so, with the freedom and understanding that everything is in flux. 

With this understanding arises nitya, permanence or eternity. Nitya is Absolute Consciousness, that which never changes, the unmanifest. All manifestation arises from this depth and anything that manifests is impermanent. Whatever is born must die. When we become aware of nitya, we connect to a reality beyond our limited self. We connect to a part of ourselves that is unborn. Free from death, fear, suffering and anxiety. 

Sally Tisdale, author of ‘Women of the Way’, describes the experience of an 18th century Japenese Zen nun, Teijitsu. She describes Teijitsu’s journey from her recognition of anitya, impermanence to becoming one with nitya, eternity.

She saw that arising arose, abided, and fell away.… She saw that knowing this arose, abided, and fell away. Then she knew there was nothing more than this, no ground, nothing to lean on stronger than the cane she held, nothing to lean upon at all, and no one leaning, and she opened the clenched fist in her mind and let go and fell into the midst of everything.’

‘Self-realisation’- What is it?


Many of us have heard of the term but might be a bit confused as to what it actually means. A potential reason for confusion is that ‘self-realisation’ has very different meanings, depending on whether you are coming to the term from a common Western understanding or from an Oriental/Eastern understanding.

The Western definition has been influenced by Western psychoanalysis. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines ‘self-realisation’ as ‘the fact of using your skills and abilities and achieving as much as you can possibly achieve.’ From this definition it is clear that ‘self-realisation’ is constrained within the bounds of the personality and a sense of doing and achieving.

In contrast, Oriental/Eastern spiritual traditions invite us to go beyond the realms of the personality and we can see that ‘Self-realisation’ is much more about b e i n g than doing or achieving.

In Advaita Vedanta, (considered the pearl of Indian philosophy), there is an immortal, immutable aspect that exists in every object of creation- human beings and animals, as well as inanimate objects. This aspect is called ‘atman’ or the ‘transcendental Self’. Advaita Vedanta goes on to say that the Self is ‘Brahman’ – the ultimate reality or God.

Buddhism too, invites us to awaken to this deeper reality. In both traditions, in knowing the ‘true nature of reality’ or ‘realising the Self’ we realise that there is no separation between anyone and anything- everything is One. Just as the wave is never separate from the ocean, we are all individual expressions of the divine.

In the words of Kahlil Gibran, from ‘The Prophet‘:

And a man said, Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.
And he answered, saying:
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.

You would know in words that which you have always know in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
 


And it is well you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless
.’

Image by Kahlil Gibran, ‘The Prophet’.

The paradoxical isolation of omnipresence…

The closest of dear friends, she makes one feel, yet an aura of remoteness was ever around her – the paradoxical isolation of omnipresence.’ Paramahansa Yogananda on Anandamayi Ma in ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.

When we connect to Stillness, the underlying one reality of existence, we connect to the depth of our being, where love, compassion, peace and joy permeate our every cell. These qualities can be felt or experienced by us and by those around us.

When we connect to stillness, separation is no longer perceived. There is no I or you or they or that. Everything just is and that pure sense of existence, without name, without form, is you. You are one consciousness, existing in isolation and containing absolutely everything. This is the paradox.

As god is omnipresent in the cosmos but is undisturbed by its variety. So man, who as a soul is individualised spirit, must learn to participate in this cosmic drama with a perfectly poised and equilibrated mind’. Paramahansa Yogananda.

The closest of dear friends, she makes one feel.’ Here, Yogananda refers to Anandamayi Ma’s participation in the cosmic drama.

Yet an aura of remoteness was ever around her.’ Here, he recognises the isolation in which she dwells, undisturbed, with a perfectly poised and equilibrated mind.

Through Yogic practices, we connect to Stillness time and time again, simply resting there. By doing so, we learn to be a participant in the cosmic drama. We inhabit our role lightly, with non-attachment, undisturbed by success or failure, recognising ourselves as something beyond this relative and limited existence.

The image is a colourful version of a page from the book ‘Be Here Now’ by Ram Dass talking about the paradoxical nature of existence and the limitations of the ego.

Image by emptybutfull.

When is the best time to meditate?

The best time to meditate is actually whenever we sit down and meditate! That said, we often hear that people find certain times of the day easier to meditate. It can be useful to experiment and see what times work best for you – especially if you are in the process of developing a regular meditation practice.

Many people say that they find it easiest to meditate first thing in the morning, immediately after waking. This can be a really good time, as the waking mind is fresh and hasn’t been drawn into the activities of the day. You may find that the mind is less noisy and feel a natural sense of calm.

Others prefer to meditate just before bed, incorporating their meditation into a conscious winding down routine. If you live in a cold climate, it can be helpful to have a warm shower before meditation. This helps to warm up the body, which is important if we are sitting for prolonged periods of time. It also cleanses energies, washing away stagnant energies that we may have collected throughout the day.

In the Hindu tradition the most auspicious time to meditate is during ‘Brahmamuhurta‘. A ‘muhurta’ is a time period of 48 minutes, and Brahmamuhurta is constituted of two muhurtas before sunrise. For example, if sunrise is at 7am then Brahmamuhurta starts at 5.24am. This period is commonly the stillest period of the night.

We recommend that you experiment with different times and see what suits you best. If you live in a household that is busy and noisy first thing in the morning, then it might be more practical to schedule your meditation practice for the afternoon or evening.

The real key is regular meditation– try to find a time or times that you can practice daily.