The Sanskrit syllable “tap” means “to be hot”. From it the Sanskrit term “tapas” is derived and that term generally is translated as “penance” or ascetic practices in the yoga literature. Most generally this term is used to mean abstinence from worldly pleasures for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. It can also mean extremely rigorous practices of self-denial.
However, the inner meaning is better understood as a fine austerity as in simplicity in one’s behavior. In this simplicity I find confusing thoughts and impulses are better seen and avoided, not as in denial of anything, but as restraint from allowing my energy to flow into triviality that doesn’t really interest me any longer.
The wisdom teachings speak of ‘holding one’s vital energy inside’ because I am not just letting it flow to any of the myriad distractions which our modern life continually offers to our sensory system.
From this understanding I entered this morning into the following meditation:
I awaken to the beauty and pain of life and so I awaken to my own sorrow. Holding this sorrow in my awareness like a man whose hair is on fire, without a thought, with a brain that is completely still, there is great heat in me.
I am the crucible of the inner alchemy. The impurities are burnt to ash. I direct the energy of my attention to this terrible-wonderful ‘what is’ I call my world and the fire is ignited.
With the power of smiling I contain the sorrow within my being and thus no contamination of the world occurs.
The power of smiling is the inner power of holding both ends of the spectrum of terrible-wonderful so that I am able to see the whole business, not just a fragment. The smile is not an expression of joy or happiness, but rather as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it:
“Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we have sovereignty over ourselves, that we are not drowned in forgetfulness.”