Article by Swami Ranganathananda, published in SURRENDER – Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Renovation Souvenir 2002.
If today’s education becomes inspired by our own Indian concept of education, a big revolution will take place in our country, through the batches and batches of creative minds it will turn out. India understood education as tapas. The word tapas is a great word in Sanskrit, and a great value upheld in Indian culture. Every great achievement is based on tapas, which means the austerity of hard concentrated work. But we have misunderstood this word in recent centuries and also have become afraid of it in modern times. Tapas, to many of our people today, means only undergoing some austerities, like fasting for some days or performing impossible endurance feats like standing in the hot sun, lying on spikes. etc. We have misunderstood this great word and destroyed and contracted its great meaning.
No; these are all corrupted and truncated forms of what was originally understood by tapas. According to its original concept, it is the value behind every great achievement in any field of life. You want to earn money, you must under go tapas; you want to achieve social greatness; you need the tapas of hard social work; you want to earn knowledge, you must under go tapas. In the field of education, specially, tapas is highly praised. The child is sleeping comfortably under a rug in winter, morning comes; he or she wakes up, washes and bathes, has breakfast, and goes off to school. What is the motive power behind it? Hunger for knowledge. What does the child do in response to that hunger? He or she says to oneself: I don’t want this comfort in bed; I shall renounce it joyously because I am in search of a greater value, namely, knowledge; that attitude and behaviour is called tapas. The child could have continued to remain in bed, sleeping nicely, and enjoying oneself in ease and comfort. But she or he says no to that impulse and adopts the austerity of tapas. Here you have the meaning and significance of tapas. It is austerity; but of what kind? Not of that negative, kill-joy, sterile, endurance feat variety, but a positive, joyous kind of austerity. Why? because, what I have giver up is small and ordinary compared to what I am going to get. Now, pleasure and comfort is small and ordinary; even animals have it; but what a knowledge-hungry child is in search of, and what it is hungry for, is something more, which no animals have the organic capacity to experience, but for which man alone is entitled.
The True Meaning of ‘Tapas’
Therefore, our culture inspired our people to gladly undergo the tapas involved in knowledge-seeking and knowledge-communicating, and produced a vast fund of knowledge; and they made their country a fertile womb of creative ideas. The word tapas can be rendered into English as any privation, freely and joyously undertaken, with a view to achieving something higher, you gladly give up ten paise when you are given one rupee; there is not, what is called, a feeling of sacrifice or suffering in it, because you are getting something better, more valuable. So, in the field of education, every human child gives up physical ease and comfort, treating it as of lesser value, so that he or she may gain something of higher value.
That is, meaning of tapas; and this beautiful and richly meaningful word comes again and again in the Vedas, in the Upanisads, in the Bhagavad-Gita, in the Mahabharata, in the Ramayana, and in many of our other works. It is a continually recurring word in our culture. If you seek what is the strength behind Indian culture, you will find it to be this value called tapas. That is the word with which the Valmiki Ramayana begins: Tapahsvadhyayaniratam – ‘ever devoted to tapas and svadhyaya, while describing the sage Narada. Svadhyaya means study; that is the product of tapas.
So let me give you the most scientific and beautiful definition of the word tapas given by The Yajnavalkya Smrti, which is quoted by Sankaracharya in his commentary on the Taittiriya Upanisad (3.1). In that Upanisad, the word tapas occurs again and again. A student goes to a teacher and says: ‘Sir, teach me Brahman’. Brahman is the Ultimate Reality behind this universe, of the nature of Satyam, Jnanam and Anantam ‘Truth, Consciousness, and Infinity’ (2.3). And the teacher says (3.1): Tapasa brahma vijinasasva; tad brahmeti ‘Seek to know Brahman through tapas Brahman is tapas.’ Tapas is the means and Brahman is the end, and means and end are one. Then the Upanisad goes on to tell us what the student did: Sa tapo tapyata ‘He performed tapas. In other Upanisads, it is stated that God projected this universe out of Himself like a spider bringing out the web out of itself. How? Through tapas. The universe is a product of the creative tapas of the Divine. What is the nature of that tapas of the Divine? It consists of knowledge, says The Mundaka Upanisad (1.9):
Yah sarvajnah sarvavit Yasya jnana-mayam tapah-
‘He is the All-knowing (since) He is the All, and His tapas consists only of jnana or knowledge.’
What a beautiful concept! When we look at an artist creating a thing of beauty, what is behind it? the tapas of the artist. Without tapas, there is no art at all. A millionaire has earned money; behind it there is tapas; so also a great statesman does something very good for his country; behind it also there is the energy of tapas. Mahatma Gandhi did so much for India and to the world; behind it we can see this great value of tapas. So tapas is such a protean word in Sanskrit, filled with diverse applications in human life. But we must understand correctly what it means and apply it to the comprehensive human development in India. Then alone will our education become serious, purposive, and goal-oriented oriented to total human development and welfare. Here is that verse from the Yajnavalkya Smrti quoted by Sankaracharya, while explaining the meaning of the word suggested to the student by the teacher as the means to attain Brahman (Taittirlya Upanisad,3. 1):
Sarvesam hi niyata-sadhya-visayanam sadhanam tapa eva sadhakatamam sadhanam iti hi pradiddham loke …. Tacca tapo bahyantakarana samadhanam, tadvarkatvat brahma prati patteh:
Manasas ca indriyanaam ca hyaikagryam paramam tapah;
Tajjyayah sarvadharmebhyah sa dharmah para uchyate, iti smrteh-
“It is well known in the world that, among all the means employed to achieve objectives by disciplined means, tapas alone is the most efficient of the means …. And that tapas referred to here means the stilling of the external instruments (of knowledge, namely, the sense organs) and the internal instrument (of knowledge, namely, the mind); – says the smrti.
“The concentration of the energies of the mind and the sense organs is supreme tapas; that is, verily, superior to all (other) dharmas (life disciplines); that is called the supreme dharma.”
When we concentrate the tremendous psycho-physical energies that are in us and make their impact felt on any problem, and the problem gets clarified and solved. Through tapas comes every type of greatness and excellence. Laziness and wantonness of mind, and frenzied frittering of emotional energies, cannot make one great in any field of life. If that child had continued to sleep in the bed, and played about, want only the rest of the day, and never resorted to the tapas or austerity of going to school and acquiring the knowledge which previous generations had left as precious legacy for him, he would have remained an animal, and never become a human child. Indian culture speaks of the educational process as the discharging of one’s debt, RNA, to the past thinkers and sages. But, every human child has this hunger for knowledge, unless it is stifled by an unfavourable social environment or an undeveloped genetic system. All other children, urged by this unique hunger, accepts tapas joyously; he or she will tell his or her mother: mother, help me to prepare myself to go to school. How we wish that all our Indian children today, impelled by this hunger for, and love of, knowledge, will say this to their mothers! But the number is getting less and less, within the last few years. There is, to be sure, increasing enrolment in our schools; but the spirit of tapas is getting less and less, both among the teachers and the students. Everything in education is becoming cheap, including examination. Similarly, money-making is becoming cheap, away from the tapas of honest, hard, productive work.
Yoga as a Philosophy of Human Excellence
What a beautiful vision of human excellence is available to us in this philosophy! This is the philosophy, in all its heights and depths, that the Gita teaches throughout its eighteen chapters in the name of yoga-sastra, the science of yoga. I often ponder as to what is the philosophy that we need for our politics and administration. And the answer comes simple and straight: It is the philosophy of yoga as taught by the Gita, but not any and every yoga taught by many other books of our tradition, which also have their relevance, but only in their limited fields. The country stands to gain immensely by trying to grasp correctly, and implement effectively, according to the measure of each one’s capacity, its exhortation: tasmdt yogi bhavarjuna, in the light of its three definitions of yoga, namely, samatvam yoga ucyate-‘ yoga is equanimity’; yogah karmasu kausalam- ‘yoga is efficiency, dexterity, in action; and duhkha samyoga viyogam yoga samjnitam – ‘the disconnection with all connection with pain is called samjnitam-‘the disconnection with all connection with pain is called yoga.
Our people have to shed all cheap magical and pseudo-mystical ideas associated with this word yoga and, then, with a clear mind, understand this yoga philosophy of the Gita. We had associated yoga with everything except what Sri Krishna meant it to be with changing one’s external dress or appearance, with pranayama, with miracles, etc. In all these, we had neglected the fundamental buddhi-yoga, emphasis on work efficiency and character-efficiency, renunciation of the ego through detachment, and service to fellow human beings. It was this misuse and abuse of a great philosophy that called forth Swami Vivekananda’s sharp words in the course of his famous lecture on The Future of India, given at Madras in 1897 (Complete Works, Vol.IlI, pp. 300-301. Eighth Enlarged Edition):
‘So give up being a slave! For the next fifty years, this alone shall be our keynote-this our great Mother India. Let all other vain gods disappear for the time from our minds. This is the only god that is awake, our own race, everywhere his hands, everywhere his feet, everywhere his ears, he covers everything. All other gods are sleeping; what vain gods shall we go after and yet cannot worship the god that we see all around us, the Virata? When we have worshipped this, we shall be able to worship all other gods. Before we can crawl half a mile, we want to cross the ocean, like Hanuman! It cannot be. Everyone going to be a yogi, everyone going to meditate! It cannot be. The whole day mixing with the world, with karma-kanda, and in the evening sitting down and blowing through your nose! ‘Is it so easy? Should rsi come flying through the air, because you have blown three times through the nose? Is it a joke? It is all nonsense. What is needed is citta-suddhi, purification of the heart. And how does that come? The first of all worship is the worship of the Virat-of those all around us. Worship it. Worship is the exact equivalent of the Sanskrit word, and no other English word will do. These are all our gods-men and animals; and the first gods we have to worship are our countrymen. These we have to worship, instead of being jealous of each other and fighting each other. It is the most terrible karma for which we are suffering, and yet it does not open our eyes!’
Here was given a clarion call for profound inner transformation, a spiritual growth through love and service of man, the first step on the long road of human evolution, the whole of which was termed yoga by Sri Krishna in the Gita. This is evolution rising from the organic level of the pre-human stages to the psycho-social level of the human stage, according to twentieth-century biology. This is the yoga that will turn out free, responsible, and responsive human laboratory of human evolution, an administrative job for the free Indian state, accepting India and her intractable human problems as a vast and challenging anthropological laboratory! This is Sri Krishna’s and Swami Vivekananda’s challenge; and blessing to our administrators at all levels.
Tasmat Yogi Bhavarjuna!
So, if anyone asks any member of our administration: ‘What is your philosophy?’ or ‘What are you?’ he or she can unhesitatingly and proudly point out Sri Krishna’s above exhortation:’ Therefore be a yogi, and reply:’ I seek to be a yogi, so defined. By thus seeking and claiming to be a yogi, your externals do not change; you are the same individual doing a job and drawing a salary or wage, but your inner being stands transformed with a fullness, and that fullness of being will be poured out into the functions you perform for the state and the society, by which they become endowed with efficiency and a human touch. This is the root and fruit of the buddhi-yoga of the Gita.
This is not any modern tar-fetched interpretation of the yoga of the Gita, but one given in the light of the interpretation by India’s greatest philosopher Sarikaracarya of the eight-century A.D. He was the first to bring this great book out of obscurity and from the bosom of the immense epic of the Mahabharata, and place it before the people through his great commentary. After expounding his original, comprehensive, and practical philosophy of life in the second and third chapters of the Gita, and designating it as yoga, Sri Krishna begins the fourth chapter with a clear statement of the supreme relevance of the philosophy to all men and women bearing public responsibilities says:
Imam adhyaya-dvayena uktam yogam, vivasvate, adityaya, sargadau proktavan aham jagat paripalayitrnam ksatriyanam baladhanaya, …. Sa ca vivasvan manave praha, manuh iksvakave, svaputraya adirajaya, abravit …. Evam ksatriya parampara praptam imam, rajarsayo, rajans ca rsayas ca, rajarsayo, viduh, imam yogam. Sa yogah kaleneha mahata, dirghena, nasto, vicchinnasampradayah, samvrtto, he parantapa.
Durbalan ajitendriyan prapya, nastam yogam imam upalabhya, lokafn ca apurusartha-sambandhinam, … sa eva ayam maya te, tubhyam, adya idanim yogah proktah puratanah, bhakto’si me sakha ca asi iti-
‘This yoga, taught by me in the two (previous) chapters, I taught it to Vivasvan at the beginning of creation, in order to infuse strength in the ksatriyas, or the rulers and administrators, who are to protect the world …. That Vivasvan, again taught it to Manu, and Manu (in turn) taught it to his son Iksvaku, the first king ….
‘This yoga, coming down thus through a (teacher-student) succession of ksatriyas, was known to rajarsis-those who combine the role of raja (king) and rsi (sage) in one (people who achieve their spiritual growth in the context of their responsibilities of ruling and administering).
‘That yoga, after long ages, became lost, became broken in its teacher-student inheritance, O scorcher of enemies.
‘Seeing that, yoga thus lost through falling into the hands of men and women bereft of mental and physical strength, and bereft also of discipline and control of the sense organs and mind, and seeing humanity at large unable to achieve life-fulfillment, I have taught you now that same ancient yoga, since you are my devotee and friend,’
The Pre-eminence of Yoga-bala
We need this yoga-bala (energy of yoga) in our politics and administration at all levels. Note this word used by the great Sankaracharya – yoga-bala. Vedanta identifies three types of bala: bahubala-strength of hand, or muscle power, including horse-power or machine power; mano-bala–strength of mind or intellect; and yogabala-energy of spirituality. We need all these three sources of energy to meet the challenges of the modern age; but the third one is the most significant, because it is the source of that character-energy and dedication-energy that alone can transform the other two energies, and their technical products, to human purposes. Our country silently whispers to all our people today to become a yogi, to acquire this yoga-bala, and become the effective instruments of national and human purposes, instead of remaining satisfied with the other two energies only and becoming a stagnant pool of self-centredness, corruption, and spiritual emptiness.
It tells our Rashtrapati or President: be a yogi; it tells our Prime Minister: be a yogi, it tells our administrator and industrial executive: be a yogi; it tells our clerical staff: be a yogi; it tells the members of various professions: be a yogi; it tells everyone of our farmers, artisans, and industrial workers to be a yogi; it tells every member of our defence services and police services personnel: be a yogi; it tells every one of our students and teachers: be a yogi; and tells every one of our house wives: be a yogi!
For it proclaims, through its profound Vedanta philosophy, that this yoga-bala, this energy of spirituality, is the inborn birthright of every man and woman and child. This is a universal message meant for humanity everywhere, so that every man or woman may grow beyond his or her tiny and flimsy organic limitations and expand in love and sympathy and compassion into what he or she truly is the infinite Atman. This is the supreme truth about man that the Chandogya Upanisad proclaims again and again in its sixth chapter. In his thoughful book: Gita in the Light of Modern Science (p.25), Sri R.B. Lal quotes the following concluding words from a lecture on Unity and Diversity of Life by the great biologist, the late J.B.S. Haldane:
‘On the walls of the large room in the zoological laboratory at Munster, where Professor Rertsch keeps his living animals, are written the words Tat tvam asi [That (infinite and pure Atman) thou art]. If I have helped any of you to understand some of the implications of the great saying, my lectures have not been in vain.’
The Gita definition of yoga as efficiency in action, dexterity in action, has a profound message to our people today! It is a double efficiency; on the one hand, the worker works efficiently for the good of society outwardly, and on the other hand, he or she also advances in spiritual efficiency inwardly in that very work context. Based on this firm practical ground, it builds up profound philosophy of man in the succeeding chapters.
We failed to grasp, in the past ages, this wide reference of the Gita to life as a whole. One of the beautiful Gita dhyana verses compares the Gita to ‘the nectar of milk, drawn by the cowherd Sri Krishna, from the cow, the Upanisads, with Arjuna as the calf, and meant to be drunk by the good people of the world (for their spiritual nourishment.)’ But what did we actually do with that milk? We did everything else with it, except drink it and get nourished by it. We took the Gita to be only as a book of religion, of piety, narrowly conceived as outside man’s work-and-life situation. We revered it; worshipped it; and even memorized it. But we failed to assimilate its teaching and implement it in life. In the words of Sri Ramakrishna: “Some have heard of milk; some have seen it; some have touched it; and some have drunk it. The last alone have profited from the milk.”
तत् सवितुर्वरेण्यं भर्गो देवस्य धीमही
धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात्
Rig Veda III, 62,10
Let us meditate on the excellent glory of that divine Being who illumines everything. May He guide our understanding.