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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Tapas literally means ‘that which causes suffering’.

The word tapas comes from the root-verb ‘tap’.[1] Hence it means any discipline that causes suffering to the body-mind complex.

Tapas as per Ṛgveda[edit]

We can see the usage of this word even in the Ṛgveda.[2] There it is interpreted as the penances like kṛcchra and meditation on Hiraṇyagarbha.

Tapas as per Upaniṣad[edit]

It is also used in the Upaniṣads like the Chāndogya Upaniṣad[3] and the Mundaka Upaniṣad[4] in the sense of performance of one’s duties and austerities.

Tapas as per Dharmasutras[edit]

Dharmasutras like those of Gautama[5] equate it with a number of observances like:

  • Brahmacarya - celibacy
  • Satyavacana - speaking the truth
  • Ārdra-vastratā - wearing wet clothes on the body until they dry up
  • Adhaśśāyitā - sleeping on the bare ground
  • Ahiṅsā - non-injury
  • Astainya - not depriving anyone of his possessions
  • Etc.

The duration for the observance of these as expiations varies from one day to year. It also depends on the nature of sin.

Tapas as per Yogasutras[edit]

The Yogasutras of Patañjali[6][7][8] uses the word in the sense of control over food, forbearance and also the performance of kṛcchra and cāndrāyaṇa. The Bhagavadgitā[9] deals with tapas from three angles:

  1. Śārīra[10] - Honoring and serving gods and holy persons, cleanliness, celibacy and non-violence belong to this category.
  2. Vāṅmaya[11] - Sweet but truthful speech belongs to this category.
  3. Mānasa[12] - Control of mind and purity of emotions are the essential elements of this section.

Tapas as per Gītā[edit]

The Gītā further qualifies these three kinds from the standpoint of the three guṇas.

  1. Sāttvik tapas is that which is performed by persons of pure character possessing concentration and faith.
  2. The tapas performed by persons who are hypocrites, for selfish benefits like name and honor, is termed rājasik.
  3. The one undertaken by foolish persons to harm others is classed as tāmasik.


  1. Tap means santāpe, in the sense of suffering.
  2. Ṛgveda 10.154.2
  3. Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.10.1,2
  4. Mundaka Upaniṣad 1.2.11
  5. Gautama Dharmasutras 19.15
  6. He lived in 200 B. C.
  7. Yogasutras 2.1
  8. Yogasutras 2.32
  9. Bhagavadgitā 17.14-19
  10. Śārīra means physical.
  11. Vāṅmaya means as pertaining to speech.
  12. Mānasa means mental.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore

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