Tapas is energy and heat, a force generated in the personality by preventing the sense organs from diverting energy outside in the direction of objects. The consciousness, the total quantum of your energy, is diverted by the sense organs outside towards objects of sense when you see a thing, hear, smell, taste, touch, or even think a thing. If you prevent the consciousness from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching or even thinking an externality of any kind, the energy will not go out of your personality. It will be retained inside. Then you will feel strong, energetic, forceful. This process is called tapas, an inwardisation of power.
For the beginner, this much understanding about tapas is sufficient, but the highest tapas is to think like God Himself. When you can think as God thinks, that is the greatest tapas. You can imagine how God thinks; He will think in one Thought the whole cosmos directly, without the use of any sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, etc). His very Being is His Thought; His Thought and His Being are identical. In the case of human beings, thought is of an object, but in the case of God, Thought is of Being Itself. This highest tapas you must reach one day, but in the beginning it is the withdrawal of sense organs, and creating energy in the system. Thus, tapas has an initial meaning, and also a higher meaning. Both these are applicable to the word tapas.
Tapas is conservation of energy; an increase of power in the system by sense control; withdrawal of sense organs; preventing consciousness from diffusing itself towards external things; and centreing it, fixing it, in the Universality of Being which is God- Thought. This is the highest tapas. So, there is nothing mysterious about it. It is a simple matter, if you can analyse it carefully. Yoga is not a mysterious thing; it is a simple process.
Tapas is nothing but what you ought to do in this life. You are not supposed to waste your energy, make yourself weak, and think of things which are not really there. We are mostly thinking about things which are illusions. The world is not outside you, nor are you outside the world; yet, you look as if you are outside the world, and as if the world is outside you. This is the problem before everybody. If you can remove this misconception that the world is outside you and that you are outside the world, then you will find that you are protected by the world.
Now the world is kicking you out as if you are an unwanted person, and you also want to kick it out as if it is something unwanted. It wants to maintain itself, and you want to maintain yourself. You are two contending parties. The subjective side and the objective side are opposing and warring. This is actually the Mahabharata, as they call it, the conflict between the subject and the object, yourself and the world. This is the Mahabharata, the Trojan War, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Ramayana; this is any epic of the world symbolically described by poets and authors, and here is the conflict between yourself and the world described as epics. If this conflict continues, there is no way out of it. The tapas that I mentioned to you is a simple process of removing this conflict and establishing harmony between yourself and the world outside (between the subject and the object) by introducing a transcendent unifying force in between. This process is yoga, tapas, spirituality; this is religion, this is your duty in life, and this itself is the way to God-realisation. The whole of life is summed up in this little intricacy of human operation. There is no need of reading too many books. The matter is simple, if you go deep into it.
The world will flock around you if you are one with the world. You need not run after things; things will come to you. You will not be a slave of anybody afterwards, you will be a master. Now you have cut off the world from your consciousness, and so you look like a small, tiny, helpless person, but really you are not so. You are not a tiny, helpless person. Everything potential, great and grand is inside you. It has to be brought out by this process which is called tapas. The only duty in life, finally, is tapas, austerity, self-control. Without that, you can’t succeed even in ordinary life. Even in ordinary work-a-day business life, some kind of self-control is necessary. You cannot diffuse your energy completely outside and be happy.
Try to think “all” things. Don’t think only one thing. Why do you think only a particular thing? Why do you bestow special attention on some particular thing while all other things are equally good? Let the thought be an inclusive one, in which you and the world are both included. Then it is a thought of transcendence. This is the highest tapas.
Between the knower and the known there is a knowledge process. Finally, the Atman is the knower, and what It considers as outside is the known. By “knowing”, you mean that you become aware of something other than what you are. Generally, when people say that they know something, they don’t mean they are knowing themselves. The idea generally in the minds of people when they say they know something is that they know something other than themselves; the knower is different from the known in the ordinary process of knowledge. But if you analyse this whole process, you will realise that the knower and the known are connected by an intelligence, a consciousness; otherwise, the knower cannot come in contact with the object of knowledge. You can know even a mountain in front of you; the mountain is far away from you, yet you know that the mountain is there. How do you know that the object is there in front of you when there is actually no visible connection between you and the object?
If the mind that knows a thing is inside your body, then it is locked up inside the body and cannot know anything outside, beyond its own body. You cannot know another person sitting in front of you if your mind is only inside the body. How do you know?
The mind which appears to be inside your body for all practical purposes is basically a universal pervading intelligence. Your so-called individual mind gets connected with that universal mind in the process of knowledge, as in a broadcasting process, for example. In a broadcasting station, somebody speaks and a sound is made. This sound gets converted into an ethereal universal medium. What travels in space is not sound; it is a mysterious energy content that travels in space and is received by a receiver set somewhere else, where this ethereal thing gets reconverted into sound, and then you hear a sound here. It doesn’t mean that the sound is travelling in space. There is a universal principle connecting two terms of relation (the receiver set on one side, and the broadcasting station on another side).
In a similar manner, there is an unknown medium between the subject and the object. You can see the broadcasting station, you can see the receiver set, but you cannot see what is happening in between; it is invisible. In a similar manner, you can see yourself, you can see a mountain, but you cannot know what is happening between them. That “between” is a very important item. The mind that is universal operates between you and the object outside, and connects the individual mind with the object outside through the medium of its universality. If that universal principle is not to operate, you will never know anything outside your body. You would be locked up inside yourself only.
So, there is a universal mind operating everywhere, of which you are a part, of which the object also is a part. Finally, you must say that only one thing exists, which is the Universal Mind. If you can deeply concentrate on this essential fact, you will be thinking like a cosmic man and will no longer be thinking like an individual person. You will become a superman. This is how a yogi or God-man thinks.
Your problem is yourself only; you have no other problem. You require to be saved from yourself. The greatest problem is one’s own self. Nobody else gives you trouble. Your ignorance, your foolishness, your individuality, your finitude, these are the problems, and they constitute what you really are. So, you have to be saved from that. One has to be saved from one’s lower self, for the sake of attaining the higher Self. In the Bhagavad Gita’s sixth chapter, the higher Self is said to save the lower self.